Interview: Skeeta Jenkins Becomes cuddly in PUPPET MASTER: THE LITTLE REICH
Many characters captured the hearts of moviegoers at Fantasia Fest 2018, but Cuddly Bear from Puppet Master: The Littlest Reich reigned among the select few that people talked about days later. Puppet Master: The Littlest Reich will be released in select theaters and on VOD August 17th, 2018.
Read below to see our conversation with Skeeta Jenkins, the actor who stole our hearts with comedy and cuddliness.
Dread Central: What drew you to the role of Cuddly Bear?
Skeeta Jenkins: You know, it’s a funny story. I had just signed with my first agent out of Louisiana, and that’s the first audition he sent me out the door. I’d never been in a horror movie before. I mean, I’ve seen horror movies, but I just had never been in a horror film. So when he sent me the audition, I went to it and said, “This would be pretty cool to get.” Well, of course, actors are their biggest critics, so I didn’t think I got it. I thought I did some good stuff during the audition, but I didn’t think I did enough to book the role. That was just me being critical of myself. But come to find out, the producers loved my audition, and the rest is history.
DC: You have such a fantastic role. I wasn’t expecting that from your character. First, your character’s name is Cuddly Bear, which is so unique; you definitely want to know and be around this guy.
SJ: I try to remain humble, but I am pretty shocked at how many people love Cuddly Bear. It has just been amazing to sit back because I consider myself a novice actor. I’m just getting started. I haven’t been in the industry that long. This first role is a really good role, and this is the biggest role I’ve had thus far in any film, as far as going to the big screen. It’s just been fun.
DC: So, how did you get into acting?
SJ: You’re going to love this story. It’s just that someone thought that I look like the late and great Michael Clark Duncan from The Green Mile.
DC: Yup. I can see that.
SJ: And they cast me in this role. I said, “But I have no acting experience.” They said, “Yeah, but you resemble him, and your voice is deep, though not as deep as his voice. But people are going to look at you and go, ‘Oh.'” So, that was pretty cool. And of course, I got that bug after that because that was so much fun being on set.
DC: Taking it back to Puppet Master: The Littlest Reich. How did you prepare for that role?
SJ: Once I found out that I had the role, I just embraced who the character was. Speaking in the third person, I don’t talk like that, so I had to get used to that. The funny part was a little after we were done filming, I found myself speaking in the third person a bunch. (laughs)
DC: That’s dedication. Was this your first encounter with the Puppet Master universe?
SJ: I have to be honest. It was. I was a Nightmare on Elm Street guy. That was my first movie I ever watched. Freddy was my guy. Freddy Krueger. I just never got around to watching Puppet Master. But now that you’re in it, you have to go back and watch them now. It’s wrong if you don’t.
DC: As a fan, I’m glad that you checked it out. With your character, I feel that he fits into the universe perfectly. Plus, you did a great job with the role.
SJ: Thank you.
DC: Absolutely. What are your top two favorite movies?
SJ: One of them is Tombstone. That’s a film that I can watch over and over and over. I just love the story; I love all of the characters. And you know, I’m getting to the point where I haven’t watched it in a while. It was getting bad, to the point that I was remembering everybody’s lines and spoiling the movie for other people. But yeah, Tombstone has to be one. And a new one is Equalizer. I watched the first one, and now I watched the second one two times already. I know there will be a third and fourth time of me watching it. But Equalizer has really surpassed a couple of others that I thought were my all time favorites. But I don’t think anything that I watch can take the place of Tombstone. It’s a classic, especially if you like a little action.
DC: Besides A Nightmare on Elm Street, is there a horror movie that comes to mind that you really enjoyed?
SJ: Oh, yeah. I loved Poltergeist and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Those have to be my top three. And of course, I like Predator as well
DC: Nice. Will you be checking out the new Predator?
SJ: I definitely will. And then, I’m going to get into Venom, because one of the guys that is represented by my agent is in Venom. That just hypes it up even more to see that he is in it. I’m pretty pumped about that.
DC: More of a personal question. You seem to have a close-knit family. Has your family had a chance to check out Puppet Master: The Littlest Reich?
SJ: Yes. When it premiered in Louisiana, my younger brother, my aunt, my best friend and a bunch my Louisiana folks came to New Orleans to check it out. They weren’t so thrilled that I was in a horror film. (laughs) None of them have ever heard me curse before, so that was different for them. But then at the end they said, “But you did a good job.” (laughs)
DC: That’s great. I love the support. So, you had a chance to work with Sonny Laguna and Tommy Wiklund. How was that experience?
SJ: It was different. I was wondering why we were doing so many takes and then it hit me. I was like, “These guys are from Switzerland.” (laughs) They have to take all of this footage back with them and go over it and get scenes together and create a movie. I was like, “I must be horrible.” Because one time I remember shooting a scene like six or seven times. but then the light went on. I was like, “These guys are from Switzerland and have to take all of this stuff back to work from.” So I didn’t feel so bad after that.
DC: I didn’t think about that. I did have a chance to check out two of their movies: Wither and Animalistic. So I was just curious to see what it was like.
SJ: What are your thoughts on those two?
DC: Those are some fun movies. I really enjoyed Wither. For most people who watch a lot of horror movies, you don’t get too scared. But Wither had some unique parts, which is always fun to come across. Now, I know you worked with Barbara Crampton. She just seems so awesome. What was it like working with her?
SJ: Awesome is an understatement. She actually called me out of the blue one day and we were just chatting. Even throughout the film, without watching everything she’s been in, just on set she is so humble, down to earth, easy to talk to, just a wealth of knowledge. She even said, “I’m a fan of yours.” Just hearing her say that meant the world to me. Of course, I am a fan of hers. Just watching her stuff and getting to know her personally, she is just one of the sweetest people you’d ever want to meet. And it has been a true honor getting to meet her and getting to know her and now saying that I was with a legend. Again, I hadn’t really been in the horror genre that much. And after watching the movie and being on the red carpet, I was like, “Oh my goodness, this woman is a horror legend. This is who I’m working with.” Her and Kier, I can’t say anything bad about either one of them. Just down to earth people and real. I don’t know if I’m supposed to say it, but the little boy in the film was Tom Lennon’s son. As a result of that, I got to know Tom because both he and his wife were on set, and they just kept complimenting on the great job I did with making their son comfortable on set. That was awesome. I work with kids and families, so it was a natural thing for me to work with him on set. But just Tom allowing me to work with his son was just awesome. Puppet Master: The Littlest Reich was one of the greatest experiences I had on set because of people.
DC: I love hearing that you had a great experience on this movie and met great people. Also, your humility really shines.
SJ: It’s just the way I was raised. I pray that the good Lord really allows me to move forward in acting, but even if I don’t, some of the experiences I had on set with other people just opened my eyes. Think about this. Even though it is a minor role, it is a co-starring role. So they could’ve given it to anybody. He could’ve chosen anyone in Hollywood to play that role. Once they got my audition, they said, “Skeeta Jenkins is our man for Cuddly Bear.” I know some people may think it is fake because I probably have thanked them a hundred times, but that is just the person I am. There is no big me, little you. I had a chance to be an extra before and I treat everybody the same. It’s no, “Hey, I’m in a big role. I can’t talk to you.” I’m a firm believer in you treat people the way you want to be treated.
DC: I love that. And once again, I love the way people embraced you during and after the film.
SJ: Yeah. It’s great. I enjoyed every bit of it, and I even read some of the reviews. I hope after people see this movie, my agent will get some calls saying, “We need Skeeta.” (laughs) I even saw someone write that we need a Cuddly Bear spinoff. (laughs) I was like, “Yeah, baby!”
DC: That would be perfect.
SJ: It would be awesome. But I can’t thank all the people without thanking S. Craig Mahler, because he wrote it. I don’t consider myself a funny guy, but the way he wrote the lines makes people think that Cuddly Bear is a funny guy. They just got some awesome people on the film, from the producers down to the extras and the main cast.
DC: Even taking a step back to Thomas Lennon, how was it working with him?
SJ: I can’t say enough about working with him. He is the main man. He is just down to earth. He is a people person. He’s approachable. You name it; he’s that. He’s another person who gave me his phone number and said, “Skeeta, if you are ever in LA, look me up, and I mean that.” The way he said it, I know he meant it. After the movie was over, even the way he embraces me, he does it like I’m the stud, when he’s the stud. (laughs) But that’s just who he is. Getting to know him and his wife and his son was a blast. And just working with them…he’s an open book. When it came time for business, he was business. When it came time for networking and getting to know people, he was that guy as well. And this was a different role for him. It showed a side of him unlike any other. You know, he may even get cast in more roles where he is serious Tom Lennon. Because you know, everybody knows him as the funny comedian. But he showed that he is versatile in this film.
DC: That’s exactly what I was going to say. I was waiting for him to say something hilarious until I realized that wasn’t his character. It was amazing to see him take this on. I recently finished season 2 of Santa Clarita Diet.
SJ: Was the funny?
DC: It was hilarious! He plays a principal.
SJ: Oh, I have to watch that now.
DC: You do. And check out the movie I Love You, Man, if you haven’t already. He has a brief part in that, but he is so funny. I know that he also did some of the writing for Night at the Museum…
SJ: …and Baywatch. I mean, he is doing a lot. It just shows how well-rounded he is. Before you know it, I think he is going to get behind the camera, too. He’s just one of those guys.
DC: I can see that. What about you? Do you ever see yourself being behind the camera?
SJ: Oh yeah. But I think it will be a while. I really just want to get grounded in the acting before I make that jump and do things behind the camera. But oh yeah, I can see that in the future. Right now, I just want to be a character actor for a long time that people remember.
DC: I know you’ll do great with it. I know you probably don’t have the answer to this, but I must ask because I’m way too curious. Do you know if we will see more of Cuddly Bear? Like will there be a sequel?
SJ: Did you wait until after the credits?
DC: I did! (laughs) That’s why I had to ask.
SJ: We’ll see. (laughs) You know, it’s funny to see how the critics are talking about Cuddly Bear and how that character is one of their favorites in the movie. There are so many stars in this film, so it is fun to see the character stand out. I met this one guy after the Dallas screening and he got mad at me because I wasn’t boasting. I said, “That’s not me.” Hey, I’m thankful to have the opportunity to play the role. But as far as, “Oh, I’m a great actor,” I’d never say that because there is so much room to improve. Then again, I know some actors are like, “I should’ve done this or could’ve done that.” Nope. I’m just comfortable in what I was able to bring to the role at that moment. I just want to be in the character and do my job, if that makes sense?
DC: It does make sense. I actually met Phil Nobile Jr. He said that you were a great guy, nice and down to earth. You definitely have a great reputation already, and I just feel that it is only going to go up from here.
SJ: And just you saying, “Hey, I want to interview you,” I’m so appreciative. If I say thank you too much, just know that it I’m grateful. I love the Lord, and I don’t have to go around telling people. I can just show them by just being who I am and loving them the way I want to be loved.
DC: I love that you are authentic. You don’t come across that every day. With Puppet Master: The Littlest Reich releasing on VOD August 17th, tell us why we need to check it out.
SJ: I would say, “Thomas Lennon, Udo Kier, Barbara Crampton, Nelson Franklin.” It’s juxtaposed with comedians and other actors who are not comedians. A lot of people will wonder how this is going to work, but when you watch the film, the overall picture is that it works. Everybody is not going to like the film, but at the end of the day, people that watch it are going to laugh. They’re going to say, “Oh my goodness, I can’t believe they just did that.” You’re going to have every reaction imaginable to the film. And then, people are going to get to see actors that they’ve never seen before, and one is Cuddly Bear, who speaks in the third person. (laughs)
DC: Final question. What upcoming projects of yours should we be looking out for?
SJ: We just finished filming a movie that will probably be out next year. It’s called Vindication. It is kind of a faith-based drama, and I get to play the head of a security company. And then another film I’m excited about is The Penitent Thief with Kevin Sorbo. That won’t come out until around Easter of next year. So, I’m excited. They are way smaller projects, but I just love working. Any time I can get a chance to work and be in front of the camera and create a new character, I’m grateful, because when people see me in non-stereotypical roles that you see African Americans in. They see me as a doctor. They see me as a nurse. They see me as a police officer. They see me as Cuddly Bear. They see me as a funny guy in another film. They see me as an older man. I just want to have diversity so no one can point a finger and say, “Oh, he’s this type of actor.” No, he can do anything that he’s cast in.
DC: I look forward to seeing you in many more projects. Thank you so much, Skeeta.
SJ: Thank you for having me.