Meet the Actor Who Plays Robert Durst in ‘The Jinx—Part 2’

Courtesy of Paul Blumenthal
Courtesy of Paul Blumenthal

Fred Armisen. Kate McKinnon. Ryan Gosling

Lots of actors have parodied, or at least played characters inspired by, Robert Durst, the real estate heir and convicted murderer who died in 2022.

But to actually play Durst in the miniseries that made him a household name, HBO’s The Jinx?

For the second installment of The Jinx, which premiered April 21 and relies heavily on reenactments featuring Durst’s infamously eccentric movements and mannerisms, that job came with a bit of meta casting. It went to Paul Blumenthal, a slight man with gray hair and a sweet but mischievous smile who also happens to have a background as a litigator with a specialty in medical malpractice.

Speaking on the phone the Friday night before The Jinx—Part 2’s premiere—and after he’d taken his dog for a walk—Blumenthal was a delightful and diligent interview with a mind for accuracy (“No, that’s incorrect too,” he told me when I make the mistake of saying he wasn’t a criminal attorney; in fact, he’d also been a public defender and did criminal work for the first few years of his private practice. “Don’t assume anything with me because I will shoot you down very politely,” he said, laughing. “You won’t even know that you got shot.”).

Blumenthal wasn’t aware of the Durst story until he’d retired from law. But he watched the first season, which aired in 2015 and famously included Durst’s apparent recorded confession to three murders: of his first wife, Kathie who went missing in 1982; of his friend Susan Berman, who was shot execution-style in her home in 2000; and of his neighbor Morris Black, who’d been dismembered and whose body parts were found in 2001.

Actor Paul Blumenthal.

Paul Blumenthal.

Reinhard Agency

When asked what he, as an attorney, thought of the first season and its smoking gun of a confessional, he referenced the scene in the movie My Cousin Vinny when Marisa Tomei’s Mona Lisa Vito, who is from a family of car enthusiasts and mechanics, is asked if she herself is an automotive expert. He just kind of knew.

“Having been a criminal investigator, government criminal investigator, while I was in law school, and then working with investigators for years, it’s always different,” Blumenthal said. “There’s no one way a bona fide investigator works. There’s so many great and horrible movies and things that show investigators really screwing up or making the case. You want me to tell you what I think about what they did? I can’t do that because this conversation would go on for a week.”

The Jinx: The LIfe and Deaths of Robert Durst Part 2.

A scene from The Jinx—Part 2.


Although Blumenthal’s still a licensed attorney, he hasn’t practiced law since 2018 and began taking acting lessons a few years ago when his daughter and her wife asked him what he’d planned to do with the rest of his life. A lot of it came naturally, as Blumenthal is also a musician with a doctorate of musical arts from the University of Maryland. He taught that discipline in order to pay his way through law school. Plus, he adds, “as my wife of almost 50 years says, I’ve always acted out.”

“I went from being in the center of the stage as a musician to being on the center stage as a teacher to being on the center stage as an actor,” he says matter-of-factly.

He began getting work, booking some commercials, film and theater as well as directing and co-writing the short My Miseries: No Shortage of Knives about, appropriately, an accused man recounting his history.

‘The Jinx’ Team Sat on Robert Durst Confession for 26 Months

Then Brette Goldstein, a casting director for The Jinx, found his resume and brought him in to audition. Unlike most auditions, which come with lines of dialogue for the actors to portray, this part required no speaking. Blumenthal says this meant the audition, and the part itself, was “all physicality [and] being out there.” He doesn’t remember exactly what was asked of him in the audition, but said it was along the lines of “you’re in the woods hiding from people.”

To embody Durst, who had very specific mannerisms, Blumenthal paraphrased legendary acting coach Sanford Meisner by noting that his objective wasn’t to mimic as it was to “live truthfully in an imaginary world.”

Robert Durst.

Robert Durst in The Jinx: The Life and Deaths of Robert Durst.

Courtesy of HBO

“It’s not that you’re acting like them; you’re sort of absorbing that role and it becomes you,” he said.

This included uncomfortable, if not physically challenging, conditions like wearing an expensive latex mask in a scene that imagines Durst absconding to Cuba on a Zodiac boat and, in others, wearing heavy police-grade handcuffs and shackles that cut into his skin.

“I know I’m a little old skinny guy, but when you put handcuffs on a little old skinny guy, it still hurts,” he said.

‘The Jinx,’ TV’s True-Crime Triumph, Returns With More Robert Durst Shockers

There’s also a scene in one of the later episodes where Blumenthal portrayed Durst in what is supposed to be a vision had by Durst’s longtime friend, Nick “Chinga” Chavin.

“I spent only that time talking to him and he and I, let’s say, did not interact well,” Blumenthal said of the ad executive and musician who died in 2023. He doesn’t know exactly what set Chavin off, but he suspects that it was because “I interrogate too much. And I give you the third degree. And he didn’t like that and, after a while, he said ‘I’m not talking to you anymore.’”

But how bizarre is it to be on the other side of the orange jumpsuit?

Blumenthal said it took a lot of tries to find one to fit him: “But did I feel ugly or uptight about it? No, because I've been around creeps [and] prison clients for years and it didn’t bother me what they put on me at all.”

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