Jeff Daniels, co-star of the "Imaginary Heroes" Movie!
Though he has never achieved the high profile or widespread acclaim of a Robert De Niro, Jeff Daniels ranks as one of Hollywood's most versatile leading men and over his career he has played everything from villains and cads to heroes and romantic leads to tragic figures and lovably goofy idiots, in movies of almost every genre. Daniels has also worked extensively on television and stage, where he first distinguished himself by winning an Obie for a production of Johnny Got His Gun. Blonde, cleft-chinned, and handsome in a rugged all-American way, Daniels made his screen debut playing PC O'Donnell in Milos Forman's Ragtime (1981). His breakthrough came when he was cast as Debra Winger's inconstant husband in Terms of Endearment (1983). Daniels has subsequently averaged one or two major feature films per year with notable performances, including: his memorable dual portrayal of a gallant movie hero/self-absorbed star who steps out of celluloid to steal the heart of lonely housewife Mia Farrow in Woody Allen's Purple Rose of Cairo (1984); his turn as a man terrified of spiders who finds himself surrounded by them in the horror-comedy Arachnophobia; and his role as Union officer Colonel Joshua Chamberlain, who led his troops into doom in Gettysburg (1993).
In 1994, Daniels took a radical turn away from drama to star as one of the world's stupidest men opposite comic sensation Jim Carrey in the Farrelly brothers' hyperactive Dumb and Dumber. This lowest-common-denominator comedy proved one of the year's surprise hits and brought Daniels to a new level of recognition and popularity. Since then, Daniels has alternated more frequently between drama and comedy. His television credits include a moving portrayal of a troubled Vietnam vet in a Hallmark Hall of Fame production, Redwood Curtain. Daniels still maintains his connection to the stage and manages his own theatrical company. Before launching his acting career, he earned a degree in English from Central Michigan University in Mount Pleasant, MI.
The later '90s found Daniels turning homeward and venturing into new territories through his labor of love, the Purple Rose Theater. Located in the small town of Chelsea, MI, the bus garage turned playhouse was designed to give Midwestern audiences the opportunity to enjoy entertainment generally reserved for big-city dwellers. Though he continued to appear in such films as Fly Away Home (1996) and Pleasantville (1998), Daniels made his feature directorial debut with the celluloid translation of his successful Yooper stage comedy Escanaba in da Moonlight (2000). Set in the Michigan's Upper Peninsula (U.P., hence "Yooper"), the tale of redemption by means of bagging a buck mixed the regionally accented humor of Fargo with the eccentricities inherent to northerners and served as an ideal directorial debut for the Michigan native. A modest regional success, Daniels would subsequently appear in such wide releases as Blood Work and The Hours (both 2002) before returning to the director's chair for the vacuum-salesman /comedy Super Sucker (also 2002). Later reprising his role as Lt. Col. Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain from Gettesburg, Daniels once again went back in time for the Civial War /drama Gods and Generals (2002).
Jeff Daniels Blood Work Interview
There was a time when actor Jeff Daniels was at the very top of the Hollywood game. Who could forget his memorable work in such diverse hits as Terms of Endearment, Fly Away Home and Dumb and Dumber, to name but a few. Absent from the screen to raise a family and escape the Hollywood limelight, Daniels is back as Clint Eastwood's often wry sidekick in Blood Work.
Question: How would you describe your character?
Answer: I'm the funny side-kick, the comic relief. A lot of what I do it to annoy Clint. He's in a thriller. I'm in a comedy. Like the scenes in the car where he's just like [gruff Eastwood voice] 'Buddy, shut up'. And I'm just.. what is this? A beach? I'm just running my mouth.
Question: In the book your character Buddy goes on through several books.
Answer: Noone, to my knowledge knew that. I got the job and I immediately read the novel, saw what the novel was and saw what the movie was and, to be honest, preferred the movie as far as that character goes. I just thought it was really interesting to play.
Question: How would you compare Clint Eastwood's minimalist approach to filmmaking to some other directors you've worked with?
Answer: I wrote, acted and directed a couple of indies and I asked a couple of directors before I went into it, 'tell me. What should I know besides wearing comfortable shoes like Spielberg said'.? And they said just tell the story. Don't get fancy with the camera. Just tell the story and that's what Clint does. Yes, he gets creative with it when he needs to but he doesn't' show off with it. He doesn't do a scene where he photographs a reflection on a doorknob. He sets it up where it best tells the story and he uses a simple approach to filmmaking in the best sense I think.
Question: What was fun about playing your character Buddy?
Answer: Well, it took a week to get over the fact that 'I'm sorry. It's Dirty Harry and I'm three feet away from him. When he turns and looks at you and that lip goes up and he squints and stares at you, you think you're gonna get shot. We're just rehearsing. Here I am mouthing off to him. That was fun to get past that little internal struggle.
Question: Had you known him before doing this film?
Answer: No. I met him once. When Dumb and Dumber came out, It was Christmas either '94 or '96, I was the flavor of the month and I was invited to the Pebble Beach pro am. Celebrities, here come the celebrities. Clint goes there you know. And so I'm sitting in the breakfast tent and across from the tent, here comes Clint Eastwood, "Dirty Harry" is walking right towards me. He comes over 'Jeff, Clint Eastwood'. I'm going 'Clint, of course, nice to meet you, sir'. He told me how much he loved Dumb and Dumber and I'm thinking this is surreal. This isn't happening. Basically, he's laughing, telling me about this scene and that scene. I'm going 'yeah, yeah, Clint. I was there. I was in it'. He goes away and what is it, seven or eight years later and I get the call. It was inspired casting I think.
Question: Did he want you to play it like your Dumb and Dumber character?
Answer: What he told me later was he goes, 'look, certainly there are similarities, a jumping off point as I call it to Dumb and Dumber. Buddy's a slob. He's a boat bum. He's a loser. It's like 'cool'. That's what's in the movie they can draw from. A nice little deflection for the plot. He also referred to "Two Days in the Valley", a nice little indie. So, he goes, between that and that, you can do this.
Question: Are you as comfortable in the Indie arena as a big budget film?
Answer: They are two different animals. A big studio film like a Clint or a Gods and Generals, something like that, you've got this massive amount of money that ends up in all of these toys, these big sets and whatever. And you become a hired gun. You come in and do what you're supposed to do which is also a great lesson working with Clint. He needs you to bring everything you've got to it. You come in and you look around and you go 'I'm just one small part of this', whatever you're getting paid. So you're a hired gun. It's a great way to work. You're a pro, producers love you. You come in, you nail it, you leave. But the indies are usually, more people wearing more hats and the money isn't there. You're there because you love the script and there's more discussion and there's more guerilla filmmaking.
Question: Do you like directing indies?
Answer: The last thing I want to do, maybe to a fault but I don't care, is make phone calls to a junior executive to explain why it's a red sweater instead of a blue sweater. Clint never makes that call. So, when I did my two indies, when I wrote, acted and directed, we raised all the money privately. We had no studio, which means we had no distributor ahead of time. But, I believe that, unless you're Clint Eastwood, when they write the check for your movie, it's now their movie.
Question: Do you want to continue directing?
Answer: If the first two films can make money, certainly on the video end.. the first one's on video in October and the second one after the first of the year. If those two can make money a little bit or break even, yeah, I'll keep doing it but I'm not gonna bang my head against the wall.
Question: Where has the second one played? (check press kit for title)
Answer: It was Aspen at the HBO comedy festival It was the audience award for best feature. It made a lot of people laugh.
Question: Clint only does one or two takes for each shot. How hard is that?
Answer: The research I did on this film was I banged through the book so I researched Clint because I'd heard he was fast. Well, what does that mean? I had a book where he did a lot of interviews over the past twenty years. I went through all that and really studied. What he's looking for is he's trying to make it happen the first time and good, bad or indifferent, that's what he wants. He doesn't care if you think you can do it better. Those mistakes that you made, that little flub you made on a line, he loves that. You may not. You may want to get a cleaner version of it and do your, I'm not going to blink during the close up, thing'. You look down and that's what he'll use. That's what he'll grab onto. He doesn't want you to plan everything out to the microsecond. Once you know that then you do your homework. You get all the lines, second nature, again, hired gun, pro. And you come in basically flinging it against the lens.
Question: Does Woody Allen work similarly?
Answer: He can. At least on Purple Rose [of Cairo] I remember a lot of takes but that was different. He was working with Gordie Willis. He had more days, more time and we would do it over and over and Woody would re-write it and we'd do that version and he'd tweak it again and we'd do that version so that was a little different. I don't know how he is now. But, Clint is very 'let's make it happen the first time' and whatever that is, as long as it's real, great! And when he thinks he's got it, we have it.
Question: Are you doing more festivals with Super Sucker?
Answer: Toronto is going to announce any minute so we'll see. We submitted it. Sundance was close. We talked to the number four guy at Sundance and we go, look, how close were we. He said, 'you guys were close but with us, if it comes down to a drama or a comedy, we'll pick the drama every time'. And we are slap dash". We'll see. It's me, Harve Presnell and I got a young actor named Matt Leisher (spelling?) who's terrific. He's in Gods and Generals and he's great, but that's it. Everybody else is out of my theater company. This isn't The Royal Tennenbaums where we've got eight of them or Full Frontal. I remember looking forward to seeing that. I've got a play I wrote. It's a basic story about a love triangle and the lovers get caught and the husband is sitting there going 'what are we going to do about this, kids', you know, with a gun. It was a taut play. It's been done before and I'm tempted to get a DV camera and have me play the lover and the banker and I've been looking at actresses. I'm thinking in my head it'll be just three people. Just get some stars and see if they'll come out to Michigan for two weeks. I don't know if it will make Toronto. I hope so. I'd love that to happen but I don't have a lot of faith anymore. I'm getting tired of it.
Question: You talked about once being flavor of the month.
Answer: I had a good 20 minutes. What happened?
Question: Do you regret not continuing to do the "Hollywood thing"?
Answer: I would have made a lot more money than I have made. I don't know if I would have been nominated by this point. It's hard to say. I wouldn't have been happier. I wouldn't have a theater company. I may have had a film company but I don't know. Not the one I wanted. I wouldn't have been a playwright.
Question: How did that come about?
Answer: Because I moved to Michigan and after three years of playing golf with people I really didn't care about, I said, 'what am I missing?' And I was missing that creative atmosphere, that energy around what was Circle Rep in New York or on a good movie set and I'm going 'I can have that here and it's a theater company'. There are regional actors here that I can develop and rise up to a Broadway caliber and that'll keep me engaged. I also think I can write and I wanted to work to prove I could do that and eight plays later, I can. I made the choice in '86 to move back to Michigan and, I knew at the time 'oh, you're blowing this' . Yeah, I know. And then I did two indies. I did Love Hurts with Bud Yorkin which was a good script and didn't end up doing anything but we tried also Checking Out which I loved. George Harrison produced that. David Leland directed that. I loved that script but I made two indies. I didn't hold out and do studio, studio, studio. That was the off-Broadway actor in me going 'oh, I love this script' and the agent's going 'okay, it's somebody else'.
Question: Did you just hate the Hollywood parties and "game" you have to play here?
Answer: Didn't play it. Didn't do it. Shunned it and 'he lives where?' And then I got married and now I've got kids and how boring is that. It's not very interesting and it's certainly not good copy. Look at Clooney and Ben Affleck. Let those two guys move to Michigan and marry a homemaker. You think anyone's going to want to read about them? But it's great. Like for this premiere, we'll come out here and flash cubes aside" it's not a joy, not something I look forward to or live for or can't wait to do, that kind of posing and preening but it will be fun in a sense. Hey, it's Clint Eastwood. When you live in the Midwest, it's a big deal to come out here.
Question: Are you going to stay out here a while?
Answer: I'm on a plane tomorrow. I've been gone. I was shooting a movie in Puerto Rico, an independent film with James Spader. It's got foreign distribution. I don't know if it'll get domestic. It's okay. I got paid.
Question: What's the name of it?
Answer: Eyewitness. I have two boys that are on the high school hockey team this coming Winter. One's a Senior, one's a Freshman and I've worked basically almost non-stop for a year and so I don't want to work from November to March. I called the agent and said 'look, I'll go to Puerto Rico and I'll do this movie, good script, good people. I'll do it but don't call me between November and March. It's the only year in my lifetime that both these boys, whom I've been driving to hockey games for ten years now in Michigan, are going to be on the same team so don't call me.
Question: Would you ever encourage your kids to become actors?
Answer: The oldest right now wants to go to college and play hockey somewhere. He wants to study film and/or video which is great. They love the camera. They've each got their own DV camera unlike me with my 8-millimeter [makes whirring noise] they can make hundreds of movies and they're doing it. There's some interest but they didn't have what I had which was high school musicals. They aren't doing that. They're doing sports but not to say they wouldn't. My daughter thinks she's going to be a writer. My middle son says 'I could probably be an actor' and the oldest son probably wants to be a D.P. My daughter is in seventh, Junior High.