“I would tell [my younger self]not to let the business kill the love for why you got into it.” – Jeff Daniels’ on Advice for Actors
Few actors can claim to be respected for both their performances in dramatic roles and comedic classics, but Jeff Daniels is one of the few who can. Daniels is not only an Emmy Award winner and Golden Globe and Tony Award nominee, but a star of Dumb & Dumber. He was recently interviewed by The Hollywood Reporter for their Actor Roundtable.
While nobody disputes Daniels’ dramatic acting talent, the truth is that Daniels’ most famous role is his hilarious performance as Harry in Dumb and Dumber. Daniels admits that his agents did not want him to do the film. He recalls, “There were three agents on the phone the night before I flew to do wardrobe for Dumb & Dumber. Three agents, one in New York, two in L.A. The two in L.A. were going, ‘We’re going to stop you, you’re not going to do this, you’re a serious actor, we’re trying to get you to the Oscars, this will be the end of your career. Frankly, Jim Carrey is a comedic genius and, with all due respect, he’s gonna wipe you off the screen. Say no and we’ll take care of it.’ I said, ‘You know what? I’m bored with the career, I want to change it up. If this is a mistake, guys, it’s mine. I’m going.'”
While Daniels is reflecting on his success, he is not trying to say “I told you so.” Regarding those agents, he says, “But you know, they had a good point. Because nobody knows. We thought 12-year-olds would go see it, but that was about it.”
The most impressive aspect of Daniels’ career is his ability to take on any role — dramatic, comedic, or otherwise — and perform incredibly. On that ability, he says, “What keeps me in the business are the challenges of not repeating myself.”
Speaking of challenges, Daniels speaks about playing his character on Godless — not the first time he rode a horse for a role (he did star in Gettysburg after all) — but still a challenge for him. He explains, “You’re on a horse eight hours a day. I had to train for three months because I’d read the scripts and knew that I was galloping through rivers with one arm. And you’re going to fall off the horse eventually… It’s dangerous stuff. I’m glad I trained, I highly recommend it, don’t do the actor thing of, ‘Absolutely, I can ride’ and then think you can learn in three days. We had one guy, first take, first day, first scene, first morning, flipped off the back. Bam. You can see the ambulance coming around from behind the cameras before they’ve said cut. And the second to last day of shooting, I fell off the horse, broke my wrist.”
Of course, a classic question for these roundtables is to ask what these actors would tell their younger selves. Daniels has an answer: “I would tell [my younger self]not to let the business kill the love for why you got into it. I talk to college kids sometimes, and you can’t teach them about the rejection, you can’t prepare them for that, for the bitterness, the depression, all that stuff that comes because of the peaks and valleys of a career. But don’t let it kill the love for what comes between action and cut. Hang on to that because you’re gonna need that. That’s what I would tell him.”