Jeff Daniels: “As much as I try to create different characters, more often than not, I will be asked to play variations of myself”


Jeff Daniels is currently starring in the Broadway play, God Of Carnage (which I tried to see while I was in NYC but it was freakin sold out!). Here he answers some readers e-mails.

From the

Do you think being nominated for the Tony will in any way influence you to do more on Broadway or elsewhere on the stage? — Megan Burnham

Nomination or not, more theater was on my To-Do List. Kathleen and I left New York and moved back home to Michigan in 1986 to raise our family in a place we understood. While there, however, I missed the theater life, so I created the Purple Rose Theater Company. With my kids now in college and beyond, I can see doing more stage acting. Broadway. The Purple Rose. Frankly, I like being known as an actor who can do both film and stage. New York’s full of them.

How has your playwriting influenced your acting, and vice versa? — Jeremy Gable

Having written, I have a far better understanding of story structure. Also, since I know first hand how much goes into the writing of a script, I tend to bend over backwards to make what’s been written work. Having acted, I know each character I write has to be fully realized, have things to do that impact the story, and on a nightly basis, be someone I would look forward to playing. Otherwise, I cut it.

I recently saw “The Squid And The Whale” again when it was broadcast by PBS. The character you play in that movie is so devastatingly selfish and egotistical it was almost unbearable to watch him at times — yet I couldn’t look away. Did you base him on someone you knew? And when you play such character in a film, does it affect your personal life? — Christine Lavin

While I am not above shamelessly stealing from anyone, in the end, I got to Bernard by tunneling into myself. Having written, I understood the singular focus of living in my own head for months at a time. Bernard’s habit of using words others would never think to utter was stolen from a writer I met. Another told me of always listening to conversations as if they were things to be rewritten. Once I was in that head, I had Bernard. Noah [Baumbach]’s script did the rest.

As for affecting my personal life, I work hard to leave my characters behind. The other night, Frank Langella gave me some great advice about sustaining a long run. He said, “During the day, don’t think about it at all.” So every night after the show, as soon as I take off the suit, Alan’s gone. I like to think of it as sanctioned schizophrenia.

Any past performances you were disappointed you weren’t nominated for? — keith reddin

Let me put it this way. Once you come to understand that nominations are completely out of your control, decided by unseen others, and unlike any scenario you may conjure up, you will be well on your way towards eliminating disappointment over such things. Accept whatever goes down with grace. If it happens, terrific, get ready to rent a limo. If it doesn’t, try not to break anything of value.

Can you talk about the role your height has played in your career and your casting? In your eyes, what are the advantages and disadvantages of being a “tall actor”? — Mark Crawford

The advantage is that tall actresses love me because I make them look smaller. The disadvantage would be losing work with an A-list star because you also do the same thing to him.

You’ve done television commercials promoting the growth of industry in Michigan. How much of a role does background and roots play in your growth as an actor? — Jess

As much as I try to create different characters, more often than not, I will be asked to play variations of myself. That said, I’ve enjoyed stretching whoever I am into as many people as possible. My actor’s fantasy is to reach the age of 80 and throw a dinner party for everyone I’ve ever played. I can see the place settings now: Alan Raleigh of “God of Carnage.” sitting next to Mr. Johnson from “Pleasantville.” “Gettysburg”‘s Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain along side Flap Horton from “Terms of Endearment.” And, of course, “Dumb & Dumber”‘s Harry Dunne trying to have a conversation with “The Squid and the Whale”‘s Bernard Berkman.

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