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A Triple Shot: Jeff Daniels gears up in movies, TV and music
Range is apparently not an issue for Jeff Daniels.
On Sept. 22, 2013, he was on stage at the Nokia Theatre in Los Angeles, accepting the Emmy Award for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama Series for playing Will McAvoy in HBO's "The Newsroom," perhaps the smartest character Daniels has portrayed during his 40-year-plus career. Two days later he was in Georgia and in the guise of his, well, NOT smartest character, Harry Dunne, for "Dumb and Dumber To," the sequel to the iconic 1994 comedy that elevated both Daniels and co-star Jim Carrey.
That's quite a stretch, but Michigan resident Daniels says it was "frighteningly easy. The free fall from Will McAvoy to Harry Dunne was 36 hours, so there was some concern that maybe Will would be on the set.
"But you look at Jim and you just empty your head and he's Lloyd (Christmas) and I'm Harry and the director says 'Action!' and you're there."
Daniels, 59, is most definitely "there" this week. "The Newsroom's" third and final season debuts on Sunday, Nov. 9, while "Dumb and Dumber To" opens in theaters on Friday, Nov. 14. And Daniels found time to squeeze out a new album, "Days Like These," his most fully realized and mature collection of songs, to coincide with this period of high profile.
"It's busy, but 'good' busy," acknowledges Daniels, who lives near Chelsea on a lakefront site, not far from his Purple Rose Theatre and where he keeps a home recording studio for his music. "With the Emmy and what 'The Newsroom' has done and the demands it puts on the actors and the anticipation for the movie, it certainly has got people paying attention to me -- in a way I'm happy about, too."
STUPID IS AS STUPID DOES
Returning to the "Dumb and Dumber" world has been a long time coming for Daniels. The original film, directed and co-written by brothers Peter and Bobby Farrelly, was an unexpected hit that grossed nearly $250 million worldwide, spawned an animated TV series and a 2003 prequel and was named the fifth greatest comedy movie of all time by Total Film magazine. It also became a cult favorite and an acknowledge influence on contemporary comics such as Jonah Hill and Zach Galifianakis, and its litany of oft-repeated lines have insured an enduring legacy.
"For better or worse, that first one is now legendary in many people's minds," notes Daniels. "To be honest, those of us doing the first one were guessing. We had no idea whether any of this was truly that funny, whether anyone above a 14-year-old boy would think it was funny. Jim and I barely knew each other, we had two completely different styles. It was a big question mark.
"And it worked."
Daniels says a combination of Carrey's reticence and a concern for high standards -- or, in this case, high standards for low comedy -- kept the prospect of a sequel in limbo for most of the last two decades. "Certainly for the first 10 years, Jim was in a place where he didn't want to do a sequel of anything," explains Daniels, who made a cameo appearance when Carrey hosted "Saturday Night Live" on Oct. 25. "They had pushed him to do a sequel to 'Mask,' and that didn't work. He wanted to do other things, and he did. So did I.
"But he turned 50 a few years ago and he said to the Farrelly brothers, and said, 'It's the one movie people keep coming up to me about out of all the movies I've done. For whatever reason, the innocence of these two guys or whatever...We should do a sequel.' And the Farrellys and I are going, 'Yes. Yes, we should...' "
"Dumb and Dumber To", which also features Lauren Holden, Kathleen Turner and Jennifer Lawrence, picks up Daniels' Harry and Carrey's Lloyd 20 years on, reunited and in search of Harry's long-lost daughter, who Lloyd winds up falling in love with. "The Farrellys know what works," Daniels says. "I really do think we've got something that matches the first one, and that we have a great chance of satisfying those who think so highly of the first one.
"I mean, Jim and I, we didn't leave anything in the locker room, as they say. We threw everything we had at it. Nobody wanted to just do a sequel cash a check. But I like our chances. I really do."
THE ANCHOR'S CHAIR
Before Harry meets Lloyd again, Daniels world will return to the fictional Atlantic Cable News (ACN) network and McAvoy, who at the end of Season Two had proposed to "News Night" producer MacKenzie McHale (Emily Mortimer) as various other plot points were also resolved, giving the program a sense of summing-up. But Daniels promises that series creator and writer Aaron Sorkin will have things shaking and baking within minutes of Season Three's opening episode.
"As only Aaron can do, they just pick up from where we left off and create a whole other direction to go in," says Daniels, who refuses to reveal any details other than "it's good. He wanted to end it strong, and I think he's done that. He's poured everything he had into it, and now we're all walking away feeling like the job's been done."
Daniels was nominated for another Emmy this year but lost out to "Breaking Bad's" Brian Cranston -- perhaps not a bad thing since he takes his trophy on the road with him during music tours and having two "might break the budget, you know?" And, Daniels adds, he has no regret that "The Newsroom" will have a shorter tenure than HBO mates such as "The Sopranos," "True Blood" or "Boardwalk Empire."
"I wouldn't mind it going four, five, six seasons, but three's plenty," he says. "It's a lot of work, and I feel like we did it well and it's good to walk away when you feel good about it."
Daniels isn't wanting for things to do, however. "The music continues," he notes, and "Days Like These" is perhaps the most organic and heartfelt of the six albums he's released. The set was produced by multi-instrumentalist Brad Phillips and engineered by Daniels' son Ben, with contributions by Michigan bassist Dominic John Davis, Peter Madcat Ruth on the track "Hate This Speed" and a string quartet on "Holy Hotel."
"There's a lot of musicianship this time," says Daniels, who more recently has been working with Ben's band and was also part of singer-songwriter Zach Johnson's Song A Day project. He also has tour dates set for January. "You can't trick that thing into happening; You have to jsut wait for it, and when it does you just need to write it.
"It's a gear shift. It always seems to be the most inspired and challenged I am as an actor makes for fertile ground for writing new (songs). It's happened a lot with certain movies and with 'The Newsroom;' when you're on a roll that demands a lot of your creativity, it spawns and inspires the music. Even in the midst of the demands of 'The Newsroom,' just having the guitar around to pick up gets met going again. The muse gets activated."
With "The Newsroom" wrapping and "Dumb and Dumber To" out, meanwhile, Daniels is eyeballing the next direction to take his muse. "There's interest, and strong interest, from some things," he reports, "and some things I'm interested in that I wouldn't have gotten to do had I knot done 'The Newsroom.'
"One of the things 'The Newsroom' has allowed me to do, certainly on the television side, is surround myself with good people who are coming to me, where before I chased the good people. Post-'Newsroom,' those people are seeking me out, which is a nice change at the age of 78 -- or whatever I am."
A DANIELS DOSSIER
* "The Newsroom" begins its third and final season Sunday, Nov. 9, on HBO.
* "Dumb and Dumber To" opens in theaters on Friday, Nov. 14.
* Daniels' new album, "Days Like These," is available at his web site, www.jeffdaniels.com.
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