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An all-American leading man with a flair for playing perplexed characters overtaken by unusual circumstances, actor Jeff Daniels first registered with the public with his performances as a mostly self-involved semi-intellectual who cheats on his cancer-stricken wife in "Terms of Endearment" (1983). Two years later, he solidified his status as the smug actor in the film-within-the-film who steps off the screen to woo Mia Farrow in "The Purple Rose of Cairo" (1985), and had his defining role as the feckless hero in the offbeat comedy-thriller, "Something Wild" (1986). From there, he oscillated easily from quirky character pieces to big studio films like "Gettysburg" (1993) and the action thriller "Speed" (1994). Daniels was at his most hilarious as a good-natured doofus opposite Jim Carrey in "Dumb and Dumber" (1994) and starred in the live action version of "101 Dalmatians" (1996), before turning in an endearing performance as a diner owner-turned-painter in "Pleasantville" (1998). He had a series of supporting roles in "Blood Work" (2002), "The Hours" (2002), and "Gods and Generals" (2003), before delivering an acclaimed performance in the indie hit "The Squid and the Whale" (2005). The decidedly...
An all-American leading man with a flair for playing perplexed characters overtaken by unusual circumstances, actor Jeff Daniels first registered with the public with his performances as a mostly self-involved semi-intellectual who cheats on his cancer-stricken wife in "Terms of Endearment" (1983). Two years later, he solidified his status as the smug actor in the film-within-the-film who steps off the screen to woo Mia Farrow in "The Purple Rose of Cairo" (1985), and had his defining role as the feckless hero in the offbeat comedy-thriller, "Something Wild" (1986). From there, he oscillated easily from quirky character pieces to big studio films like "Gettysburg" (1993) and the action thriller "Speed" (1994). Daniels was at his most hilarious as a good-natured doofus opposite Jim Carrey in "Dumb and Dumber" (1994) and starred in the live action version of "101 Dalmatians" (1996), before turning in an endearing performance as a diner owner-turned-painter in "Pleasantville" (1998). He had a series of supporting roles in "Blood Work" (2002), "The Hours" (2002), and "Gods and Generals" (2003), before delivering an acclaimed performance in the indie hit "The Squid and the Whale" (2005). The decidedly anti-Hollywood Daniels next played lead detective Alvin Dewey in "Infamous" (2006), a wise blind man in "The Lookout" (2007) and a Congressman in "State of Play" (2009). Whether quirky or serious or somewhere in between, Daniels proved himself to be a chameleon-like actor in a wide ranging number of roles.
Born in Georgia but raised in Michigan, Daniels attended college with the intention of becoming a teacher, although he minored in theater. Cast by guest director Marshall W. Mason in a production of "Summer and Smoke" in his junior year, he dropped out of college and moved to New York City to work with Mason at the Circle Repertory Company. Beginning as an apprentice, Daniels eventually made his stage debut with the company in 1976. Playwright Lanford Wilson expressly wrote the role of Jed, the homosexual lover of a paraplegic, in "Fifth of July" for Daniels, who appeared in both the 1978 off-Broadway version and the 1980 Broadway production. (He also reprised the role for the TV version first aired on Showtime in 1982.) For his stunning performance in the one-man "Johnny Got His Gun" (1982), the actor received an OBIE award. Other Broadway credits included "The Golden Age" (1984), A. R. Gurney's modern-day version of Henry James' "The Aspern Papers," and Lanford Wilson's "Redwood Curtain" (1993), a role he reprised in the 1995 CBS TV adaptation.
Daniels entered films in the small role of the policeman who breaks up a fight between Coalhouse Walker and the fire chief in "Ragtime" (1981). It was not long before Daniels became a known actor with his breakout role of a caddish professor cheating on his wife (Debra Winger) who later dies of cancer in the Oscar-winning tearjerker, James L. Brooks' "Terms of Endearment" (1983). His ability to convey the less-than-admirable qualities of the weak-willed man, but still illicit sympathy in audiences as he grieved the loss of the woman he had wronged made a memorable impact on audiences. Unfortunately, he was wasted as Meryl Streep's editor and friend in "Heartburn" (1986), but fared better as a radio action hero in Woody Allen's "Radio Days" (1987). Daniels has also played leading roles in the little-seen "The House on Carroll Street" (1988), as the stalwart all-American FBI agent who nevertheless helps the "Red-tainted" Kelly McGillis ferret out why U.S. officials are hiding a group of German immigrants; "Checking Out" (1988), as a raging hypochondriac; and a co-starring role in the disappointing "The Butcher's Wife" (1991), opposite Demi Moore. Daniels managed to hold his own alongside several hundred spiders and the scene-stealing John Goodman in the creepy "Arachnophobia" (1990), and he won much-deserved acclaim for his fine performance as Joshua Chamberlain, the Union colonel who defends Little Round Top, in the otherwise middling "Gettysburg" (1993).
On a serious career roll, Daniels ventured back to lighter fare and blockbuster box office with his scene-stealing supporting role of Keanu Reeves' partner, Det. Harold 'Harry' Temple, in Jan De Bont's "Speed" (1994) and displayed a rarely-seen goofy side in the smash holiday hit "Dumb and Dumber" (1994). The year 1996 was a prolific one for Daniels, who further demonstrated his versatility by appearing in the ensemble of the edgy independent film "2 Days in the Valley," playing Anna Paquin's estranged father in the heartwarming "Fly Away Home," and going up against Glenn Close's Cruella DeVil in the live-action remake "101 Dalmatians." In the late 1980s as his star continued to rise, Daniels had deserted Hollywood and retreated to his hometown of Chelsea, MI, where he founded the Purple Rose Theater Company. From its inception, the company produced several of Daniels' own plays throughout the 1990s and beyond, including "Shoe Man," "The Vast Difference" and "The Kingdom's Coming." Daniels made his feature directorial debut with the locally themed comedy "Escanaba in da Moonlight" (2001), adapted from his stage play about a hunting trip gone slightly awry. The film was self-distributed in Michigan in 2001 to little fanfare, though his second outing as writer-director proved more successful. Daniel's "Super Sucker," a comedy about rival vacuum cleaner salesmen, won a slot at the U.S. Comedy Arts Festival in Aspen and walked away with its Audience Award for Best Feature.
Although he no longer lived there, Hollywood continued to beckon. Daniels continued to walk the hit-and-miss path of playing both leading and character roles, alternately appearing in bombs like the film remake of the 1960s sitcom "My Favorite Martian" (1999) and in moving roles in popular films such as "Pleasantville" (1998), in which he played the lonely soda shop owner Mr. Johnson, who lives in the artificial, black-and-white world of a 1950s sitcom and who strikes up an unexpected and Technicolor romance with a married woman (Joan Allen). In between big screen projects, Daniels also turned in exemplary work in several television efforts, including playing George Washington in the A&E telepic "The Crossing" (2000). In 2002, Daniels appeared in Clint Eastwood's detective thriller "Blood Work" and made a renewed impression on audiences in a brief but memorable role as Ed Harris' former lover in Steven Daldry's "The Hours" and in the reprisal of his role as Colonel Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain in "Gods and Generals," Ron Maxwell's 2003 prequel to "Gettysburg." For his next movie, Daniels stepped behind and in front of the camera by directing and starring in the slapstick "Super Sucker" (2002), about a door-to-door vacuum salesman who discovers his product can double as a sex toy for dissatisfied housewives. Daniels also helped finance the film, but it unfortunately failed to earn wide distribution and went straight to video after a brief appearance in theaters.
After a turn in the acclaimed telepic adaptation of Mitch Albom's bestseller "The Five People You Meet In Heaven" (ABC, 2004), Daniels next appeared as a grieving father in "Imaginary Heroes" (2005). Co-starring Sigourney Weaver and Emile Hirsch, the film depicted a family mourning the death of their eldest son (Kip Pardue) who killed himself when the pressure of being a high school swimming champion became too much to handle. In "Because of Winn-Dixie" (2005), Daniels played the preacher father of a young girl (AnnaSophia Robb) who comes to live with him for the summer despite their troubled relationship caused by her mother's desertion. He next had a nicely etched supporting turn in George Clooney's second directorial effort "Good Night and Good Luck" (2005) playing straight-talking network CBS news executive Sid Mickelson, followed by strong notices in writer-director Noah Baumbach's autobiographical "The Squid and the Whale" (2005), the story of two young boys dealing with their parents divorce. Daniels returned to high-concept studio fare with a supporting role in the one-note comedy, "RV" (2006), playing the father in a family of fulltime RV travelers whose friendliness and constant singing drive another family headed by an overworked executive (Robin Williams) more crazy than they make themselves. Daniels didn't have to look far for inspiration for the role; in real life, he had been an RV enthusiast and drove his own recreational vehicle to and from set. Despite poor reviews, "RV" took its opening weekend with a $16 million haul at the box office.
Meanwhile, Daniels was set to be seen in "Infamous" (2006), the second biopic in as many years about Truman Capote (Toby Jones) and his six year stint in Kansas investigating a grisly quadruple homicide that led to his writing In Cold Blood. Daniels played Alvin Dewey, the agent who befriends Capote and helps grant the writer unprecedented access to information and the prisoners. After "Infamous" came and went without so much as a whimper, Daniels delivered a typically competent performance in Scott Frank's directorial debut "The Lookout" (2007), playing the blind roommate of a former high school hockey star (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) brain damaged from a car accident who is recruited by a group of thieves to help rob a bank. In 2009, Daniels returned to the stage for the Broadway production of Yasmina Reza's "God of Carnage," earning a Tony Award nomination for Best Actor in a Play. Back on the screen, he was a struggling novelist who befriends a high school girl (Emma Stone) who gives him back his confidence in the indie drama "Paper Man" (2010). After playing a university professor in "Howl" (2010), Daniels starred as the caustic news anchor Will McAvoy on Aaron Sorkin's cable drama "The Newsroom" (HBO, 2012- ), for which he received SAG and Golden Globe nods for Best Actor in a Drama Series. In September of 2013, Daniels received a Best Actor Emmy for his role on "The Newsroom," the first in his career.
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"[Show business is] a business that gets rid of you and you don't even know you've been discarded. I want to be the one who says 'I'm done.'" --Jeff Daniels in USA Today, September 16, 1996.
"Working with megastars is, well, kind of like working with spiders. I've always been the guy in the scene with Meryl or with Debra. I just know they are going to use the take in which she is great. She's the star. Same with the spider (300 of which he co-starred with in 'Arachnophobia' 1990). When the spider crawled down and finally turned right, I'd better deliver the speech correctly because that's the one we're going to use. We're not going to wait twenty takes for Jeff to get it right." --Daniels quoted in Us, October 1991.
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