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Jeff Daniels Is the Man

The popular actor discusses his new film Paper Man, returning to Broadway's God of Carnage, and his new look. logo
Jeff Daniels
(© Tristan Fuge)
It's not your imagination -- Jeff Daniels is always working. A consummate actor, director, playwright, and musician, Daniels returned to Broadway last month in the Tony Award-winning play God of Carnage in a new role; he's now playing Michael, the toilet fittings salesman (the part originated by James Gandolfini). On Friday, April 23, he will be seen in his latest film, Paper Man, in which he plays a failed husband and novelist unable to start his second novel or to let go of his imaginary childhood friend, Captain Excellent (a bleached-blond Ryan Reynolds), until he meets Abby (Emma Stone), a troubled teenager with an imaginary friend of her own. TheaterMania recently spoke with the dapper and newly goateed Daniels about these projects.

THEATERMANIA: What made you want to do Paper Man?
JEFF DANIELS: Richard is just stuck -- both in his life and on the first page of his second novel -- but through his friendship with Abby, this 17-year-old girl, he finds a kindred lonely soul. Their relationship and the way they figure it out is what attracted me to me to this movie.

TM: You have two leading ladies in this movie, Emma Stone and Lisa Kudrow. What did you think about working with them?
JD: I know -- how lucky can one guy get? Lisa plays my long-suffering wife. It's not her fault that she loves a man who's still part child. Audiences haven't seen this Lisa before; she's funny and sad and touching. The thing about Emma is that she's already doing things that most adult actors don't even know how to do. With so many actors, it's just the "look at me, look at me" school of acting. But Emma reacts and she truly listens and then uses the way you say your line to bounce hers back. She's going to be around for a long time..

Jeff Daniels and Dylan Baker in God of Carnage
(© Joan Marcus)
TM: When you originally did God of Carnage last year, did you and James Gandolfini ever discuss the idea of switching roles?
JD: Never! Flipping roles wasn't even on the radar! But when Tom Hanks came to see us about a year ago, that was his first question. And I said, "What?" But Jim and I never thought about it, never talked about it. We walked away in November and we considered it done forever. We'd done the show 250 times and it was "on to other things, what are we going to do next?"

TM: So how did they actually get you to come back?
JD: The producers called and said, "What would you think about switching roles?" And I was really flattered. But first I called Jim, because we're friends and I wanted to make sure he was okay with it, and he couldn't have been more supportive. The thing about Jim -- and I told him this -- was that he used himself so brilliantly as Michael. So I thought that's what I'm going to try to do, to use myself the same way he did. But just because we're such different people, my Michael has to end up being different than his was.

TM: Whose idea was the beard?
JD: Mine actually. I wanted to find a really different look from the one I had as Alan. But also back in Michigan, where I'm from, my family is in the lumber business and there are a lot of contractors and guys who work in the building industry and you see this look a lot. So I thought, "Hey, let me look like those guys really look."

TM: You also play music and sing. Do you have any upcoming gigs?
JD: I have a couple of Monday nights at City Winery; there's one coming up on May 24 and at least one more in June. I love it because it's just me and my guitar -- but, for me, the actor is also up there right along with the playwright and the director.

TM: Don't you ever want to rest?
JD: I am sort of a workaholic. That's another reason I wanted to come back and play Michael this time. I mean, it's still pretty rare in Broadway history and just the challenge of trying to pull it off appealed to me. I figure if you're going to risk failure, why not do it where the spotlights are pretty bright? That kind of challenge keeps me interested; if I start repeating myself or doing things I've done before, then that's the beginning of the end. But I do like to work. When we were first doing Carnage, I thought, "What am I going to do during the day? Ah, I know, why don't I finish this play?" So I finished the third in a trilogy of plays for the Purple Rose [the Michigan-based theater company that he runs]. It probably seems strangely abnormal to other people; but to me, it's quite normal.

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