Interview: Jeff Daniels

On Friday, Jan. 28, actor Jeff Daniels will be performing his own brand of the blues to the Pollak Theater at Monmouth University in West Long Branch, N.J.

In conjunction with Night & Day Magazine, Pop-Break’s Bill Bodkin spoke with the actor about music, movies, theater and what he’d like to be remembered for.

BB: You’re an actor, a playwright and musician — would you consider yourself a modern-day renaissance man?

JD: I don’t know about that. I like doing a lot of things that all happen to be creative. In my head, they all come from the same creative place or well, if you will. A lot of the same principles involving the creative process apply across the board regarding exploring, refining or rewriting, and then repetition in rehearsal to gain a mastery of whatever it is you’re doing.

BB: You have a very distinct musical style, combining a sort of classic Americana with a storytelling vocal style — what and who inspired you to perform this style of music? Furthermore, what inspired you to record original music and tour?

JD: It’s probably a combination of a lot of different artists. In the end, we’re all influenced by those who come before us. Showing us the way. Or, their way. All those Delta Blues artists in the ‘20s, certainly. Modern day story teller guitarists like Utah Phillips, Arlo Guthrie, Steve Goodman, John Prine, Lyle Lovett, John Hiatt, Todd Snider, Christine Lavin, Cheryl Wheeler, Patty Griffin, among others.

BB: Why come back to Monmouth University to perform? What was it about this venue that compelled you to return? Was the New Jersey audience receptive to your music?

JD: It’s a nice venue and they asked me back. I enjoy playing. I remember them as being an audience that listened and, as someone who takes a lot of care and puts a lot of effort into his lyrics, I appreciate that kind of attentiveness. They also had a sense of humor which makes the jokes work a lot better.

BB: If you were to jam with any musician currently, performing who would it be?

JD:Keb Mo. That guy is a master player, whether he’s riffing up and down the fretboard or using one note to make you feel what he’s feeling. I learn something every time I hear him.

BB: In 2010, you starred in Paper Man [released on Blu-Ray Jan. 18] along with Ryan Reynolds and Emma Stone. For those unfamiliar with the film, why should they check it out?

JD: I liked the script. It’s demanding of an audience and you never know where it’s going next. I like that. I like unpredictability in story that leads somewhere I didn’t know I was headed.

BB:To be extremely honest, I have been a fan for quite some time — enjoying the various roles that you’ve performed. If you wouldn’t mind, could you rank your Top 5 favorite films you were involved in? Personally my Top 5 would be (bare in mind, I haven’t seen all your films): Dumb & Dumber, The Lookout, Speed, Good Night & Good Luck and Blood Work (you were the best part of that movie).

JD: Couldn’t possibly compare my “children.” Certainly, The Purple Rose Of Cairo was a turning point. Woody Allen said I was good, and for a young actor who’s trying to make a career for himself, that meant the world to me.

BB: You starred in The Squid & The Whale with Jesse Eisenberg. How does it make you feel to see your young co-star touted for giving a potential Oscar-winning performance?

JD: Whatever happens for him, I hope at the very least it ups his quote for his next film.

BB: You’ve starred in big blockbuster film and intimate indie flicks — which type of film do you prefer to be in?

JD: Films with good writing.

BB: You were nominated for a Tony for God Of Carnage. Are you planning a return to the stage any time soon?

JD: Probably sooner rather than later.

BB: Ultimately, would you rather be known as Jeff Daniels the actor or Jeff Daniels the musician?

JD: My kids’ Dad.

Bill Bodkin is the gray bearded owner, editor-in-chief and co-founder of Pop Break. Most importantly, he is lucky husband, and proud father to a beautiful daughter named Sophie. He can be seen regularly on the site reviewing The Walking Dead, Doctor Who, and is the host of the site’s podcast, The BreakCast. He is a graduate of Rutgers University with a degree in Journalism & English. Follow him on Twitter: @BodkinWrites

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