Jeff Daniels performs his original song “Wicked World” at the Acorn Theatre in Three Oaks, Michigan on Oct. 23. Video shot by Reid Riddell and edited by Steve Mort.
Jeff Daniels has appeared in more than 50 Hollywood movies that range in scope from Woody Allen’s “The Purple Rose of Cairo” to “Dumb & Dumber” with Jim Carrey. He starred in the Tony Award-winning play “Gods of Carnage” and won an Emmy for his portrayal of a news anchor in the HBO series “The Newsroom.”
But many people don’t know that Daniels is also a prolific songwriter. He started writing songs just after college when he moved to New York and told the NewsHour that music kept him sane during all the craziness of looking for acting gigs.
Even now, songwriting still keeps him balanced, he said. “Jim Carrey and I talked about this on the set of ‘Dumb and Dumber’ — he sculpts and paints to stay sane. I write,” he said. “We’re like sharks: we gotta keep moving, we gotta keep creating.”
The other thing that Daniels said keeps him balanced: his deep Midwestern roots. Born and raised in Chelsea, Michigan — a rural town of 5,000 people an hour west of Detroit — Daniels and his wife Kathleen made a decision early in his career to forego a life in Los Angeles or New York. Instead, they raised three children in a lakefront home just outside Chelsea.
Daniels also started a professional theatre company 25 years ago — the Purple Rose Theatre, which draws approximately 45,000 people each year and helps fuel $4 million of business for the town. Daniels does not perform there, but has written 16 plays that have premiered at the theater. His current play, “Casting Session,” is about two out-of-work actors who are desperate to audition for a new play, a story that Daniels said is all too familiar. “You’re just trying to get the next gig, the next job that pays $125 a week,” he said. “And maybe someone will come and see it and get you a better job, but you gotta get this one.”
He certainly hasn’t had a problem getting jobs lately; this fall, he starred in two major motion pictures, “Steve Jobs” and “The Martian.” Daniels also embarked on a nationwide tour performing his songs with a band that includes his son Ben on guitar. His performances are sprinkled with homespun tales of life in Michigan, and many of the lyrics for his songs were inspired by truisms from his father, who owned a lumberyard in Chelsea.
For more on Jeff Daniels, watch the PBS NewsHour tonight.