Jeff Daniels has been in some big blockbusters, from Arachnophobia to Dumb & Dumber. But he still feels skittish about the business, which is why he enjoys spending his free time doing theater in Michigan.
Everyone in America has seen Jeff Daniels, 47, in at least one movie, whether it was Terms of Endearment, The Purple Rose of Cairo, Heartburn, Arachnophobia, Gettysburg, The Butcher's Wife, Dumb & Dumber, Fly Away Home or Blood Work. But very few have seen him on the stage, a place he thrives. He loves the theater so much, in fact, that in 1989 he built one--the Purple Rose Theater--in his hometown of Chelsea, Michigan, so that he'd have a platform on which to debut the plays he's written. So far he has produced eight. But his passion for smaller venues hasn't prevented him from working on the big screen. He'll appear in the Nicole Kidman/Julianne Moore/Meryl Streep ensemble The Hours as well as the Gettysburg _prequel _Gods and Generals.
LAWRENCE GROBEL: Why do you live in Michigan? What's wrong with L.A. or New York?
JEFF DANIELS: I was in New York for about 10 years. The longest I was in L.A. was three months to do a play. I didn't like it. L.A. was hell on earth, soulless and shallow.
Q: You've said you weren't capable of doing the schmooze thing in L.A.
A: I can't do it. A publicist asked me to take some actress to someone else's premiere. I said, "No, I'm married." I'd get frustrated because there was always talk of doing something and nothing ever happened. There were things I wanted to do in Michigan, including having complete, 100% control of a theater and having kids grow up somewhere not in the Industry.
Q: In addition to making The Hours and Gods and Generals, you've also filmed I Witness with James Spader. He's a good actor who hasn't hit it big.
A: I told him we're both members of the 25-year club, which means we've both been in the business for over 25 years. That's a huge victory, and there aren't many people in that club. He's very selective. I encouraged him to sell out.
Q: You haven't sold out.
A: I've taken the money a few times because I have things I want to do and they help pay for them. I told Lee Grant, who directed me in a TV movie, "I have to be an artist." She said, "Do one for you, one for them." I asked, "Who's them?" And she said, "The mortgage, the family." I'm not in a position where money is no problem.
Q: Has working in Hollywood made you feel insecure?
A: I never used to think my career would last. I had no faith in it. Ever since high school I thought I'd fail and have to go back to my father's lumber company.
Q: Have you ever wanted to quit the business?
A: There was a time when I told my agent, "I'm tired of this, I'm tired of it all." I said I was going to retire and he said, "No you're not."
Q: What did you do?
A: I started eating. I just porked up. But then offers came in, so I dropped 40 pounds.