Jeff Daniels – Overcoming Stereotypes

Sometimes an actor is so good in a role, that you become convinced they really are like the character they play.

Despite a history of strong performances in dramatic roles, for many people actor Jeff Daniels will always be associated with his comedic role in 1994’s Dumb and Dumber.

In that film, Daniels stars alongside another comedic master – Jim Carrey. The duo play a pair of truly idiotic friends who engage in a series of hilarious misadventures. Daniels was so convincing in the role, that he risked a lifetime of being stereotyped.

I admit it, based on his stellar performance in Dumb and Dumber, I was one of those who thought Daniels was capable of only this one type of character. Never in my life would I have thought of him as a credible dramatic talent. Yet, in the years since that 1994 comedic masterpiece Daniels has proven himself to be an amazing performer.

For me, Jeff Daniels’ went from Dumb and Dumber goofball to respected dramatic star when he appeared in the HBO series The Newsroom. Running from 2012-2014, that show proved Daniels to be one of our country’s greatest actors – quiet a turnaround from the slapstick humor of Dumb and Dumber.

The Newsroom was an American political television series in which Daniels starred as national news anchor Will McAvoy on the fictional Atlantis Cable News channel. It’s hard to believe you are watching the same actor who was once known for butt jokes opposite Jim Carry. It was a brilliant series from the mind of Aaron Sorkin, who previously created the award-winning dramatic series The West Wing starring Martin Sheen, John Spencer, Bradley Whitford, Richard Schiff, Allison Janney, Rob Lowe, and Stockard Channing.

In an amazing turnaround performance, Daniels fully embodies his role as a conservative news anchor with a touch of Don Quixote spirit of taking on the establishment. He not only excels in the focal character of the series, his balanced performance allows the other members of the ensemble to shine in their own rite. Co-starring on the series were Emily Mortimer, John Gallagher Jr., Alison Pill, Thomas Sadoski, Dev Patel, Olivia Munn, Jane Fonda, and the incomparable Sam Waterston.

Daniels was so convincing as news anchor McAvoy he won the 2013 Prime Time Emmy Award for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama Series. Following the end of The Newsroom, Daniels won his second Emmy for the 2017 Netflix miniseries Godless.

In 2018, Daniels stunned audiences with his nuanced starring performance in the Broadway premier of the play To Kill a Mockingbird. Based on the Harper Lee novel of the same name, To Kill a Mockingbird was adapted for the stage by Sorkin and earned Daniels a Tony nomination for Best Actor. It is a performance I would have loved to have seen in person. Reports are he was amazing.

In 2020 Daniels played real life former FBI director James Comey in Showtime’s The Comey Rule about Donald Trump’s illegal collusion with Russia to gain the presidency and his subsequent efforts to obstruct investigation into his crimes – sending our country into social and political chaos. The miniseries was based on Comey’s autobiography A Higher Loyalty and Daniels again turns in a virtuoso performance. He truly captures the essence of the former FBI chief. He earned a Golden Globe nomination for the role.

In 2021, Daniels returned to television in the Showtime series American Rust. The crime drama was based on the novel of the same name by Philipp Meyer. Although canceled after one season on Showtime, in June 2022 the series received new life on Amazon Freevee.

There is no doubt that Jeff Daniels is an incredible actor. He completely disappears into the characters he plays, allowing him to convincingly portray a wide variety of roles. He is an American institution. I, for one, can’t wait to see what he does next.

In the meantime, there are plenty of past performances to catch up on including the 2017 Netflix miniseries Godless, the 2018 Hulu miniseries The Looming Tower, and the 2015 dramatic film Steve Jobs. Going back further into Daniels’ resume include winning performances include Ragtime, Terms of Endearment, The Purple Rose of Cairo, Gettysburg, Speed, The Hours, and Good Night and Good Luck.

Peace. Love. Trust.

Rikki Lee Travolta

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