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Interview with Jeff Daniels

From "Because of Winn-Dixie"


Page 3

I did a movie with Clint [Eastwood] called “Blood Work” where I'm the killer, and I wrote a song called “The Dirty Harry Blues,” which is about an actor who got shot by Clint Eastwood. Which, for an actor, is just a notch on the belt. So it's a song about getting killed by Clint. And there's a song called “Recreational Vehicle” which is kind of a 10-minute song about this RV trip I took with my family. We were going to Cooperstown, New York, for the Baseball Hall Of Fame from Michigan. We stopped at a truck stop and while I was getting recognized gassing up — I got recognized as Jeff Bridges. I got back into the RV and pulled back onto the highway and had forgotten my wife. So it's a song, which is a true story, and it's very entertaining and it raises a lot of money for the theatre…

You were recognized as Jeff Bridges?

”Excuse me, Mr. Bridges?” “Yeah.” “Can I get an autograph?” “Sure can.” It happens a lot. Dave Coulier is another one. Bill Hurt I get, Bill Pullman I get. “You were so great in ‘Independence Day.’”

But you know on the flip side, imagine Jeff Bridges being told how great he was in “Dumb and Dumber.” So I'm sure Bridges gets some yucks out of it too.

You’re based in Michigan. Is that a conscious effort to stay away from Hollywood?

Moved there in ‘86. I just never bought the fantasy and the surrealism. I just didn't want to raise the kids here. The joke is, and it's kind of true, I didn't want to go on Easter Egg hunts at Sly Stallone's house. And when all your friends are famous, well maybe, maybe you can handle it over time, so I didn't want to raise them inside an industry that they may not even be involved in. And while there's a way to do it, we just made a decision… Kathleen is from Michigan [and] we just went back home, to be honest, thinking the career would end eventually. And it didn't. It worked well. I mean, it's cost me money, it's cost me jobs, but the family is in great shape.

And you never starved.

I never starved. And you know, whatever talent I have, I've relied on that, versus image or star. I have just said, “Hire me if you want somebody good.” I tried to be as good as I could be every time out, and that's kind of bridged the decades. And that's a lot of the reason for “Dumb and Dumber,” “Pleasantville,” the whole wide range because that opens the door to a lot of jobs. I mean Clint was the guy who said, “If you can do ‘2 Days in the Valley’ and ’Dumb and Dumber,’ you can do this.” So it was a conscious career move, because we wanted to live there.

You’re a staunch defender of “Dumb and Dumber.”

Look, the last time I looked, the Greeks were holding up two masks — and at some point, including the Oscars, we've forgotten that. And I would remind the Academy, which is a wonderful celebration of film, that it's not just about being serious, meaningful, and important. If it were so, you wouldn't be hiring a comedian to emcee it every year.

Comedy is hard to do. All the cliches about it are true. Even a “Dumb and Dumber.” Dustin Hoffman called me and said, “You guys were great together, and the way you held it and kept straight with it and made it believable with the most extreme outrageous stuff.” I know what it was about. It brought a lot of joy and laughter to people and there is nothing wrong about that, and nothing to apologize for that. A father came up to me, a Chicago guy, and said, “I've just gotta thank you for ‘Dumb and Dumber.’” I said, “That's nice.” He said, “No, no. My daughter died of cancer and the last two weeks of her life we watched that movie every day. It made her laugh.”

While I know it's awards, this and that, and serious and meaningful. Comedy can do a lot of good. It has value.

Is there anything you’re still interested in tackling?

It's more of a maintenance program or sustaining that kind of, “Can I be as believable in ‘Dumb and Dumber’ with Jim as I can be in ‘Imaginary Heroes’ with Sigourney or in ‘The Hours’ with Meryl?” You know, if you can go toe to toe with Meryl [Streep] and then go toe to toe with Jim [Carrey], that's not easy - and still be believable. I've really worked hard to try to do that. It's really easy to create an image and just do that. You can make a lot of money doing that, but that didn't interest me for whatever reason.

What project do you have coming up?

Doug McGrath wrote a script called “Every Word Is True.” It's the story of Truman Capote going to Kansas to research “In Cold Blood.” They've got some great actor — I don't know his name — playing Truman, and they've got me and Sandra Bullock and Michelle Pfeiffer and Mark Ruffalo around him to tell the story. It's a really good script. Doug's a really great writer. I go to Texas tomorrow. We're shooting pretty quickly. [I play] Alvin Dewey, the detective who's assigned to the case.

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