PLEASED TO DUMB IT DOWN
Forget about the Oscars, veteran Jeff Daniels is more than happy to act the fool, but rates raising a family as his greatest achievement
Jeff Daniels is making a list of the must-see films of his career. “Dumb and Dumber To,” he says, beginning with his latest, blissfully stupid comedy. “Dumb and Dumber one — the toilet scene. The Squid and the Whale. Fly Away Home is pretty good ...”
He’s making raspberry noises as he thinks.
“Pwwt, pwwt ... Gettysburg, for that speech to the guys on the hill. Looper is kind of out there. I dunno ... No, no, take Looper away and put The Purple Rose Of Cairo. Put Something Wild and get rid of Fly Away Home. Now I’m just eliminating ...”
Daniels, 60 next month, also directed a couple of indie films in the early 2000s, but won’t be doing it again.
“I didn’t like directing: ‘Jeff, wait a minute, we’ve got a question, should we have a blue shirt with a red stripe or a red with a green stripe?’ I don’t care. I just don’t care.”
Yet his greatest achievement, he reckons, is checking out of the very career he’s trying to sum up: moving from New York back to his home state of Michigan so he and his wife, Kathleen, could raise their family “in the only place we knew how”.
Turning down series and long location shoots lost him money and (perhaps) awards, but he kept getting supporting roles alongside A-listers (see Speed, The Hours, Good Night, and Good Luck) “because I’m good and I’m good right away,” he says. Most importantly, the children got raised.
“If my kids are set up,” he says, “then I beat the game.”
Then the kids finished high school. So Daniels switched focus back to his career. He took a role on Broadway alongside James Gandolfini in God Of Carnage. Then a TV series, The Newsroom.
Equally criticised and revered, the Aaron Sorkinscripted HBO drama about the inner workings of a cable news channel wrapped its threeseason run last month.
It wasn’t long before Daniels was back on set with Jim Carrey, the pair reprising the stupidest men ever committed to celluloid in the long-time-coming sequel, Dumb and Dumber To.
The original Dumb and Dumber may be remembered as a cult comedy, but it was the sixth-biggest movie hit of 1994 in the US. It tipped Carrey from happening to huge, while writer-directors the Farrelly brothers spawned an entirely new dumb/gross-out genre.
Yet Daniels’ agents held an “intervention” the night before he flew to LA to audition for it, telling him the comedy would end his career.
“Two of the agents said, ‘There is no way we’re gonna let you do this movie’.
“I said, ‘I want to work with Jim Carrey. I want to change it up. I’m not interested in this little Oscar trail you have me on so that one day maybe I’ll get a Supporting Actor nomination and that’ll be the last you hear of me’.”
A sequel wasn’t really on the table until in 2010 a wistful Carrey watched the original, then called the Farrellys saying he felt like doing something dumb again.
In the sequel, Harry (Daniels) reunites with Lloyd (Carrey) in a mental home, then the pair set off on a crosscountry adventure to find the daughter that Harry never knew he had.
Dumb and Dumber To opened in US cinemas in the same November week the final season of The Newsroom premiered on HBO, giving Daniels billboard domination on the subways of New York and the freeways of LA.
“You know what?” says Daniels. “At 21 years old, 1976, driving into New York, if I’d sat in the passenger seat with me and said, ‘By the way, it’s not gonna happen for you until you’re 59 …’
“I outlasted the bastards.”
Jim Carrey as Lloyd and Jeff Daniels as Harry in a scene from comedy film
Dumb and Dumber To.