FAME CAME IN SLOW-MO
Jeff Daniels feared he had thrown away his shot at acting stardom but now he has well and truly made it, with acclaimed appearances in two of the standout movies in this year’s awards season
I’M 60 YEARS OLD. I’M A LATE BLOOMER ... I JUST TOOK THE LONG, SCENIC ROUTE FOR MY CAREER. I WAS HOPING FOR LONGEVITY
Jeff Daniels is at the top of his game. The 60year-old actor rubs shoulders with heavyweights in two of the buzz movies of this year’s awards season – as NASA director Teddy Sanders in the Matt Damon film, The
Martian, and as controversial former Apple director John Sculley in the highly anticipated Steve Jobs.
In the biopic about the Apple co-founder, Daniels appears in several unforgettable scenes opposite Michael Fassbender as Jobs.
His recent successes include anchoring the 20122014 television show The
Newsroom, for which he won an Emmy Award. And now he’s preparing for a stint on Broadway in the tough drama
Blackbird, playing opposite Michelle Williams.
But the actor, who won his first Golden Globe nod for Woody Allen’s The Purple
Rose of Cairo in 1985, admits that when he moved from New York in 1986 to the acting backblocks – his hometown of Chelsea in suburban Michigan – to bring up his family, he worried he was embarking on career suicide.
As it turned out, it was merely a more scenic route to his hoped-for destination – long-term acting success.
“I wish I could go back and tell myself from 20 years ago: ‘You will have a lot of failure but, don’t worry, there will be a lot of success’. I’m 60 years old. I’m a late bloomer,’’ says the son of a timberyard owner.
Even though Daniels moved back to Michigan after only a handful of movies, he wanted to stay in the business.
“I just took the long, scenic route for my career. I was hoping for longevity. I thought my best shot would be to be seen as someone like Spencer Tracy, Jimmy Stewart, Peter Sellers, Alan Arkin or Gene Hackman – guys whose careers have lasted decades.
“That was the plan — and then The Newsroom came around and I was in my late 50s.’’
Daniels says playing three seasons of conceited anchorman Will McAvoy in the Aaron Sorkin-scripted The
Newsroom ensured he was match-fit to take on the intensely brilliant but dialogue-heavy Steve Jobs, which last month won Sorkin a Golden Globe for best screenplay.
He was impressed by the commitment of his fellow actors, especially Fassbender and Kate Winslet, whose sparkling performance as Joanna Hoffman, Jobs’ confidant and marketing executive for Apple and NeXT, won her a best supporting actress Golden Globe last month. Fassbender and Winslet have Oscars acting nominations for the film.
Daniels advised Fassbender and Winslet to learn their lines early and be fully prepared for the complexity of a Sorkin script, which, says Daniels, has its own rhythm.
“You usually get a script and you work out each line. With The Newsroom, we didn’t change a word in three years. You just need to go away and memorise your lines and get up to speed quickly,’’ he says.
“Michael and Kate jumped on it early and they got (the script) memorised fast because you can’t be memorising your 12 pages of dialogue the night before.”
Daniels says Sorkin takes a theatrical, even a classical, approach to the life of the Apple co-founder.
Steve Jobs is not a straightforward biography. Instead, Sorkin and director Danny Boyle show Jobs behind the scenes during three key product launches: the Macintosh in 1984, the NeXT computer in 1988, and the iMac in 1998.
The film examines the drama and conflicts for Jobs at work and in private, including his rollercoaster relationship with daughter Lisa BrennanJobs, his spiteful treatment of Lisa’s mother, Chrisann Brennan, and his splits with Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak (Seth Rogen) and Sculley (Daniels).
Sculley sacked Jobs after the early Macintosh failure.
“John made a business decision, which, in hindsight, was the wrong one. Steve never forgave this betrayal, and John never recovered from it,” Daniels says.
“They never reconciled ... The regret and pain is still there.”
Michael Fassbender and Jeff Daniels in a scene from the movie Steve Jobs, from Universal Pictures.