Daniels feels the tur­moil in ‘Comey’

USA TODAY US Edition - - LIFE - Bill Keveney

An ac­tor doesn’t want to hear a per­for­mance made some­one feel sick, but that was mu­sic to Jeff Daniels’ ears as he played con­tro­ver­sial FBI Direc­tor James Comey in Showtime’s minis­eries “The Comey Rule” (Sun­day and Mon­day, 9 EDT/PDT).

Dur­ing a break in shoot­ing a piv­otal one-on-one scene with Brendan Glee­son’s Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump – a no­to­ri­ous din­ner where Trump asked for Comey’s loy­alty – writer-direc­tor Billy Ray told Daniels there was a guest on set: Comey him­self.

“Jim said, ‘You’ve brought back the un­com­fort­able, awk­ward emo­tions of know­ing ex­actly what was go­ing on and how wrong it was,’” Daniels says of the re-en­acted White House en­counter, de­tailed in Comey’s 2018 book, “A Higher Loy­alty: Truth, Lies and Lead­er­ship.” “He even said, ‘I feel nau­seous.’ When you tell an ac­tor their per­for­mance made you feel nau­seous, it’s usu­ally a neg­a­tive, but not in this case. That told me we were do­ing it right.”

Dur­ing his ten­ure, Comey left peo­ple on both sides of the aisle feel­ing ill af­ter his ac­tions in in­ves­ti­gat­ing Hil­lary Clin­ton’s emails and Rus­sia’s in­ter­fer­ence in the 2016 pres­i­den­tial elec­tion, and its ties to Trump’s cam­paign.

The first part of the minis­eries fo­cuses on events lead­ing up to the 2016 elec­tion; the sec­ond fol­lows its af­ter­math, fea­tur­ing once-anony­mous of­fi­cials who have be­come semi-house­hold names, in­clud­ing Sally Yates (Holly Hunter), An­drew McCabe (Michael Kelly), Peter Str­zok (Steven Pasquale), Lisa Page (Oona Chap­lin) and Rod Rosen­stein (Scoot McNairy).

Jen­nifer Ehle plays Comey’s wife, Pa­trice, who wor­ries about the con­se­quences of her hus­band’s ac­tions. Wil­liam Sadler plays na­tional se­cu­rity ad­viser Michael Flynn, with Kings­ley Ben-Adir as Pres­i­dent Barack Obama.

Daniels, 65, says the minis­eries doesn’t take Comey’s side but re­flects the thoughts in his book. Comey was fired by Trump a few months af­ter the Jan­uary 2017 “loy­alty” din­ner.

“It’s Comey’s point of view. We know Trump’s ver­sion of the story and that is that Comey is a liar. OK, here’s the other side,” he says.

Ray, who has ex­am­ined real-life fig­ures in films such as “Cap­tain Phillips,” “Shat­tered Glass” and “Richard Jewell,” says he used Comey’s book as “a jump­ing-off point” and con­sulted with him dur­ing pro­duc­tion, but did his own re­search and in­ter­views.

He found noth­ing “that brought into ques­tion any­thing that was in Direc­tor Comey’s book, so it wound up be­ing a pretty good tem­plate,” he says, adding that he doesn’t see the se­ries as proComey or anti-Trump.

“The job of the (minis­eries) was to tell the story of how heart­break­ing it can be to be a public ser­vant. Jim Comey’s a pretty ded­i­cated public ser­vant and seems like a great pro­tag­o­nist,” he says. “And Trump, in that re­spect, is a great coun­ter­weight be­cause he is clearly not a public ser­vant.”

Ray vig­or­ously dis­agrees with the con­tention that Comey cost Clin­ton the pres­i­dency when he no­ti­fied Congress 11 days be­fore the elec­tion that

the FBI was re­view­ing emails re­lated to the ear­lier server in­ves­ti­ga­tion.

“I know that not to be true,” he says. At one point, he had be­lieved it, and told Comey when they first spoke. “But ... no less than (for­mer Direc­tor of Na­tional In­tel­li­gence) James Clap­per told me that the crit­i­cal com­po­nent in the 2016 elec­tions was the Rus­sians’ in­ter­fer­ence.”

Ray sees Comey’s in­tegrity as his great­est strength and his “ter­ri­ble po­lit­i­cal in­stincts” his big­gest weak­ness. “He has a very strong moral rud­der ... And I think there were times where he felt that moral rud­der out­weighed other po­lit­i­cal con­sid­er­a­tions.”

Daniels found Comey’s sit­u­a­tion more com­pli­cated than he’d re­al­ized.

“In per­form­ing the role, I learned what he was up against when he made some of th­ese con­tro­ver­sial de­ci­sions. And it’s not as sim­ple as I thought back in Oc­to­ber 2016,” he says.

Al­though Glee­son has the Trump hair and 6-foot-3-inch Daniels wore two-inch lifts to ap­prox­i­mate the 6foot-8-inch Comey – “I could act the other three inches” – the ac­tors tried to get deeper into the char­ac­ters.

“Brendan goes be­hind the eyes of Trump,” Daniels says. “Even though you know all the stuff that Trump says, (Brendan) pulls you in the way great film ac­tors can do, so that you see maybe a pri­vate dark­ness be­hind the eyes of Trump. That’s what I saw.”

Al­though Showtime first sched­uled the minis­eries for De­cem­ber, Ray pushed for “Rule” to air be­fore the Nov. 3 elec­tion. He says he’s not telling any­one how to vote, but “there are Amer­i­cans who do not yet un­der­stand how pro­foundly Rus­sia im­pacted our elec­tion in 2016. If peo­ple carry that in­for­ma­tion into the vot­ing booth in 2020, that would be a re­ally healthy thing.”

Daniels says “Rule” gives vot­ers some­thing to con­sider.

“We weren’t nearly as in­formed as we needed to be four years ago. I think we’re in a bet­ter place now. We’ve now had four years of Trump and what he’s go­ing to do or not go­ing to do,” he says. “We can make a smarter de­ci­sion about what di­rec­tion this coun­try should go in.”


Jeff Daniels stands tall in “The Comey Rule.”

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