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Jeff Daniels Has All the Answers

Jeff Daniels Has All the Answers (photo)

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Jeff Daniels seems to have done it all over his lengthy career, from blockbuster action (“Speed”) to slapstick comedy (“Dumb and Dumber”) to war epics (“Gettysburg”) and indie dramas (“The Squid and the Whale”). If his screen work and raising a family didn’t keep him busy enough, Daniels is also a playwright, a two-time feature director, a singer-songwriter and the founder of the Purple Rose Theatre Company (named after the Woody Allen film in which he starred) in his home state of Michigan. Currently, he’s also been performing onstage in Broadway’s “God of Carnage,” for which he was recently awarded a Tony nomination.

In the movie world, though, Daniels can next be seen in the indie rom-com “The Answer Man” (formerly titled “Arlen Faber” at Sundance, sharing the name of his character). He plays a reclusive author whose chartbusting self-help book “Me and God” has been changing people’s lives for 20 years, his adoring fans oblivious to the fact that, in reality, he’s a cantankerous misanthrope who doesn’t take his own advice. Inevitably, he undergoes his own spiritual awakening when his chronic back pain puts him into contact with a lovely chiropractor (Lauren Graham). I sat down with Daniels to talk about his home in Michigan, golf self-help books, fame versus anonymity and why he’ll never direct another movie.

If you actually wrote a book called “Me and God,” what would it be about?

Oh, I think it would be the quest to find this elusive being that everyone seems to be convinced is really there.

Why are people so obsessed with finding the Big Answers, rather than living life and discovering them for themselves?

I think everyone’s scared that this is it. So you create a place that’s better than where we are now, so that you aren’t scared. This is from a guy who is in “God of Carnage,” in [which] there is no hope. The theme is that people struggle until they’re dead. I’ve been living that for six months.

Have you ever picked up a self-help book?

I play golf, so yeah. There are golf self-help books, both mentally for your swing, and for between your ears. At the end of the day, you’re trying to end up in some version of utopia, whether it’s the ability to hit a power draw 300 yards, or to be able to function in your day happily. We’re all looking for peace of mind.

There’s something hilariously crass about the “God” business. How do people not see through it, that people writing books can’t possibly know ultimate truths?

No one ever gets the answers, but that doesn’t stop people from asking the questions and hoping that someone, somewhere, will have that answer. Arlen Faber writes “Me and God,” and people believe this is the book that has the answers. Whether he actually has conversations with God, or channels God, they decide that this gives them peace of mind. That’s why there will always be a market for spiritual and afterlife books. People desperately want that, and we will never know. I mean, I’m waiting for Houdini to come back. As he died, he said: “I will be back in one year, and if I come back, there’s an afterlife. If I don’t, there isn’t.” We’re still waiting for Harry to appear.

07222009_AnswerMan2.jpgArlen Faber chooses to live as a hermit. As someone who has been in the public eye for many years, have you ever had moments when you really craved anonymity?

Yeah, it’s one of the reasons I moved to Michigan and raised my family in the Midwest. There’s nothing remotely interesting about that to the paparazzi and celebrity websites. It’s just boring. So, in a way, I’ve been craving anonymity, at the same time trying to have a career as an actor in this country — they seem to contradict each other. Gene Hackman said, and I believe it: “I went to acting school, not star school.” That’s all I try to be, a good actor. If I occasionally get limos sent to me, and I’m in movies that make a lot of money and up my profile for a while, I also know that there’s a time when people will be looking in other directions. In order to have a life as an actor, I’ve got to have a relationship with fame, so I accept it on those terms. [laughs]

Does it ever make you uncomfortable, being treated as a celebrity?

The older you get, the more you learn. There are ups and downs. That’s the trap of a lot of stars. It’s such a rush to be in a “Dumb and Dumber,” that makes that much money, or to be in a “Squid and the Whale,” and you get all this attention: “Oh, you’re going to get nominated.” But you can’t assume it’s going to be there a year from now. Don’t forget that the limo is rented. Somebody else’s ass is going to be on this seat tomorrow night. It took me a while to actually enjoy it, but to not take it seriously and know that it’s temporary. Fame is fleeting. It’s a cliché, and it’s true. As soon as you understand that, it gets easier. It’s either that, or you’re sitting in your Hollywood Hills home after three years of not being in a movie that’s made any money, and you’re heading to Betty Ford.

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Hacked In

Funny or Die Is Taking Over

FOD TV comes to IFC every Saturday night.

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We’ve been fans of Funny or Die since we first met The Landlord. That enduring love makes it more than logical, then, that IFC is totally cool with FOD hijacking the airwaves every Saturday night. Yes, that’s happening.

The appropriately titled FOD TV looks like something pulled from public access television in the nineties. Like lo-fi broken-antenna reception and warped VHS tapes. Equal parts WTF and UHF.

Get ready for characters including The Shirtless Painter, Long-Haired Businessmen, and Pigeon Man. They’re aptly named, but for a better sense of what’s in store, here’s a taste of ASMR with Kelly Whispers:

Watch FOD TV every Saturday night during IFC’s regularly scheduled movies.

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Wicked Good

See More Evil

Stan Against Evil Season 1 is on Hulu.

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Okay, so you missed the entire first season of Stan Against Evil. There’s no shame in that, per se. But here’s the thing: Season 2 is just around the corner and you don’t want to lag behind. After all, Season 1 had some critical character development, not to mention countless plot twists, and a breathless finale cliffhanger that’s been begging for resolution since last fall. It also had this:

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The good news is that you can catch up right now on Hulu. Phew. But if you aren’t streaming yet, here’s a basic primer…

Willards Mill Is Evil

Stan spent his whole career as sheriff oblivious to the fact that his town has a nasty curse. Mostly because his recently-deceased wife was secretly killing demons and keeping Stan alive.

Demons Really Want To Kill Stan

The curse on Willards Mill stipulates that damned souls must hunt and kill each and every town sheriff, or “constable.” Oh, and these demons are shockingly creative.

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They Also Want To Kill Evie

Why? Because Evie’s a sheriff too, and the curse on Willard’s Mill doesn’t have a “one at a time” clause. Bummer, Evie.

Stan and Evie Must Work Together

Beating the curse will take two, baby, but that’s easier said than done because Stan doesn’t always seem to give a damn. Damn!

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Beware of Goats

It goes without saying for anyone who’s seen the show: If you know that ancient evil wants to kill you, be wary of anything that has cloven feet.

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Season 2 Is Lurking

Scary new things are slouching towards Willards Mill. An impending darkness descending on Stan, Evie and their cohort – eviler evil, more demony demons, and whatnot. And if Stan wants to survive, he’ll have to get even Stanlier.

Stan Against Evil Season 1 is now streaming right now on Hulu.

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SO EXCITED!!!

Reminders that the ’90s were a thing

"The Place We Live" is available for a Jessie Spano-level binge on Comedy Crib.

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Unless you stopped paying attention to the world at large in 1989, you are of course aware that the ’90s are having their pop cultural second coming. Nobody is more acutely aware of this than Dara Katz and Betsy Kenney, two comedians who met doing improv comedy and have just made their Comedy Crib debut with the hilarious ’90s TV throwback series, The Place We Live.

IFC: How would you describe “The Place We Live” to a fancy network executive you just met in an elevator?

Dara: It’s everything you loved–or loved to hate—from Melrose Place and 90210 but condensed to five minutes, funny (on purpose) and totally absurd.

IFC: How would you describe “The Place We Live” to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Betsy: “Hey Todd, why don’t you have a sip of water. Also, I think you’ll love The Place We Live because everyone has issues…just like you, Todd.”

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IFC: When you were living through the ’90s, did you think it was television’s golden age or the pop culture apocalypse?


Betsy: I wasn’t sure I knew what it was, I just knew I loved it!


Dara: Same. Was just happy that my parents let me watch. But looking back, the ’90s honored The Teen. And for that, it’s the golden age of pop culture. 

IFC: Which ’90s shows did you mine for the series, and why?

Betsy: Melrose and 90210 for the most part. If you watch an episode of either of those shows you’ll see they’re a comedic gold mine. In one single episode, they cover serious crimes, drug problems, sex and working in a law firm and/or gallery, all while being young, hot and skinny.


Dara: And almost any series we were watching in the ’90s, Full House, Saved By the Bell, My So Called Life has very similar themes, archetypes and really stupid-intense drama. We took from a lot of places. 

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IFC: How would you describe each of the show’s characters in terms of their ’90s TV stereotype?

Dara: Autumn (Sunita Mani) is the femme fatale. Robin (Dara Katz) is the book worm (because she wears glasses). Candace (Betsy Kenney) is Corey’s twin and gives great advice and has really great hair. Corey (Casey Jost) is the boy next door/popular guy. Candace and Corey’s parents decided to live in a car so the gang can live in their house. 
Lee (Jonathan Braylock) is the jock.

IFC: Why do you think the world is ready for this series?

Dara: Because everyone’s feeling major ’90s nostalgia right now, and this is that, on steroids while also being a totally new, silly thing.

Delight in the whole season of The Place We Live right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib. It’ll take you back in all the right ways.