Jeff Daniels Has All the Answers

Jeff Daniels Has All the Answers (photo)

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You mentioned Michigan, which is where I was born. How did you end up in the Great Lake State?

It’s home. I grew up in Chelsea, my wife Kathleen grew up in Chelsea. After ten years in New York, we had a kid, and we wanted to raise them in a place that we understood. She’s surrounded by family on both sides, so when I’m using the airport to go to work, she’s got a place where she can raise the kids that is outside the industry.

That was the reason we went there, and it worked in ways that we didn’t know back then. The kids have seen the world, but from outside the industry looking into it. They went to London when we shot “101 Dalmatians,” and they got to meet Jim Carrey on the set of “Dumb and Dumber.” It’s been a great ride for them, but then they’re in the Midwest, where nobody’s famous. They understand. We did it family first, career second — a close second. It keeps you sane. You end up taking movies for the right reasons, instead of “I’m not famous enough this year. I need to do something that makes me more famous. I need to marry somebody who is famous.”

You must be a hometown hero.

I think, whether it’s Chelsea or it’s Michigan, they pull for me. I’m like the Detroit Tigers. They want me to win. The support is great.

What do you do when you’re not working on a movie?

I play a lot of guitar. I’ve been doing a lot of gigs the last seven or eight years. I did them initially to raise money for my theater company, but I really enjoy just walking out with a guitar, plugging it in front of 200 to 1000 people. I’m always working on improving the show and writing new songs. I just wrote a play for my theater company. And then I play golf, with friends of mine or my boys.

What instigated your relationship to music?

When I moved to New York in ’76, I was 21, and I bought a guitar just because I knew I’d be sitting around. I needed something to fill my time, and I wanted to learn how to play. I did a lot of musicals, and I still wanted music to be a part of my life.

I picked up the tab books of Stefan Grossman and Doc Watson, guys like that, and really started to understand how to fingerpick. Later on came the blues and the Delta blues. I went down to Clarksdale, Mississippi, made the pilgrimage to the crossroads, and Robert Johnson’s grave. I never kept a diary, but I would write these songs, and a lot of them are just godawful, but they went into the notebook. Nobody was going to see them. They were just for me.

Now, I write for that audience that’s going to be sitting there that night. I don’t write for Billboard or to sell songs to some country and western guy. I’m observational, then I try to turn it into something that the person sitting there can relate to. That’s where you get songs about road rage called “Have a Good Life (Then Die),” and dealing with the 800-pound gorilla in the room, “If William Shatner Can, I Can Too.” And getting shot and killed by Clint Eastwood, I drop some Hollywood stories in there and try to make it musical with “The Dirty Harry Blues.”


You directed two movies, “Super Sucker” and the Michigan-themed “Escanaba in da Moonlight.” Is this a hat you’d like to wear again?

Nah, I didn’t like it. I’ve always been attracted to writing. I was interested in why Woody Allen was rewriting a scene in the middle of “The Purple Rose of Cairo” [and] Jim Brooks would rewrite little lines in “Terms [of Endearment].” I couldn’t care less about the camera or what kind of lens was on there: “What do you got on there, a 75? Why is that?” As I look back, I’ve always been interested in story structure, how to write well. Guys like Shelby Foote [or] Lanford Wilson. That’s been the driving force.

“The Answer Man” opens in limited release on July 24th.

[Additional photos: Lou Taylor Pucci and Jeff Daniels in “The Answer Man,” Magnolia Pictures, 2009; Jeff Daniels on the set of “Escanaba in da Moonlight,” Purple Rose Films, 2001]

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Documentary Now! Robert Evans Mansion

The Reel Deal

Everything You Need To Know About “Mr. Runner Up” Inspiration Robert Evans

Watch the two-part finale of Documentary Now! this Wednesday at 10P on IFC.

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Photo Credit: Everett Collection

In its upcoming two-part finale, Documentary Now! spoofs the crown jewel of docs: The Kid Stays In The Picture. It’s the autobiographical documentary about Robert Evans, the unlikely Hollywood mogul whose mix of self-aggrandizing bravado, classic good looks and extremely circumstantial good luck took him from being a salesman to an actor to the head of Paramount Pictures.

If you’ve never seen the film, it’s totally worth it. Rotten Tomatoes agrees, with a staggeringly-high approval rating. Watch it before, or watch it after — doesn’t matter. You’ll appreciate it whenever.

In the meantime, here’s a bit of background that will come in handy…

Robert Loves Robert

Robert Evans desk

USA Films/Everett Collection

Robert Evans is the ultimate Robert Evans fan. The movie was narrated by Robert Evans and based on his memoir of the same name. It is totally unbiased.

He’s Kind Of A Big Deal

Robert Evans, Chinatown
Paramount Pictures

Evans produced some of Hollywood’s true classics: Chinatown, Rosemary’s Baby, The Godfather, Love Story…the list goes on. Totally legit and amazing movies.

He’s Also Kind Of A Joke

Wag The Dog
New Line Cinema

Evans has been parodied in TV shows and movies like Entourage and Wag The Dog. He is the quintessential “producer” you already have in your head.

So Wrong He’s Right

Robert Evans Slap
20th Century Film Corp

Robert Evans is a notorious narcissist whose love of self is so blind and sincere that it’s actually adorable.

There’s Something Missing

via Giphy

Entire sections of Robert Evans’ life are left out of the documentary. Maybe it’s because of timing. Maybe it’s because real life isn’t a tidy narrative. Who knows.

He Blew It

Spider coke

Evans had a pretty spectacular fall from grace. He was convicted of cocaine trafficking in the early 80’s, and was connected to a contract killing during the production of The Cotton Club. Oops.

Losing Is For Losers

Everett Collection
Everett Collection

In the Robert Evans mythology, all tragedies are just triumphs in disguise, and every story has a happy ending…for Robert Evans.

Bill Hader Jerry Wallach

With these simple facts in hand you are now prepared to thoroughly enjoy the two-part finale of Documentary Now! starting this Wednesday at 10/9c on IFC.

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Weird Roles

Anthony Michael Hall’s Most Rotten Movies

Catch Anthony Michael Hall in Weird Science on Friday at 8P on IFC.

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Photo Credit: Universal/Everett Collection

Anthony Michael Hall was the quintessential ’80s nerd. We love him in classics like The Breakfast Club and National Lampoon’s Vacation. But even the brainiest among us has his weak spots. In honor of Weird Science airing this Rotten Friday, we analyze Hall’s worst movies.

Weird Science (1985) 56%

A low point for John Hughes, Weird Science is way too wacky for its own good. Anthony Michael Hall’s Gary and his pal Wyatt (Ilan Mitchell-Smith) create the “perfect woman.” Supernatural chaos ensues. The film costars a young Bill Paxton, floppy disks, and a general disconnect from all reality.

The Caveman’s Valentine (2001) 46%

This ambitious drama starring Samuel L. Jackson couldn’t live up to its rich premise. Jackson plays Romulus, a Juilliard-educated, paranoid schizophrenic who lives in a cave. Hall co-stars as Bob, a rich man, who wants to see Romulus play the piano. The plot centers around Romulus investigating a murder, but with so much going on, the movie never quite finds its rhythm.

All About the Benjamins (2002) 30%

Ice Cube plays a bounty hunter who teams up with Mike Epps’ con man to catch diamond thieves. Hall plays Lil J, a small-time drug dealer. It’s definitely a role we’ve never seen Hall in, but overall the movie isn’t funny or original enough to justify its violence.

Freddy Got Fingered (2001) 11%

This showcase for Tom Green’s goofy gross-out comedy is often hailed as one of the worst films of all time. Green plays Gord, a 20-something slacker, who dreams of having his own animated series. Hall is Dave Davidson, a CEO of an animation studio who eventually helps Gord find success. Too bad Tom Green wasn’t so lucky.

Johnny Be Good (1988) 0%

Hall plays against type as Johnny Walker, a star quarterback. Robert Downey Jr. is his best friend and Uma Thurman plays his devoted girlfriend. Despite the support of a future A-list cast, the movie lacks central conflict and charm. Or, as TV Guide put it, “Johnny be worthless.” Ouch.

Catch the “Too Rotten to Miss” Weird Science this Friday at 8P on IFC.

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Season 6: Episode 1: Pickathon

Binge Fest

Portlandia Season 6 Now Available On DVD

The perfect addition to your locally-sourced, artisanal DVD collection.

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End of summer got you feeling like:

Portlandia Toni Screaming GIF

Ease into fall with Portlandia‘s sixth season. Relive the latest exploits of Fred Armisen and Carrie Brownstein’s cast of characters, including Doug and Claire’s poignant breakup, Lance’s foray into intellectual society, and the terrifying rampage of a tsukemen Noodle Monster! Plus, guest stars The Flaming Lips, Glenn Danzig, Louis C.K., Kevin Corrigan, Zoë Kravitz, and more stop by to experience what Portlandia is all about.

Pick up a copy of the DVD today, or watch full episodes and series extras now on IFC.com and the IFC app.

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