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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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The Best Of The Last

Portlandia Goes Out With A Bang

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The end is near. In mere days Portlandia wraps up its final season, and oh what a season it’s been. Lucky for you, you can watch the entire season right now right here and on the IFC app, including this free episode courtesy of Subaru.

But now, let’s take a moment to look back at some of the new classics Fred and Carrie have so thoughtfully bestowed upon us. (We’ll be looking back through tear-blurred eyes, but you do you.)

Couples Dinner

It’s not that being single sucks, it’s that you suck if you’re single.

Cancel it!

A sketch for anyone who has cancelled more appointments than they’ve kept. Which is everyone.

Forgotten America

This one’s a “Serial” killer…everything both right and wrong about true crime podcasts.

Wedding Planners

The only bad wedding is a boring wedding.

Disaster Hut

It’s only the end of the world if your doomsday kit doesn’t include rosé.

Catch up on Portlandia’s final episodes on demand and at

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Your Portlandia Personality Test

The New Portlandia Webseries Is Going Your Way

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Carrie and Fred understand that although we have so much in common, we’re each so beautifully unique and different. To help us navigate those differences, Portlandia has found an easy and honest way to embrace our special selves in the form of a progressive new traffic system: a specific lane for every kind of driver. It’s all in honor of the show’s 8th and final season, and it’s all presented by Subaru.

Ready to find out who you really are? Match your personality to a lane and hop on the expressway to self-understanding.

Lane 10: Trucks Piled With Junk

Your junk is falling out of your trunk. Shake a tail light, people — this lane is for you.

Lane 33: Twins

You’re like a Gemini, but waaaay more pedestrian. Maybe you and a friend just wear the same outfits a lot. Who cares, it’s just twinning enough to make you feel special.

Lane 27: Broken Windows

Bad luck follows you around and everyone knows it. Your proverbial seat is always damp from proverbial rain. Is this the universe telling you to swallow your pride? Yes.

Lane 69: Filthy Cars

You’re all about convenience. Getting your car washed while you drive is a no-brainer.

Lane 43: Newly Divorced Singles

It’s been a while since you’ve driven alone, and you don’t know the rules of the road anymore. What’s too fast? What’s too slow? Are you sending the right signals? Don’t worry, the breakdown lane is nearby if you need it.

Still can’t find a lane to match your personality? Check out all the videos here. And see the final season of Portlandia this spring on IFC.

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Last-Minute Holiday Gift Guide

Hits from the '80s are on repeat all Christmas Eve and Day on IFC.

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GIFs via Giphy, Photos via The Everett Collection

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