Jeff Daniels has accomplished a lot battling boredom.
Before he moved to New York in 1976, he bought a guitar to play when he wasn’t getting work. After he moved back to Michigan in the 1980s, he started getting bored between movie jobs, so he formed the Purple Rose Theater Company. That’s why today, in addition to being an actor known for portraying Atticus Finch on Broadway and Harry Dunne in “Dumb and Dumber,” Daniels, 68, is an accomplished musician and playwright who sometimes performs a one-man musical at a theater he helped bring to life.
“Alive and Well Enough,” his 12-episode audio memoir that Audible plans to release Sept. 7, incorporates skits, bits, songs and stories from his career. It leans heavily on his passion for the work, regardless of whether it resonates on the level of his role in the 1983 film “Terms of Endearment.”
“The rush is between action and cut, when you’re doing it,” Daniels said in a phone interview this month. “The curtain call has always been kind of a silent movie for me. I walk out and I see them, I hear them, but that’s not the climax. That’s not what happened. For me, by that point, it’s over.”
Daniels talked about pursuing his other endeavors — creative and athletic — while avoiding ticks. These are edited excerpts from the conversation and an email.
‘The Beatles: Get Back’
I loved every minute of Peter Jackson’s documentary. Seeing the band’s creative process, to watch people of that caliber face the same mountain that everybody else does — whether they’re writing a song or a play or a musical or a poem — was affirming.
Golf in the Backyard
During Covid, when we all had to kind of bunker, our family put together a golf course on our property. We play with plastic balls, and we each use one club. We’ve got a creek and a pond and some things you have to work around. But you never have a problem getting a tee time, and there’s never a slow foursome in front of you.
I love the portable library aspect of it, and I read more because of it. I recently read “Grinning at the Edge,” Paul Allen’s biography of the playwright Alan Ayckbourn. And I’ve got Rick Rubin’s “The Creative Act” queued up now.
They’re young and they’re talented and they’re getting better every season. For me, it’s fascinating to watch the management manage the talent and the contracts and who you need. It’s the same uniforms, the same game, the same field, and yet the players change. The cast changes. It’s this living, breathing thing that’s evolving.
Clearing Your Head in the Woods
Things get unlocked when you’re walking or biking through the woods. If you’re stuck on something, then just go for a bike ride and wait. Across the street from my house, there’s a state recreation area. It’s kind of like having 10,000 acres of your own, which you didn’t have to pay for. It’s terrific, especially in the winter when there aren’t any ticks.
When I went to Circle Rep Off Broadway in the 1970s, they had a whole bunch of playwrights there, including Lanford Wilson and John Bishop. That’s where I fell in love with that kind of theater — live, creating, new play stuff. I wanted to create that creative place at Purple Rose Theater Company, where I’m surrounded by like-minded people who have to do this thing because it’s what we do.
When I was doing “To Kill a Mockingbird” on Broadway, I would come back to my apartment and turn on the hidden-camera show “Impractical Jokers” to wind down after a show. Whatever Atticus Finch might’ve watched if he were around, it probably wouldn’t have been “Impractical Jokers.” It was a way to disconnect from the show and just unplug. And the guys just crack me up.
New York City
I go to New York for the theater — to see it and be in it — but also to remind myself of who I am. It’s all about the imagination and the art and the creativity, and imagining all those writers who were in New York and kicking around. It’s a good place for me to write.
For my entire career, an acoustic guitar has kept me creatively alive. Over the past 20 years, I’ve played in clubs all over the country, but my regular gig is on my porch looking out at the lake.
Writing, Even When It’s Hard
There’s a battle to it. But when it happens, when you unlock it and that thing launches you toward your ending in a way that you never saw coming, that’s the fireworks. Writing that line that’s going to end the scene, and you close your laptop because you’re going to take the rest of the day off, that’s what keeps you going. You hang onto those euphoric moments.
POST AUTHOR: Chris Kornelis