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Jeff Daniels, Everyman

He may be a leading man, but the star of HBO's 'The Newsroom' is no Mr. Hollywood

Big-time Hollywood actors usually travel in style. Many have private jets. John Travolta even flies his own 707.

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Then there's Jeff Daniels, who drives an RV. In fact, to get to Los Angeles to shoot his new series The Newsroom, which premieres on HBO this Sunday night at 10, he and his wife, Kathleen, hopped in their rig and hit the road.

"I drive it myself. It's 42 [feet long]," Daniels says proudly. "Took the dog with us."

With the 57-year-old actor behind the wheel, they stayed overnight in RV parks, Walmart parking lots or truck stops on the 2,200-mile trek from their Michigan home. When they arrived, Daniels eased the RV into a parking spot near the soundstage, where it stayed for five months of filming. When the show's first season wrapped in May, they drove it back.

It's unorthodox, for sure, but Daniels pretty much defies every preconceived notion about Hollywood actors. He's as down-to-earth as it gets. He and Kathleen have been married for 33 years — they were high school sweethearts in Chelsea, Mich., where they still live. After he established himself in Hollywood, they moved back to Chelsea, where Daniels founded and still helps to run the Purple Rose Theatre Company (named for the classic Woody Allen film The Purple Rose of Cairo, in which he starred). The theater was built with lumber and materials provided by the Chelsea Lumber Co., the business founded by his father and which his siblings still own.

Is it any wonder he once starred in Pleasantville? In Chelsea, Kathleen and Jeff have raised three children together — two sons and a daughter — but with their youngest now out of college, they're adjusting to life in a newly empty nest.

"Our kids are in their twenties now, which is a wonderful time," he says. "Anyone with a subscription to AARP knows, there's a freedom that comes with [an empty nest], and Kathleen and I are really enjoying it."

That freedom includes more time to play guitar, a 30-year hobby that has become a part-time career. Daniels has now recorded five albums of original blues music and plays gigs around the country, turning the versatile RV into his own private tour bus. This summer, the Martin Guitar company unveiled a new custom guitar: the OM Jeff Daniels, which he helped design.

"That's a huge honor," he beams. "It's probably the most prestigious American guitar company."

Next: Jeff Daniels on teaming up with writer Aaron Sorkin. »

Of course, acting is still his main gig, and so the couple's new freedom also allows time for jaunts like the RV trip to L.A. The long ride was well worth it, since Daniels says his part in The Newsroom, the much-anticipated new show created and written by Aaron Sorkin (The Social NetworkMoneyball), is his best role ever.

Considering that Daniels sports a résumé that includes roles in films like Terms of EndearmentThe Purple Rose of CairoGettysburgThe Squid and the Whale and, yes, Dumb and Dumber, that is high praise indeed. And yet it may take only a few minutes for the audience to agree.

"Clooney has a jet," he laughs. "I have a recreational vehicle."

Moments into the pilot episode, Daniels, as Will McAvoy, a veteran news anchor trying to keep up with an ever-changing media landscape, erupts into a diatribe about the craven state of journalism and news gathering during a college symposium. The rant sets the series, Sorkin's sometimes-scathing look at modern, market-driven news, into furious motion.

"It was pretty electric," he says about shooting the scene. "As an actor, you live for days like that. You live for some writer of Aaron's caliber to write a speech like that and hand it to you. And I'm lucky that happened for me."

Daniels' success is clearly about more than luck, though. He remains in demand as a film actor — he'll appear in the sci-fi tale Looper this fall alongside Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Bruce Willis, and is in talks for a sequel to Dumb and Dumber that will reunite him with Jim Carrey and the Farrelly Brothers. And if The Newsroom — with its Sorkin/HBO pedigree — is as successful as most expect, there may be more cross-country RV rides back to L.A. in his future. Which sounds fine with him.

"Clooney has a jet," he laughs. "I have a recreational vehicle."

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