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Jeff Daniels had hit a crossroads in his career — or as the star of the new Netflix Western Godless saw it at the time, a stopping point.
It had been nearly three decades since his well-received turn as Debra Winger’s cheating husband in the Oscar-winning Terms of Endearment, followed by equally acclaimed leading roles in Purple Rose of Cairo and Something Wild. And it had been almost 20 years since he played Harry Dunne, the dim-witted best friend opposite Jim Carrey, in the 1994 buddy comedy Dumb and Dumber. Yet despite years of continued work — while living in Michigan with his wife (who had been his high school sweetheart) and three kids — Tony-nominated roles on Broadway (God of Carnage, Blackbird) and a thriving theater company, he was growing increasingly frustrated by the lack of meaty roles coming his way.
“I was looking at getting out. I was done. I was going to play music,” Daniels says, referring to his side gig as a musician. “I was not going to play the father that was not a great father to his kids, and I was not going to play the a --hole father to the 3-year-old who is making 15 million who can’t hit his mark. That’s not how I am going to end my career. I am going to do something else.”
That something else came in 2012, in the form of a once-in-a-lifetime role as gruff, conflicted anchorman Will McAvoy on an Aaron Sorkin HBO drama. “Newsroom brought me back,” says Daniels. “I was challenged again.”
Daniels reveled in the longer pace and in Sorkin’s masterful dialogue: “There is just more to play, more detail … You are shooting the novel; you’re not shooting a short story that has to wrap up in 110 minutes.” Critics loved seeing a different side of the actor, resulting in his two Emmy nominations and one statuette for best actor in a drama during the show’s 2012–14 run.
Doors opened — many, many doors. “I am busier now than any decade in my career. Unbelievable,” Daniels says.
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His latest role: Bible-verse-spouting bad guy Frank Griffin on the seven-episode limited series Godless, premiering Nov. 22.