Actor Jeff Daniels talked about his craft backstage Monday evening after winning an Emmy for his supporting role as an outlaw in “Godless,” saying his process has changed over the years.
“Merritt taught me this. I leave a lot to chance now,” the 63-year-old Daniels said of actress Merritt Wever, who also won an Emmy Monday evening for her work in the wild-west drama.
“You don’t do the 300 pages of back story,” Daniels said. “You just get the basic idea of what this guy’s thinking … and you jump off the cliff and start flapping your arms.”
Relying on other actors and learning to listen is an important part of his success, Daniels said, citing actor Spencer Tracy as “one of the greatest listeners” ever.
Daniels said he was never interested in branding himself as a particular personality, but playing lots of different characters.
“I’ve got to think like Harry Dunn (“Dumb and Dumber”) or Frank Griffin (“Godless”) or John O’Neill (“The Looming Tower”),” Daniels said. “Then everything else kind of happens.”
He takes them all seriously.
“You don’t want to get caught going for the joke in a comedy. In a drama you look for the humor,” Daniels said.
Early on, he learned lots of technique and then it was time to try to forget about the camera.
“(Director) Woody Allen taught me this on `(The) Purple Rose (of Cairo),'” Daniels said.
When Daniels told the director that he couldn’t do a scene, Allen told him, “You have Mia Farrow off camera … fall in love.”