Jeff Daniels: naked

Jeff Daniels knows full well that most of the audience that comes to hear his music wants the dish on his Hollywood adventures.

The star of such films as Terms of Endearment, Dumb and Dumber and The Squid and the Whale, 55, is a pro, though — gigging for about a decade and playing guitar since 1976.

We chatted with Daniels from his office at Purple Rose Theatre Company in his hometown of Chelsea, Mich., about his other career.

How do audiences receive you?

It takes time for people to adjust. I’ve got two strikes against me: I’m known for something other than what I’m about to do. A lot of them walk in because of the movies. I don’t ignore that: the fact that I’ve been in Dumb and Dumber or something they’ve loved or put a smile on their face.

What do you think of other actors who try music?

William Shatner sang, Leonard Nimoy had an album; Telly Savalas, too. That doesn’t help. I address it right away. I have a song, If William Shatner Can, I Can Too.

What can the uninitiated expect?

This evening that I do is very entertaining for those that are willing to take the chance. Once they do, after 15 minutes they realize it’s not just gonna be three chords and songs about As I Gaze Into My Navel.

You have quite a following now.

I think the guitar players see that I can get around. It’s finger picking up and down the neck, and I give them something to look at. A lot of my songs have been worked over. It’s like doing a comedy on Broadway — you know where the laughs are. Then I drop in the songs that move them. That’s just basic theater.

Who’s your inspiration?

[One is] Lyle Lovett. He’s one of the great people. Five years ago, he came to Michigan on a songwriter’s tour. I called him and said hello, and he said `Why don’t you come up and play?’ I thought, `Oh, s–t,’ but you have to say yes. I did the Shatner song and have a picture of Lyle biting his hand he’s laughing so hard. It was a great turning point.

Do you prefer this to acting?

It’s all the blame, all the glory. You and nobody else — all my material. There’s an art and craft to pulling it off. It ain’t easy. There’s no script and no director. If I swing and miss, it’s my miss, but when it works there’s an extra satisfaction creatively.

Have you turned down scripts for your music?

This past fall was the first time I said `Don’t call me.’ I’m going out and staying out.

I played August to Thanksgiving — 54 dates. I have an RV and put 10,000 miles on it. I was everywhere — playing 16 people in Kansas City and sold out in Sioux Falls.

It was my wife and I and the two dogs — the Empty Nester’s Tour, we called it [he and Kathleen have three kids]. We slept at Wal-Marts and truck stops and a few RV parks.

I really enjoyed it.

Sounds like you’re in a good place.

The first few shows I did, I walked out there and wasn’t prepared for the emotional nakedness.

It was white-hot, drenched-in-sweat fear. It was because there was no character. I needed some other coat to put on. I finally realized, `I know who the character is: It’s me in a good mood!’


The show will be at 8:30 p.m. Friday, Jan. 14 at the Broward Center for the Performing Arts, 201 SW Fifth Ave., Fort Lauderdale; 954-462-0222,


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