Actor Jeff Daniels shows off musical side in Chicago, Woodstock shows
A love of music runs deep in Jeff Daniels' veins -- and family.
The Emmy Award-winning actor may be best known for playing Will McAvoy in HBO's "The Newsroom" and half of the dimwitted duo in 1994's "Dumb and Dumber," but he's also a musician, currently touring with his son Ben's band.
"It was always something I did for me," Daniels said of music. "It was a creative outlet."
Local fans can see that side of Daniels when he plays with The Ben Daniels Band Thursday, Oct. 26, at Chicago's City Winery and Friday, Oct. 27, at the Woodstock Opera House.
At 62, Daniels has more than 80 film and television credits, has written several plays and more than 400 songs, recorded albums and toured the country performing.
A longtime Michigan resident whose Midwestern home base set him apart in Hollywood, Daniels said he turned his focus to music when he thought he'd put movies behind him.
"I really thought I'd end up doing what I'm doing with the tour because the career kind of fizzled out like most careers do," he said. "I was getting ready to spend the last act of my life playing music."
He wound up doing both.
Daniels got his start in acting in the 1970s when he moved to New York. He had some TV roles in the early '80s before he was cast as Debra Winger's husband in the Oscar-winning film "Terms of Endearment."
"Dumb and Dumber," released in 1994, paired him with Jim Carrey. Playing Harry Dunne transformed Daniels' career, and the comedy means a lot to him.
"Before 'Dumb and Dumber,' people would either not notice me or ask what's your name," he said. "I loved that it showed I can do comedy. I can do wild comedy. I could stand next to Jim and hold (my) own.
"Roles that will outlive me, that people will look at long after I am gone, are things like 'Gettysburg,' 'Newsroom,' even 'Dumb and Dumber' ... They will stand the test of time."
So much so that Daniels and Carrey reunited with the Farrelly brothers 20 years later for "Dumb and Dumber To."
"From day one it was just fun," Daniels said. "(Carrey) is a comedic genius. It was fun to have those guys be middle-aged and still that stupid."
Daniels moved back to his Michigan hometown in 1986 to raise his family. Being away from Hollywood, he expected fewer roles would come his way. He struggled for many years after trying to hang on in an evolving film industry.
"The only way to sustain a movie career sitting in the Midwest was to create as wide a range as possible," he said. "I wanted to be all over the map."
Ultimately, Daniels earned a reputation as a reliable character actor to play alongside a strong lead. It landed him many prominent film roles late in his career, including the movies "Steve Jobs," "The Martian," "The Divergent Series: Allegiant" and the lead role in "The Newsroom" -- for which he won an Emmy.
"I got lucky," he said. "I thought that was the end and then 'Newsroom' happened with Aaron Sorkin's writing ... that speech, that show, that writer bought me 10 years. Now, I'm getting offered all kinds of stuff. It's nice to be considered for roles simply because you have established a range."
'Passing things on'
That range isn't limited to acting.
While living in New York, Daniels became fascinated by playwrights. He wrote a play in the early 1970s that "went into a drawer and it never came out."
Others fared better. His play "Escanaba in da Moonlight," which later became a comedy film about five guys in a deer hunting camp, put Michigan's The Purple Rose Theatre Company, founded by Daniels, on the map.
"It's been done all over the country," Daniels said. "It's just such a feel-good ... funny show."
The Purple Rose Theatre Company will premiere Daniels' latest play focusing on the water crisis in Flint, Michigan, in January.
Through all the facets of his career, Daniels had his music -- and his family.
Daniels started teaching his son Ben how to play the guitar at age 19.
"He just really took to it," Daniels said. "So to be out there with him ... you are passing things on to your son, and that's what's cool about it. These songs were written for him, for me, to be shared with his kids."
Ben, 32, plays a 1930s-era acoustic tenor guitar while touring with the band, which performs folk, rock, blues and Americana. Acoustic guitar is his father's choice instrument, as well.
"I never went to the electric guitars and amplifiers," Daniels said.
That simple approach also extends to preferred performing venues -- clubs and 100-year-old opera houses. Woodstock's stage fits the latter.
"I'm always writing the next song," Daniels said. "I take a guitar with me to every movie set. I've worked hard at it over the decades. It's the most satisfying, too, because creatively you are in charge of everything."
• • •
Jeff Daniels and The Ben Daniels Band
• 7 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 26, at City Winery, 1200 W. Randolph, Chicago. Tickets start at $42. Sold out, but there is a waiting list. citywinery.com.
• 8 p.m. Friday, Oct. 27, at the Woodstock Opera House, 226 Main St., Woodstock. Tickets $45; VIP tickets $75. woodstockoperahouse.com.