By Steven Zeitchik
4:51 PM CDT, July 18, 2013
Though he’s been acting in movies for three decades, Jeff Daniels was never a TV-series regular until last year, when he began starring as glib anchor Will McAvoy in HBO’s Aaron Sorkin-penned drama "The Newsroom." On Thursday, he was rewarded for his effort, landing an Emmy nomination for lead actor in a drama. Show Tracker caught up with him by phone from near his home in Michigan.
Show Tracker: Where did you hear the Emmy news?
Jeff Daniels: I’m just driving back from the golf course now. I was golfing here in northern Michigan. You know that nominations are coming and I wanted to be on the golf course when they did. I don’t think I was ever so happy to hook a ball into the woods.
OK, Emmy pleasantries aside, there’s obviously been a huge backlash to the show — how have you thought and felt about it?
I know we [ticked] some people off the first season. Aaron is creating something under a very big spotlight. It’s something original and he’s out there doing it by himself. There are going to be people who don’t like that. But I give him a lot of credit. No one else is doing something like this, a show about cable news.
What about the critics who criticized Aaron for how he handles some of the characters?
I know it’s out there but I don’t read it.
And news anchors -- did you hear from news anchors on your performance?
I’ve heard from some. A few of the ones on cable stayed back at first. But I think when they realized we weren’t there to make anyone look bad, that we’re there to show who they are -- the people who when the light goes on are there to tell you what happened today and what you should make of it -- I think they’ve been more receptive. Then again, I throw a cellphone at the camera early in the first season. I don’t think any of today’s anchors would throw a cellphone at the camera.
Where’s the new season, which began last Sunday, headed? A lot of new developments are already set into motion in just one episode, particularly with the relationships and with the fallout over Will’s tea party criticisms.
I look at the first season as a first draft. Aaron is getting to know who Will and the others characters are, and I’m getting to know who Will is. This season is different. We know that and we can do more with it.
It also has a big scandal over false reporting....
That’s based a little bit on something that happened. And we’re going to go into things that are very current, like chemical weapons and drone strikes. But there’s a larger story to tell about news ethics. It should be about being right and not being first. But it isn’t always like that, of course. It used to be if it’s on the Internet it must be true. Now if it’s on Twitter it must be true. And we want to look at the implications of that.
Is it hard to immerse yourself in news that happened a couple of years ago, as the show does? It’s almost like a journalistic period piece.
You’d think so, but I don’t think of it that way. When I’m acting I think of it as happening right now.
This is your first Emmy nomination. What’s it been like to work on a TV show after so many decades on the big screen?
With film you know it’s a 90-page script. It’s a beginning, middle and end, and you’re done. With a show like this you’re making a 10-hour movie. Emily Mortimer [his co-star] and I talk about it. Last season we said this isn’t just like scaling Everest -- it’s like scaling a mountain range of Everests. But we got through it.
What is it a hard choice to make to join a TV series?
[James] Gandolfini led the way. Everything that was written about Jim in the past few weeks is right. We all follow the quality. It was indie film for a while, and now it’s cable.
But you’re still making a "Dumb and Dumber" sequel in the fall.
Well, that I have to do. Can you imagine the first day on that set and what it will be like?
Like the "Newsroom" set, I imagine.
[Laughs] Exactly. A real seriousness of purpose.
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