DETAILS: The Newsroom is your first regular TV series. What made you jump to the small screen at 57?
Jeff Daniels: On cable now, the writer is king. Any actor chases that. It reminds me of the golden era of television, when Sidney Lumet and Paddy Chayefsky were at it. That went away, but I think it's back now. Instead of playing the asshole father for some 25-year-old who's making $10 million and can't find his mark, I can go to HBO. I went in there to meet with Aaron Sorkin, and I wasn't going to leave till I had the job.
DETAILS: Tell us about your character, cable-news host Will McAvoy.
Jeff Daniels: He's a modern-day flawed king. He wants to be a real journalist, yet he's the first to check the ratings. And underneath is a guy who's pissed about what's going on around him. He's the Angry American. I'm one too, and I know Aaron is.
DETAILS: What are you so pissed about?
Jeff Daniels: You know, I'm screaming at the television, watching whatever politician market himself in a way you just know isn't true. The Republican National Convention was when I felt we were really starting to divide as a country, and it just continued to eat at me. When Bush was reelected, I remember going to get a stress test. I passed, but there was some concern. I went to Walter Reed hospital a couple of times to visit wounded soldiers, kids with no legs and one arm. You start to question some things. I also think the country's lost its sense of compassion for others. Nothing seems to matter but ourselves. That's not how I was brought up. I don't recognize the country I live in anymore. But I think we will be that again.
DETAILS: Are a majority of Americans stupid, as some characters on The Newsroom seem to think?
Jeff Daniels: As a country we have the attention span of a gnat. You want a CD? Press some buttons. Want a book? Download it. Don't call, text. Stupid? No. Less aware? Yeah.
DETAILS: Ever feel like you've sold out the way Will has?
Jeff Daniels: God, yes. Two weeks into a 12-week shoot, sometimes you think, "Ah, this is what selling out feels like! Don't worry, your career will recover!" But at least my kids got to go to college.
DETAILS: Are we talking about you doing that 2004 TV remake of The Goodbye Girl?
Jeff Daniels: I don't regret that. Look, when you hold me up against what Richard Dreyfuss did, I get it. But I didn't really care if I failed. I wanted to try and pull it off. To those that said, "Nope, you didn't do it," well, fuck you.
DETAILS: In the eighties, a magazine compared you to Cary Grant, but it seems like you've always been a somewhat reluctant celebrity.
Jeff Daniels: Instead of chasing whatever people thought I was going to be, I moved to Michigan. I call it checking out of the Ambition Hotel: "I'm fine. Call me when there's a role that's good. I'm taking my kids to hockey." I could care less about the other stuff and have proven it time and again, sometimes to my own detriment. And Cary Grant doesn't do Dumb and Dumber. I remember agents screaming at me the night before that wardrobe fitting: "You can't do this movie! We want you to get nominated!" But I took it, and I'm glad I did.
DETAILS: There's talk of a Dumb and Dumber sequel.
Jeff Daniels: We all want to do it. The fact that Jim Carrey is interested is great news. That the Farrellys are working on a script is great news. I had a ball making that film. You felt like you were breaking rules every day.