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July 18, 2012 3PM EST

Q&A with Jeff Daniels

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  • Q

    Thanks to Jeff Daniels for joining us for today’s Q&A. Welcome Jeff! What drew you to the character of Will?

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    Jeff Daniels says:

    Aaron Sorkin and HBO. One of our best writers housed at a place known for its support for artists. I wanted it before I read the script. Once I read it, I knew it was something that mattered, was about all of us, and would force the audience - whether they liked it or not - to face some things that we were all watching from afar as if they didn't affect us.

  • Q

    Which was the most exciting scene to shoot in the show so far and why?

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    Jeff Daniels says:

    Anything where we have overlapping dialogue. It's like an indie 500 in 6 different directions and miraculously the cars don't crash into each other.

  • Q

    Mr. Daniels, how much of yourself do you see in Will, in terms of his passion and sense of what is right?

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    Jeff Daniels says:

    I learned that a long time ago as an actor we have the ability to tap into any emotion. As human being we're all capable of A-Z emotionally. You find out what Will is passionate about, what he cares about and then you literally spin your head around because that's what you believe because you're Will. Actors think like the character they play and what they're passionate about. The next thing you know, you think you believe it. It's like tricking yourself, adult make-believe.

  • Q

    your scenes with Sam Waterston are amazing. Are you having as much fun work with him as it looks like you are?

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    Jeff Daniels says:

    Sam and I go back to the late 70s, off-Broadway theater. We were both kicking around back then, we did a play together. There's this kind of club of actors. We're in the same waiting rooms, same plays and as it we get older it's great to see him. From the first day of shooting, it's like being back with an old friend. He's got such a great resume, such a great career, it's very easy for me to look to him as a mentor like Will looks up to Charlie. I'm thrilled he's on the show.

  • Q

    Do you have any top stories that you can't wait to cover in the show?

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    Jeff Daniels says:

    Well I know what we cover in the second half of Season 1 and there's some pretty great stuff. Knowing Aaron in Season 2, he will top that. Certainly an election will be happening this current November, we'll start shooting a couple weeks after the election results. It'll be interesting to see how that impacts what the story lines are in season 2.

  • Q

    Where do you draw from? An intense passion for truth dosed out to us in this seething, teasing, brilliant dosing. Love his sublimation here!

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    Jeff Daniels says:

    First and foremost, I'm a big believer in that - because we're all human beings - we're all capable of every emotion and thought and action, good and bad. A to Z. How we choose to live our lives is controlled by our own moral compass, but inside us all, is everything. So, as an actor, you tap into that part of yourself that is similar to what the character feels. Self Schizophrenic Channeling, if you will. Will MacAvoy is generous, angry, insecure, lonely, and has a broken heart. Find those experiences in your past, pour some gasoline on them, and light a match. The best actors I know use and abuse themselves in some way, shape, or form.

  • Q

    Where does Will McAvoy rank among the favorite characters you've played?

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    Jeff Daniels says:

    Well he's still a work in progress. If we're lucky we'll get to do this show for many years, I guess I'll reserve judgement on him till then but he's as complex as any character I've played.

  • Q

    You and John Gallagher Jr are both excellent musicians, I have seen you both perform live, any chance you will do something together?

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    Jeff Daniels says:

    Not only there's a chance but we do. Later in the season there's a party at Will's apartment and we break out a couple of guitars. It's great fun and he's a very talented musician. I can't wait for somebody to record him.

  • Q

    How do you think a show like The Newsroom will inspire future journalists?

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    Jeff Daniels says:

    When it's journalism, broadcasting the news...no matter what the profession there's a right way to do it and sometimes it doesn't make you the most money but in the long run you can sleep at night. For those young people out there interested in careers like that, the show speaks to that and the right way to do it. Hanging on to the ideals and principals and journalism, there's a proper way to go about it. It's a great example and may be inspiring to people looking for a career. Journalism matters and there are people on the air now who are trying to give the viewers the information they need so they can make the decision and be more aware. I think there's nobility in that. The Newsroom and it's quest to do that might inspire people along the way and it may be a good thing.

  • Q

    Are you writing any new plays?

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    Jeff Daniels says:

    I wrote a play about a year and a half ago that we kind of held back at the theater company in Michigan that they're slotting for January 2013. That will be the 15th play I've written but I haven't written anything in there. I've written some songs but there are certain projects like movies and an Aaron Sorkin series where there's no time write plays. Happily so, I was very content on working on Will and The Newsroom and trying to stay ahead of what the next episode was.

  • Q

    You brilliantly execute your lines. How many takes do you need to do? How long do you typically rehearse?

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    Jeff Daniels says:

    We run through the scene at 6AM. Once maybe twice. And then we throw it in front of the camera...depending on the complexity and the scene and the dialogue, we're usually where we need to be by Take 3, sometimes sooner. The great thing about this cast is that they come prepared. Our mantra is "Know it. And Know what you're going to do with it as 6AM." That saves us a lot of time and sometimes it's one or two takes. My thing is to be good right away that saves us a lot of time.

  • Q

    What do you love and hate about your character Will McAvoy?

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    Jeff Daniels says:

    I tend not to think about him like that, though I guess I love his inherent brilliance to interview someone and, on the fly, cut through the spin. You don't want to be on the other end of his questioning when he's boring in. As for hate? That he can't get past the heartache for Mackenzie and move on. He's stuck in a quicksand of pain and it makes him miserable to others and to himself.

  • Q

    How do you think of he relationship between Will and Mac?

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    Jeff Daniels says:

    I love the "opposites attract" applies to the two of them. They'd complete each other if they could only get there.

  • Q

    The relationship Will has w his staff has already evolved so much. Is this similar in any way to any dynamics on The Newsroom set?

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    Jeff Daniels says:

    Everyone's immensely qualified, talented, and professional. Except for Sam and Jane, I'm more experienced than the other cast members. Comes with getting old. So Will leads, they follow, and as an actor, I took it upon myself to do the same. We all want this to be a fun set, a great place to work, but starting with me, we all have to be professional. This is the bigtime and we're lucky because we've all been around long enough to know it when it happens. So what do we have to do to make this more than just another TV Series? The difference between good and great is how hard you prepare so when it's time to shoot you can do your best work ever. If they see me do that, they will, too. I love the work ethic of this Cast. Doing an Aaron Sorkin Series is not for the meek. There's a sense of accomplishment amongst Will & Co. when a Newscast goes well. The same thing happens when we do a good scene or Episode. Applause breaks out often on our Set, especially for the actor who finally gets his or her chance to shine in an Episode and they nail it. We pull for each other.

  • Q

    How does your love of music influence your acting work?

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    Jeff Daniels says:

    Rhythm is in everything. It's in great writing and it's one of the keys to comic timing. Tempo, pace, beats, tension - those are all elements of music that can feed what happens between Action and Cut. When you're on top of the words, it's a little like having an imaginary conductor conducting everything you do.

  • Q

    Do you think Will and Mac should end up together?

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    Jeff Daniels says:

    Like Hepburn and Tracy, I think they're meant for each other. Whether they can overcome what they need to overcome, however...

  • Q

    How did you respond to the show's initial negative reviews?

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    Jeff Daniels says:

    We knew when we were making this that it wasn’t going to be for everybody. I love the fact that those who had issues with it, watched it. Art is supposed to be something that’s memorable…that you don’t forget it 5 minutes after you watched it. We knew it would be something that would feed a need or hit a nerve. My hope is that those who had issues with it will continue to watch and maybe they’ll continue to dislike it. As long as they continue to watch it and discuss it with people, the only thing that matters is that they’re still having a discussion. Aaron puts together two sides of a story and aside from being a romantic comedy and like those old fashioned movies that were dialogue happy, it asks a lot of questions and demands a lot of answers about what’s going on in this country now. What’s true, what’s a lie and whatever happened, in Will McAvoy’s case, to the moderate Republicans. I think once people stop listening to the sound of their own voice, they’ll see what Aaron’s aimed at. Some people don’t want to hear about that on both sides of the aisle and I give Aaron Sorkin a lot of credit. He’s had a target on his back for writing about something people didn’t want to hear about. It had to be done and hopefully it’ll get people thinking and how to find a solution for a real democracy.

  • Q

    What's your favorite Will McAvoy quote?

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    Jeff Daniels says:

    "Yosemite?!"

  • Q

    Having primarily done film work in the past how do you compare it with the everyday grind and pace of TV?

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    Jeff Daniels says:

    It's the same lack of rehearsal and you only get so many takes kinda thing...only never ending. Regardless, I love to work. I love great dialogue, compelling stories, and complex characters. You simply want the chance to do your best whether it's film, tv, or on the stage. In order to do that on a Series, you're running a marathon. You have to train your brain and your body to withstand that relentless schedule. If you prepare for each Episode, if you get yourself ready, you can feel great about what you did. It's all about preparing on your own. Away from everyone else. Before you get there. When you do that - and Aaron's words are flying out of your head like you know them backwards - for me, doing a Series beats film. You know the character far better than you ever would on a film, to the degree that you find yourself living him instead of playing him. For that reason alone, Will MacAvoy will probably be the most complete embodiment of any character I'll ever do.

  • Q

    What inspired you to become an actor?

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    Jeff Daniels says:

    I was just good at it. I was in a small town high school and we needed guys for South Pacific The Musical. My chorus teacher knew I could sing and dragged me into rehearsals. Everyone could see it was such a natural place for me. That just led to more roles and it was something I just continued to chase because I was naturally good at it.

  • Q

    Who were your acting inspirations when growing up?

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    Jeff Daniels says:

    I remember getting interested in acting while watching the Dick Van Dyke Show. I think I was so enamored with his comic timing before I knew what comic timing was. I just marveled at it. Another guy that really got me to pay attention to the art of acting was Allen Arkin. The simplicity he had, I just loved. Peter Sellers, especially when Dr. Strangelove landed, that woke me up. Seeing Pacino in Dog Day Afternoon, I remember seeing it in college and thinking whatever it is he's doing I want to do that. Then I went to New York.

  • Q

    I working with Aaron Sorkin as exciting and fun as it would seem?

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    Jeff Daniels says:

    It is! You're challenged every episode and you have to bring your best. You can't coast. You can't cruise. You can't take an episode off because he doesn't. You will drown in that dialogue if you don't do the work necessary to shoot your particular scene. We shoot an episode every two weeks and at the end of that two weeks you get a new script for the next episode and it's like Christmas Eve for an actor. I found myself thinking like a viewer. I wanted to know what happens to Will and MacKenzie next and the script tells me. It's a pretty exciting way to work.

  • Q

    How do you feel about your supporting cast? I feel they do a great job complementing the whole "Newsroom" feel.

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    Jeff Daniels says:

    All I told Francine the casting director when they asked me was "Just hire good people, good actors." It should be a show where only good actors need apply. Smartly, they hired a lot of theater people and theater people can handle dialogue. It's a lot of memorizing, a lot of work but theater actors are used to that. It feels less like an avalanche of words and more like memorization and doing what you have to do for the role. I've done a play with Alison Pill in NYC called Blackbird, I think the world of her. Dev we like to think of our international star with Slumdog Millionaire I love that kid. When they handed us Jane Fonda, we all just fell to our knees, it was a great day when she showed up on the set.

  • Q

    Do you plan to help out at all behind the scenes directing an episode of The Newsroom?

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    Jeff Daniels says:

    No, I have so much do just to act to role Will, I have no interest. I directed two independent movies that we shot in Michigan and I've been a playwright, actor, songwriter and musician. My least favorite of those is directing. Directing helped informed my acting and I know what happens in an editing room and that helps inform me when playing Will.

  • Q

    What challenges come with the role of Will? How do you approach them?

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    Jeff Daniels says:

    The biggest challenge aside from the dialogue was getting behind that news desk and making it look like I've been there for 25 years. The familiarity, that second home and comfort zone they have in front of that desk. It should fit like a glove. Brian Williams, Chris Matthews and Bill O'Reilly are all comfortable in that chair in front of that lens. That was probably the trickiest magic trick for me.

  • Q

    Do you have any scenes with Jane Fonda and if so what impressions did you get?

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    Jeff Daniels says:

    I met Jane on the set of Gettysburg when she and Ted Turner came to PA to be on the set. I met her then and at subsequent premieres. When we were doing God of Carnage on Bway, she was doing 33 Variations and had a couple of dinners. She's like Sam, has so much experience and there's so much to learn from. She emailed me and said she was playing my boss and I couldn't be happier. You don't forget days on the set like that and yes we do have a scene together.

  • Q

    How long does it usually take you to memorize those lines in one episode?

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    Jeff Daniels says:

    We usually get the script the Thursday before the Monday. Even though we're finishing the current Episode, I start memorizing the night I get it. Then all weekend. Each episode takes two weeks to shoot. The goal is to have the whole 1st Week memorized by that Sunday Night. If the 2nd Week is dialogue heavy, I'll start on that, too. Answer? As far ahead of the actual Shooting Day as possible. Then you Review every night and even as you're Shooting something else. Aaron once observed the NEWSROOM Set resembles a Psych Ward; actors pacing around talking to themselves. Guilty as charged.

  • Q

    That's all the time we have for today's Q&A. A huge thank you to Jeff Daniels for joining us. Anything else you'd like to say, Jeff?

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    Jeff Daniels says:

    Stay tuned.

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