Jeff Daniels interview: ‘American Rust’
Two-time Emmy winner Jeff Daniels stars in the Showtime series “American Rust,” set in a small Rust Belt town in Pennsylvania. He plays a compromised chief of police named Del Harris who is investigating a murder in which the prime suspect is the son of the woman he loves, Grace (Maura Tierney). The series was created by Oscar-nominated screenwriter Dan Futterman and adapted from the novel of the same name by Phillipp Meyer. Daniels signed on to executive produce and star in the series because he could relate to the characters in a small town, much like the one he was raised in Michigan. Watch the exclusive video interview with Daniels above.
“For me it was a complicated story about a small town in the upper Midwest,” Daniels explains. “The people in it were not simple, as is sometimes the case when Hollywood portrays small towns. Everything gets simplified including the characters and the people. These people are very complicated. They’re complex. They’ve got strengths and weaknesses. They’re walking, talking contradictions. Del is certainly of that ilk and that’s hard to play. That kind of character keeps me interested in acting.”
The characters in “American Rust” grapple with many of the relevant issues people from this region are often faced with including job insecurity and opioid addiction. In recent years, Daniels has been drawn to projects that shine a light on certain fractures in this country. Last year he was nominated for an Emmy for his portrayal of former FBI Director James Comey in “The Comey Rule.” More recently he reprised his Tony-nominated role as Atticus Finch in “To Kill a Mockingbird” on Broadway.
“I wanted it to matter,” Daniels says of “American Rust.” “I’ve been in those shows that matter. ‘Newsroom’ kind of led all of these. I just didn’t want to do something that you could forget as soon as you watched it. To the degree that comes into what is going on in the country, that’s just a positive for me. But it’s not a requirement. ‘Godless’ certainly didn’t have a lot to do with today’s country, but the characters are complicated. So I think, at the end of the day, and certainly since I dove into cable premium TV, which in my opinion is where all the writers went, that’s where the complicated characters started coming.”
For Daniels, living in a small town also made him familiar with the characters in “American Rust.” “I still live in a small town,” he reveals. “There’s an internal life that’s going on inside a lot of these people. Certainly people like Del. I know people like Del. They don’t say a lot. They let you do the talking and they wait for you to finish.”
Daniels goes on to discuss his return to Broadway after the COVID-19 pandemic closed the doors on theater for over a year. He also reflects on his career that has lasted over four decades and includes film, TV and stage roles spanning every genre. “Even something as big as ‘Dumb and Dumber,’ if you just play it honestly… Harry Dunne is a real guy. He’s walking around on the street today and you need to represent him as honestly as possible. He doesn’t know he’s funny. He doesn’t know he’s in a comedy. He’s on a toilet and his insides are exploding out of him and he’s in a crisis situation! That’s the secret. Everybody thinks it’s a whole different thing. The whole trap is if you think you’re being funny, you ain’t funny.”