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Jeff Daniels

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Jeff Daniels
Daniels at the 2018 Montclair Film Festival
Jeffrey Warren Daniels

(1955-02-19) February 19, 1955 (age 69)
EducationCentral Michigan University
Years active1976–present
Kathleen Rosemary Treado
(m. 1979)
AwardsFull list

Jeffrey Warren Daniels (born February 19, 1955)[1] is an American actor. He is known for his work on stage and screen playing diverse characters switching between comedy and drama. He is the recipient of several accolades, including two Primetime Emmy Awards, in addition to nominations for five Golden Globe Awards, five Screen Actors Guild Awards, and three Tony Awards.

He made his film debut in Miloš Forman's drama Ragtime (1981) followed by James L. Brooks's Terms of Endearment (1983), and Mike Nichols's Heartburn (1986). He then received three Golden Globe Award nominations for Woody Allen's The Purple Rose of Cairo (1985), Jonathan Demme's Something Wild (1986), and Noah Baumbach's The Squid and the Whale (2005). He starred in a variety of genre films such as Gettysburg (1993), Speed (1994), Dumb and Dumber (1994), 101 Dalmatians (1996), and Pleasantville (1998). He also took roles in critically acclaimed films such as The Hours (2002), Good Night, and Good Luck (2005), Infamous (2006), Looper (2012), Steve Jobs (2015), and The Martian (2015).

From 2012 to 2014, Daniels starred as Will McAvoy in the HBO political drama series The Newsroom, for which he won the 2013 Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama Series and received Golden Globe and Screen Actors Guild Award nominations. He won a second Primetime Emmy Award in 2018 for his performance in the Netflix miniseries Godless (2017). He has portrayed real life figures such as John P. O'Neill in the Hulu miniseries The Looming Tower (2018), and FBI director James Comey in The Comey Rule (2020) for Showtime.

Daniels is also known for his roles on stage making his Broadway debut in Gemini (1977). He went on to receive three nominations for the Tony Best Actor in a Play for his roles in Yasmina Reza's God of Carnage (2009), David Harrower's Blackbird (2016), and Aaron Sorkin's To Kill a Mockingbird (2018–2021). He is the founder and current executive director of the Chelsea, Michigan Purple Rose Theatre Company.

Early life and education[edit]

Daniels was born in Athens, Georgia, to Marjorie J. (née Ferguson) and Robert Lee "Bob" Daniels.[2][3][4][5] He spent the first six weeks of his life in Georgia where his father was teaching[6] before the family moved to his parents' native Michigan where he grew up in Chelsea. His father owned the Chelsea Lumber Company and was a one-time mayor of the town.[7][8]

Daniels briefly attended Central Michigan University and participated in the school's theater program. In the summer of 1976, he attended the Eastern Michigan University drama school to participate in a special Bicentennial Repertory program, where he performed in The Hot L Baltimore and three other plays performed in repertoire. Marshall W. Mason was the guest director at EMU, and he invited Daniels to come to New York to work at the Circle Repertory Theatre, where he performed in Fifth of July by Lanford Wilson in the 1977–78 season. Daniels performed in New York in The Shortchanged Review (1979) at Second Stage Theatre.[9]


1977–1989: Early roles and breakthrough[edit]

Daniels starred in several New York productions, on and off Broadway. On Broadway, he made his debut as the assistant stage manager and various roles in the Albert Innaurato play Gemini (1977).[10] He also acted in Lanford Wilson's Fifth of July (1980) alongside William Hurt, for which he was nominated for a Drama Desk Award for Best Supporting Actor, and starred in A. R. Gurney's The Golden Age (1984) with Stockard Channing. Daniels made his screen debut in Miloš Forman's Ragtime in 1981.[11] His next film was in James L. Brooks's Terms of Endearment, which won the Academy Award for Best Picture. The film follows an emotional relationship between mother (Shirley MacLaine) and daughter (Debra Winger). Daniels plays Winger's callow and unfaithful husband, a role which would prove to be his breakthrough.[12]

In 1985, Daniels starred in Woody Allen's Purple Rose of Cairo alongside Mia Farrow and Danny Aiello. The film was met with critical praise earning a 91% on Rotten Tomatoes with the consensus reading, "lighthearted and sweet, Purple Rose stands as one of Woody Allen's more inventive – and enchantingly whimsical – pictures."[13] Daniels garnered a Golden Globe Award nomination for his performance.[14] It was the film that inspired the name for the theater company he established.[15] In 1986, he starred in Jonathan Demme's Something Wild as an unassuming businessman swept up into a wild night by a mysterious woman (Melanie Griffith) and earned his second Golden Globe nomination. Also that year, Daniels had a supporting role alongside Jack Nicholson and Meryl Streep in Heartburn, directed by Mike Nichols. In 1988, he co-starred with Kelly McGillis in Peter Yates' neo-noir The House on Carroll Street, and appeared in the ensemble dramedy Sweet Hearts Dance with Susan Sarandon, Don Johnson and Elizabeth Perkins. He had the lead in Checking Out (1989), which received only a limited theatrical release.

1990–2008: Established actor[edit]

Daniels starred in a pair of romantic comedies, Love Hurts (1990) and The Butcher's Wife (1991), playing Demi Moore's love interest in the latter. His sci-fi vehicle Timescape (1992) went straight to video. His next significant role was as Colonel Joshua Chamberlain in Gettysburg (1993). Daniels reprised the role of Chamberlain 10 years later in the prequel film Gods and Generals.[16]

Daniels continued his work in the theater with Redwood Curtain (1993). Off-Broadway, he starred in Lanford Wilson's Lemon Sky with Cynthia Nixon where he received a Drama Desk nomination for and an Obie Award for his performance in the Circle Repertory Company production of Johnny Got His Gun.

In 1994, Daniels would co-star with Jim Carrey in one of his most commercially successful films, Dumb and Dumber. It was a noted departure for Daniels, owing to his status as a dramatic actor. Earlier that same year, Daniels appeared with Keanu Reeves in the action blockbuster Speed; the film was an enormous hit, grossing over $350 million at the box office.[17] Daniels would then host Saturday Night Live a second time before the release of the 1996 Disney live-action remake of 101 Dalmatians. Daniels starred as the owner of a litter of dalmatians stolen by the evil Cruella De Vil (Glenn Close). The film was successful, grossing $320 million. Daniels plays a grungy cop Alvin Strayer along with Eric Stoltz in 2 Days in the Valley. Also in 1996 was the family hit film Fly Away Home with Daniels as the supportive single father of Anna Paquin's goose-raising preteen. Daniels then had a critical and commercial misfire with Trial and Error (1997). He would rebound, however, with 1998's Pleasantville as diner owner Bill Johnson, who learns to act as an individual and rebel against the norm at the urging of Tobey Maguire's David. Also starring Reese Witherspoon, Joan Allen, and Don Knotts, Pleasantville was nominated for three Academy Awards. Daniels starred alongside Christopher Lloyd's comedy My Favorite Martian.[18]

Daniels starred in the TV films The Crossing, Cheaters, and the direct-to-video release Chasing Sleep. At this point, in the early 2000s, he began to focus more on his theater work at The Purple Rose Theatre as well as writing, starring, and directing the films Escanaba in da Moonlight and Super Sucker.[19][20] Daniels's next major film role would be in Clint Eastwood's Blood Work, which received mixed reviews and was a commercial failure. He would rebound later that year with Stephen Daldry's Academy Award-winning The Hours alongside Meryl Streep, Julianne Moore, and Nicole Kidman. The film was also a financial success, grossing well over $100 million. Gods and Generals followed in 2003, as did the action film I Witness, which co-starred James Spader. Daniels then starred in Imaginary Heroes and the 2004 television film adaptation of fellow Michigander and friend Mitch Albom's bestseller The Five People You Meet in Heaven.[21]

The year 2005 proved to be a strong year for Daniels as he garnered notice as the star of the lauded Noah Baumbach film The Squid and the Whale with Laura Linney. Daniels received his third Golden Globe nomination for the film, about a divorcing couple and the effect the split has on their children. That year Daniels also starred in the family film adaptation of Because of Winn-Dixie. He would round out the year with a supporting role in George Clooney's Oscar-nominated film Good Night and Good Luck, starring David Straithairn, Patricia Clarkson, Robert Downey Jr., and Frank Langella.[22][23] In 2006, Daniels appeared in the Truman Capote biopic Infamous starring Toby Jones, Sandra Bullock, Gwyneth Paltrow, and Sigourney Weaver. The film was compared by critics to Bennett Miller's 2005 film Capote starring Philip Seymour Hoffman, Catherine Keener, and Chris Cooper.[24]

Daniels appeared in an Off-Broadway production of David Harrower's Blackbird in 2007 alongside Allison Pill, with whom he would later reunite in Aaron Sorkin's The Newsroom. Daniels then starred in Barry Sonnenfeld's family film RV, alongside Robin Williams, as the redneck comic foil to Williams' uptight businessman. He also starred in two other independent films, Mama's Boy and The Lookout, for which he was nominated for a Satellite Award and Traitor (2008) with Don Cheadle .[25]

2009–2015: Resurgence with The Newsroom[edit]

Daniels promoting The Newsroom at the 2013 PaleyFest

In 2009, after a 16-year-long absence, Daniels returned to Broadway in Yasmina Reza's original play God of Carnage alongside Hope Davis, James Gandolfini, and Marcia Gay Harden. The play centers around two sets of parents who agree to meet because of a fight among their respective sons. Their meeting starts out civilized, however, as the evening goes on, the parents become increasingly childish, resulting in the evening's devolving into chaos. The play debuted at The Bernard B. Jacobs Theatre in previews on February 28, 2009, and officially on March 22, 2009. Originally planned for a limited engagement to close July 19, 2009, the run was extended through February 28, 2010, before converting to an open-ended run. Daniels received his first Tony Award nomination, for Tony Award for Best Actor in a Play for his performance. The show won the Tony Award for Best Play. That same year Daniels acted in four films indie hit Away We Go, State of Play (2008) In 2010, Daniels continued his theater work and had a starring role in the little-seen indie Howl, alongside James Franco as Allen Ginsberg.[26] Daniels was featured on the cover of the April–May 2011 issue of Guitar Aficionado magazine[27] as well as the July–August 2011 issue of Making Music, where he discussed his experiences with music. In 2012 Daniels became the new announcing voice for Apple with the iPhone 5 ads.

Daniels had a career resurgence with his turn in Aaron Sorkin's HBO drama series The Newsroom (2012–2014) as fictional news anchor Will McAvoy. The opening scene of the pilot episode "We Just Decided To", in which Daniels gives a monologue on the state of American greatness, has been viewed more than 21 million times.[28] While the show received mixed reviews, Daniels won the Primetime Emmy Award for Lead Actor in a Drama Series for the first season.[29] The series ran for two more seasons, for which Daniels was nominated for the Primetime Emmy Award. The show also starred Emily Mortimer, John Gallagher Jr., Sam Waterston, Olivia Munn, Alison Pill, Dev Patel, and Jane Fonda. In 2015, Daniels reunited with Sorkin in the biographical drama film Steve Jobs, portraying CEO John Sculley. Daniels starred alongside Michael Fassbender, and Kate Winslet, both of whom received Academy Award nominations for their performances. The film was directed by Academy Award-winner Danny Boyle and written by Academy Award winner Aaron Sorkin. The film was a critical success earning an 86% on Rotten Tomatoes with the consensus reading, "Like the tech giant co-founded by its subject, Steve Jobs gathers brilliant people to deliver a product whose elegance belies the intricate complexities at its core."[30] Sorkin won the Golden Globe for its screenplay.[31] He played David in The Divergent Series: Allegiant and was set to reprise the role in the planned The Divergent Series: Ascendant.[32] In 2014 he reprised his role as Harry Dunne in Dumb and Dumber To reuniting with Jim Carrey.

2016–present: Career expansion[edit]

Daniels attending the premiere of The Martian at the 2015 Toronto International Film Festival

In 2016, Daniels returned to Broadway in the Revival of David Harrower's Blackbird alongside Michelle Williams.[33] The play depicts a young woman (Williams) meeting a middle-aged man (Daniels), 15 years after being sexually abused by him when she was twelve. The play ran at the Belasco Theatre on February 5, 2016 (37 previews), and opened officially on March 10 (through June 11, 108 performances) where it was directed by Joe Mantello and received widespread critical acclaim.[33] Daniels was nominated for his second Tony Award for Best Actor in a Play.[33] Williams received a Tony Award nomination as well.[33]

In 2017, Daniels starred in Netflix's western miniseries Godless where he portrayed the villain Frank Griffin. He starred alongside Michelle Dockery, Merritt Wever, and Sam Waterston. Daniels won critical praise for his performance and was nominated for the Primetime Emmy Award for Supporting Actor in a Miniseries, which he won. In 2018, Daniels's Hulu miniseries The Looming Tower traces the rising threat of Osama bin Laden and Al-Qaeda in the late 1990s and how the rivalry between the FBI and CIA during that time may have inadvertently set the path for the tragedy of 9/11. Daniels played John O'Neill, the chief of the New York FBI's Counter-terrorism Center. The ensemble included Bill Camp, Michael Stuhlbarg, and Peter Sarsgaard. Daniels won widespread critical acclaim and received a Primetime Emmy Award nomination for Best Actor in a Limited Series.

In 2018, Daniels starred as Atticus Finch, reuniting with Aaron Sorkin in his stage adaptation of To Kill a Mockingbird. The play opened on Broadway at the Shubert Theatre. The production began previews on November 1, 2018, prior to its official opening on December 13, 2018. During the week ending on December 23, 2018, the production grossed over $1.5 million, breaking the record for box office grosses for a non-musical play in a theater owned by The Shubert Organization. Daniels received his third Tony Award nomination for Best Actor in a Play. The show received 8 other Tony Award nominations. In June 2019, producer Scott Rudin announced that Daniels would leave the production in November 2019 and would be succeeded by Ed Harris.[34] His last performance was on November 3, 2019.

Daniels narrated the History Channel miniseries on George Washington titled Washington (2020). The 3 part documentary series premiered on February 16, 2020. On September 27, 2020, Daniels portrayed FBI director James Comey in the 2 part limited series, The Comey Rule which debuted on Showtime. The project is based on Comey's memoir, A Higher Loyalty (2018), and was written and directed by Billy Ray. The cast included Brendan Gleeson as Donald Trump, Jennifer Ehle as Patrice Comey, Holly Hunter as Sally Yates, and Michael Kelly as Andrew McCabe. Daniels won critical praise for his performance as Comey and received a Golden Globe Award nomination.[35][36] In 2019, it was announced that Showtime had given a straight-to-series order to American Rust, a drama based on Philipp Meyer’s debut novel of the same name. Daniels was an executive producer on the project and starred alongside Maura Tierney and Bill Camp.[37] In June 2021, it was announced that Daniels would be returning to his role of Atticus Finch in the Broadway production of To Kill a Mockingbird starting in October.[38] Daniels narrated the 9/11 documentary from Apple TV+ entitled 9/11: Inside the President's War Room; it was released on September 1, 2021.[39]

Personal life[edit]


In 1979, Daniels married his college sweetheart, a fellow Michigan resident also from Chelsea, Kathleen Rosemary Treado.[40] The couple have three children.[40]

In 1986, he moved back to his hometown of Chelsea, Michigan; as of 2016, he still primarily resides there.[41] Daniels has appeared as the TV spokesman for the Michigan Economic Development Corporation, promoting Michigan's effectiveness in bringing in new companies, featured on CNBC. He was inducted into the Michigan Walk of Fame on May 25, 2006, in Lansing, Michigan, and delivered the winter commencement address at the University of Michigan on December 20, 2009, at which he was granted an Honorary Doctorate in Fine Arts.[42] In 2022, a nematode parasite that kills tarantulas was named Tarantobelus jeffdanielsi to honor his role in Arachnophobia.[43][44]

Political beliefs[edit]

In 2020, Daniels endorsed Joe Biden in the presidential election against Donald Trump. He narrated a campaign ad for Biden titled "America Needs Michigan," focusing on the swing state of Michigan.[45][46]


The Purple Rose Theatre

In 1991, Daniels founded the Purple Rose Theatre Company, a nonprofit stage company in Chelsea, Michigan.[47] He has written more than a dozen plays for the company.[48]

Acting credits[edit]


Year Title Role Notes
1981 Ragtime P.C. O'Donnell
1983 Terms of Endearment Flap Horton
1985 The Purple Rose of Cairo Tom Baxter / Gil Shepherd
Marie Eddie Sisk
1986 Something Wild Charles Driggs
Heartburn Richard
1987 Radio Days Biff Baxter
1988 The House on Carroll Street Cochran
Sweet Hearts Dance Sam Manners
1989 Checking Out Ray Macklin
1990 Arachnophobia Dr. Ross Jennings
Welcome Home, Roxy Carmichael Denton Webb
Love Hurts Paul Weaver
1991 The Butcher's Wife Dr. Alex Tremor
1992 Timescape Ben Wilson
There Goes the Neighborhood Willis Embry
1993 Rain Without Thunder Jonathan Garson
Gettysburg Colonel Joshua Chamberlain
1994 Speed Officer Harry Temple
Dumb and Dumber Harry Dunne
1995 Redwood Curtain Lyman Fellers
1996 Fly Away Home Thomas Alden
2 Days in the Valley Alvin Strayer
101 Dalmatians Roger Dearly
1997 Trial and Error Charlie Tuttle
1998 Pleasantville Bill Johnson
1999 My Favorite Martian Tim O'Hara
It's the Rage Warren Harding
2000 Chasing Sleep Ed Saxon
2001 Escanaba in da Moonlight Reuben Soady Also co-writer and director
2002 Super Sucker Fred Barlow
Blood Work Jasper 'Buddy' Noone
The Hours Louis Waters
2003 Gods and Generals Lt. Col. Joshua Chamberlain
I Witness James Rhodes
2004 Imaginary Heroes Ben Travis
2005 The Squid and the Whale Bernard Berkman
Because of Winn-Dixie Mr. Buloni
Good Night, and Good Luck Sig Mickelson
2006 RV Travis Gornicke
Infamous Alvin Dewey
2007 The Lookout Lewis
Mama's Boy Mert Rosenbloom
A Plumm Summer Narrator
2008 Space Chimps Zartog Voice
Traitor Carter
2009 State of Play Rep. George Fergus
The Answer Man Arlen Faber
Away We Go Jerry Farlander
Paper Man Richard Dunn
2010 Howl Professor David Kirk
2012 Looper Abe
2014 Dumb and Dumber To Harry Dunne
2015 Steve Jobs John Sculley
The Martian Teddy Sanders
2016 The Divergent Series: Allegiant David
2018 The Catcher Was a Spy Bill Donovan
2019 Guest Artist Joseph Harris Also writer and producer
2020 Adam Mickey


Year Title Role Notes
1980 Hawaii Five-O Neal Forrester Episode: "The Flight of the Jewels"
A Rumor of War Chaplain 2 episodes
Breaking Away College Kid Episode: "Pilot"
1982 Catalina C-Lab Rick Guthrie Television film
American Playhouse Jed Jenkins Episode: "The Fifth of July"
1983 An Invasion of Privacy Francis Ryan Television film
1988 The Caine Mutiny Court-Martial Lt. Stephen Maryk
Tanner '88 Park Ranger Episode: "The Girlfriend Factor"
1989 No Place Like Home Mike Cooper Television film
1991 Saturday Night Live Himself (host) Episode: "Jeff Daniels/Color Me Badd"
1992 Teamster Boss: The Jackie Presser Story Tom Noonan Television film
1993 Frasier Doug Voice; Episode: "Here's Looking at You"
1995 Saturday Night Live Himself (host) Episode: "Jeff Daniels/Luscious Jackson"
2000 The Crossing George Washington Television film
Cheaters Dr. Gerard Plecki
2004 The Goodbye Girl Elliot Garfield
The Five People You Meet in Heaven The Blue Man
2008 Sweet Nothing in My Ear Dan Miller
2012–2014 The Newsroom Will McAvoy Main role
2013 Family Guy Himself Voice; Episode: "A Fistful of Meg"
2014 The Graham Norton Show Guest Episode: "Jim Carrey/Jeff Daniels/Jude Law"
2017 Godless Frank Griffin Main role
2018 The Looming Tower John O'Neill
The Emperor's Newest Clothes The Emperor Voice; television special
2020 Washington Narrator 3 episodes
The Comey Rule James Comey 2 episodes[49]
Impractical Jokers Himself Episode: "Rock Bottom"
Impractical Jokers: Dinner Party Himself Episode: "The Steak and Potatoes Episode"
2021 9/11: Inside the President's War Room Narrator Television documentary
2021–present American Rust Del Harris Main role[50]
2024 A Man in Full Charlie Croker Netflix miniseries
Denotes series that have not yet been released


Year Title Role Theatre
1976 The Farm Arthur Circle Theatre, Off-Broadway
1977 Gemini Asst. Stage Manager Little Theatre, Broadway
My Life Young Eddie Circle Theatre, Off-Broadway
1978 Lulu Schwarz / Mr. Hunidei
Two from the Late Show Nephew (Brontosaurus)
Fifth of July Jed Jenkins
1980–1982 New Apollo Theatre, Broadway
1982 Johnny Got His Gun Joe Bonham Circle Repertory Theatre, Off-Broadway
Three Sisters Andrei Sergeevich Prozorov New York City Center, Off-Broadway
1984 The Golden Age Tom Jack Lawrence Theatre, Broadway
1985 Lemon Sky Alan McGinn/Cazale Theatre, Off-Broadway
1993 Redwood Curtain Lyman Brooks Atkinson Theatre, Broadway
2007 Blackbird Ray Brooks New York City Center, Off-Broadway
2009–2010 God of Carnage Alan / Michael Bernard B. Jacobs Theatre, Broadway
2016 Blackbird Ray Brooks Belasco Theatre, Broadway
2018–2019, 2021 To Kill a Mockingbird Atticus Finch Shubert Theatre, Broadway

Awards and nominations[edit]

Awards received by Jeff Daniels
Award Year Category Title Result Ref.
Golden Globe Awards 1986 Best Actor in a Motion Picture – Comedy/Musical The Purple Rose of Cairo Nominated [51]
1987 Something Wild Nominated
2006 The Squid and the Whale Nominated
2013 Best Actor in a Television Series – Drama The Newsroom Nominated
2021 Best Actor – Miniseries or Television Film The Comey Rule Nominated
Primetime Emmy Award 2013 Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama Series The Newsroom Won [52]
Outstanding Lead Actor in a Limited Series or Movie The Looming Tower Nominated
Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Limited Series or Movie Godless Won
Screen Actors Guild Awards 2002 Outstanding Cast in a Motion Picture The Hours Nominated [53]
2005 Good Night, and Good Luck Nominated [54]
2012 Outstanding Actor in a Drama Series The Newsroom Nominated [55]
2013 Nominated [56]
2017 Outstanding Actor in a Miniseries or Television Movie Godless Nominated [57]
Tony Awards Best Actor in a Play God of Carnage Nominated [58]
Blackbird Nominated [59]
To Kill a Mockingbird Nominated [60]


Daniels has written and recorded six full-length albums with proceeds benefitting The Purple Rose Theater.[61]

  • Jeff Daniels Live and Unplugged
  • Jeff Daniels Live at The Purple Rose Theatre
  • Grandfather's Hat
  • Keep It Right Here
  • Together Again
  • Days Like These


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External links[edit]