In his screen career of more than 30 years, Jeff Daniels has starred in a wide range of films, including ‘Terms of Endearment,’ ‘The Purple Rose of Cairo’ and ‘Dumb & Dumber.’
Born in Georgia in 1955, Jeff Daniels is an actor who has made his mark in every genre of theater, film and television. Daniels is known for his roles in the films The Crossing, Dumb and Dumber, and Howl. He signed on to star in the HBO series The Newsroom in 2012.
Jeff Daniels was born on February 19, 1955, in Athens, Georgia, but moved to Michigan with his family before he was a year old. He minored in theater in college but dropped out during his junior year, moving to New York to work with the Circle Repertory Company and making his stage debut in 1976 in Lanford Wilson’s Fifth of July. His other theatrical performances include the one-man Johnny Got His Gun (1982; Obie Award), The Golden Age (1984) and Wilson's Redwood Curtain (1993, and the 1995 TV adaptation).
The 1970s were also good to Daniels in another respect: In 1979 he married his high school sweetheart, Kathleen Rosemary Treado. Together they have three children.
Move to the Big Screen
Daniels made his film debut in the critically acclaimed 1981 film Ragtime, and he appeared only in such critical darlings for the next few years. Films such as Terms of Endearment (1983), The Purple Rose of Cairo (1985; Golden Globe nomination for his first starring role) and Something Wild (1986; Golden Globe nomination) put Daniels on the Hollywood map, and he stayed busy on the screen all through the 1980s.
The 1990s brought more success for Daniels, and he started the new decade in a new direction with the horror comedy Arachnophobia (1990). After a few more films that flew under the radar, such as Love Hurts (1990) and Timescape (1992), Daniels returned full force with the epic TV miniseries Gettysburg (1993), which won him accolades.
No one could have predicted that Daniels would segue from playing a Civil War figure to playing Harry Dunne in 1994’s smash comedy hit Dumb & Dumber, but the move was career gold for Daniels, as his and Jim Carrey’s slapstick movie made nearly $250 million worldwide, propelling Daniels into the spotlight yet again.
In 1991, switching gears once more, Daniels founded the not-for-profit Purple Rose Theater Company in Chelsea, Michigan. Since its founding, the company has produced more than 10 of Daniels' own plays, and he serves as its executive director.
'Dumb & Dumber' and 'The Newsroom'
Never one to rest on his laurels or land in a rut, following the staggering success of Dumb & Dumber, Daniels made film choices as diverse as anything he’d ever done: He starred in the 1996 family movie Fly Away Home, the violent thriller Two Days in the Valley (1996) and the comedy Trial and Error (1997), with Disney’s 101 Dalmatians thrown in for good measure.
In between his appearances on the big screen, Daniels landed plum roles on TV, notably taking on the role of George Washington in the A&E TV movie The Crossing in 2000.
Keeping the momentum and diversity going, in the early 2000s Daniels appeared in Clint Eastwood's Blood Work and as Ed Harris' former lover in The Hours, and he reprised his role as Colonel Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain in Gods and Generals, the prequel to Gettysburg. Roles in the TV-movie The Five People You Meet in Heaven (2004) and the films Because of Winn-Dixie (2005), Good Night and Good Luck (2005) and The Squid and the Whale (2005) kept Daniels’ fans occupied throughout the rest of the decade.
The next decade would bring another first for the actor: the lead role in a TV series. With HBO’s dramatic series The Newsroom (2012–14), Daniels entered uncharted territory, and his first foray into a starring role in a TV show garnered critical attention even before it aired. He went on to earn an Emmy Award for his work on the series in 2013. In 2015, he was nominated for another Emmy for Lead Actor in a Drama.
When Daniels is not appearing on TV or in films, he is playing music, a hobby in which he has enmeshed himself his entire life. He has released several albums, the proceeds of which go to funding his Purple Rose Theater. He has also worked on Broadway, including plays like The Golden Age (1984) and God of Carnage (2009), and earned the second Tony nomination of his career for his lead role in the original production Blackbird, co-starring Michelle Williams.