Jeff Daniels will be coming home to Central Michigan University on Tuesday for a show at Plachta Auditorium. The CMU affiliate and world-famous actor will perform his brand of blues-influenced folk music before a sold-out crowd as part of Max and Emily’s Winter Concert Series. Central Michigan Life got a chance to chat with Daniels before his tour about music, acting and life on the road.
Katherine Ranzenberger: What do you miss most about Mount Pleasant?
Jeff Daniels: The Bird (laughs). Is that still a thing? That was a good one. Really, I miss the theater. There was a good group of people. I still keep in contact with them. Irv Smith, I believe, was an instructor. He knew what he was talking about.
KR: What got you interested in playing music along with acting in so many things?
JD: I always did it. I was 21 years old when I moved to New York City, and I figured I would be sitting around reading scripts, waiting for calls and waiting to go to auditions. I just learned how to play.
KR: How did you get into writing music?
JD: I was fascinated with the writing process. I was constantly looking over the shoulder of script writers and other actors. I was focused on being an actor. I would sit around and write songs, most of which were horrible. Then it was performing them. Once I figured out how to do that on stage in front of people, it was better. I’ve been doing shows all over the country. You write a song like you write a play.
KR: Why bluesy folk rock?
JD: In the early ’80s, I learned how to do the finger-picking. I like it because it uses all of the tone: the low, the mid and high ends of the guitar. I like being alone with me and my guitar. I’m not hiding behind a five-piece band. I like all the fame and glory. I enjoy the challenge. That’s when the guitar got fun, and it leads to a bluesy feel.
KR: Who has influenced your music the most?
JD: Stevie Goodman, Arlo Guthrie, Christine Lavin — more folk than anything.
KR: You’ve played at Max & Emily’s before. What brought you back for their first winter concert?
JD: It’s a good group and the crowd turns out. What they do for Mount Pleasant is amazing and it’s always fun to go back. I’m there to entertain you. It’s a good town. It’ll be a good time.
KR: What’s your favorite part of performing your music?
JD: Making (the audience) laugh harder than they have in a long time and playing something that makes them feel, moving them. I enjoy that, having them trust you enough to take them along with that journey.
KR: What was the best show you’ve played?
JD: We played a club called 54 Below in New York City recently. We did a couple shows. They were very receptive of us. It’s always great to do well in New York City.
KR: How do you fit this in with your busy schedule between filming “Dumb and Dumber To” and “The Newsroom?”
JD: You do one thing at a time. We’re going to find out soon when we start filming again for “The Newsroom.” Probably in the spring. When I’m doing “The Newsroom,” that’s all I’m doing. It takes damn near 100 percent of yourself to make (“Dumb and Dumber To”) as good as you can. I had a break between the two, though, and added some January shows (with the fundraiser shows for The Purple Rose Theater) just for fun.
KR: What kind of social life are you able to maintain while succeeding in the entertainment scene?
JD: (laughs) I have zero social life. Kathleen, my wife, remarks on that often. When you’re filming, you always have a script in your hand. It’s attached to your hip. While filming the first season of “The Newsroom,” I took my golf clubs out. The idea of playing golf was useless, though. That’s six hours I can’t be memorizing.
KR: What are some of the biggest challenges of your career?
JD: Making it last for decades. I’ve looked at Jimmy Stewart, Jack Lemon, Henry Fonda, and they’re all still remembered. That’s hard to do. The business is set up to use you and then push you away. I applaud my working actor co-workers that are able to stay around.
KR: What kind of feeling do you hope your audience goes home with?
JD: I hope they’re tired from laughing and that they heard some songs and music they liked. It’s relatable music. I hope that they lose themselves for a bit. We want to take you away for a little while. I hope they keep a song with them, because sometimes songs just stick with you.
KR: What kind of advice do you have for students? What’s one thing you want to pass on to them that you learned here?
JD: Use CMU to find out what you’re good at. Whittle it down. Whatever comes from your classes, use it, and when you find what you love, chase it. Chase it for the rest of your life. Then you’ll be doing something you want to do.