Jeff Daniels

Active - 1980 - 2019  |   Born - Feb 19, 1955 in Athens, Georgia, United States  |   Genres - Drama, Comedy, Thriller

Share on

Biography by AllMovie

Though he has never achieved the high profile or widespread acclaim of a Robert De Niro, Jeff Daniels ranks as one of Hollywood's most versatile leading men and over his career he has played everything from villains and cads to heroes and romantic leads to tragic figures and lovably goofy idiots, in movies of almost every genre. Daniels has also worked extensively on television and stage, where he first distinguished himself by winning an Obie for a production of Johnny Got His Gun.

Blonde, cleft-chinned, and handsome in a rugged all-American way, Daniels made his screen debut playing PC O'Donnell in Milos Forman's Ragtime (1981). His breakthrough came when he was cast as Debra Winger's inconstant husband in Terms of Endearment (1983). Daniels has subsequently averaged one or two major feature films per year with notable performances, including: his memorable dual portrayal of a gallant movie hero/self-absorbed star who steps out of celluloid to steal the heart of lonely housewife Mia Farrow in Woody Allen's Purple Rose of Cairo (1984); his turn as a man terrified of spiders who finds himself surrounded by them in the horror-comedy Arachnophobia; and his role as Union officer Colonel Joshua Chamberlain, who led his troops into doom in Gettysburg (1993).

In 1994, Daniels took a radical turn away from drama to star as one of the world's stupidest men opposite comic sensation Jim Carrey in the Farrelly brothers' hyperactive Dumb and Dumber. This lowest-common-denominator comedy proved one of the year's surprise hits and brought Daniels to a new level of recognition and popularity. Since then, Daniels has alternated more frequently between drama and comedy. His television credits include a moving portrayal of a troubled Vietnam vet in a Hallmark Hall of Fame production, Redwood Curtain. Daniels still maintains his connection to the stage and manages his own theatrical company. Before launching his acting career, he earned a degree in English from Central Michigan University in Mount Pleasant, MI.

The later '90s found Daniels turning homeward and venturing into new territories through his labor of love, the Purple Rose Theater. Located in the small town of Chelsea, MI, the bus garage turned playhouse was designed to give Midwestern audiences the opportunity to enjoy entertainment generally reserved for big-city dwellers. Though he continued to appear in such films as Fly Away Home (1996) and Pleasantville (1998), Daniels made his feature directorial debut with the celluloid translation of his successful Yooper stage comedy Escanaba in da Moonlight (2000). Set in the Michigan's Upper Peninsula (U.P., hence "Yooper"), the tale of redemption by means of bagging a buck mixed the regionally accented humor of Fargo with the eccentricities inherent to northerners and served as an ideal directorial debut for the Michigan native. A modest regional success, Daniels would subsequently appear in such wide releases as Blood Work and The Hours (both 2002) before returning to the director's chair for the vacuum-salesman comedy Super Sucker (also 2002). Later reprising his role as Lt. Col. Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain from Gettysburg, Daniels once again went back in time for the Civial War drama Gods and Generals (2002). In 2004 he appeared in the adaptation of fellow Michigander Mitch Albom's best-seller The Five People You Meet in Heaven, and the next year he earned rave reviews for his role as a self-absorbed academic and terrible father in The Squid and the Whale. He continued to work steadily in a variety of projects including the Robin Williams vehicle RV, the indie thriller The Lookout, and Away We Go. He portrayed a Senator in the American remake of the British miniseries State of Play in 2009, and three years later he was cast as the lead in Aaron Sorkin's first cable series, The Newroom, playing the host of a cable news program who decides to tell it like it really is.

Movie Highlights

See Full Filmography


  • Taught himself how to play guitar as a means of relaxation when he moved to New York City to find work as an actor.
  • Married his high-school sweetheart, and they returned to Michigan to raise their children.
  • Won a 1982 OBIE Award for his performance in Johnny Got His Gun.
  • Founded the nonprofit Purple Rose Theatre Company in his hometown of Chelsea, MI. The name is a nod to his breakthrough role in The Purple Rose of Cairo (1985).
  • Has written many plays performed at the Purple Rose Theatre. 
  • Is a singer-songwriter whose CDs (which raise funds for his theater company) include Jeff Daniels: Live and Unplugged (2004), Grandfather's Hat (2006), Together Again (2009), Live at the Purple Rose (2010) and Keep It Right Here (2010).
  • Known to mix comedy into his musical performances when performing live. 
  • Has promoted Michigan by serving as a spokesperson for Michigan ad campaigns.
  • Among his prized possessions: a guitar of his that George Harrison signed and then played a song on.