Which director would you like to work with that you haven’t before?? “Spielberg. Just to be around someone who was put on this Earth to be a filmmaker, that knows cameras so well. I’d like to stand on the set and listen to him talk to his d.p.”
How do actors balance commerce vs. art?? “You try to be good in everything you do. Sometimes the more mediocre the script, the more money you get paid. But ‘Squid and the Whale’ comes along and you don’t. You try to balance it and go back and forth. Anyone who understands the business knows that in order to have a career that lasts decades, occasionally you’ve got to make some money.”
Up next::”I just finished ‘R.V.,’ with Robin Williams, and Barry Sonnenfeld directed it. We had a ball and, hopefully, the audience will, too.”
Jeff Daniels knew that the role of Bernard Berkman in “The Squid and the Whale” would be a challenge, and that’s why he doggedly pursued it.
“I had never been offered anything like it before — and I wasn’t offered it, I had to go get it,” he says. “I went after it not really knowing whether I could do it. There are trap doors all over this role. After 40 films, the challenges jump out. I like to chase those.”
Inspired by writer-director Noah Baumbach’s childhood, pic captures a family’s unraveling, and is equal parts comical and wince-inducing. “That’s the beauty of Noah’s script,” says Daniels. “Obviously, there’s a lot of tragedy and pain in the film but there’s also a lot of humor.” Recognizing the comedy in the story is what won Daniels the part.
To get into character, Daniels dressed in Jonathan Baumbach’s clothes (“We didn’t have money for 1980s vintage clothing”) and met with the director’s father, an experience he describes as helpful and harmful. “It was harmful in that I came back into rehearsal doing an impression of him and that was false,” he explains. “I had to connect it to me and personalize it.”
For Daniels, also a playwright, he found that link by drawing on experience. “You get so locked in your own head, you’re imprisoned by whatever it is you’re writing about,” he says. “But Bernard, he doesn’t know the difference between being obsessed about something and being obsessed with himself. He has no self-awareness whatsoever — the guy’s oblivious. That’s why he’s so much fun to play.”
Pic was shot in Brooklyn over 23 days. Recalls Daniels, “It was bare bones, but we were all there for the same reason: Everyone thought they were making something good. It reminded me of Off Broadway, where I’m from creatively.”
As to whether his character is more pitiable or monstrous, Daniels leaves that open to interpretation. “One of the things Noah and I worked on is that Bernard considers himself a victim, none of this is his fault. If it were up to him, the marriage and family would be still together,” says the thesp. “As an actor, you don’t judge that. You just put on his clothes and make sure he believes that.”