Not My Job: We Ask Actor Jeff Daniels About People Named Steve And Their Jobs
PETER SAGAL, HOST:
And now the game where we talk to famous people about obscure things. We are in the heart of Hollywood, so of course we decided to talk to a famous actor who refuses to live here. Jeff Daniels has been starring in films for 30 years, as well as winning an Emmy for a starring role in HBO's "The Newsroom." His latest film is "Steve Jobs." Jeff Daniels, welcome to WAIT WAIT... DON'T TELL ME.
JEFF DANIELS: Thank you very much.
SAGAL: A pleasure to have you. So what I said is true, that you've been in the business, as they say, for a long time, but you've never moved here. You still live in Chelsea, Mich., where you grew up. Is that right?
DANIELS: I do, yeah, yeah.
SAGAL: And how did - first, why did you decide to do that and how did you get away with it?
DANIELS: You know, back then it was - there weren't a lot of people that weren't in Hollywood or New York. But we had a kid and we were going to have some more, and I didn't know how to raise kids in Hollywood. I just - I didn't understand how to do that. So...
PAULA POUNDSTONE: It can't be done.
SAGAL: Well - no. Well, generally...
DANIELS: I'd heard - and people can do it, but we didn't know how. So we said why don't we just move back? We're both in Michigan. Let's go back there and just use the airport. And that's what I did. It was a bit of a gamble, but I did it.
SAGAL: And did anybody say back then just when you were getting started - they said Daniels, if you don't move to LA, your career's going to go nowhere? You're going to do small theater in a place in Michigan.
DANIELS: Well, they did say that if you have an audition tomorrow at 2 o'clock, we expect you to be there.
SAGAL: And so how did you handle that?
DANIELS: I got on a plane.
SAGAL: Oh, yeah. As you say, they have those.
DANIELS: They had airplanes, even back then.
SAGAL: Jeff, so I'm told you like to drive around in an RV. Is that right?
DANIELS: I am a member of that subculture, yes.
DANIELS: So is Clarence Thomas.
SAGAL: Yeah, I know. Clarence - you ever run in to Clarence Thomas?
DANIELS: I saw Clarence Thomas at a truck stop, Fargo, N.D. I said Clarence, what are you hauling?
SAGAL: I just imagine you guys would run into each other all the time parked overnight in Wal-Marts and Clarence...
DANIELS: I've done that.
SAGAL: Have you? Because I'm told that...
DANIELS: Have you ever done that?
DANIELS: No, you haven't.
POUNDSTONE: Yes, I have.
SAGAL: No, just to clarify - it is true that Wal-Mart tells RVers that you can park overnight in our parking lot. It's cool.
DANIELS: I have done that on many occasions. And, you know, they want you to go in and buy 100 bucks worth of food, which...
POUNDSTONE: Don't get the meat.
DANIELS: Yeah, don't get the meat.
SAGAL: I'm trying to imagine - I'm in my RV...
SAGAL: I'm in Wal-Mart somewhere, and...
DANIELS: First of all, do you own an RV?
SAGAL: No, I don't. This is hypothetical.
DANIELS: All right.
SAGAL: So I'm out there, and I'm in my RV. I get up in the morning, I walk out of my RV and there out walking out of the next RV is Jeff Daniels. Anybody ever look at you and go wait a minute.
DANIELS: Where's Clarence Thomas?
SAGAL: Now, back in the '90s, you were on the path of the serious actor. And then you starred in that classic heartbreaking drama "Dumb And Dumber."
DANIELS: Trying to keep up.
SAGAL: Yeah, I know, which is hard to do, I'm told.
DANIELS: Yeah, there was a big to-do about that. You know, I was on the serious, important actor trail. And my three agents got on the phone - two in LA, one in New York - and the two in LA said OK, we're going to stop this.
DANIELS: We're not going to do this. This is not going to happen. And even - you're going to - Jeff, to be honest, Jim Carrey - he's a brilliant comedic actor - he may wipe you off the screen. And I said well, let's see - there's the snowball in the head, there's the tongue on the pole and then there's the toilet. Jim's not in any of those scenes. So unless they cut him out, I'm probably going to score.
POUNDSTONE: You analyze the script that carefully?
DANIELS: I was with a friend, and I would read it and I'd go is this funny? And then I would be the tongue and the pole, he goes yeah, yeah, that's funny.
POUNDSTONE: OK. Is this...
DANIELS: I get to the toilet - I go what about this? Is that funny? He goes yeah, that's pretty funny.
POUNDSTONE: OK, now was this at the truck stop?
DANIELS: It was in Clarence Thomas' RV.
ADAM FELBER: The guy likes that kind of humor.
SAGAL: So why did you?
DANIELS: He was rolling on the floor. People don't know Clarence liked RVers.
SAGAL: And so somewhere, Aaron Sorkin, you know, wherever he was in the mid-'90s, saw that movie and said that's the man who's going to be my voice, my mouthpiece someday.
DANIELS: Not sure that's how it went down but let's go with that. It certainly almost prevented me from playing Will McAvoy, maybe that's it.
SAGAL: Now, I also understand you're a big theater guy. You, of course, won a Tony for I think it was "God Of Carnage." But you're going back to do a show called "Blackbird," if I'm right?
SAGAL: This is a twisted little play if I...
DANIELS: It's a tough, tough, tough, tough drama. And we did it off-Broadway. Alison Pill and I did it. It was the show to see.
DANIELS: We were there about 10 weeks. It was a subscription audience...
DANIELS: ...at the Manhattan Theatre Club, which is a wonderful theater.
POUNDSTONE: What do you mean a subscription...
DANIELS: But the subscribers - the subscribers...
DANIELS: Nathan Lane I think called it screaming into the grave.
FELBER: They've had those subscriptions for quite a while.
DANIELS: Amy Sedaris said it sleeps 300.
SAGAL: But you love this theater.
DANIELS: We were the show to see in New York City. We're out there, the curtain comes down, we're exhausted. It's a drama where you tear your guts out.
DANIELS: Lights come back up, it's the curtain call. We hear get the car.
DANIELS: There was one guy who got up during the - it's an off-Broadway theater - we're 3 feet from you. He gets up, he starts walking and he's doing that thing, going across the thing. The lights come down. He's going the wrong [expletive] way. Now the curtain call - now he's coming back in front of us again. Ten weeks we were the show to see. No one could see it.
SAGAL: Jeff Daniels, we have asked you to play game we're calling...
BILL KURTIS: Hey Siri, Bite Me.
SAGAL: So you just starred in a movie called "Steve Jobs."
SAGAL: So we thought we'd ask you about Steve's job - that is three questions about people named Steve and what they do for a living.
SAGAL: Get 2 out of 3 right, you will win a prize for one of our listeners. Bill, who is Jeff Daniels playing for?
KURTIS: Maximilian Miller from Redondo Beach, Calif.
DANIELS: This is a very tough topic to be an expert on, isn't it? It is - it's certainly not one I'm well-versed on but go ahead.
SAGAL: Well, who knows, maybe you know these guys. First up, Stephen Merryday is a judge in Florida, a federal judge. He once refused a lawyer's request to suspend a murder trial already in progress for what reason? A, because the defense lawyer needed time off to participate in an Ernest Hemingway look-alike contest, B, because that same defense lawyer suggested that the victim wasn't dead but just stunned and they should wait awhile or C, because the prosecutor said that the dog ate his briefs.
DANIELS: I'm going to go with Hemingway.
SAGAL: You are right, sir. That's the problem.
(SOUNDBITE OF BELL, APPLAUSE)
SAGAL: In his defense, the lawyer had already reserved the hotel room down in Key West, where the conference was, the contest. And also, he really did look like Ernest Hemingway, so he had a chance of winning. All right, that's the first Steve's job. Second Steve's job - one of the most important jobs at Toyota is done by somebody named Steve. Who is Steve? Is it A, Steve is the guy who after each car is designed makes sure it's boring enough to be a Toyota, B, Steve is the name of the walking dummy that strolls out in front of moving cars to test pedestrian safety or C, Steve is a 7-year-old child they put in a clean minivan to see how long it takes him to wreck it.
DANIELS: I'm going to go with the dummy walking across the street.
SAGAL: You're right again.
(SOUNDBITE OF BELL, APPLAUSE)
POUNDSTONE: Wow, wow, he's good.
SAGAL: He's good. Toyota is working on an automatic system to prevent hitting pedestrians, so they need a fake pedestrian to test it. So Steve was a dummy. He has no brain, of course. But right before each impact, he's heard to say not again.
SAGAL: Well, this is interesting. You can go for perfect here, as I'm sure Will McAvoy would. Steve Gadlin of Evanston, Ill., got a $25,000 investment from venture capitalist Mark Cuban for Steve's innovative online business. What is it? Is it A, iwanttodrawacatforyou.com, where you pay Steve $10 and he draws a cat for you, B, Instagraham Cracker, which for $9 you can instantly download a graham cracker using your 3-D printer or C, the Twitter Tracker - for $50 a week, he sends a man to your home to stand behind you and track how much time you waste on Twitter.
DANIELS: What was the first one?
SAGAL: That was iwanttodrawacatforyou.com.
DANIELS: Yeah, let's draw some cats.
SAGAL: That's right.
(SOUNDBITE OF BELL)
POUNDSTONE: Whoa, I love that.
SAGAL: Mark Cuban gave Steve Gadlin $25,000 to set up iwanttodrawacatforyou.com. Bill, how did Jeff Daniels do on our quiz?
KURTIS: A rare 3 and 0...
KURTIS: ...A trifecta - he won.
MAZ JOBRANI: Wow.
SAGAL: Well done. Jeff Daniels is starring in "Steve Jobs," out now. It might bring him back to the stage in February. Who knows? Jeff Daniels, thank you so much for joining us...
DANIELS: Thank you very much.
SAGAL: ...On WAIT WAIT... DON'T TELL ME, a pleasure to have you.
DANIELS: Thank you so much.
SAGAL: Thank you so much.
DANIELS: Thanks guys.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
SAGAL: In just a minute, Bill is the prize in your happy meal in the Listener Limerick Challenge. Call 1-888-WAIT-WAIT to join us on the air. We'll be back in a minute with more of WAIT WAIT... DON'T TELL ME from NPR.
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