12.2.15 Writer’s Cut: ‘I call it Going Meryl on them’

One of the questions I get asked a lot as an entertainment reporter is “who was your most interesting interview?”

Invariably the answer is going to be disappointing: People who ask that question want me to tell them how fabulous Brad Pitt is in person (never met him) or what a fun time I had with Meryl Streep (we only talked on the phone, but she was dear and even was calling direct from her own front porch and called out to neighbors as they passed by). For the most part, my most interesting interviews are with people who work behind the scenes, who are not in possession of the famous names or calling cards. I love talking to directors, writers, producers, casting directors, costume designers.

Jeff Daniels in "Steve Jobs"

But more on that another day. Occasionally, you get a great chat with an actor. It’s quite refreshing when a) they don’t appear to have a publicist listening in on the other line (yep, that happens) and b) they don’t sound like they’re parsing every line as it comes out of their mouths. They’re actually having a conversation with you. And since they know stuff about showbiz in a way you never will, it’s like having the breeze blow through your hair. So refreshing!

For my latest article about casting ensemble movies around awards season, which published in Variety earlier this week, I got lucky and got Jeff Daniels, who appears in Steve Jobs, and who just doesn’t give a fuck. We spoke once before for a Q&A that published the year he won the Emmy for The Newsroom, but this was more of a quick hit. And yet, he turned out to have some great material — so much that it couldn’t all fit into the main piece. So I’m hoping to start a new tradition by occasionally posting here the good stuff that I didn’t have room for before.

Call it the Writer’s Cut. Hey, if we can have director’s cuts, why not a writer? As in, me!

So Daniels and I were some minutes into our chat when I asked him about how he found out who else would be in Jobs with him, and how that helped him prepare for the role.

“[Michael Fassbender, Katherine Waterston, Michael Stuhlbarg], they’re never bad, those people. The movie may not work, but they’re never bad in it. There’s no weak link. I do that [thing] where you look through who’s there and [think] is someone there just because they’re a hot star right now, or a real actor,” he said.

“You’ve been on those kinds of projects before?”

He admitted he had been, though no specifics. “Then it’s you’re covering for mediocrity,” he added. “You be as patient as possible and you learn the star school stuff like, ‘I need you to do it this way for me.’ I call it ‘Going Meryl’ on them. She’s the pinnacle for me, and so moment-to-moment and when she chases an instinct in the middle of take four you’d better grab hold of her and hang on. She’ll take you somewhere, but if you’re resistant to it or do anything that might hold her back she has the ability to slice and dice you with curve balls and ad-libs. The things that make her great. If you can’t bring it, then prepare to die. None of that happened on Jobs. That’s one thing yo notice when you’re about to do an ensemble piece is that you don’t have any graduates from star school.”

Meryl Streep

“Going Meryl” is now my favorite phrase for an expert taking down a callow newcomer. And, Jeff Daniels rules.