Jeff Daniels minces no words when it comes to naming his inspiration for writing, directing and starring in his latest film, “Escanaba in da Moonlight.” “I”ve wanted to do all three ever since working with Woody Allen on the “Purple Rose of Cairo” in 1985.” The Michigan native and star of such eclectic films as “Dumb and Dumber,” “Terms of Endearment,” and “101 Dalmatians” discussed his new film with The Michigan Daily.

Daniels enjoys the power of having creative control over every aspect of his film, including producing. This is the first film financed by his Purple Rose Films. “As an actor, you”re kind of a hired gun. Instead of being overwhelmed by [being a director, actor, and writer] all three of those people, who all happened to be me, ended up trying to make the same movie. That doesn”t always happen.”

As producer, Daniels hired most of his own cast from the Purple Rose Theater”s stage production of “Escanaba,” Michigan”s longest running play. “These guys had literally played these roles five hundred times, so any nerves they had about working on their first big film set disappeared.”

Daniels, as Rueben Soady, a Michigan man who is a disgrace to his hunting family because he, at 43 years of age, has never bagged a buck, anchors the cast. Character actor Harve Presnell, best know for his role as the tough-as-nails Wade Gustafson in “Fargo” plays the patriarch of the Soady family. Daniels has nothing but praise for Presnell, a veteran of both stage and screen. “He couldn”t have been more professional, which was a great example to the “Purple Rose” guys, who are all pros, but here”s how a real pro acts on a movie set.”

The movie was filmed on location in Escanaba, Michigan, a small upper-peninsula town that wasn”t used to the Hollywood treatment. “They were thrilled that we were there. Whatever we needed, we had three of them in half an hour. It was constantly like that.”

When asked about the “Yoopers” notorious dislike for tourists that come across the Mackinaw Bridge, Daniels had to admit that not everyone was thrilled to see them. “There were a few guys with the pick-up trucks and the gun racks that said “Go back to Hollywood.” There were those that felt we were just making fun of them, but these were people that had not read the script, didn”t know the story, and were just judging, preconceived notions.”

The film version of “Escanaba” opened this past weekend in Michigan, and is currently seeking a studio for wide distribution. Daniels continues to split his career from big budget Hollywood blockbusters (“Speed”) and running the Purple Rose Theater in Chelsea, Michigan. The actor feels that the mid-west”s talent pool has not been fully exploited. Despite the growing national popularity of the theater, Daniels promises to maintain the distinct Michigan flavor of his productions.

“It”s what got us here. We will always hold true because it”s important to me, to the mission, to workshop and produce mid-western writers and actors.”

He admits that the Theater Company still receives many bad plays, and that they cannot teach talent. “The trick is finding a writer that has a voice If you can find somebody who can think funny and write funny, the structure and the story work, we can teach them to do that, but you can”t teach someone to have a voice, and you can”t teach them to be funny.

Daniels has just finished the fourth draft of the second film he hopes to produce with Purple Rose Films. It is a comedy about a door-to-door vacuum cleaner salesman and Daniels plans to film it somewhere in southeastern Michigan. That is, assuming that “Escanaba in da Moonlight” is successful. Even for a big Hollywood actor, the success of his labor of love is important. “We”re hoping the movie does well enough to keep going.”

And if that means more films for and by Michigan natives, then we”re right with you, Mr. Daniels.

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