Jeff Daniels steps off the screen

 

You may

have seen him on the big screen in Dumb and Dumber, if not The Squid

and the Whale.

But have you seen him on a small stage, singing witty and sometimes poignant

original tunes with an acoustic guitar?

Actor Jeff

Daniels

has taken some road trips since he went public with his musical side a

few years back, but this fall he's going full tilt with a late summer and fall

tour through the eastern two-thirds of the nation and even into Alaska. It

stops next Wednesday at Radio Radio in Fountain Square.

"It's been

hard to schedule something like this," Daniels says in a phone interview. "I

just decided, after four or five years of working around the movies and TV, to

carve out part of the year just to do this. That's why I'm going out and

staying out."

Judging

from his fourth independent album, Live at the Purple Rose, patrons can expect a

relaxed, PG-rated evening that hovers somewhere between "Alice's Restaurant"

and Inside the Actors Studio. A scholar of rural blues and old-time music,

Daniels fingerpicks deftly while talk-singing about the perils of aging,

celebrity and life in general, offering Hollywood anecdotes as segues.

"The

movies precede me – they're part of the reason why people bought a ticket

in the first place," he says. "I want to service that expectation, give them what

they want, and by the time they're done with me, I gave them more than that."

Songwriting,

it turns out, has always been the private flip side of his acting career.

"It had

been 25 years of writing stuff that no one would hear, and that was fine," he

says. "When I moved to New York in 1976, I bought a guitar and took it with me,

knowing I'd be sitting in the apartment waiting for the phone to ring for weeks

at a time. The guitar became kind of the '70s answer to a prescription drug

— it kept me sane, and I worked hard on it. It was something that I could

do when my creative services weren't in demand, to kind of keep the motor

running between acting gigs. It was never intended to come out."

It came

out, however, when Daniels wanted to raise some money for the Purple Rose

Theatre Company

, a not-for-profit equity theater he founded in his hometown of

Chelsea, Mich. The mission of the Purple Rose, where he recorded his latest

disc, is to produce new American plays and provide opportunities for Midwestern

talent. Still married to his high school sweetheart, Daniels serves as

executive director and a contributing playwright for the organization, which

receives the proceeds from his CD sales and takes its name from the Woody Allen

film on his resume.

As for the

Purple Rose

album, the titles trace its emotional range from goofy ("When You're Fifty," "A

Revisionist's 'Mary Had a Little Lamb'") to heartfelt ("The Michigan in Me,"

"My Old Dog, Fred"). "Daddy's Little Daughter" recounts teaching a teen to

drive while "she's taking every corner like an afterthought." "Allen Parkway

Inn" honors the seedy Houston motel that Daniels was relegated to while

shooting his 1983 breakout film, Terms of Endearment. Fellow cast members

Jack Nicholson, Debra Winger and Shirley MacLaine stayed at the Ritz Carlton.

Daniels

doesn't apologize for the seemingly lighter moments in his music or his acting.

Humor can be serious business with an important social impact, he says.

"That's

where comedy is best, I think, whether it's Dumb and Dumber or something far more

sophisticated, Lewis Black or George Carlin or Mark Twain, guys like that," he

says. "As long as there's some truth to it, I think it's absolutely valid and

just as serious an art form as drama and tragedy are.

"I'm not a

standup comedian, I know that. Woody Allen was not doing standup on the movie

set. Rarely were there jokes. It was all business and seriousness, and how do

we make this funny, and how do we go about improving that move and that staging

and that line. The craft of it all has always been more interesting to me than

being able to hold up a tomato and do five minutes."

Whether

pursuing comedy, drama or music, Daniels adds, timing is crucial.

"The

precision – that's what you learn when you work with guys like Jim

Carrey, Woody Allen, Robin Williams, Neil Simon," he says. "There's a precision

to comedy that is razor sharp. It looks like they're winging it, but it's as

musical as anything, finding the rhythm to make the joke work. There's

something very musical about landing a punch line. It's almost beat-ed out,

like a lyric or a chord progression. It's real connected for me."

Aside from

planning the tour, Daniels has been focusing on his stage career with a role in

the dark comedy God of Carnage on Broadway. The production sold out every show

during its initial March-November 2009 run and won a Tony Award for Best Play.

Daniels was nominated for Best Actor, as were his co-stars, and he rejoined the

cast in a different role from March to June this year.

As for film,

Daniels has a minor role in the upcoming Allen Ginsberg biopic "Howl," but

otherwise there's nothing in the pipeline.

"When

you're on Broadway for eight shows a week, there's not much time to do anything

else," he says. "So I don't see any movies coming out anytime soon."

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