1994 was a banner year for Jeff Daniels, with two smash-hit films – but both he and his agent were unsure either film was a good idea.
It’s hard to imagine that there might have been a time when Jeff Daniels was struggling to find work on a movie set, but despite appearing in Arachnophobia, Radio Days and The Purple Rose Of Cairo, among lots of other films, the early 1990s left him feeling like his career was stalling. That was until 1994, ‘The Year of the Harry’, when the actor suddenly found himself playing a character named Harry in the two biggest smash hits of the year: Speed and Dumb And Dumber.
Daniels has been recalling the doubts he had when opting to do Speed, alongside his agents’ anxiety at Daniel’s deciding to act opposite the white-hot Jim Carrey in Dumb and Dumber.
When it came to Speed, Daniels reflected that a script rewrite beefing up his role was the deal clincher: “Get me a job.’ That’s what Speed was. [My agent] said ‘well, we’ve got this script Speed, we’ll send it to you, but you’re dead on page 22. You and Keanu go into this 50-story building and you get in the elevator shaft and fall and die.’ I said ‘well, the career’s in trouble but it’s not in that much trouble, so I’m going to pass.’ And then they said ‘hang on, there’s a new draft coming, you die later.’ I said, ‘How much later?’ He goes, ‘About page 88.’ ‘I’m in.’ I was lucky they did another draft”.
When it came to Dumb And Dumber, Daniels was much more confident with his role. But instead it was his agent who was concerned, citing the worry that Carrey, on one of the decade’s hottest movie star streaks, would blow him off the screen. Recalls Daniels: “when I auditioned for Dumb and Dumber, I said ‘I can do this. I know how to do this.’ There was hesitancy from the agents about working with Jim because he’s such a solo performer. As one agent said ‘he’s going to wipe you off the screen.’ And I said ‘yeah, but I got the toilet scene, I got the tongue on the pole scene, I got the snowball in the head scene. Unless they cut those scenes that Jim’s not in, I’m going to score”.
Both films would ultimately prove to be box office gold, and Daniels’ Hollywood career was once again in the ascendancy. Whilst the actor’s movie output has slowed down in recent years as he’s focused on TV, that summer of 1994 opened up the door for several decades of great movie performances from Daniels, which we imagine he’s glad for. We certainly are.
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