Jeff Daniels: I own Will McAvoy in 'Newsroom'
The first season of Aaron Sorkin's HBO drama "The Newsroom" bitterly divided viewers: Some embraced its depiction of the fast-paced world of cable news. Others found it overwrought and tuned in to "hate-watch" as the show dramatized current events to reveal the inner workings of the media.
"The Newsroom" returns for season two on Sunday, and according to Jeff Daniels, who plays crotchety TV news anchor Will McAvoy, the show has found its groove.
When we last left McAvoy, he was comparing the Republican tea party to the American Taliban on television. The season two opener takes place just a few weeks later, and McAvoy is facing the consequences of his words. Over the course of the 10 new episodes, the series will explore themes like Occupy Wall Street and a fictional story that rocks the network called Operation Genoa.
Daniels spoke with CNN about getting back into character, McAvoy's Googling habits and his next project: the long-rumored sequel to the 1994 comedy "Dumb and Dumber."
CNN: Where do we find Will McAvoy at the beginning of season two?
Jeff Daniels: Will is trying to get his life back together. He's hoping (the tea party uproar) blows over eventually and he can go back to doing what he does in the way that he likes to do it. But the Genoa story takes over. And what they do in the Genoa story makes what he did with the tea party pale in comparison.
CNN: As an actor, what was interesting about playing Will this season?
Daniels: The most exciting thing for me was that I knew who he was, going in. When you go from movie to movie to movie, you're creating different characters every time, and you're discovering them each time. For all the actors (on "The Newsroom"), we made a lot of those discoveries on season one. We were winging it. Season one really was, for Aaron (Sorkin) on down, a first draft. We're a lot of really smart people who have done really successful things over the years, but we were still guessing. So season two really felt like I knew the guy. I owned him. It was a whole different way of walking into a scene and feeling like the character was very familiar.
CNN: Will this season center on any big newsworthy moments, like the 2012 presidential election?
Daniels: There are some, yeah. We certainly are covering the primaries and the leadup to the election. But mainly, it's this Genoa story, a fictional story that the network is chasing. The other stories, while they do pop up, are more secondary.
CNN: It seems like fans of "The Newsroom" are really interested in knowing how closely your own views align with your character's. Is that something you feel the need to address?
Daniels: They are fascinated by that, aren't they? It seems really important that they know. I can see why they would want to know that. You know what's more important? What Will thinks. Let me put it this way: I'm doing some acting. I'll say that.
CNN: Are you familiar with the Will McAvoy Twitter account someone started?
Daniels: If Will were real, I think he would be thrilled. I have a Twitter account, but I don't dare look at what anyone twits me -- I can't say tweets, so I say twits. I can't even bear it. I've never Googled, myself so I'm not about to scroll through what people are sending my way. I was aware that there is a Drunk Will McAvoy account and maybe even a Will McAvoy account. Have I been to it? No. Will would. Will loves to Google himself.
CNN: There's a really notable balance on the show between the serious high stakes of the newsroom and humorous moments. Why is that important?
Daniels: It's like life, where people say these very funny things right before they do very serious stuff. Humor is what keeps us sane. It's very smart humor. Very fast humor. These people get each other's jokes. It's these human beings with weaknesses and senses of humor. That's what Aaron does well: He writes complete people with flaws. It's coming from these people that, to us as we're doing it, feel real.
CNN: Do you have any sense of whether the newsroom on the show is true to the feeling of an actual newsroom?
Daniels: We're not shooting a documentary. It's fictional. I imagine that on a breaking news day, our fictionalized version comes close. When you dramatize something and put cameras in front of it, you take out the boring parts. I have a feeling that it's probably relatively authentic, which is what we're going for.
CNN: Did you spend any time in a newsroom or with real reporters to prepare for the role of Will?
Daniels: No. It was frightening how little research I did for this. I did think about all those newsrooms I've been in over the years promoting movies. It's not the same as being there when there's breaking news, but it's certainly helpful. I felt like I had enough of an awareness of what was going on to make up the rest. That's where the joy of acting comes, the making up the rest. If you've researched something to the end of its life, it becomes math. And I'm not good at math. I really like the "what if" of it all.
CNN: On a less highbrow note, what's the status of the "Dumb and Dumber" sequel?
Daniels: We're told that "Dumb and Dumber To" could be shooting in September, and I hope it does. And if it is, I'll be having a lot of fun with Jim Carrey this fall. And then I'd hopefully come back for "The Newsroom's" season three.
CNN: Will that transition from "The Newsroom" to "Dumb and Dumber To" be strange?
Daniels: Well, the drop in intelligence is more than a little frightening. To go from Will McAvoy's IQ to Harry Dunne's, which I believe is an IQ of eight. That's quite a drop. My fear is that if we do come back for a third season that there will be portions of Harry that creep into Will, and I don't think that serves "The Newsroom" well. I love that A to Z range, but you want people to see each character separately, not Will McAvoy with a stupid haircut.
CNN: Do you know the storyline for "Dumb and Dumber To"?
Daniels: Yes, but I can't say. I've read it; it's hysterical. It takes place a year after the first film, and they haven't missed a beat. What's great is that Jim and I are definitely middle-aged and not pretending to be the same age -- and we're still that stupid.
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