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Jeff Daniels gets 'apolitical' in James Comey role

Jeff Daniels plays James Comey in The Comey Rule on Showtime. File Photo by John Angelillo/UPI
Jeff Daniels plays James Comey in "The Comey Rule" on Showtime. File Photo by John Angelillo/UPI | License Photo

LOS ANGELES, Sept. 25 (UPI) -- Jeff Daniels said he adopted former FBI Director James Comey's politics -- or lack of -- to portray him in Showtime's two-part miniseries The Comey Rule.

"I take on the politics of the character I'm playing," Daniels said on a recent Television Critics Association panel. "I've always done that."

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Daniels concluded that Comey favored neither the Democrats nor the Republicans. Despite what either side may believe, Daniels hopes he portrayed a man trying to remain objective.

"He was an apolitical guy," Daniels said. "We got a look at what apolitical was."

No stranger to political characters, Daniels played news anchor Will McAvoy on Aaron Sorkin's drama The Newsroom. The character often spoke on the political views Sorkin wanted to address in the drama.

Daniels played another real-life character, FBI counterterrorism expert John O'Neill, in the Hulu 9/11 drama The Looming Tower.

"My politics don't impact whether I take a role or not," the 65-year-old actor said. "I don't know what [Godless character] Frank Griffin's politics were, but I probably don't agree with them."

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Writer-director Billy Ray adapted Comey's memoir, A Higher Loyalty. The story follows Comey during the 2016 presidential election when he reopened an investigation into Hillary Clinton's deleted emails. Daniels said he believes the adaptation of Comey's memoir will shed light on the former FBI director for people who did not read the book.

"Not all of our information is available on Twitter," Daniels said. "Sometimes, you've got to dive deeper, and this is a deep dive into why Comey did what he did."

The miniseries portrays a meeting between President Donald Trump (Brendan Gleeson) and Comey. During the meeting, Trump asks for Comey's loyalty. Daniels said this was a key moment in which Comey remained impartial.

"Jim had highlighted that in the book when Trump said, 'I need loyalty,'" Daniels said. "Jim said he froze and he gave him nothing." Daniels thought Comey's experience as both a prosecuting attorney and an FBI director gave him "a pretty good poker face."

Trump fired Comey on May 9, 2017. Daniels expects some viewers still may side with the president. He simply wanted to portray Comey's side of the story.

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"The only part of the story that we knew is Trump's version: 'Comey is a liar,'" Daniels said. "Here's the other side. You decide."

Daniels said he spent two months researching Comey, including listening to him read his audiobook and watching YouTube videos of him. Daniels said he wore 2-inch lifts in his shoes to bring him closer to Comey's 6-foot-8-inch height. Daniels is 6 feet, 3 inches tall.

The actor said Comey visited the set during the scene in which Trump asked for loyalty.

"Jim was there that day, and he said, 'You've got my posture, the uprightness,'" Daniels said. "The posture changed because here comes Trump. He's just coming at you with this loyalty stuff, and it backed me up."

Daniels said the most difficult aspect of The Comey Rule was portraying Comey at home with his wife, Patrice (Jennifer Ehle).

"That's where you learn how it impacted the family and it isolated Jim even more," Daniels said.

In addition to playing real-life characters, Daniels has shown his diversity in roles. He played Harry Dunne to Jim Carrey's Lloyd Christmas in the Dumb and Dumber comedies, starred in action movies like Speed and played Atticus Finch in To Kill a Mockingbird on Broadway.

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"That was the whole career plan," Daniels said. "[I'd] do Dumb and Dumber, and then whatever I do after that, it's going to be 180 degrees" different.

Daniels said he fantasizes that, at the end of his career, every character he ever played will meet at a dinner party.

"I want to see Harry Dunne sitting with Will McAvoy, and then Jim Comey sits down," Daniels said. "They are all alive to me."

The Comey Rule airs Sunday and Monday at 9 p.m. EDT on Showtime.

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