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What Jeff Daniels and Lauren Graham Know for Sure

In John Hindman's film, The Answer Man, Jeff Daniels and Lauren Graham grapple with the big questions of love and man's search for meaning. We talk to the duo about fame, self-help, and first-time directors.

answer man

John Hindman's debut film, The Answer Man (neé Arlen Faber on, is a sweet, gentle, Frank Capra-ish slice of life involving a cranky writer, Arlen Farber (Jeff Daniels), who's become a virtual recluse following the crazy, runaway success of his first book, Me and God. After years of hiding in brownstone Philadelphia, what gets him out of the house is crippling back pain, where he gets mixed up with a bookstore owner (Lou Taylor Pucci), fresh out of rehab, looking for the answers and a single mom (Lauren Graham, playing a nicely shaded role) who's trying to find her own peace of mind. With a great ensemble cast—Kat Dennings, Olivia Thirlby, Arrested Development's Tony Hale, the ever-sublime Nora Dunn—this film explores fathers and sons, the effect of fame, and how people connect in the world.

We talked with the droll Daniels (who is in the midst of his Tony-award nominated God of Carnage performances on Broadway, along with In the Loop star James Gandolfini) and the sharp Graham about the unique mix of ideas that The Answer Man has on its mind.

So much of this film deals with fame, and the pressures that come along with it. Is there anyone you've really admired that when you met them in person they've either exceeded or dashed your expectations?

Jeff Daniels: I found the best people in the business are the people who handle it, or who don't take it too seriously. Clint [Eastwood] and Meryl [Streep] in particular. They're just more interested—George Harrison, he produced an indie I did in the 80s. And here's a guy who could walk in and dismiss you and he couldn't. They're always more interested in you: [adopts a Liverpool accent] "What are you doing? Did you go to Disneyland?" and that's how they are. They exceed expectations. They're not there to prove anything to you, they're more interested in what you've got going and talking to you and listening to you. And those are the ones I love learning from and love being around.

Lauren Graham: Yeah, I think it's helpful when someone extends themselves to you. Even in the world that we work in, you can just put something on somebody that they don't really want either, they don't want to walk around being treated like anything other than who they are. Especially in a work situation, I think it's really helpful to get through that quickly. One of my first movies I ever did was with Meryl Streep [One True Thing], and she was excellent. She was really friendly and nice and to a young actor that just puts you at ease. I think in general, very seldom is someone worse than you thought they would be. In general, these jobs are really hard and people work very hard, and you have to be an industrious person to get through the day and there's not a lot of time for kookiness.

JD: I've been with worse and so have you.

LG: I've been with worse! That was the nice answer, and then there's some people who—whoa [shudders]—but then, whatever—

JD: And then we overcame that, which was great! [laughter]

Would you say this is Eckhart Tolle: the movie or Elizabeth Gilbert: the movie or maybe Jonathan Livingston Seagull: the movie?

JD: [mutters] I don't know what any of those are.

LG: They're self-help authors.

JD: And they're brilliant. I remember reading his entire catalogue!

LG: I'll help you answer that. I think it's more about, to me, the phenomeon of fame than it is about self help. To me, it's like what happens when you do one thing and it becomes something so much bigger to everyone else that you're sort of defined by it and maybe restricted by it and how do you get back to the truth of who you are?

JD: And also John Hindman (the writer/director) had a lot of fun with somebody who wrote one book, Me and God, which sold 92 million copies, we had decided. Then there comes the Me and God Diet, the Me and God for Atheists, and those are the spinoffs where you see people making money off the one idea this guy had. And I think that drives Arlen Faber absolutely nuts. He's become this industry whether he had anything to do with it or not—it didn't really matter. It's just this stampede of Me and God stuff. It's driven him into his room and shut the door and locked it.

Was there any anxiety that comes along with working with a first-time director?

LG: It's all I did for the past two years. It's so bizarre. One thing that's fun about it is that it can be very collaborative and in all three cases, in my experience—they were in one case a producer, John has more experience as a writer, they weren't coming with no knowledge of actors. John also was a stand-up and an actor, so you just need some common language. Then it feels fun. It's a privilege to be part of that first experience for them.

JD: As long as he's got a good—and this is set talk—A.D. [Assistant Director] to keep things moving, if he's got a good camera guy where he doesn't have to suddenly understand everything about the camera, then, in John's case, like with The Squid and the Whale, you have a writer/director. That diffuses it in some cases because you have the guy who wrote it who's been with this story and these characters for years, and that's a great resource. That's what we did with John.

The Answer Man
is released in theaters this Friday in New York, California, and Philadelphia (where it was filmed)Click here for ticket information.

It is also currently available on VOD.


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