When viewers meet Del Harris, the small town police chief played by Jeff Daniels in “American Rust,” he is at home crushing and weighing his daily pills. The routine later reveals itself as an attempt by the war veteran to wean himself off the drugs he takes for post-traumatic stress disorder.
Del lives alone in a cabin in the woods and barks when a colleague asks him if he has hunted out of season again: “Nobody tells me what to do on my own land!”
He is also in love with a woman who calls him “a good man”, even as he is about to test how far he compromises himself to protect her.
Set in a dying Rust Belt town where steel mills shut down long ago, “American Rust” is about people struggling to pay their bills, keep their jobs, and hope for better things to come.
In other words, it should resonate everywhere in 2021.
“There are a lot of desperate people in this country right now, and not just in this corner of Pennsylvania,” Daniels said, speaking via Zoom about his latest project.
Premiere Sunday on Showtime (The first episode is now available online for free), “American Rust” is compared on the surface to another limited series set in a Pennsylvania blue-collar location, HBO’s famous “Mare of Easttown”. It also seems in line with a Paramount + show arriving in November, “Mayor of Kingstown,” starring Jeremy Renner as the top elected official of a working-class Michigan town that is kept economically alive by industry. prison.
All nine episodes of “Rust” involve the murder that Del de Daniels is to investigate after a body is found in an abandoned mill. Del happens to be in love with Grace Poe (Maura Tierney), a garment factory worker with aching hands who pops ibuprofen like SweeTarts, according to Herson Billy (Alex Nuestaedter). But their romance coincides with Billy becoming a suspect in the crime.
The fictional town of Buell is strewn with shattered dreams. Billy is a parolee who has not had the opportunity to play college football. His best friend Isaac (David Alvarez) is forced to deal with his bitter and paralyzed father (Bill Camp), while Billy’s high school girlfriend Lee (Julia Mayorga) seems at odds with his old feelings. for him now that she has moved. in New York City for law school and married a wealthy husband.
This tapestry of unemployment, drug addiction, secrets, and overwhelming pressure to hold things together personally and financially gives “American Rust” a seemingly timely urgency, even though it is adapted from an acclaimed 2009 novel. by Philipp Meyer.
Daniels has been a fan of the novel for over a decade. When I got the book I knew I could play this guy, ”he says of Del.“ There are guys like him all over Michigan. I live around them. I come from the working class. I worked in my father’s lumber business. I know these guys, and I’m one of those guys.
He long ago made the choice to return to his peaceful hometown of Chelsea, Michigan, and raise a family there. At the time, it seemed like a path that would be better for his happiness than his career. Still, at 66, he’s busier than ever due to the fact that he’s made the leap from filmmaking primarily to cable and streaming roles.
Over the past 10 years, the actor famous for his charming 1980s turns in “Terms of Endearment” and “Something Wild” and the 1994 “Dumb and Dumber” hunk and its 2014 sequel won two Emmy Awards, that of the best actor in 2013 for “The” of HBO. Newsroom ”and supporting actor in 2018 for Netflix’s“ Godless ”.
He also starred in 2018’s “The Looming Tower” for Hulu as John O’Neill, head of the FBI’s counterterrorism unit, and last year’s “The Comey Rule” for Showtime as James Comey, the former director of the FBI sacked by Donald Trump.
Dan Futterman, executive producer and screenwriter of “The Looming Tower” created the small screen adaptation of “American Rust”. of anything.”
Says Daniels: “Sometimes these people are played like idiots, and (that) they deserve what they get. We tried to find that decency in these characters and the goodness that is sometimes put aside while you’re doing bad thing for the right reasons.
Daniels, who has written his own work for his Chelsea-based Purple Rose TheatreCompany, attributes much of the success of his small-screen efforts to writers. He says he was on Broadway in “God of Carnage” in 2009 when he had a conversation with his classmate James Gandolfini that would prove to be transformative.
Knowing how “The Sopranos” had changed what was possible on television, Daniels shared his feelings about what he should do next with Gandolfini. “I said to Jim, I said, ‘Movies don’t happen anymore. I don’t want to be in a comic book movie. I’m looking to get into television. And he said, Find yourself a good writer. He said, “I have David Chase. Get yourself a good writer.
When Daniels took to television entirely, the first opportunity he heard about was “The Newsroom”, written by Aaron Sorkin of “The West Wing”. From 2012 to 2014, he gave Daniels an indelible role as cable news anchor Will McAvoy.
Before he was chosen to be McAvoy, he recalls, “I said, I’m going to kill to get it. And I met Aaron, I got him right away and I got high for him. .. When you do this for a writer of AaronSorkins’ caliber, you are asked in return.
Daniels will go on to play former Apple CEO John Scully in Sorkin’s Steve Jobs biography “Jobs” and Atticus Finch in Sorkin’s 2018 Broadway adaptation of “To Kill a Mockingbird.”
Danielss says being pushed to explore new territories by writers like Sorkin, Scott Frank from “Godless” and Futterman is “a new frontier for actors like me.” calmer and more subtle. Since there is one guy now forgravitas, he can do more looking into the distance than others with a full monologue.
Daniels admits it’s been a process for someone whose first acting heroes were Jack Lemmon and Dick Van Dyke, two greats known for wearing their emotions on their sleeves. He says several recent roles were lessons of stillness, particularly becoming Atticus Finch on Broadway.
Of the larger-than-life style of the New York scene, he says, “It must be on the balcony. That’s what we love about Broadway. Well, Atticus Finch won’t go to the balcony. This quality is something he remembers talking about with Justin Timberlake, who visited him backstage after seeing the show.
For the past five years, Daniels has not dwelled on the divisive political issues that rock the nation. He has spoken out against the policies and behavior of former President Trump often and even wrote a song called “Trumpty Dumpty Blues”. Biden.
But Daniel is above all an ordinary man without pretension. He approaches his job with a blue collar commitment to getting the job done right. He went viral for wearing a Carhartt plaid shirt during his virtual appearance on this year’s Golden Globes telecast. Recently, he stopped by the Detroit Tigers broadcast booth to chat. During a profile last week on “CBS Sunday Morning,” he explained what holds him back in Michigan, jokingly, “It’s the humidity. I’m not comfortable unless I have it. I feel like I’m in a sauna. “
On October 5, Daniels will return to Broadway in the iconic role of attorney Atticus Finch (with original and Detroit native Celia Keenan-Bolger co-star as Boy Scout) in “To Kill a Mockingbird,” one of the New York Highlights Reopening of the city’s theater district after an extended shutdown from the COVID-19 pandemic.
Daniels speaks vividly about the power of being on stage and delivering Atticus Finch’s closing point, “speaking directly to 1,400 predominantly white faces … and none of them moving. You can hear a fly flying. while I shame them for turning (the character Tom Robinson, a black man falsely accused of raping a white woman) cowardly because he is innocent. I treat them like the 12 angry white jurors (in the history) and they never budged, for a year.
After the social and political calculations of the past year, the play’s themes of racism and justice are still relevant today. Said Daniels returning to Atticus Finch, “I can’t wait to get back into him and get this message out every night because we still need to hear him.”
Contact Detroit Free Press pop culture critic Julie Hinds at [email protected]
10 p.m. Sun
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