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The Series That Jeff Daniels Says Saved His Career

Was there ever a time when seasoned actor Jeff Daniels had his career on the ropes? According to the man himself, quoting one of his most iconic roles, "it sure used to be." Speaking to GQ (via YouTube) this week in a retrospective of a time on the big and small screen that's spanned 41 years, Jeff Daniels revealed in his interview that his career was revived by three iconic minutes of television that put his name back on the map.

Before one particular primetime show, Daniels was often a supporting talent, sealing his fate in Keanu Reeves' "Speed" or causing belly laughs that lasted decades opposite Jim Carrey in "Dumb and Dumber." It was only after signing on to take the lead in a certain HBO pilot that he was handed a lightning-in-a-bottle moment that even he admits was a "flat-out chance to get into television in a big way, with Aaron Sorkin." It was one that paid off in a huge way.

The 3-minute speech that was the career move of a lifetime

The role in question was that of outspoken, short-tempered anchorman Will McAvoy, in HBO's "The Newsroom," who, as Daniels revealed, was never going to drop that debut bombshell in the show's pilot episode. In the interview, Daniels explained that he was given two weeks to learn his now-iconic three-minute speech about America no longer being the best country in the world (via YouTube) during filming. As tough as it may have been, Daniels knew on the first read it was something special. "That was the speech that I've been waiting 35 years to do," said Daniels, thankfully. "And you gotta hit a home run with it."

Even earning the reassurance from Sorkin himself, he did just that, with Daniels recalling, "I hit it out of the park. I know that because Aaron walked over to me after take one and he goes, 'OK, you're pitching a no-hitter. I'm not going to talk to you.' And he walked away." 

The stars and Sorkin's electric script had aligned just right for Daniels to know he'd made the right choice with the role. As he puts it, "I pretty much — with Aaron's help — saved my career." Besides getting back on the radar in Hollywood with the role, Daniels also earned an Emmy win for his performance in the first season in 2013 and nominations for the two seasons that followed in 2014 and 2015. The rest as they say, is old news.