Tony nominee Jeff Daniels talks 'To Kill a Mockingbird'

Daniels appears on "Popcorn with Peter Travers" and talks about his role as Atticus Finch on Broadway.
20:51 | 06/05/19

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Transcript for Tony nominee Jeff Daniels talks 'To Kill a Mockingbird'
Multiple awards and the way I looked at it he's too modest to say it. He's nominated sport Tony ward as best actor for To Kill a Mockingbird on Broadway which is totally deserved. I don't even have to blow smoke with you you know I actually love that he. Well it's very nice I got a burning I think they do so are you Jeff completely. In Newark to all this now if you have your enemies you've been nominated for Tony before for god of carnage. The is it what impact. Does getting nominated for an award have you know it's it's. It is an honor to be nominated because I've been there when I was an. And and this was a big sees him for drama. Big season for drama abroad whether a lot of them you know mockingbird didn't get in his best new play. Did that make you stomp around for a couple of minutes when they stumper rooms big. Phrase but. But it it goes just whatever the reasons are nick goes to show that it's not automatic you can't just go while and a that'll get nominated and he either it's still you wake up in the morning you know. Do on this you do you wanna be invited to the big party you know and and it is an honor to be either and I and I and I notice that when I was. Nominated for got a card from. That was probably the first big award. I never been that Emmys came later and all but. And I was in that room in radio city music hall and I looked around at all the great work. That was all in one place and these are just people were nominated there's other work that didn't get in that was. And you just feel I'm just. Glad to get a ticket to the park you really now anything after that. You know would be great but it really is to get in. Take something too. Well. And end the something about the Broadway theater community and I'm speaking to you is that Peter got because back in Michigan you have your own for rose theater. You know this is something that matters to you it you have. Even before we start talking about to kill marking board. You signed on for one year I actively shop and yet nobody does and while stars still know this. Working actors who need the job that are in Evan Hansen for their second year ago so it it is. You know it used to be what was done. Jason Robards Brian Dennehy comes to mind Fonda Henry Fonda did mr. Roberts for over ear I looked it up. Lee J. Cobb death of a salesman. Pretty sure over a year those guys were good. But that was kind of expected you know that's what you did and you and it's a big long commitment. But. It's not that long when it's Atticus Finch it's not that long when is To Kill a Mockingbird is not that long when you see. What this play. And this production. Does to an audience night after night after night after night. To get to be Atticus Finch on Broadway. Six months when demand enough. So I was criticized for your and I mention it stood to see. What happens to the performance over the course rear I'm six months and now and it's changed in his deepened and it's gotten smarter and more. It's just gotten better and so I'm inches Hayward is at the end. When that happens when you have a director whose plea deal he's used the phrase in the theater OK after rehearsal we've now frozen their show. If she is now the way we do it but can any actors really didn't yet because you'll discover them. He actor you can do it used the I called the mule on the trail for going down the grand am in the new millennium have to look. He'll just goes down and then I do it this way and then again to hear and I do it that way. And you'd think about where you're gonna eat throughout the whole show. I've I've seen that Newton. I have to and that's the trap you can get into that you can literally your mind just floats away in your thing and you go and stay here stay here stay here as you know so well. Bart sheared the director mockingbird. Basically he's saying this is gonna move around. I expect you to move around I expect you to explore a little bit here and there. You got add he got to have enough sense of story. And experience. To know when your I think Allen holder called stuffing the dog. When you're just. Suddenly we've added four minutes to the show and it's probably you. You've got it got it is what you're do is this thing you found them in months to. And does that lead to something else analysis a better place or do we need to go back here to require. You gotta gotta gotta stay in the language get to move around in part his given. Us permission to do that but I think this cast is really done a great job of serving the story. So there and while it moves and changes a little bit it always seems to be pointed in the direction of serving the story. Not some individual. Where's my life kind of I'm not miscast. But what I noticed when I was at issue. Was that there were people. That I had seen at the theater before it because of this property because of what harper and we wrote them. There are suddenly be because we we read in school you know but it wasn't work. And there's just something about it and watching what Aaron Sorkin has done to take what Harper Lee did and few. Up to 88. It without updating it but just making something that's going on in this play speak to us now. You had a lot of controversy with that in the B and you know there were people here doing you can putz around with our well. Less obvious statements and was there and we'll say is the lawyer for the mistake and one person had some issues with an early draft. I think he ended up with 22 drafts. By the end of it so pretty good chance some of that stuff would have gone away anyway but mentally and whatever it it it we gotta settled. And the risks for us I thought. Once the lawsuit went went away. Was. Three adults play in the kids need. Are we gonna get away without. Are we can overcome Gregory Peck. End. The last third the third act of this thing basically. Deviates. Is this is a play based on the book. And now we're gonna put Atticus through something that the move neither the movies or the book. Put him through in by putting him through that that I think is where Erin was able to. Related to today. Is there goodness in people that we can reliant will the better angels and all of us. Rise to the top. In an Tony nineteen in that isn't necessarily true. And I think Erin was forcing Atticus to face. That sometimes you can't just wait for them to do the right thing. No there's a nudge an addict if that something's in this play that that aren't very Gregory pack. Yeah yet there's flaws in him but if it makes it just Fillmore. Moon which warn gauging. Because I'm seeing somebody with human flaws is doing its. He and end and indeed more than fair to pack who you know only won an Oscar for Clinton it was a different time early sixties. And it was from the point of view of a young Moscow. Nine years old voter issues in the book looking up her great father so he really kind of stayed up on a pedestal throughout the book and pretty much for the movie and we weren't we were a small town lawyer gets page and vegetables. Trying to raise two kids and handles land dispute service agreements for closures in in right will. And then the judge comes over to his house and has life changed that's how we approached. But do you feel competitive in any of these awards with other actors that are nominated in your category in other words are you in Bryan Cranston. Now just do. Cold staring each other because several everybody's nominated wants to win. And everybody wants to make the speech everybody wants to take on that told me don't because its coveted and anyone who's ever stepped on a stage. Once that. It's there's been so special. It it's I've never been nominated for an Oscar but. I started in the theater high school community college my purple rose theatre company's twenty years old an off Broadway and come back to Broadway. Keep returning to it and now 42 years later you get to do attic has been he you to do the role of life to. On broadly in the theater. That's a lot to be proud bulletin so it is sit there would with Brian and paddy in. All the other guys. Adam driver all have them yet that kid Jeremy Pope but night you know. It's a great group and you're part of a lot of great work competitive thing nobody scores the most points of these things. World due in five different things really really well go back to the day that you decide you're going to be advocate footage from. Was there any terror about that ultimate decision had nothing to do with you to meeting for a year because it's one of the great. Rolls. It too great character. And despite the fact that we see flaws in him. There's virtue him to me. Watching actors all my life in reviewing. The hardest thing in place for. There's. You know how do you play good and may good interest. And yet and may be at a kisses struggled to remain good to remain. Take the high road and there's a bit of a struggle for openness is help. But that's his pain because well he's sitting on that porch this world in the south and what is it 1930 form in Alabama. KKK is there and he's not initially. He's kind of wedding hat he's not going that out there trying to change it. He's not carrying flags at all he's and I thought that was real interest. That's certainly where he starts. He knows that if he takes this case to defend Tom Robinson. And he sits in front of a jury of white Christian farmers men. He knows what he's going he knows this is no longer just executing a will report caution. And he's avoided that. Just raised his kids I'm just raised in my kids without wife is Americans. And he knows that will change things unpleasant things will be sent us who's gonna go beyond that you're gonna have the kkk. Come up and visit you on your porch and goal what do you do. And I I get a lot of researched can understand. That kind of just keep your head down and don't get involved and stay out of trouble as a family in just raise your kids don't get involved. There was a lynching last Tuesday night. Hume we missed you there we've got another one Friday common. And Atticus festive either say no on or. Tied up that Bob can't make. And there's a lot of their a lot of people especially in today's America that are don't wanna look the lunacy. The woman. Nor Russia. And on and on and we'll be in I think parents kind of speak and to that. That America that the decent honest hard working Americans. Was just doing this and it's not enough to just look the other way not now. Wasn't for Atticus and isn't for us now there's denial and there's accommodation. And enabling yes you know and that's why I think people sit there watching this like this you know this is. Somehow it speaking to us right now how involved you gonna get yeah. What was what was your first encounter with this story did you read the book first or did you by the very. Encountered really was. My I'd I'd probably seen the movie is a kid I don't remember. We didn't read the book we read lord of the flies in farewell to arms. Which is wasn't on the public school curriculum or what's. Aaron said you want to play Atticus Finch. And I didn't blink. Absolutely. I think partly because the last five years ten years now. I've been taking chances and I've been. Challenging. Myself doing things that I wouldn't. The other people think I can do but I don't know how to do so say yes and now figured out. School in the well. You know even a godless later on certainly. The newsroom and Mac a boy when there are not HBO was of swing your eminence you know and if we hit it so great. But also when when Atticus came along. I mean what greater challenges there to take on a roll that that Gregory Peck is known for. Can you. Find a way and Atticus can you come up with an Atticus that. Allows people to think of Atticus and a different way other in the way Gregory Peck played. Without taking anything away from Gregory pat. And I and I keep saying in this and it's the only way that I could go about it was pack either gave the definitive. Can imagine anybody else in the role performance and or he's the only guy I've got to do. And I had to take he's the only guy who got to do it didn't delete everything else. And you know when it comes to the play. I originated that Atticus. On him. Anybody else and fifty years from now when Aaron Sorkin is played based on the book. Who's making the rounds of theaters and regional theaters and colleges. My name will be in there which is a big deal he didn't remember the Samuel French and dramatist play services you get the play. The as an act young actor need to open the first page and there's Alpa chino did this play. Off Broadway on such and such a day. That matters to actors to be the guy who originated. Which has harmonica. And to learn. From playing him. That she didn't know when you've said he first said yes to this what it did you learn anything about Atticus and also learn anything about yourself. From playing us. Doing things the right way. There's an easy. Especially today. And her someone like cataract Atticus most honest person and Macomb County. He's call to have to fight in order for people to do what's right what's just what's decent what's respectable. I guess it's just a great reminder ever ignited about how difficult. It is right now our country and how you know as adults is it the end all rise. I mean what are we gonna do what are we gonna do and it's you go through what you do that closing summary. Every night and you look over their jury box and then the chairs are all empty and I put people in those chairs sometimes. May be in the news today you know who we're basically just looking the other way and well well. So what's gonna happen to you when this is over when you've done that year do you go back to Michigan or do you jumped right back off. The wire. And start working November and December I'm taking off when I'm forcing myself. And play music so I enjoy. This. Me ten years ago even five years ago and a book a tour November and you sham. We'll be done right there before the 24 Christmas is the 25 right yeah will bring an end we'll finish in Milwaukee will fight. I just need to just November in December. Go back to Michigan. And don't play with my dogs. And and get ready for after the first here we're looking I'm looking and to some things and after the first of the year that are. I hope it to happen used to talk about how the music that you create. Would often come out of things that happen in your life. Did mocking bird an attic has had any effect on you musically. Had he done anything music no I had nothing nothing for adding sometimes known here's a solemn Atticus Finch is so you know that ballot automatic who spent time working on a play right now from a theater company for roasted company that. Based on a song I did. That Langford Wilson's Pulitzer Prize winning playwright wrote the words to song called road signs soap and iTunes. And he wrote that 1978. Handed to me is that I don't know if it's a song that's more poll puts it which you can do with it puts in courts to. So I'm writing a play based Imus. Why he wrote it looked back as to when he wrote it and then I'm able to put in more songs. Play a musical play. Would these people who were on a bus ride from Lebanon was agreed to Chicago. In 1970s. That's what Paul misses its. Talking about the people on the Spoelstra that's intriguing would these are something we have a guitar here. We desperately need one. There. There you go. I know it's eight performances a week. And. And I gave piece of the road signs lecture was. June 5 year lows of five and me got a map room in the. Mulder. And job M. For injury in the retired. Bar town. He'll move. We'll blow. It was Bauer and. Black girls Lil and and then them and stop them June's with a bastion. Ballooned to Detroit. View stone. She says I mean. Listeners through. Stardust. Lowe's moved down janitors being. I'm listening. My man my. There goes. Beautiful it's the story. Lampard were let it. Leopards Lampard means a lot to you you know and the beginning of your sensitive elements. If the July all of that. You know a lot of things come full circle but. In the end. When you're on the street walking. Our children still coming up and screaming dumb and dumber. Childers the gotten Republicans in their seventies it's. C'mon. A I think that may slightly change unless there's Jeff. Thank you all great pleasure.

This transcript has been automatically generated and may not be 100% accurate.

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