The actor returns to top comedic form after his stellar performance in The Squid and The Whale

Jeff Daniels is back in top comedic form with RV. Co-starring with Robin Williams as the banjo picking, harmonica blowing, patriarch of the Gornecke clan, Travis Gornecke. He's one of Hollywood's most versatile actors, and in my humble opinion, completely underrated. Jeff spoke at length about feeling underappreciated. He really wanted an Oscar nomination for his performance in Noah Bumbach's The Squid and The Whale. It's rare for a star to admit they want an Oscar, so let's give Jeff some props for being honest. He also spoke about the future of the Farrelly brothers "Three Stooges" project and his upcoming film with Joseph Gordon-Levitt, "The Lookout".

Did you really drive an "RV" to the set?

Jeff Daniels: Yes, yes I did. They're not just for senior citizens.

Did you bring the entire family?

Jeff Daniels: Kathleen, my wife went. She's learned how to enjoy them, as long as the hot water works and she can take a shower with hot water in the RV. One trip I didn't make that happen and that became a requirement. We left Michigan, where I live, and it took four or five days to get to Vancouver.

Do you take a lot of family vacations in an RV?

Jeff Daniels: We've got a pretty close family. Just ended fourteen years of travel hockey with two boys. My daughter was always a part of that. So there's a lot of trips to the hockey games. As I tell idiotic, stupid, youth-sport parents, it's about the drive there and the drive back, not about the trophy or how your kid played. We've always had a good relationship with our kids. You're driving with them and talking to them at the age of eight. It became this adventure and they learned to love it. You connect, you really do. It's not for every family. If you hate each other, you're going to hate each other even more. It worked for us.

Did you ever meet any annoying families like the Gornecke's?

Jeff Daniels: No, it's a weird thing. They kind of all keep to themselves. It's kind of an unwritten rule. You pull in, you park, everybody kind of tips their hat, says how you're doing.

So no uncomfortable meetings on trips to the bathroom?

Jeff Daniels: No, but then I kind of keep to myself. I don't want to be walking around and then....hey, are you? That's why I kind of sleep in truck stops and pull in behind a convenience store in Chinook, Montana. I don't get recognized back there.

You've worked well with brilliant, off-the-wall comedians. How does one work with the likes of Jim Carrey and Robin Williams?

Jeff Daniels: We're here because of Jim, or we're here because of Robin. He got the movie made, so he's got to score. You want him to score. You don't compete with that. One of the things, probably the smartest thing I did in "Dumb and Dumber, was instead of trying to top or compete with Jim, I backed off and let Jim be the leader, which he was going to do anyway. My character was the follower. Wherever Jim went, I kind of went with him. That way Jim could lead the way and I could bounce off him, react to him. This one was a little different because Robin, in a way, is the straight man. Amidst all the things that go wrong with his RV, I'm another thing that goes wrong. He wants to get rid of me. In a way, it became easier, because when Robin starts to riff or go off, just put him in a headlock. He was kind of fearful of Travis, so I could kind of get in there. Robin doesn't like to be hit, and if you tickle Robin, he's gone, he's disabled, he's a basket case.

You do a fair amount of singing and guitar playing in the film? Was it fun to show off your musical talent?

Jeff Daniels: I can get around. I do have a song, "If William Shatner Can, I Can Too", where I reference Adam [Sandler], Russell [Crowe], and Billy Bob [Thornton]. I've been playing a lot. I play clubs now. I raise money for my theater company with it. They come out and expect Kevin Bacon or Billy Bob, or Russell, with whatever he's doing with his band. I come out there and do "Baby Take Your Tongue Out Of My Mouth, I'm Kissing You Good-Bye". They're just disarmed by it because actor boy is getting around on it. So when Barry [Sonnenfeld, the director] says, "Can you play guitar?" Yes. "Banjo?" Yes. "The harp?" Yes. "Harmonica?" I can get around on it. "What can you not do?" And it wasn't like you had to go off and learn. It was already there, just tell me what key. It was a lot of fun to be able to whip it out, so to speak.

How is Travis Gornecke different from Bernard Berkman, your character from "The Squid and the Whale"?

Jeff Daniels: I know I'm not bipolar or schizophrenic, but this career allows you to explore, to take some facets of yourself and spin it. There were two things I took in Squid. One was the underappreciated factor, lots of people getting nominated and getting $20 million a movie; I don't. So I could tap into Bernard feeling underappreciated, pour gas on it, lit it; that was Bernard. I also write plays, so I understand the writers mind, and how obsessed you can get writing. For Travis, RV's, it's about the journey not the destination. You suddenly plug into that and Bernard goes away. You funnel everything into the guy. It's weird kind of using yourself, sometimes abusing yourself.

Is it frustrating being underappreciated?

Jeff Daniels: It's disappointing, but it's an item I can't control. Robin was real good. We were shooting RV and I said, "Robin, I'm probably going to make a run for Squid. It may be my only chance, I don't know." He goes, "Just enjoy the ride for as long as it lasts. At the end of the day, you don't have control over it." So enjoy it, don't expect it. I use that, a lot. You get to the end of it and there could be fifty guys that deserve the five slots, certainly there were ten. You're either going to be one of the five or one of the ten. Nice guy's finish seventh sometime, but it doesn't make it any less. There is no best anything in art. Phillip [Hoffman] isn't better than Heath [Ledger]; Joaquin [Phoenix] isn't better than David [Strathairn] or Terence [Howard]. They aren't better than me. We all do different things. It's more of a celebration of a lot of great work than to give the gold to somebody. The underappreciated factor certainly has gone away. The Squid and The Whale has certainly bought me five or ten years. Different people are calling now that didn't call before Squid.

What kind of roles are you getting after Squid?

Jeff Daniels: It's not the type of roles; it's the type of people who are calling. You can tell that you are now a member of the serious, most important actors club again and they're going to treat you like that. My agent, he's got thirty-five things that my name is out there for, not offers, but interest. Before Squid, trying to get five people that were interested after they went through the other fifteen guys. So that's all changed. We are in negotiations for this one thing. It went Nicholson, Hackman, Bruce Willis, then me, which is pretty good. I couldn't have said that before Squid.

That's a pretty manly beard you're sporting. Is it for a film?

Jeff Daniels: I'm in the middle of a movie right now. They asked me to grow a beard for the movie, so I started after the Golden Globes. You never know when you might need something and the last thing you want to do is....we're going to shoot in ten days....we'll put a fake one on you. With the cameras, what we're shooting in Winnipeg right now is high-def, so they'll see everything. So you let everything go, the hair, the beard, just in case you need it, because you can always cut it off.

What's the movie called?

Jeff Daniels: It's called "The Lookout". Scott Frank's a really good screenwriter. He's had the script for about ten years and he's going to direct it. Joe Gordon-Levitt, who was in "Mysterious Skin", is the lead of it.

Can you tell us what it's about?

Jeff Daniels: It's about a young guy, Joe, who has a head injury. He's in a car wreck. He's rehabbing his way back, very unhappy. He's been assigned to live with a guy named Louis, who's a blind acoustic guitar player. I try to help the kid as he helps me. The kid works as a janitor at a bank. These not-so-great guys became friends with him and basically talk the kid into helping them rob the bank.

Are you still in negotiations to star in "The Three Stooges"?

Jeff Daniels: Nothing, I saw that too. Really? We're in negotiations? Are we in negotiations? No. I saw the Farrelly's in New York probably almost two years ago. Pete and Bobby were thinking of doing The Three Stooges. I'm 6' 3''; they were like 5'5". They have to get a script they like. I think they're working on something else to be honest with you. Then they're going to cast Moe. Whoever Moe is, they'll cast the other guys off of that. They'd like me to do it and sure I'm interested, but if they hire someone who's 5'7", I won't be doing it. But no, there's no negotiations. But we did talk about it.

What's your role in "Infamous", the forthcoming Truman Capote film?

Jeff Daniels: I play Chris Cooper. No, I play Alvin Dooley in that. It's so ridiculous. We were both making the same movie at the same time. It's like we were in a race. Cut the film! Get the dailies to the lab! Why? Because they're shooting in Winnipeg.

I've heard it's very different from Capote?

Jeff Daniels: It's really good. My concern, and take nothing away from Phillip's performance. It was great, it was wonderful, it was terrific. But, the critic's went so nuts for their "Capote", you need to leave a little room and exuberance for something else. That's all I'm going to say. I think Doug McGrath did a really great job. Toby Jones is our Truman. I think he's toe-to-toe with Phillip.

RV hits theaters this Friday and is rated PG.

Julian Roman