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Jeff Daniels makes Jimmy Fallon eat gross snacks while revealing what movie nearly made him quit

Jeff Daniels, Jimmy Fallon
Screenshot: The Tonight Show

Jeff Daniels might be clearing mantel space for the Tony he’s going to win for playing Atticus Finch in pal Aaron Sorkin’s Broadway production of To Kill A Mockingbird, but life for the 64-year-old actor isn’t all crackling bread and Lane cakes. Telling Jimmy Fallon on Monday’s Tonight Show that Atticus’ crisp court suits are cut tight, the four-decade acting veteran explained that he’s had to develop his own dietetic snacks to keep in injustice-fighting trim for the show. Gamely digging into the ingredients Fallon provided, Daniels whipped up a pair of his signature delicacy for himself and Fallon. And if Fallon habitually makes his famous guests do Double Dare-level stunts every night, then Daniels got some revenge on behalf of celebrities everywhere, as Fallon reluctantly choked down a few bites of a rice cake slathered in peanut butter (so far so good), and doused in lashings of barbecue sauce. (An audience member gave it a shot, too, and couldn’t muster up even a courtesy thumbs-up for the beloved star’s benefit.)

As to his role as Finch, Daniels explained that walking in Oscar winner Gregory Peck’s dignified footsteps meant making a choice. Speaking of choosing to take on a role Peck’s 1962 turn forever cemented into the public consciousness, Daniels told Fallon, “It was either the definitive, can’t imagine anybody else doin’ it performance, or he was the only guy who got to do it.” Fair enough, even if Daniels made clear how seriously he takes his responsibility, saying, “You know it’s the role of a lifetime. And your job at that point is to give the performance of your life every night.”

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Which is something Daniels claims he was sure he’d never do again after his experience returning to the mop-wig and toilet-humor shenanigans of 2014's Dumb And Dumber To. “I was done,” said Daniels, munching into his questionable snack with obvious distaste, at least for the experience of returning to the role of Harry in the little-regarded, 20-years-later sequel. It was the unlikely pair of co-star Jim Carrey and The Newsroom creator Sorkin who teamed up to convince Daniels not to throw in the acting towel. Sorkin’s pitch to Daniels of the role of The Newsroom’s stalwart anchor Will McAvoy did most of the work, sure, but Daniels says that Carrey’s dismissal of Daniels’ dumb/dumber desire to quit acting made it clear that he’d never have the stomach to leave. “He just slapped me around,” said Daniels of friend Carrey, proving that at least something good came out of that whole experience.

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Dennis Perkins

Contributor, The A.V. Club. Danny Peary's Cult Movies books are mostly to blame.