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​Jeff Daniels: Almost everywhere, and now on Broadway

Jeff Daniels played it for laughs in the 1994 film, "Dumb and Dumber." Now he's ON BROADWAY, and talking with Anthony Mason:

With his name up in lights on Broadway, Jeff Daniels is, at age 60, busier than he's ever been.

"The past year, it seems like you've been almost everywhere," Mason said.

"Yeah, there's been a lot of me!"

He plays the NASA director trying to bring stranded astronaut Matt Damon back from Mars in "The Martian."

In "Steve Jobs," he plays CEO John Scully who is forced to fire the Apple founder.

And in "Blackbird," which began previews on Broadway this past week, he plays a middle-aged man reliving an earlier affair with a 12-year-old girl:

Ray: "I'd seen you on the street. Around. But not. Not."
Una: "You were looking at me, at the barbecue."
Ray: "No."
Una: "I saw you."
Ray: "I wasn't."
Una: "I felt you."
Ray: "I looked at you. I wasn't looking."

It's a stunning turnaround for an actor who only a few years ago he was finished, and considered quitting acting:

"Well, I wanted to quit before I was fired or let go or dismissed or over," Daniels said. "Then Aaron Sorkin called. My career didn't die, much to my happiness!"

Jeff Daniels with correspondent Anthony Mason outside New York City's Belasco Theatre. CBS News

In 2012, Sorkin, the creator and writer of "The Newsroom," offered him the part of anchorman Will McAvoy in the HBO series.

The pilot included this pivotal 3-minute speech:

Will McAvoy: "Hey, you, sorority girl, just in case you happen to wander into a voting booth ... There is absolutely no evidence to support the statement that we're the greatest country in the world. We're seventh in literacy, 27th in math ..."

Mason asked, "Were you kinda nervous about that?"

"On the way to the set, Aaron pulled me aside and said, 'Just, you know, as important as this speech is to you, it's twice as important to me. But I'd waited decades for that speech. Decades. And this is your shot, so hit it.'"

"Now, none of this is the fault of a 20-year-old college student, but you, nonetheless, are, without a doubt, a member of the worst period generation period ever period, so when you ask what makes us the greatest country in the world, I don't know what the **** you're talking about! Yosemite?!?"

Daniels won an Emmy for "The Newsroom," and says he finally understood the advice he was given years ago: "Tommy Tune pulled me aside one day and he said, 'I know you can act it. I need you to star in it.'"

Daniels' career began in Chelsea, Michigan, his hometown, where he and his wife, Kathleen, raised their three kids, and still live. He started acting in high school, and in 1976 he dropped out of college and bravely set out for New York.

"That had to be kind of overwhelming coming to New York at 21?" asked Mason.

"Yeah, I was ready to leave very single day."

But he stuck it out, and in 1983, the turning point came when he landed a role in "Terms of Endearment." He played, as he described him, "the unlikable sap coward who cheated on Debra Winger while she was dying of cancer. That's a tough career thing to kind of come up and over."

Daniels quickly gained a reputation as a versatile actor, in films such as "The Purple Rose of Cairo," "Something Wild" and "Gettysburg," but nothing prepared audiences for his performance, in 1994, in the surprise blockbuster, "Dumb and Dumber."

"That's gonna be the first clip that plays next to your name" at his funeral, said Mason. "How do you feel about that?"

"There's a strange kind of pride," Daniels said. "I love the choice I took."

"You love the choice because everybody told you not to make the choice."

"Everybody told me not to do it. 'We have you on the serious, important actor trail.' And the one thing that the agents said that made me wanna do it more was that, 'Jeff, to be honest, Jim's gonna blow you off the screen.'"

Undaunted, Daniels did a screen test with Carrey: "Jim just looked at me and did that (makes face). And I said, 'Oh,' (makes face). And then it was over."

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"Where did you pull that face from?"

"Off of Jim. Act, react!"

"Did it change your career?"

"Yeah. What happened because of 'Dumb and Dumber' was, they knew my name. I would go through airports and it wasn't, 'What's your name?' 'It's Jeff Daniels.'"

That name is now on the marquee of Broadway's Belasco Theatre, with co-star Michelle Williams.

"I was telling Michelle the other day, I said, 'Yeah, it's hard and it's brutal, but we get to do this. This is the Garden and we're Springsteen! It doesn't get any bigger than this."

Actually, Jeff Daniels has a little Springsteen in him. For more than a decade he's been a touring musician in-between acting jobs. "I do enjoy it because there's no editor, there's no director, there's no anything else except me," he said.

Jeff Daniels during his five-week road trip. CBS News

This past fall, Daniels went out for five weeks with a backing band led by his 31-year-old son, Ben, whom he taught to play the guitar as a teenager.

"I gotta imagine going out on the road now with your son is pretty great," said Mason.

"Well, you never know how kids are gonna turn out," Daniels laughed. "You know, it's prison -- I mean, what? You just don't know."

But, Mason offered, "Anything north of prison is good!"

Of all his great performances over the past year, none would mean more than one on their last night in Kalamazoo, Michigan. Jeff and Ben Daniels sang a duet, a song the father wrote for his sons:

"Nah, it ain't what I thought it would be,
It's in that young boy lookin' up at me.
It's a matter of time, just a matter of time,
'til you're who you grew up to be."

"I'll never forget it. It was the trip of a lifetime," said Daniels. "I told him that when I hugged him the last show. I just whispered to him, 'It was the trip of a lifetime.' Lucky me!"

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