Jeff Daniels On Portraying Jim Comey For 'The Comey Rule': 'Here's Comey's Side Of The Story, Authentic''
The Comey Rule premieres this Sunday, September 27th at 9:00 PM ET/PT on Showtime, A ViacomCBS property. Based off the book A Higher Loyalty by James Comey, The Comey Rule tells the story of the 2016 election and subsequent events from the point of view of the former FBI Director.
CBS' Matt Weiss spoke to Daniels about the role ahead of Sunday night's premiere.
MW: Good morning Jeff, nice to see you and appreciate you taking the time here today. The Comey Rule comes out this Sunday and I'm curious what it was like for you preparing for this role. Did you speak to James Comey before you started shooting?
JD: I didn't speak to Jim until two months into shooting on purpose. I read the book, I listened to the audiobook that Jim read, which helped. He writes like he thinks and then to hear him read but think out loud, as an actor that helps; you can get in his head. YouTube, you can see him everywhere and even on the Colbert show, you could see a sense of humor.
I had a pretty good list of materials to draw from going into any character let alone somebody who's still alive, so, I had enough. I did email him, I was still doing To Kill A Mockingbird on Broadway and I said if you're up here in the next two months, love to see you. He had no plans to come up and he didn't.
I was happy to not go see him. I didn't want to impose. The guy's been vilified, and I didn't want to go down there and just simply watch him eat dinner so I didn't meet him ahead of time. I felt I had enough with Billy Ray the writer/director who knew more about Comey than I ever would. I felt I was in good hands.
MW: You mention playing a character whose still alive. What's that experience like for you to portray someone who still out there, who you know is going to watch this one day?
JD: Well you know they're going to come around the corner one day, like Jim did, two months into shooting and he had watched the first two takes of the loyalty dinner as it turned out with me and Brendan Gleeson who's Trump.
Jim Comey walks around the corner and you hope he likes it. If he doesn't, it's not like we're going to reshoot it. You've got to do your job. You got to do it not for him, but for an audience that's going to see this. This is what the director and the writer and you think it should be and you go in that direction. You hope that it's authentic, that Jim can recognize himself occasionally.
Happy to say, he came around the corner and he said you know watching this loyalty dinner, it brought back all the emotions and the struggles I had trying to keep up with Trump. 'What is he talking about now and how should I respond to that and what did he just… he didn't just say that about loyalty did he? What do I do?'
So, for an actor to have that inner monologue running in your head, which is Comey's thoughts, Jim said you captured all that. He said it was exhausting to watch for him it brought it all back.
MW: I actually saw he also said, watching that that you ruined his day, that it made him feel awful. What's it feel like to you as an actor to hear him have that kind of guttural reaction to your performance?
JD: Touchdown. That means you did it right, you brought it back, you were authentic. You were in the ballpark of what he was going through at that point. That's success. I didn't want to ruin his day, but that means you hit the bull's eye which for an actor is that's the best review I could have gotten.
MW: What were some of the more difficult aspects of playing the role, preparing for the role? We talked about the fact that he's still alive, that this was such a public case. What were some of the more difficult aspects for you?
JD: There's a lot of dialogue, which I was used to with Newsroom and Atticus Finch on Broadway that Aaron Sorkin wrote the play for that. I was used to mountains of dialogue and there is a lot of it, a lot of FBI back and forth.
Just words you've never said and never will say again, that only FBI people say. It's not learning a different language, but it certainly wasn't an easy learn. That's the whole trick with these parts with lots of lines. You've got to pound those lines into your head until they become second nature so that you can now step in front of the camera and be on top of it in a way where you can do your best work. That's the hardest part was all that dialogue.
MW: Just out of curiosity what's an example of one of those FBI words that may have given you a hard time?
JD: There was something about judiciary, I'd have to get the script out, but there was something about judiciary. There were some alliteration issues that were just leave you going… ai yai yai… I couldn't get my mouth to work.
MW: This is a large project, it's coming up at a very important time. How do you think the show does as a whole paying respect to the subject and portraying things in the way that they actually transpired?
JD: I think there were, for the most part, as it happened. It's certainly based on Jim's book, so it's Jim's point of view. We heard Trump's point of view - that Comey's a liar. OK, well here's Comey's side of the story and the viewer can decide.
Jim Comey has been getting criticized for being, for believing too strongly in what is right, in what he believes is right, and true, and honest, and decent. I found him to be all those things that everyone wants to be as far as being a good person that you can trust. That really landed with me.
MW: For people who followed along when this is all in the news cycle, for people who may have read the book, what will this give them that those maybe didn't? What additional information or point of view will they get from The Comey Rule?
JD: Maybe they'll get what I got when I saw it; and I was in it. I got done watching it and I just hung my head and I said, it was just the beginning. It seems like 10 years ago that they held Comey in front of the senate and It wasn't; we're still in it. It was just the beginning.
MW: Thank you again for the time today, Jeff. All the best moving forward and stay safe!
JD: You too.
The Comey Rule will premiere on Showtime this Sunday, September 27th at 9:00 PM ET/PT. Check your local listings for more information.
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