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Jeff Daniels is used to playing jerks

Oscar buzz surrounds his performance in ‘The Squid and the Whale’
/ Source: The Associated Press

Jeff Daniels may be reaping critical acclaim for his turn as the pompous Bernard in “The Squid and the Whale,” but the actor says his career has been “peppered with jerks.”

“I’ve been playing ‘less likable’ since ‘Terms of Endearment,’ so that’s never been an issue for me,” Daniels recently told The Associated Press.

Directed by Noah Baumbach, “The Squid and the Whale” is a largely autobiographical story of Baumbach’s parents’ divorce in 1980s New York. Baumbach’s father, Jonathan, a novelist, was the inspiration for Daniels’ character. His old clothes were even used for Daniels’ wardrobe.

“I had met him before in rehearsals, which is good and bad,” he says. “You end up — coming back from rehearsal — doing an impression, which doesn’t work because it’s false. You have to personalize it.”

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Daniels was hailed by AP film critic David Germain as meriting Oscar consideration for “a career performance as one of the great big-screen jerks.”

The 50-year-old actor, who also appears in George Clooney’s “Good Night, and Good Luck” as former CBS news head Sig Mickelson, is frequently associated with fun-loving roles, like Jim Carrey’s goofball sidekick in 1994’s “Dumb & Dumber.”

His more villainous filmography is sparse, but includes the cheating husband of “Terms of Endearment” and the real-life half of his movie actor in Woody Allen’s “The Purple Rose of Cairo.”

But Daniels still isn’t ready to call his “Squid” character a “jerk.”

“This Bernard considers himself very likable: ‘I did everything I could to save the marriage,”’ he says. “That’s his story and he’s sticking to it.

“As an actor, you don’t judge that.”