- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 31, 2007

It’s getting harder for Jeff Daniels to play the self-deprecation card.The actor, best known for films like “The Purple Rose of Cairo” and “Terms of Endearment,” has more than 50 concerts under his belt in his new guise as a tongue-in-cheek troubadour.

Tomorrow night, a full house will greet Mr. Daniels when he makes his debut at the Barns at Wolf Trap in Vienna.

Not bad for a man who pokes fun of his transformation with the original ditty “If William Shatner Can, I Can Too.”

Mr. Daniels knew he was on to something when a series of events found him on stage with Guy Clark, John Hiatt, Joe Ely and Lyle Lovett, the latter affectionately calling him “movie boy.”

Mr. Daniels also kicked off the encore on that fateful night.

“This past year I really started to feel I’ve turned the corner,” says Mr. Daniels, who earned raves for his role in 2005’s “The Squid and the Whale.”

His music spins are as much from his Hollywood days as his Midwestern roots. While most actors call either New York or Los Angeles home, Mr. Daniels remains a Detroit Tiger-loving Michigan native. Hewing to his Midwestern values (his minor musical fame hasn’t dented those), he even called this reporter at precisely the minute he said he would.

Mr. Daniels’ songs range from whimsical folk to straight-forward blues — and a few tunes might make the crowd reach for a hankie. Life as a musician, he says, guarantees more control over the finished product than his day job.

“Everything is up to me. The script, the songs, the patter, the relationship … there’s no junior executive saying, ‘try the red sweater and not the blue one,’ ” Mr. Daniels says.

Sauntering on stage while wearing so many hats makes live performances easier.

“The playwright is helping the songwriter build to the climax,” he says of his approach. “The stage actor is out there, too, helping with the timing in front of a live audience.”

His star status, which he acknowledges is the key draw initially, also has its perks away from the stage. Mr. Daniels recalls how he “celebritied” himself backstage to a Keb Mo show a while back and later met with the musician for a three-hour guitar lesson.

Mr. Daniels landed pivotal roles in such films as 1983’s “Terms of Endearment” and Jonathan Demme’s “Something Wild” (1986) which earned him a cache as a respected actor. He bankrolled that fame and the funds it produced to start his own venue for neglected artists.

The Purple Rose Theatre Company, founded in 1991, mines the Midwest for talent. Mr. Daniels contends too many people overlook the artists living in “flyover country.”

“I lose patience with the bicoastal, ‘we-know-everything’ crowd,” says Mr. Daniels, who has written more than 10 plays.

The actor-musician knows living away from the bigger cities and spending time tinkering with his theater costs him some roles — and some paychecks.

He decided long ago he wasn’t the type to play by Hollywood’s arcane rules.

“I enjoyed [the fame] but always knew the limo was rented and someone else would have it another night … the problem starts when you forget that,” Mr. Daniels says.

Christian Toto

Brook’s ‘Truth’

Los Angeles-based musician Michael Brook says that when a couple of film industry buddies approached him to score the 2006 eco-documentary,” An Inconvenient Truth,” he was “initially a bit skeptical about it.”

No stranger to film composition, the L.A. musician had been landing his ethereal tunes on soundtracks — including “Heat,” “Albino Alligator” and “Black Hawk Down” — for nearly 15 years.

But “Truth’s” blue-state subject matter — global warming, as seen through the eyes and slide shows of former presidential hopeful Al Gore — gave him pause. At first, anyway.

“But it turns out that I’m a big fan of skepticism,” Mr. Brook says.

It’s something he believes is lacking from our nation’s dialogue.

“I’m not a rabid environmentalist, but for me, [films like this] are part of a subset that is important to me: healthy, critical skepticism.”

Mr. Brook composed the emotional, atmospheric score using his 20-year-old Japanese Stratocaster copy, which he’s customized with tons of add-ons, the way one might trick-out a car. It has a scalloped fret board — “like a sitar in a way,” he says — and added electronics.

His trusty instrument, though, isn’t the only unique part of his creative process.

“I don’t read music; I don’t use music notation. What I really do is just play. … I improvise, and if I come up with something I like, I record it,” Mr. Brook says.

Perhaps that why his tunes seem so otherworldly.

Mr. Brook is currently touring with violinist Julie Rogers and songstress Lisa Germano in support of his latest solo release, “RockPaperScissors.” He takes center stage at Baltimore’s Sonar (407 E. Saratoga St.) on Monday.

Doors open at 8 p.m.

— Jenny Mayo

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