Jeff Daniels is a man of God.
Make that two Gods.
There is the one whose messages he delivers as "The Answer Man," in the romantic comedy opening July 24; then there is the one he answers to in the Tony Award-winning "God of Carnage" on Broadway.
In both, it's a comic bloodbath.
While "Carnage" is a ticket to die for on Broadway, it is "Answer Man" that may be the most metaphysical of the two media efforts by Daniel.
Because, in its own way, "Answer Man" is a modern-day midrash. But does that make Daniels a Moses for the new millennium?
He muses at the thought, hours away from being honored for his life's work by the Philadelphia Film Festival. After all, in this comedy, set and filmed in Philadelphia, Arlen Faber (Daniels) is celebrating the 20th anniversary of his best-selling Me and God, a modern-day Sinai stand-in, with Faber returning the favor, serving as conduit for God's little acres of preaching.
"Before you I hold two tablets!" — no, but maybe about 100 pages of thunder and fired-up prose as preamble to life on earth.
While Moses might have been a reluctant messenger, Faber is a downright hostile one, slamming doors in faces of fans, as grumpy as if he had just been thwacked from behind with a golden calf.
But in one way, this milquetoast Moses is involved in his own pyramid scheme.
Metaphysical mischief? Theological skulduggery? Where is your Faber now!
Right in front of me, as Daniels demurs to questions; he is no answer man but one who has his own questions.
"I have no idea how the stars align," he says of making sense of the universe.
He's made sense — and quite a big buck or two — from Hollywood, appearing in a string of hit films ("Terms of Endearment," his breakthrough; all the way to "Dumb and Dumber" to "The Squid and the Whale"), but the star and playwright — who operates his own theater in hometown Michigan, the Purple Rose, named after his role in Woody Allen's "The Purple Rose of Cairo" — finds the part of mini-Moses a godless act.
Four questions? That's some big matzah ball hanging out there.
A Big Burden
"Being an 'answer man,' having people turn to you for questions of why and when and how … that would be such a burden," he says.
What was not so hard to accept was the script, by first-time director John Hindman, who used his hindsight as a comic to question what makes the world go 'round and religious.
Hold that sermon, he cautions; Bar/Bat Mitzvah kids seeking answers, put away the pens.
Remember, advises Hindman, his debut film is "a romantic comedy; our goal is to be entertaining. It doesn't matter the belief" a movie-goer has in God.
Ya gotta believe? No, not necessarily. However, the flick does answer Hindman's own need for satisfaction: "No matter where we go, it seems this movie raises questions for audiences, in quest for answers."
God and gurus? No, Hindman actually wrote "The Answer Man" as a film "about fathers and sons" — and not in the heavenly realm either.
Meanwhile, the book of Daniels is filled with hits. But did the actor think he was also taking on the role of rebbe, teacher to the truth-seekers?
Well, he can empathize with "The Answer Man," because "one of the best things you can do in life is to ask a question," he says in talmudical mode.
From "God of Carnage" to God as con artist: Is Arlen Faber for real or just another theological quack without a clue? God is in the details — and the script delivers.
Does Daniels know all the answers? He smirks a no. But does he hear the questions?
"You know," says Daniels in a whisper, "I keep listening. But all I hear is the wind."