Jeff Daniels interview: The Comey Rule star discusses if the show can sway the US elections, spell doom for Donald Trump
Jeff Daniels, who plays former FBI director James Comey in the miniseries The Comey Rule, discusses if the show can have an impact on the mind of American voters ahead of the US presidential elections.Updated: Sep 28, 2020, 19:01 IST
Former FBI director James Comey may or may not have influenced the 2016 US presidential elections, but the new two-part miniseries about the role he inadvertently played in Donald Trump’s victory certainly believes that it could influence voters ahead of the 2020 polls. Or, at the very least, inform them, according to actor Jeff Daniels, who plays the controversial Comey in Showtime’s The Comey Rule.
“The show can inform people, I don’t know about influence,” he told Hindustan Times in a media interaction. “Whether it’s the Trump administration or their constant attempts to quash information or tell you something that is not true. The Comey Rule will give people more information about something they think they know but really don’t,” he said.
The two-part political drama, written and directed by Billy Ray, was always supposed to come out either in summer or the fall, Daniels said. That was why the celebrated actor ended a yearlong engagement on Broadway, where he appeared in “415 straight shows” as Atticus Finch in Aaron Sorkin’s adaptation of To Kill a Mockingbird.
But when Showtime slotted the series for a late November, post-polls premiere, Ray protested. In a letter to the cast and crew, he apologised for having let them down. “I know what a disappointment this is to you. It is for me too – because while I’ve made movies about my country before, this was the first time I ever made a movie for my country,” he wrote.
“Not everything that get you do as an actor matters, or counts, or has an affect on the audiences that changes them, and this had all of that,” Daniels said. “It was relevant, not only then, but today. It’s not often you get to tell a story that’s still happening.”
Ray’s story, Daniels said, was about “one man taking on something far more powerful than he is,” — and that is exactly what the writer-director did after Viacom’s November release announcement. It is not clear what changed, but something did. The miniseries was rescheduled for a late September premiere, effectively allowing Ray and Daniels to honour their original vision.
The Comey Rule, based on the former FBI director’s book A Higher Loyalty, dramatises events leading up to the 2016 elections, when Comey, mere days before the polls, made the independent decision to launch an investigation into Democratic presidential candidate Hilary Clinton’s emails. The nuances of what the investigation entailed was lost on the common American, who saw it simply as a sign of Clinton’s dishonesty. The miniseries suggests that Comey’s decision could have impacted her chances of winning, and his vilification in the aftermath of Trump’s victory was unfair, but it was a decision that he was duty-bound to make.
“It’s lonely at the top,” Daniels said. “Even Jim Comey’s family pressured him, so he really was alone. But he clung to what he believed in, to justice, to law, the truth, and to the institution that is the FBI, and defending the integrity of that institution. And that was his comfort. That’s not a person, that’s an ideal. You find that in a lot of heroes, they hang on to something bigger than themselves, and I think that’s what got Jim through this.”
To help him through the challenge of playing Comey on screen, Daniels told Ray, “Get me great actors.” And they don’t get any better than Brendan Gleeson, who was cast as Donald Trump. “This isn’t Alec Baldwin doing an SNL sketch,” Daniels said, referring to Baldwin’s Emmy-winning appearances as Trump on the comedy show. “We want the beating heart - if such a thing even exists inside Trump - we want the darkness, we want to know what he’s thinking, we want to see it in his eyes. The hair and all is important but its secondary. When Brendan Gleeson is three feet across from you asking you for loyalty, you know exactly what he means.”
As it stands, The Comey Rule is an effective political drama, although not nearly as incendiary or influential as those involved in making it might believe. But middling reviews aren’t going to dampen Daniels’ optimism. “We’re smarter now than we were four years ago, and I hope the show reminds people not to believe everything you hear coming out of the White House,” he said. “There are still people who do, but there are many who did, but do not any longer. There are two sides to this story - one is Trump saying Comey is a liar. Comey Rule is the other side. Now go vote.”
The Comey Rule is available on Voot Select in India