Jeff Daniels Explains Why He Only Recently Felt Like He’d 'Made It' as an Actor: 'I Can Relax Finally' (Exclusive)

The actor also tells PEOPLE how he now feels a sense of "relief" creatively, given his distinguished body of work

<p>Martin Schoeller</p> Jeff Daniels

Martin Schoeller

Jeff Daniels

Jeff Daniels may be one of the most talented and prolific actors of his generation, but it was only recently that he felt like he’d truly made it.

During an interview with PEOPLE, Daniels discussed how he once had an epiphany following the end of his Broadway run with To Kill a Mockingbird.

Daniels was playing Atticus Finch, a role made famous by Gregory Peck in the 1962 Oscar-winning film, in the stage production. But Daniels’ performance of the sage and moralistic Finch was superb all on its own, earning the actor a Tony nomination in 2019.

Now the 69-year-old actor says that after decades of memorable performances, he’s let go of his career ambitions.

Related: Why Jeff Daniels Moved His Family to Michigan 32 Years Ago — and Never Looked Back

<p>Sara Krulwich/The New York Times</p> Jeff Daniels and Celia Keenan-Bolger in 'To Kill a Mockingbird.'

Sara Krulwich/The New York Times

Jeff Daniels and Celia Keenan-Bolger in 'To Kill a Mockingbird.'

“That quest to be the biggest star in the history of stars… That's gone, and that kind of ended for me at the end of the one-year run of To Kill A Mockingbird,” he tells PEOPLE in this week’s issue. “After Atticus Finch, I can't top that experience.”

Playing the chief of police alongside Maura Tierney in the Prime Video series American Rust, which debuted its second season in March, was a project he dove into following a phone call with his agent.

“He goes, ‘What do you want to do?’” Daniels recalls. “It had taken 44 years for me to hear that, but that’s when I knew I’d made it.”

Related: Jeff Daniels Thanks Horse Who Broke His Wrist in Emmy Awards Speech: 'It's Officially Healed'

<p>Mark Hill/Netflix</p> Jeff Daniels and Sarah Jones in 'A Man in Full.'

Mark Hill/Netflix

Jeff Daniels and Sarah Jones in 'A Man in Full.'

For more on Jeff Daniels, pick up the latest issue of PEOPLE, on newsstands Friday, or subscribe here

That newfound attitude helps explain why he took the demanding role of Charlie Croker, a real estate mogul barreling towards bankruptcy, in Netflix’s limited series A Man in Full. For Daniels, playing the larger-than-life character was a creative “thrill.”

“I'm swinging for the fences,” he muses. “That's where the fun is for me at this point, and that's where the challenge is. Can I pull this off? Can he stay believable? Do you care about him enough to hang with him for the entire series? That was the challenge, and apparently I pulled it off.”

The actor has tackled a number of challenging roles while working steadily over the years, with unforgettable performances in films and shows like Something Wild, The Comey Rule and The Squid and the Whale. For his performance as a cable news anchor on HBO’s The Newsroom, Daniels won an Emmy in 2013 for outstanding lead actor in a drama series. He earned another Emmy in 2019 for his performance in Godless for outstanding supporting actor in a limited series or movie.

Related: Jeff Daniels Reveals His Agents Didn't Want Him to Make 'Dumb and Dumber' with Jim Carrey

Matthias Clamer/Showtime Maura Tierney and Jeff Daniels in 'American Rust.'
Matthias Clamer/Showtime Maura Tierney and Jeff Daniels in 'American Rust.'

It's now safe to say Daniels has earned the kind of career longevity many actors crave but very few actually achieve. And while it’s unlikely the work will dry up for the gifted performer, he’s fine with the possibility that he can "relax finally."

“I don't feel like I'm risking my career, because I've got this catalog of performances behind me,” he explains. “I’ve kind of done it. I think, ‘Well, who wants me next?’ But if nobody does, well that’s okay, too.”

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All six episodes of A Man in Full are available to stream on Netflix.

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Read the original article on People.