When Jeff Daniels took the role of Atticus Finch in Broadway’s To Kill a Mockingbird, he didn’t picture Gregory Peck, who won an Oscar for playing the crusading lawyer in the 1962 film.

“I thought about my dad,” Jeff exclusively told Closer Weekly at the 2019 Tony Awards Meet the Nominees event. His father, Robert Lee Daniels, owned a lumberyard in Chelsea, Michigan, and served as the town’s mayor. “My dad was very much an Atticus, in that there was a right way to do something and there were all the other ways,” Jeff says. “He lived like that.”

Jeff Bridges as Atticus Finch in Broadway's 'To Kill a Mockingbird'
Slaven Vlasic/Getty Images for “To Kill A Mockingbird”

So has Jeff, who never strayed from his Midwestern roots. He married hometown sweetheart Kathleen Treado in 1979 and soon moved back to Michigan to raise their now-grown children, Ben, Lucas and Nellie. “I just never did buy this idea that you have to live in Los Angeles to be an actor,” says Jeff, 64. “I love living in Michigan, which has been great for my family.”

Jeff has brought a Midwestern work ethic to his career, appearing in comedies (Dumb and Dumber), action flicks (Speed) and dramas (he won an Emmy for The Newsroom). “I never said, ‘I’m going to be a big star,'” he notes. “I said, ‘I’m going to be a good actor.'”

Jeff Daniels and Kathleen Rosemary Treado at the 2019 Tony Awards
Dimitrios Kambouris/Getty Images for Tony Awards Productions

That approach has paid off. “I’m working harder than in any decade of my life, which is not how they draw it up in star school,” says Jeff. “I tell drama kids, ‘Find out what you want to do and spend the rest of your life getting better at it,’ and that still is the case, I find at 64.”

Even though Jeff ultimately lost the Tony to Bryan Cranston for Network, he can breathe easily knowing he did the role of Atticus justice — honoring both Gregory and his own father.

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