He plays a man with writer's block in his latest film, Paper Man, but Jeff Daniels has no problem getting the words to flow when he sits down to write.
"I have a system, although it took a while to learn it," Daniels, 55, says in a telephone interview. "When I'm writing a play, I just keep 'em talking. It's garbage in, garbage out. Then I throw away the first 10 pages to get to the page that matters."
Paper Man, which opened in limited release on April 23, stars Daniels as Richard, an easily distracted writer whose wife (Lisa Kudrow) deposits him in a Montauk house to finally get to work on his overdue novel. Instead, he finds himself emotionally drawn to a local teen-ager who, if anything, has more problems than he does. The quirky, offbeat film also gives Richard an imaginary friend, a super-hero named Captain Excellent (a bleach-blond Ryan Reynolds) who has been with him since childhood - much to Richard's wife's chagrin.
"Is he here?" she practically spits at Richard, when she suspects him of conversing with the Captain.
"I didn't see that coming when I started reading the script," Daniels says of the costumed super-hero. "But I found the idea funny and outrageous. Ryan was so at ease with him, whoever he is. It just became part of the fun of playing this role."
Indeed, Daniels says, he was drawn to play Richard because "I didn't know how to do it. The character was unpredictable. He went in directions I didn't expect. But it still held up as a story."
Daniels writes songs (and performs them, in concert form), and writes (and only occasionally directs) plays of his own for the Purple Rose Theater, the resident-professional theater he created in Chelsea, Mich., west of Detroit.
"I'm back to writing a play a year," he says of his involvement with the playhouse. "I stay about a year ahead. I just finished one. I've got ideas for the next one but I'm not going to start writing until fall."
Daniels has written 14 plays for the Purple Rose and directed two: "I don't really like directing," he says.