Jeff Daniels Ponders Similarities Between Trump and His ‘A Man in Full’ Character: ‘Love of Fame’ and Attention

Jeff Daniels describes his character’s fall from grace in “A Man in Full” as “almost Shakespearean” as real estate tycoon Charlie Croker fights for his crumbling empire until the very end — much like the one Donald Trump is currently experiencing as he stands on trial in New York.

“Trump going through what he’s going through — it’s not that different than what Charlie Croker ends up having to deal with,” Daniels told TheWrap, referencing the ongoing trial regarding hush money paid to adult film actress Stormy Daniels.

In “A Man in Full,” Croker’s glamorous life of extravagant parties and private jets is abruptly interrupted when his bank calls upon him to pay up on debts — to the tune of $800 million. Despite facing bankruptcy that threatens his business and legacy, Croker’s ego won’t allow him to go down without a fight.

“The correlation between Trump and Charlie is that love of fame and love the of attention, that larger-than-life character, which Trump really is,” Daniels said. “Charlie Croker has that same kind of largess when it comes to personality and walking into a room knowing that you’re going to be the center of attention, and wanting it.”

While Daniels draws relevance from “A Man in Full” to 2024 — noting the underlying message of “money ain’t everything, neither is fame” — Tom Wolfe’s novel of the same name was initially published in the late ’90s and was based on two or three men, per Daniels — one of which Daniels revealed he learned about from speaking with someone who knew them “very well.”

“At that time, it was kind of singling out that man amongst men, that male ego, that kind of guy who is the star of his own show, and everyone he meets is his audience,” Daniels said. “He just assumes that everyone loves him almost as much as he loves himself, except for the fact that he’s using other people’s money with the bank to attain this great power, wealth and importance.”

Though Daniels had played alongside larger-than-life characters — including acting opposite Brendan Gleeson’s depiction of Trump in “The Comey Rule” — filling Charlie Croker’s large shoes in “A Man in Full” proved to be a “complicated, tricky role” for Daniels, who noted “they don’t teach large acting in star school — they teach less is more.” Nonetheless, Daniels relished in the challenge of rising to the occasion.

“When I said ‘yes,’ I didn’t have a clue as to how I was going to pull it off, which, at this point in the career, is a big reason why I take things — I want to risk failure,” Daniels said. “And I certainly did with Charlie Croker, that’s for sure.”

Daniels knew he had the support of showrunner, writer and EP David E. Kelley as well as EP and director Regina King to take the swing, saying “if I was going to come in big with a large performance that you want somebody there making sure that you aren’t breaking the lens of the camera.”

The first step into the Atlanta-based mogul was his accent, which Daniels describes as “beyond your standard Southern accent,” explaining because “Charlie’s character was so large, the accent had to be large.”

“Tom Wolfe told me in the book that it was going to be large, so much so that when he gets nervous, tense, frustrated or angry, it gets even more southern,” Daniels said, pointing to his initial confrontation with the bank leadership. “As they say, it goes into Baker County, which is the county where it’s the southern accent apparently is really strong, and you can’t understand him.”

Embracing this almost incomprehensible accent was one way Daniels leaned into the humor of the show, which he calls “smart funny.” “Charlie doesn’t know he’s funny, but he’s funny — what he says is funny, the angrier he gets somehow the funnier it is,” Daniels said.

In turn, Daniels notes the comedic element of the character might be the “magic trick” that makes audiences root for Charlie and see his “goodness” and “heart” as he undergoes “his descent back to ordinariness.”

“There is a freefall from what he was to who he probably really is, or could have been and he clocks it — there are certain things that happen that he realizes that he’s the only one who thinks this is a good thing,” Daniels said. “He’s not the first person to fall in love with the money, the power, the notoriety and the attention. It’s certainly relevant today, more so than ever.”

“A Man in Full” is now streaming on Netflix.

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