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Gregg Daniel – The Gospel According to True Blood’s Reverend Daniels

Updated: Apr 24, 2020

Gregg Daniel at the New York City Public Library.  Photo © 2014 Mark Doyle. All rights reserved.

Gregg Daniel at the New York City Public Library. Photo © 2014 Mark Doyle. All rights reserved.

Gregg Daniel

The Gospel According to True Blood’s Reverend Daniels

by Jay S. Jacobs

Whether he is treading the boards of the Great White Way (or it’s Los Angeles equivalent) or saving souls in the fictional Louisiana town of Bon Temps, Gregg Daniel demands attention.

Not in some harsh and insistent way.  No, Daniel is much more is much more subtle in his approach.  Daniel is a long-time character actor who has split his time between a successful stage career and appearances in such iconic film and TV series as Spider-Man, Star Trek, The West Wing, Curb Your Enthusiasm, Seinfeld and many others.

He’s recently finished arguably his most indelible TV role (so far), playing Reverend Daniels for five seasons on HBO’s acclaimed vampire melodrama True Blood.  The series finale is set to air on August 24, 2014.  It’s the end of a long and winding trail in Daniel’s career, but it is also the star of a new one.

In some ways, Reverend Daniels is like the moral compass of True Blood‘s town of Bon Temps, a flawed-but-basically-good man of faith who is trying to help the town through some very hard times.  Reverend Daniels does not scream or gesticulate to get your attention, but he holds it nonetheless.

“I would like for people to think – my peers and the audiences – that he was an actor’s actor,” Daniel said recently after a brief trip back to his hometown of New York.  “He was somebody who even his peers thought he allowed us to see all the humanity.  That’s really what acting is.  When people see you on stage or on film, it’s because they can spy their humanity in whatever the dilemma is that you’re in.”

Perhaps that is why Daniel feels so comfortable with Reverend Daniels, because the Reverend is certainly a character who embraces humanity.

Gregg Daniel at the New York City Public Library.  Photo © 2014 Mark Doyle. All rights reserved.

Gregg Daniel at the New York City Public Library. Photo © 2014 Mark Doyle. All rights reserved.

“I like him more and more every time I play him,” Daniel said.  “He is a man of faith.  I’m a man of faith.  It doesn’t have to be religious, just being in this industry you have to be ‘of faith.’  His faith is being tested.  When you run into people who are being tested, and somehow they look at you as a moral authority, you have to bolster and administer to them.  A lot of young actors come my way and I end up mentoring them.  It feels, in some ways, what I’m doing with the community of Bon Temps is what I’m doing with these actors, which is to minister to them and give them hope.  In many ways that’s a similarity, this belief that you hang in there, you pay your dues, you have faith in yourself and things are going to turn out well.  Just [have] patience.”

The patience will often be rewarded, but a lack of it almost never will.  Therefore, Daniel plays him as an understanding man who knows that human emotions and needs are never black and white.  There are muted, gray shades which determine everyone’s path in life.  The decisions they make – and the decisions that they don’t make – can determine the people that they become.

Of course, in the tiny town of Bon Temps, it is not just people.  There’s a bit of a vampire problem to deal with as well.

“Reverend Daniels takes the time to really listen,” Daniel continued.  “He’s married to someone who is a substance abuser.  He’s trying to save her and their marriage.  Now that I’ve lived a while in life, I see that sometimes you can love people who are very, very flawed.  It took me time to see that you can love people who are flawed and try your best to help them.  But, ultimately, they have to help themselves.  There are lessons that Reverend Daniels is learning along the way that, of course, I had to learn along the way, too.  I really honor his journey.  I think of him as an ordinary man in extraordinary circumstances.”

Not bad for a character that Daniel never thought he would play – despite the fact that his character’s last name is almost a perfect match for his own, only pluralized.  The thing was, though, Daniel was far from home when the offer to audition for True Blood came to his agents.  Though usually Daniel does most of his stage work in Los Angeles – which Daniel has called home for over fifteen years now – he was offered a lead role in a dream play far off of the beaten path.

He had always wanted to perform South African playwright Athol Fugard’s acclaimed play Master Harold… and the Boys.  He was offered the lead role in a production playing in the quaint shore community of Cape May, New Jersey, which is about a two hour drive from Philadelphia, or three hours from New York.

“A beautiful beach and Victorian community,” Daniel says, remembering the trip.  “When I did Master Harold… and the Boys, I would have people afterwards come up and talk about their relationship with their fathers or their families.  I just touched a chord in people that made us connected, even though they were total strangers.”

The problem was, Daniel’s agents contacted him to let him know that the popular HBO series True Blood was looking for an actor to play a new role, Reverend Daniels.

“[My agents] wanted me to put myself on tape and send it in.” Daniel chuckled, remembering.  “First of all, it was really hard to find someone to put me on tape.  It’s not like I was in a major market like New York or Los Angeles.  But I did find someone and we put it on tape.  We sent it in.”

Still, Daniel figured that was that.

“I knew I wouldn’t get it, because I was auditioning on tape from 3,000 miles away,” Daniel explained.  “[I had] the disadvantage of not being in the room with producers: where they can feel you, hear the sound of your voice, interact with you.  I figured there is no way a show like True Blood is going to cast someone based on their tape.”

Gregg Daniel at the New York City Public Library. Photo © 2014 Mark Doyle. All rights reserved.

Gregg Daniel at the New York City Public Library. Photo © 2014 Mark Doyle. All rights reserved.

Surprisingly, he was wrong.

“A week later, I got a call from my agent saying, ‘They cast you as Reverend Daniels,'” Daniel laughed.  “I was really thrilled.  [I] admired them, that they trusted enough the work on the tape to say, ‘Oh yeah, we want this actor to play this role.  We trust that.  We don’t need to see him.  He doesn’t have to be here physically, but we want to cast him.’  I was really appreciative.  I admired the fact that they could make that kind of artistic decision and feel good about it.”

When Daniel joined the show, it had been going for a few seasons already.  The series had become an immediate hit on HBO, where series creator Alan Ball was following up his success on his previous series, Six Feet Under.  The new series was based upon a series of gothic romantic horror novels, The Southern Vampire Mysteries series of novels by Charlaine Harris.  The series had legitimized the adult acting career of child star (and youngest ever Oscar winner) Anna Paquin, but it was also known for its vast cast and tapestry of intriguing characters.

“I was somewhat familiar, because of Alan Ball,” Daniel said.  “Anything Alan Ball puts out, I’m going to watch.  After Six Feet Under and knowing him many, many moons ago as a playwright in New York.  Anything that has Alan Ball’s name, [I’m there].  With people like Aaron Sorkin or Alan Ball, you look at their stuff.  If it’s on television, you look at it.”

Ball was not the show’s only connection to Daniel’s New York theatrical background.

“Adina Porter, the woman I wound up married to on the show, was an actress I had worked with in New York many moons ago,” Daniel continued.  “When I heard that Adina was on a show, I began watching it.  I just thought she was doing magnificent work.  I was very thrilled for her, that this hard-working theater born actress was now doing a terrific role on True Blood.  That’s what got me watching the show.

“Of course, I had no idea that I would [play] her love interest and that we’d eventually wind up being married.  Talk about serendipitous, how that came around to be.  I love working with her.  We have so much trust between each other because of our pre-existing relationship.  When we go into scenes, we just totally let it hang out.  We trust each other.  We know that we’ll be together, we’ll support each other.  Let’s find the truth behind the words.”

When he was hired as Reverend Daniels, it appeared that the role may be more of a one-off type of thing.  The Reverend was married to another woman and did not appear that he could be a foundation in Lettie Mae’s life.  However, Daniel realized quickly that the writers had something different in mind for him.

“They did that episode and they called me back to do another one,” Daniel recalled.  “I was not crazy about this Reverend-as-cad thing.  I was thinking: Are they playing on the fact that he’s a fallen minister?  Are we going to go there?  Are we going to do that?  Because that’s not really what I want.  I wanted to work for True Blood, of course, and Alan Ball.  But I didn’t want to play another defrocked minister.”

The next scripts they sent him quickly caused Daniel’s concern to fade away.

“Once we got married, once they married Lettie Mae, I saw that, ‘Oh, they seem to be going in a different direction.'” Daniel said.  “Then of course this season came around.  I have this really amazing speech in episode three.  There was this speech where you really get to know where the Reverend came from.  The pain in his life.  What drove him to Bon Temps.  I thought how wonderful that they want to flesh out that character.  They care enough about the character to let the public and the audience know: this is where Reverend Daniels is from, this is who he is.

“I was so appreciative I actually sent an e-mail to the writer of that episode,” Daniel chuckled.  “He was a co-executive producer, Brian Buckner.  I said how much I appreciated [it].  Not only the fact that they trusted me to deliver the speech, but they cared enough to write a speech clearing up who this guy is.  The first time we saw him, he was having an affair with Lettie Mae.  What is he supposed to be about?  Since that time, they’ve continued to honor Reverend Daniels and give me a really good, interesting storyline.”

Gregg Daniel outside the New York City Public Library. Photo © 2014 Mark Doyle. All rights reserved.

Gregg Daniel outside the New York City Public Library. Photo © 2014 Mark Doyle. All rights reserved.

This is not the first time that Daniel has played a man of the cloth. What does he think it is that makes casting people see that in him?

“You know, it’s so interesting you say that, because I have played several other ministers before I got this one,” Daniel laughed.  “I think it’s that when I play a minister, I try not to go for that stereotypical southern black minister, who is filled with rhetoric and filled with ‘Say Amen!’  Even on the audition tape, I tried to avoid that.  I just wanted him to be a simple, ordinary person who had faith, but not demonstrating that I was a man of faithA man of the cloth.  Every time I’ve played a minister, I always tried to keep them very centered, not rhetorical, not fire and brimstone.  I really try to appeal to people’s hearts and minds, rather than just their emotions.”

That’s an interesting and somewhat counter-intuitive viewpoint on that type of role, but it is probably why Reverend Daniels feels so normal and approachable in True Blood.

“In a church, when you’re preaching, you want to get that response,” Daniel continued.  “At the same time, I’m trying to heal a community on True Blood, so rather than screaming out and shouting, I’m going to try and keep it conversational.  I’ve always kept my ministers very conversational.  I just happen to be a minister.  I’m listening where your faith is being tested.  I’m trying to find out: What can I do to nurture you?  What can I do to offer you some kind of solace?  That’s maybe the difference when I approach a minister.  The trap is playing him like just this fiery guy.  He always has rhetoric.  He always says, ‘GAWD!’  I don’t believe that.  I think that’s just too easy a choice.”

Of course, the Reverend Daniels does not just have the normal lifestyle problems going down in his parish.  Bon Temps is home to a huge group of vampires and other supernatural creatures that keep his parishioners’ souls in more immediate danger of corruption than in most small towns.

People have always had a fascination with nighttime bloodsuckers, going back to even before Bram Stoker’s Dracula was published.  In modern fantastical literature, vampires are rather ubiquitous.  This popularity and fascination does not surprise Daniel in the least.

“I think that vampires are really a stand-in for people’s sexuality, the darkest parts of our character,” Daniel said.  “I’m not a scientist.  I’m not a social scientist.  This is just the gospel according to Gregg Daniel, pardon the pun.  Vampires, particularly in a Puritan society, allow us to imagine and fantasize about our deepest, darkest passions and desires.  When we see vampires and they are lusting for blood and biting necks and sucking – to me it’s all sexuality.  It’s all a stand-in for things we shy away from.  [Things] we know we have in us, but it’s not permitted.  For me, that’s what the fascination is.  It’s not that they are monsters.  It’s just the opposite.  They represent that side of the id that we want to suppress and not admit.  So, yeah, we’ve got these sexy vampires going around biting people’s necks and sucking blood.  It’s all a stand-in for sex.”

Gregg Daniel at the New York City Public Library. Photo © 2014 Mark Doyle. All rights reserved.

Gregg Daniel at the New York City Public Library. Photo © 2014 Mark Doyle. All rights reserved.

Which makes a certain sense for True Blood as well.  Daniel has long been aware that the show was not the least bit shy about exploring some of the murkier aspects of people and their actions.  Nor has it been coy about getting in the audience’s face with the temptations of life (and un-death) and the potential costs of following your darkest desires.  Now, as the final season is winding down, the writers and the producers of the show have decided that all bets are off.  No one or nothing is safe or sacred.  Anything is possible.

“I have to say, as a cast member the start of the season when Tara [Rutina Wesley] was killed, I was just floored.” Daniel said.  “I read the script.  I started reading and in the teaser she’s killed.  I’m thinking: They’re not going to do that.  They’re not going to do this.  And of course, they are going to do it.  Talk about just grabbing by the heart.  How could you kill off a major character that people have come to know and love?”

That was even before the opening credits of the season seven premiere.  The show was making a point to the fans and viewers.  Don’t expect a sweet and nostalgic climax to the True Blood journey.  Don’t be expecting lots of happy endings.  In the lingo of old carnivals: Fasten in, this is a dark ride.

“There’s a sense of risk that the show takes,” Daniel laughed.  “I’m really proud that they are doing it, particularly now in our final season.  Rather than play it safe and give everybody a fairytale ending, it’s going to be a rocky ride.  We’ve lost Tara.  We’ve lost Alcide [Joe Manganiello].  The character of Bill Compton [Stephen Moyer] is Hep V positive.  I like the twists and turns.  Sometimes it takes me a while to catch up with them, but I like the fact that we don’t have a formula.  That we can take risks.  Particularly now, rather than trying to tie all the loose ends up nice and tight and give you a fairytale ending, we’re going to go out in a blaze of glory.”

Daniel laughed again, enjoying the sensation.

“Weeks seem to go in a blaze of glory,” he continued.  “I’m always fascinated at how. Even when Eric [Alexander Skarsgård] burnt up last season, I thought my God!  Whether they know it, I think misdirection has a lot to do with the success of our show.  You think, ‘Oh, my God!  They’re not going to do that?!’  But they did that.  Are they really dead?  What’s going to happen next?  It’s like a magician.  You keep people reeled in, because you keep them guessing.”

Keep us guessing.  Hmmm…   Anything could happen.  What if Reverend Daniels is not as he appears?

“In some situations, I’ve had people say, ‘You know, I don’t trust Reverend Daniels.  I think that guy is going to wind up being a major…,'” Daniel admits.  “I don’t know what creature I’ll be, but I’ve actually had people call in and say, ‘He’s just too kind.  He’s just too sympathetic.’  Again, it’s that misdirection.  Is what we’re presenting to you the real deal?  Do you trust us?  I really think it keeps people stimulated.  They keep wondering what’s going to happen next?”

When we spoke Daniel had already filmed the series finale and knew where Reverend Daniels’ eventual path would lead.  However, I couldn’t help but wonder, as the man who had embodied the character for so many years, how would the actor ideally like to see the Reverend end up his True Blood journey.  (And of course, chances are very good that this will not parallel the character’s actual ending on the show, because Daniel is not likely to give up a major spoiler on this.)

“I wouldn’t mind – and I’m not being holier than thou – if he gave his life for the faith of Lettie Mae or somebody else,” Daniel admits.  “I could see that.  There’s something noble about that.  I could see him loving his fellow person – we don’t just have fellow men, we have fellow vampires and werewolves and maenads and fairies – I could see Reverend Daniels making a major sacrifice.  Well, life is a major one.  To save or to help someone else.  Greater love has no man than to give his life for his brother.  I could live with that.  He found faith enough to believe that he could sacrifice himself to help someone else along the way.  I think that’s a beautiful ending.  I don’t want him to die, no.  But if it’s construed or written in that way, that would be [fine].  I know it’s weird to hear an actor say I’ll die, but following this man of faith, his journey, I could see that being.  For me, it could be a nice closure.”

And closure is necessary, for the characters, the fans and the cast and crew of True Blood.  After a wild seven year stint on the air, we all have to come to terms with the fast-approaching inevitability of a world without Sookie Stackhouse and the residents of Bon Temp.  Yet Daniel admits that there was surprisingly little looking back as they worked on the final season.

“It’s interesting,” Daniel admitted.  “In some regards, between takes or between stuff we might talk about it.  What was weird was that we knew we had ten solid episodes to shoot.  And as I said, the writers really took risks.  So every time we got in front of the cameras, it really was about how do we bring our A game to the script?  When we were working, we were totally invested in making it.  There was no thought of ‘This is it.’  We had such great scripts to shoot, we got all caught up in ‘How do we realize the script?'”

Gregg Daniel at the New York City Public Library. Photo © 2014 Mark Doyle. All rights reserved.

Gregg Daniel at the New York City Public Library. Photo © 2014 Mark Doyle. All rights reserved.

Still, even during the busy schedule of creating the final season, occasionally a sense of wistfulness could creep in.

“Sure, there might have been some sadness in between takes, or after we finished one episode and moved on to the next episode,” Daniel said.  “But during our working time, everyone from costumes and hair and the DP department and the direction department, we were all trying to go out in a blaze of glory.  We’ve had such enthusiastic and loyal fans for the last seven seasons.  It’s really about giving them the kind of quality work the show has exemplified, rather than just wallow in ‘that’s just sad.’  Yeah, it is kind of sad, but man, we still have got ten more good weeks to go.  Let’s enjoy that.”

Enjoy it they did.  Now it comes down to the series finale, which will be airing on August 24.  And let’s face it, series finales are damned hard to pull off, particularly for shows with rabid fan bases.  Just in the past year, shows like Dexter and How I Met Your Mother have disillusioned their faithful with their finales.  In fact, in television history, very few series finales have escaped the disappointment of fans.  It’s very dangerous water to swim in.

“You’re telling me…,” Daniel said, good-naturedly.  Still, he’s cautiously optimistic that the long-time followers of True Blood will be satisfied by the final episode.

“I think for the fans there is going to be a sense of closure,” Daniel said.  “As I was saying earlier, it may not be easy.  There’s no growth without sacrifice.  But we will give you a sense of closure that I think every character deserves.  We’re honoring the characters.  We won’t take any easy route out.  I don’t know if that’s an answer, but I do think you will get a sense of closure.  You won’t walk away confused.  You’ll be clear, and hopefully you’ll be satisfied by how it played out.  There will be a kind of catharsis, if you will.  I think the writers have done a good job of wrapping up the season without making it too easy for anyone.”

In the meantime, Daniel leaves Bon Temps behind with nothing but good feelings.  In fact, he so much enjoyed his experience on True Blood that he hopes he will get the opportunity to work on another series for HBO.

“I may be biased, but HBO shows – Boardwalk Empire, Game of Thrones, True Detective – I mean, some of the best television today, arguably, is on HBO,” Daniel said.  “Oh, and The Newsroom, of course.  Aaron Sorkin.  I was just speaking about Sorkin earlier.  Just the time they take to do the episodes and the writing and the directing and the acting.  I would be very happy if I wound up in another HBO show.  I’m not sure what’s being developed, but they know me, I know them.  Man, I really think that for an actor it’s a thrill to be working on an HBO series.”

Until that next HBO opportunity comes together, Daniel has plenty on his plate to keep him occupied.  He recently finished a six week staging of Shakespeare’s Romeo & Juliet in Los Angeles.

“When I get a chance I always go back to the stage.  Particularly if I can do Shakespeare.  Because, God, he’s arguably the greatest playwright in civilization,” Daniel chuckles.  “I was really lucky to get a Romeo & Juliet production outside, underneath the stars.  For about six weeks I was Lord Montague in Romeo & Juliet for the Shakespeare Center of Los Angeles.  It was magical.  Something about live theater.  I’ll tell you, there’s nothing like it.  I’m not knocking film and television.  I love doing film and television, but there is something about having a live audience in front of you every night that just keeps you sharp.”

In fact, it all comes back to Shakespeare for Daniel.  His first interest in acting an theater was inspired by the Bard.  As a small child living in Brooklyn, he was seduced by the language in ways that he did not yet understand.  However, it planted the seed that would someday become Daniel’s long-time career.

“My father was from a Caribbean island,” Daniel explained.  “They were under the British system until they gained their independence, so we always had a volume of Shakespeare hanging around the house.  One day this precocious young kid – me –  opened it and began to read it.  I had no idea what I was reading, but something about the language just knocked me out.  Now I know it’s iambic pentameter, the verse.  When I finally heard a trained speaker performing Shakespeare, I just thought, wow!  Something about the poetry and the power of those words just knocked me out.  I began going and seeing Shakespearean plays and reading more Shakespeare.  Finally I was trained in the classical text.”

Gregg Daniel at the New York City Public Library. Photo © 2014 Mark Doyle. All rights reserved.

Gregg Daniel at the New York City Public Library. Photo © 2014 Mark Doyle. All rights reserved.

Of course, Shakespeare was not the only force which bended and shaped young Daniel into his future profession.  Soon he became aware of a film icon who shared some of the traits in Daniel’s background, and opened his eyes to the possibility of film.

“Sidney Poitier was amazing,” Daniel said.  “He was an amazing icon.  There’s a man who wasn’t even American – he came from a Caribbean island – but this dark, tall, handsome man who just seemed to carry himself with such dignity and so much grace.  I was just fascinated by him.  Just the different kinds of [films] – To Sir With Love, Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner?, In the Heat of the Night, Lilies of the Field.  He probably gave me permission to think that I might be able to do this as a living.

“It was the way he carried himself.  It was the way he not only was a good actor, but again had this dignity and this grace about him.  ‘They call me Mr. Tibbs,'” Daniel laughed at the memory.  “He was just a huge impression.  Every time I saw him, he was approachable.  He was vulnerable.  He was proud.  He was dignified.  It’s everything a young black boy would like to grow up and think that they could be.  And, particularly, he was an actor.  Then I read a biography of him when I was pretty young and I found out he came from a pretty poor family.  Came to America without much funds or support.  He inspired me greatly.”

Other actors inspired Daniel as well, including an iconic actress who just passed away weeks ago.

“A lot of the pioneers of that time.  Ruby Dee.  Ossie Davis.  At that time you didn’t see a lot of African American faces in features and television.  Those people made it possible.  They gave me permission and license to think maybe I could have a career like Ruby Dee, whom we just recently lost.  Or have a career like Sidney Poitier.  Even Bill Cosby, when they were doing I Spy.  I was in high school when I Spy came on.  It was this partnership between this Caucasian man [Robert Culp] and this African American [Cosby] and I was just fascinated.  He kept up.  He was funny.  Those early names are definitely the giants on the shoulders of which I stand.  Absolutely.”

Daniel had gone to college at NYU, studying theater.  Having grown up in Brooklyn, Manhattan was a paradise to Daniel.  That is a feeling that he still cherishes, in fact we met him during a short trip back to the city and were able to take the photos which appear in this story at the 42nd Street Public Library.

“Being back in New York and being in the New York public library, where I used to go when I was a kid, what a thrill,” Daniel said.  “Just to be back in New York and taking pictures of myself in that beautiful old institution.  That beautiful old architecturally fascinating building.”

In fact, the entire trip only reiterated to Daniel how much he loves Manhattan.

“There’s nothing [like] walking in New York,” Daniel enthused.  “When I go around the Lincoln Center area, the various theaters of Broadway.  Even in the Village, where I went to school.  At that time the school of the Arts at NYU was centered in the west Village.  The architecture.  Obviously, LA is not a walking town.  New York is a walking town.  I would hit New York and I would walk.  Passing the Museum of Modern Art.  Passing the Guggenheim.  Passing the Museum of Natural History.  Passing Avery Fisher Hall.  Passing Broadway theaters.  All that makes me very nostalgic.  It’s so iconically New York City.  The photo shoot that we did at the New York Public Library.  Just that fascinating, fascinating building.  We roamed the hallways.  We went outside.  That sense of history, which I don’t always feel in Los Angeles.  I know there’s a rich history there, but it seems to me you have to seek it out.  New York, you run into it and you pass it all the time.”

Yet, Daniel has been a Los Angeleno for well over a decade and has made a happy home there, as well.  He had made the big move in the late 90s, during something of a mass migration of New York’s theatrical elite.

“15 years now,” Daniel laughed.  “It just zoomed by.  When I got out here, there was a whole caravan of actors, writers and directors at one point who had been doing theater.  But Hollywood was beginning to lure a lot of theater talent out to Los Angeles.  I was sort of the last caravan of people, at least in my age range, who decided, ‘You know what?  Yeah, I’ve always wanted to do film and television.  Let me go out to Los Angeles and see how things work out for me.’  That was about 15 or 16 years ago.  In fact, Alan Ball, the creator of True Blood, he was a playwright whose work I saw in New York with that wave.”

Over those 15 years, Daniel has ended up in some iconic TV series and movies.  Beyond his work in True Blood, he has also been in Spider-Man 3, Star Trek, The West Wing, Curb Your Enthusiasm, Seinfeld and many others.  Over the years, he has come to appreciate how even when you play a small role in a beloved program, it creates a huge splash.

“I am a little surprised when, still now, people remember me from Star Trek or Larry David,” Daniel said.  “I’m pleased, but I’m always a little surprised that it made that kind of impression.  People invested that much into the character or the show or the situation that it gave them pleasure that they actually remember.  It was a thrill to do a Star Trek.  I got to play a big Vulcan.  It was a lot of fun, with that wonderful ‘Live long and prosper.’  The fact that people remember these shows and remember your work on them, it’s very flattering for an actor.  It does mean that they took something in, rather than just spit it out.  They still remember it.  Years later, I’ll get comments about my work on Larry David’s show or Star Trek or Seinfeld.”

That Seinfeld role was symptomatic of the type of thing he is talking about.  It was not a huge role, but it was a memorable one.

“There was an episode, if you can remember, called ‘The Parking Garage,'” Daniel said.  “They went to return a television set and they lose their car.  Of course, this is typical Seinfeld.  I ran into Julia.  She runs into me and she’s asking me, ‘Can I get a ride to find my car?’  Of course, I’m just like: No.  No you can’t do it.  Nope, nope, sorry.  ‘But it’s just a ride.  I’m just a single woman.’  It was just a hoot.  I still get comments.  People are, ‘Oh, you did the parking garage.  I remember that one!’  So I’m always a little surprised.  Pleasantly surprised, but it meant that there’s something I touched in these people.  They have a pleasant memory of it.”

However, Daniel is not merely touching people as an actor anymore.  He’s also very involved in theater, working as Artistic Director of the LA-based Lower Depth Theatre Ensemble.

“Some colleagues and I a few years ago decided: ‘You know, we could wait around on our off-time for theater to call and ask us to do something, or…’  I’m at the age now where the desire to work with playwrights and actors and directors and the designers that we wanted to, we said, ‘You know what?  Let’s do it.’  So we did about five years ago and we’ve been better off.  We actually won an NAACP theater award for Best Ensemble.”

Daniel was also nominated for a 2013 NAACP Image Award for helming an LA production of Elmina’s Kitchen.  This kind of notice makes it all seem worthwhile.

“It feels magical.  Particularly the respect of my peers,” Daniel said.  “I studied acting.  I went to NYU way, way long ago.  So to have the respect of my peers, it’s magical.  It’s something I worked very, very hard for over the years.  It feels delightful to actually have some kind of acknowledgement that the work you do does touch people.  Maybe the work you do is up there among the best.  There’s nothing like having and getting the approval and admiration of your peers in what you love to do.  [It] keeps you going.  This business is hard to get approval from sometimes.  So that was a gas, to be able to have the career and then also have a theater company where we can pick and choose the projects that we want to mount.  That’s very special.”

And, somewhere, in his busy schedule, he is able to fit in other interests like fencing and playing jazz guitar.

“I’m a big fan of the jazz guitar and have gotten better and better at it,” Daniel said.  “I still study.  Don’t get me wrong, I’m not going to book a gig anywhere anytime soon, but I’m fascinated by it.  Jazz in particular on that instrument, the guitar.  Something about music.  All art in many ways inspires to music.  In terms of, its rhythm, its mathematics, its tone.  You can learn a lot from music in terms of acting and dancing.  I’m definitely a closet jazz guitarist.”

Which just is another variation on Daniel’s greatest aspiration as an actor: to touch an audience.

“People finding in my work some connection to their own lives, and to their own challenges and triumphs… I would love to be remembered as an actor who could do that.  There are those actors out there.  Poitier did that for me.  I could see his struggles through just my own humanity.  I would love for my work to be remembered that way.”

Copyright ©2014 All rights reserved. Posted: August 17, 2014. 

All photos of Gregg Daniel in the New York City Public Library © 2014 Mark Doyle. All rights reserved.

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