The star of Broadway's To Kill a Mockingbird returned to his home state not long after moving to New York City to start his acting career

By Dana Rose Falcone Alicia Dennis
May 22, 2019 12:00 PM

Jeff Daniels received his third Tony nomination for Lead Actor for playing Alabama lawyer Atticus Finch in Broadway’s To Kill a Mockingbird, but he’s really more of a Michigan guy.

Born and raised in the Great Lakes State, the actor brought his family there in 1986 “to create as much a sense of normalcy as possible,” he tells PEOPLE in this week’s issue. “It was a very dramatic move in 1986 to move to Michigan, but that was to keep the family number one. And that worked.”

Daniels, 64, married his high school sweetheart Kathleen in 1979, and they have three children together: Ben, 34, Lucas, 31, and Nellie, 28.

“Kathleen’s permanent. The family’s permanent,” the two-time Emmy winner says of why he put his focus on his wife and kids. “Careers are job to job, you’re hot, you’re not.”

Jeff Daniels wearing a Joseph Abboud vest.
Martin Schoeller
Jeff Daniels with his wife Kathleen and their children (from left) Nellie, Benjamin and Lucas.
Ron Galella/WireImage

Daniels relocated to New York City from Chelsea, Michigan in the late ‘70s to pursue acting with the Circle Repertory Company. His career continued on a steady upward pace, with more than 80 movies and TV credits to his name today — and the praise of his The Newsroom creator Aaron Sorkin.

“Jeff is a great actor,” Sorkin, 57, tells PEOPLE. “He’s a methodical actor who takes as much rehearsal and preview time as you’ll give him to build a performance. He’s a strong leader backstage and he’s tough as dirt.”

RELATED VIDEO: To Kill a Mockingbird: Go Inside Opening Night

Still, Daniels never wanted to fully immerse himself in Hollywood.

For more on Jeff Daniels, pick up the latest issue of PEOPLE, on stands Friday

“I never bought it,” he says of fame. “I knew how fleeting it was and I didn’t trust it for a second, so I moved to Michigan.”

To Kill a Mockingbird is now playing on Broadway.

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