Daniels plays Frank Griffin, a ruthless outlaw out for blood after his surrogate son Roy (Jack O'Connell) robs and deserts his troop of bandits. Frank is willing to burn towns, and everyone in them, down to the ground on his hunt to find Roy and justice for the betrayal.
As with any good villain though, Frank is not one shade of evil. He can be a rage-filled psychopath, but at times will lean in to being a merciful healer. The thing that makes Frank so scary is you never know which version you're going to meet from one scene to the next.
TV Guide talked to Daniels during the Netflix fall junket to discuss the role, building his character's relationship with Roy and the hardest part of playing a dirty, rotten, western scoundrel.
Frank is a hard character to pin down. Sometimes he's a sociopath, sometimes he shows mercy. How do you sort of define his moral code?
Jeff Daniels: Confused. He's in dire need of a team of therapists and they weren't readily available in the 1880s west, so you're watching a mental disorder live and breathe and walk around every day. One minute he's quoting the Bible and thinks he's a man of God, then the other he's putting a bullet in somebody. Then he walks into a house full of lepers and cares for them. You kind of look at it that in every bad guy there's some good. Maybe not a lot, but the fact that Scott Frank had written in some good gave the character at least a little hope, but it was short lived. The guy is gone. He's got some issues.
The relationship between Frank and Roy is so central to the series, but you and Jack only had a handful of scenes together. How did you guys flesh out that relationship beforehand?
Daniels: We didn't talk much about it. He's a really, really good actor. Whoever is No. 1 on the call sheet, the star, kind of runs how we're going to do it. It's such a complicated part that Jack and I kind of stayed away from each other. It was a great choice and he kind of initiated that, which was kind of terrific, because we could then use that distance and that eyeing of each other and put it in front of the camera. You will use anything you can get your hands on to make you better in front of the camera. He's so committed and he's all in. When you hit action, he's there. He's already there. For a young actor to have that going for him, he's got a career in front of him.
Frank seems desperate to be a father in some way. What do you think is driving that need for him?
Daniels: I never stop to analyze why Frank wanted what he wanted and needed, because I don't think Frank sat down and figured it out. For someone that lives the life that Frank lives, to be loved by someone was probably the thing that was missing. To have that love coming from young Roy, that was his one loving relationship that then left. That's what the series is about, when Roy is much older. They have this parting of the ways and Frank is kind of lost. He needs someone to love.
You guys had to do a lot of horseback riding and gunslinging. What was the hardest thing for you to learn?
Daniels: The gunslinging was tricky. There were some guys that were really spinning and doing a few things. That was really great to do. You have to practice that stuff. You got blisters from the holsters. It's tricky. We had a great guy named Joey "Guns" Dylan. That guy could do all the things. It was just amazing. The hardest part was being really good on the horse so that you were safe, because some of these shots, the horses thought they were in the Kentucky Derby. You're just an actor hanging on at times. To survive the horse riding was a goal of every actor.
Godless is now streaming on Netflix.
Additional reporting by Lindsay MacDonald.