Jeff Daniels said he was "very happy" to be recognized with a Tony nomination on Tuesday for his work as Atticus Finch in the Broadway adaptation of To Kill a Mockingbird — especially since he knows very well how badly it can feel to be snubbed.
The actor told BuzzFeed News' Facebook Watch show Profile in an interview Tuesday afternoon that he was at home with his wife watching the nominations get announced when he heard his name.
"You want to know what the rest of your spring is gonna be like, and [it] turned out to be pretty good," Daniels said. "So I was very happy."
The Tony Awards, which honor the best theater on Broadway, recognized Daniels in the category of Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role in a Play for his work as Finch, an upstanding lawyer defending a black man wrongly accused of rape in 1930s Alabama. The play was adapted from Harper Lee's classic novel for the stage by screenwriter Aaron Sorkin.
"You're kind of bracing yourself, because I've been nominated a few times for things in Tonys and Emmys, but I've also not been nominated," he said. "I've also been on the outside looking in it — you don't hear you, and it's five other people."
The actor cited the Oscar buzz around his film roles in Gettysburg (1993) and The Squid and the Whale (2005), both of which ultimately did not materialize in Academy Award nominations.
"So when it does happen, like it did today, it's to be appreciated," Daniels said. "And you know it's a cliché, but it really is an honor to be nominated, because I have not been nominated. And once you've not been nominated a few times, when you really wanted— god, do I get in? Then once you're nominated, it never gets old. It really is true, because it's not guaranteed. Nothing's guaranteed in this business."
Daniels, who has been nominated for a Tony twice before but has yet to win, faces some tough competition in his category. Also nominated is Paddy Considine (The Ferryman); Bryan Cranston (Network); Adam Driver (Burn This), and Jeremy Pope (Choir Boy).
To Kill a Mockingbird received nine Tony nominations on Tuesday but failed to get a nod in the category of Best Play.
Daniels cautioned against trying to take the awards race too seriously.
"You can't fall into competing against someone," he said. "You just can't. Because this isn't a sporting event. Whoever scores the most points wins — that's not how this works. In the Best Actor category, you got five really good actors doing great work in five different things."
Daniels added that the real prize is being chosen to originate the role of Atticus Finch on Broadway.
"Win or lose, I got to play Atticus Finch on Broadway for a year. And I got to originate a play that's gonna be done all over this country for decades," he said. "And that's pretty cool."
The message of the classic text is also more relevant in 2019 than ever, he said.
"It's yet another wake-up call or cold shower to those who see it, that looking the other way is not going to make racism go away," Daniels said. "In fact, it's only going to enable it to prosper."
The full interview with Jeff Daniels is set to air Sunday on Profile.