Jeff Daniels is no dummy when it comes to music

When you hear Jeff Daniels’ name, you might think of his sublime acting in “The Squid and the Whale.”

Or maybe his Tony-nominated turn on Broadway last year in the wickedly funny “God of Carnage,” in which he starred alongside James Gandolfini, Hope Davis and Marcia Gay Harden.

If you’re a different type of entertainment fan, Daniels might be most familiar as the dopily amusing dog groomer friend of Jim Carrey’s character in 1994’s “Dumb and Dumber.”

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But for all of his quiet ubiquity in a nearly 30-year career, Daniels isn’t often recognized for his talents as a playwright and musician.

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In 1991, he founded the non-profit Purple Rose Theatre Company in his hometown of Chelsea, Mich. (Daniels was born in Athens, but spent only the first six weeks of his life in Georgia) and just debuted his 14th play, “Best of Friends.”

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The theater also served as the backdrop for Daniels’ fourth album, “Live at the Purple Rose Theatre.”

While some of Daniels’ bluesy folk repertoire references the career that pays the bills – such as the wryly funny “Dirty Harry Blues” off his first record – his musical interests go far beyond an actor’s vanity project.

Daniels, 55, is a solid guitarist and expressive singer as capable of writing a tender homage (“The Michigan in Me”) as a grin-worthy foot-tapper (“How ‘Bout'We Take Our Pants Off and Relax”).

That’s the Daniels you’ll see at Smith’s Olde Bar Saturday when his two-and-a-half month tour hits Atlanta.

But don’t think Daniels is shirking his acting career: He’s just signed a development deal with Showtime for a series about “a guy who ends up becoming a folk singer and he has absolutely no business being that,” he said in a recent phone interview.

Here’s what else he had to say:

Q How does your life work as far as pacing? When do you decide it’s time to look into another movie or play rather than stick close to home?

A. I’m usually planned out a year ahead so I can schedule myself pretty well so I’m not doing three things at once. Two things I can handle. You get the ‘[God of] Carnage’ gig and you know it’s going to be most of 2009, so I’m doing that from Feb. 1 through Thanksgiving and I know I’m in New York; and I owe a play to the Purple Rose, so I spend my days finishing the play, so that gets turned in. Then you pick up the guitar and work on whatever you’re playing. To me, it all comes from the same place. If I’m not getting movie roles that I want, I’m at the age that I don’t have to do them. There’s a method in the madness. Spreading yourself in different directions, you get away from the image that Hollywood wants of you.

Q. Everything you do has a low-key element to it. Are you just that kind of guy?

A. I’ve always tried to let whatever talent I have lead the way. You either like what I do or you don’t and that’s fine; but I really try to be good or great. I can’t control anything else, as much as publicists try. I just want to be known as a good actor and that’s what I try to do. ‘Carnage’ is going to create opportunities on Broadway, which I love. ‘Dumb and Dumber’ bought me 10 years.

I want to do things I want to do, after having spent many days waiting for other people to decide when it’s time for you to do things you want to do. I’m out here on the road because I love doing it. I enjoy the challenge of walking out onstage with just a guitar, dropping the songwriting on [the audience] and the guitar playing on them.

Q. Do you care that there are probably a certain number of people in the crowd who are there only for the curiosity factor?

A. There are those, but what they don’t realize is that after 10 minutes they have seen me, and that there is a whole other 80 minutes left and I could be god-awful. I choose to deal with the elephant in the room in the first five minutes. I refer to it in the show that I’m known for something else. I have fun with it and make sure they have fun with it. I’m a big fan of clarity.

Q. Are you as comfortable on stage as a musician as you are an actor?

A. I am now. It’s taken several years to get past that fear. The first time an actor walks out with a guitar you realize you’re naked, you’re doing your words, there is no filter between you and the audience as a safety net. It’s just you singing your stuff -- all the glory, all the blame. Once you figure out how to do the character of someone who wants to entertain, which is a technique right out of Broadway, you’re good.

Q. “God of Carnage” – was it as much fun as it looked?

A. It was a once-in-a-lifetime experience, and we knew it. We’d all been up and we’d been down [in our careers], but we knew in previews that we had something good. The box office indicated right away we were a monster hit. Most plays on Broadway do 60 percent [capacity]. We were standing room only for six months. As much as a grind that eight shows a week can be -- the grind is living up to the legendary status that has been bestowed upon you on the marquee [laughs] -- to get out there and do it and have [the audience] rolling in the aisles, it’s pretty special.

Concert preview

Jeff Daniels. 6 p.m. Oct. 30 . $20 (21 and older). Smith’s Olde Bar, 1578 Piedmont Ave., Atlanta. 404-875-1522,

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