Jeff Daniels Reveals How He Overcame Fear of Filming Scene with a Rattlesnake for Netflix's “A Man in Full ”(Exclusive)

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The actor recalls shooting a particularly uncomfortable scene with a reptile for an early episode

<p>Martin Schoeller</p> Jeff Daniels.

Martin Schoeller

Jeff Daniels.

Jeff Daniels loathes snakes. Loathes them. But while filming Netflix’s new drama series A Man in Full, in which he plays a real estate mogul barreling toward bankruptcy, the actor had to film a scene with an actual rattlesnake. The slithering reptile was in a glass case, but that didn’t assuage his fears.

“I can’t deal with snakes,” Daniels tells PEOPLE in this week’s issue. “Nobody with a brain in their head is going to pick up a rattlesnake unless you’re a rattlesnake wrangler. But we did 10 takes of me trying to tap — tink, tink, tink — on the glass, and I told myself, ‘I’m not going to blink. I’m not going to move.’”

Daniels, 69, has faced his fears in the past, but they often had more to do with acting choices during his decades-long career than reptiles. There was the time he took the plunge into comedy starring alongside Jim Carrey in Dumb and Dumber or tackled the iconic role of Atticus Finch in a Broadway production of To Kill a Mockingbird, which earned him a Tony nomination.

Related: Jeff Daniels Explains Why He Only Recently Felt Like He’d 'Made It' as an Actor: 'I Can Relax Finally' (Exclusive) 

<p>Mark Hill/Netflix</p> Jeff Daniels and Sarah Jones in 'A Man in Full.'

Mark Hill/Netflix

Jeff Daniels and Sarah Jones in 'A Man in Full.'

And while building a career that’s led to an Emmy-winning performance as a cable news anchor on HBO’s The Newsroom, he also made moves in his personal life. In 1986, he shunned the glare of Hollywood and ruckus of New York City to bring up his three kids Ben, 39, Lucas, 36, and Nellie, 33, whom he shares with his wife Kathleen, 64, in the small quiet town of Chelsea, Michigan.

Almost 40 years later, he doesn’t regret settling down in the Midwest.

“I didn’t want what happened to some other people to happen to me. I didn’t want to get contaminated by stardom,” he says. “For the family, staying away from all the fame stuff felt like the right decision.”

While Daniels worked steadily over the years, with unforgettable performances in films and shows like Something Wild, The Comey Rule and The Squid and the Whale, he grew roots in his hometown. He opened the Purple Rose, a nonprofit theater where he serves as artistic director and has written 22 plays, including a comedy premiering this fall based on a story from a Michigan newspaper.

Related: Why Jeff Daniels Moved His Family to Michigan 32 Years Ago — and Never Looked Back

<p>Jeff Kravitz/Getty Images for Netflix</p> Jeff Daniels at a screening for 'A Man in Full' in Los Angeles, Calif. in April 2024.

Jeff Kravitz/Getty Images for Netflix

Jeff Daniels at a screening for 'A Man in Full' in Los Angeles, Calif. in April 2024.

“The headline was ‘Office Christmas Party. Grinch in Fight With Rudolph. Police Called,’” he explains. “When I saw that, I said, ‘That’s a comedy. I don’t know who these people are, I don’t know what happens, but I’m going to write it.’ And so I did.”

Reflecting on his approach to work in his 60s, Daniels admits he’s more discerning and less hungry to prove himself as an actor.

For more on Jeff Daniels, pick up the latest issue of PEOPLE, on newsstands Friday, or subscribe here

“I think the thing that goes away is the ambition,” he says. “That quest to be the biggest star in the history of stars, that’s gone.”

The turning point came once he finished his Broadway run with To Kill a Mockingbird. “After Atticus Finch, I can’t top that experience,” he says.

Related: Jeff Daniels Thanks Horse Who Broke His Wrist in Emmy Awards Speech: 'It's Officially Healed'

Kevin Winter/Getty Jeff Daniels accepts an Emmy Award in 2018 for outstanding supporting actor in a limited series for his performance in 'Godless.'
Kevin Winter/Getty Jeff Daniels accepts an Emmy Award in 2018 for outstanding supporting actor in a limited series for his performance in 'Godless.'

Playing the chief of police alongside Maura Tierney in the Prime Video series American Rust, which debuted its second season in March, was a project he dove into following a phone call with his agent. “He goes, ‘What do you want to do?’” Daniels recalls. “It had taken 44 years for me to hear that."

Now, aside from coming within inches of rattlesnakes for A Man in Full, there’s little need for him to take risks.

“I don’t feel like I’m risking my career now, because I’ve got this catalog of performances behind me," he explains. "I’ve kind of done it. I think, ‘Well, who wants me next?’ But if nobody does, well that’s okay, too.”

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All six episodes of A Man in Full are available to stream on Netflix.

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