In the new Hulu series, The Looming Tower, about the intelligence community’s scrambling efforts to predict and prevent the terrorist attacks of 9/11, Jeff Daniels plays real-life FBI agent John O’Neil. A dedicated man as convinced of Osama Bin Laden’s ill intentions as he is that the interdepartmental infighting between the FBI and CIA is hindering his ability to thwart those intentions, Daniels’ O’Neil is one wearily pissed-off patriot. Daniels’ performance (heralded by, among others, the A.V. Club’s Allison Shoemaker) suggests a guy who’s done his research, something Daniels told Stephen Colbert he’s indeed done, spending time with those agents who knew the late O’Neil best, including O’Neil’s former partner, Ali Soufan (played in the series by Tahar Rahim). In his interview with Colbert on Thursday’s Late Show, Daniels also gave off the air of one wearily pissed-off and patriotic actor, summing up his thoughts on those currently in charge of the country with an eloquently disgusted wish that someone would just back a truck up to the White House “and take him away.”
The “him,” is Donald Trump, of course, and Daniels spent the first half of his interview commiserating with Colbert about their shared exhaustion at living each day in despair of what new, soul-sucking act or statement in the national “tragicomedy” (as Colbert put it) will come next. Being adept at comedy, both went on to riff about the ongong White House reality show Daniels wound up terming “Cadet Bone Spurs,” a project, the actor assured Colbert, that would get noted to death in Hollywood as being too improbably ridiculous. (And Daniels has plenty of practice with political drama accused of dealing in too-broad stereotypes.) Daniels told Colbert he copes with it all by lulling himself to sleep with the mantra, “orange jumpsuits, prison haircuts,” to which Colbert responded, with deadpan timing, “Wow, you go to sleep at night?”
When their conversation turned to the lightly fictionalized governmental dysfunction of The Looming Tower, Daniels held Colbert and his audience spellbound, as he extolled the complicated virtues of his drawn-from-life character, and those in the intelligence community who have borne endless insults from Cadet Bone Spurs. Asked by Colbert if his close study of the FBI agents he worked with has reassured him about how this whole mess will play out, Daniels stated, “What reassured me was, these are people who are very serious, and very professional, who care deeply about the country, are true patriots, and who live by the rule of law.” Showing the clearly moved Colbert the memorial pin from O’Neil’s funeral gifted to him by Soufan at the series’ premiere, Daniels stated, “This gives me hope that, when the circus gets done in the Oval Office... that we will have heroes.” As the interview concluded, Daniels, in the tradition of celebrities who’ve dared to speak out against Trump and the MAGA crowd, predicted, “Here comes Twitter.” Wisely, he also told Colbert that he doesn’t pay attention to classless, ignorant, abusive jackasses online—no matter what their job is.