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Jeff Daniels stars in ‘A Man in Full’

Netflix series centers on larger-than-life real estate mogul

By Rodney Ho, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Published: May 4, 2024, 5:41am

ATLANTA — Jeff Daniels has played a difficult TV anchor, a goofball opposite Jim Carrey and FBI news director James Comey. He’s been a menacing outlaw, a pretentious writer and a sweet malt shop owner.

Now on Netflix’s limited six-episode series “A Man in Full,” Daniels gets to embody Charlie Croker, a proud 60-year-old Atlanta real estate mogul facing the imminent collapse of his business empire.

Croker, a Georgia Tech football hero, possesses a heavy Southern accent, a crap knee, a sizable ego and a love for quail hunting. His name sits atop what is actually the Truist Plaza building downtown.

“It was a chance to play a larger than life character,” said Daniels, who was born in Athens but grew up in Michigan, in a brief Zoom interview with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “You don’t get those a lot. It’s not something Gary Cooper would have played. He’s the star of his own show with everyone he ever meets. He assumes they love him as much as he loves himself.”

David E. Kelley, known for TV shows such as “Ally McBeal,” “The Practice” and “Big Little Lies,” adapted the 742-page 1998 Tom Wolfe novel, bringing it to present day.

The opening scene of the series appears to be inside the Georgian Terrace across from the Fox Theatre. Shania Twain was paid big bucks to perform for Croker’s 60th birthday. At one point, the country legend serenades Croker with her ballad “You’re Still the One” while he looks on, a self-satisfied grin on his face.

“That was day two of shooting when I got to walk forward with my arms crossed while Shania sang to me,” Daniels said. “I emailed David and said, ‘That’s when I had Charlie, when that moment happened. Just sing to me, Shania!’ The audacity of that just floored me.”

But soon enough, he is faced with big problems. Planners Bank, which is some sort of fictionalized version of SunTrust Bank back in the day, decides it’s time to take Croker down for failing to pay back $800 million in loans and begins seizing his assets, including his beloved private jets. An angry Croker tells his attorney (Ami Ameen) how he wants to wreak revenge, using no shortage of scatological language.

“He’s a man’s man,” Daniels said. “To him, men know everything and toughness rules. We kind of stick a pin in him and let him deflate.”

Croker flails about trying to find a white knight, inviting a potential investor to his quail plantation and horse farm, where he sees a loose rattlesnake and decides to wrangle it himself, a way to show off his machismo. That, Daniels said, took some acting.

“If ‘Arachnophobia’ were about snakes, I’d still be in therapy,” Daniels said, referencing a classic 1990 comedy horror film he starred in revolving around killer spiders. “I was 5 feet from the real rattlesnake, then it was time for my double, the guy who actually snatches it up.”

And taking a scene straight from the book, the series shows two horses copulating, a moment that horrifies the investor and his PETA-loving wife. Croker, of course, loves every minute of it.

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“Wolfe’s description of that is phenomenal,” Daniels said. “Atlanta has plenty of horse farms. On a Monday, someone had paid for this and we got to film our scene around it.”

There will naturally be a discussion among true Southerners about Daniels’ accent as Croker. Daniels listened to old-time Southern senators and judges on YouTube and took cues from Wolfe’s novel.

“When Charlie gets angry or frustrated, you almost can’t understand him, his accent is so thick,” Daniels said. “That gave me permission to worry less about whether I meet someone’s standard for a Southern accent. Instead, that became a jumping off point to go big with it.”

“A Man in Full” provides plenty of airtime for banker liaison Raymond Peepgrass (yes, Wolfe enjoyed colorful fictional names), who Croker derisively dubs “Mr. Peepy.” Peepgrass, played with comical intensity by Tom Pelphrey, told his boss that when Croker gets super upset, he starts sweating so much in the armpits that it looks like “saddlebags.”

So during a tense meeting, Peepgrass utters that phrase out loud and snickers within earshot of an apoplectic, sweaty Croker. In reality, crew members were spritzing Daniels’ armpits between takes.

“Maybe some actors would ask for them to turn up the heat but for me, it was ‘Bring in the spray bottles!’” he said