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Jeff Daniels Explains How His Memorable Speed Death Was Influenced by a Spielberg Classic

Jeff Daniels Explains How His Memorable Speed Death Was Influenced by a Spielberg Classic


  • Jeff Daniels drew inspiration from Roy Scheider’s performance in
    to create his dramatic death scene in
  • Despite initially rejecting the role for dying too early, Daniels joined the
    cast after revisions were made.
  • Recognized for his role in
    , Daniels still shares how he constructed the emotional scene that captured critics’ hearts.

Jeff Daniels, who starred alongside Keanu Reeves in the 1994 action classic, Speed, recently revealed how he channeled Steven Spielberg’s Jaws during his character’s dramatic death. Directed by Jan de Bont, Speed follows police officer Jack Travern (Reeves) after being tasked with disarming a bomb on a moving bus, which will explode if the vehicle slows to below 50mph. Daniels played Harry, Travern’s friend and partner, and one of domestic terrorist, Howard Payne’s (Dennis Hopper), victims.

Daniels discussed the scene on a recent appearance on The Rich Eisen Show, saying he knew how much of an emotional moment his death would be, and revealed the pressure he felt to get it right.

“The moment in
is, I’ve got to turn and look at the thermostat and understand that’s not a thermostat… that’s a timer for a bomb. And it’s 3, 2, 1, and it’s about to blow up. And, so I’m going, ‘how am I going to do that?’ Do I make faces? Do I cry? What do I do?”


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Daniels then revealed that his performance in the scene was taken from Roy Scheider’s performance in Steven Spielberg’s Jaws. Daniels said he remembered watching an interview with Scheider, in which he was asked about the scene where he saw the shark and how he pulled off that moment.

“Roy said, ‘well, I looked down, and when I looked over at the shark, I made sure my cheek muscles were a little up. And then I just dropped them.’ So I said that’s what I’ll do.”

Daniels then joked about shooting the scene, saying “so I looked at the thermostat,” and proceeded to imitate using Schreider’s method. Daniels then quickly cut in with an impression of the director yelling “Cut! Lunch.” The actor then revealed that he still gets approached by critics who ask him how he pulled off the scene in Speed. Daniels said his default response is simply, “Roy Scheider.”

Jeff Daniels Nearly Turned Down His Role in Speed



Release Date
June 9, 1994


In a career featuring immensely popular movies and shows like Dumb & Dumber, The Newsroom, The Martian, Godless, and The Squid and the Whale, Daniels said he still gets recognized for his sacrificial supporting role in Speed. As well as describing his process during the death scene, he also revealed in the interview that he very nearly turned down the role after being sent an early version of the script. Daniels said, “I remember getting the script, and I died on page 22. I died in the elevator shaft.” The actor then joked, “I said ‘the career’s in trouble but it’s not in that much trouble.’ I’m gonna pass.”

Daniels then went on to describe how his agent saved the day by sending him through a later draft.

“The agent said ‘hang on! There’s another draft coming. You die later.’ And it did, [my death] came on about page 80. I’m going, ‘okay well, I’ll do it.’ And Keanu [Reeves] and [Sandra Bullock]… Happy to do it.”

Daniels has been very public about his career failing during the late ’80s and early ’90s. While Speed was a memorable role for the actor, it was his starring role in Dumb & Dumber (which was also released in 1994) that helped Daniels to become the prominent star he is today.

is currently available to stream on STARZ.

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