Pill-popping preacher raps with Jesus
By Gail Shister
Knight Ridder News Service
By Gail Shister
Aidan Quinn has a thing for Jesus and Vicodin.
In NBC's new midseason drama, "The Book of Daniel," Quinn's Rev. Daniel Webster pops painkillers like M&Ms and has heart-to-hearts with his celestial savior (played by "Deadwood's" Garret Dillahunt.)
"When I read the script, I just started pacing back and forth, laughing," says Quinn. "I thought, 'I could see myself doing this.' And it's set in New York? That's it."
"Daniel" launches Friday. It's the first series for Quinn, 46, best known for his work in films ("Legends of the Fall") and TV movies ("An Early Frost.")
It's not his first scripted experience with Jesus, however.
He was set to star in Martin Scorsese's "The Last Temptation of Christ" in the late '80s, but when the film switched studios and was pushed back, Quinn wasn't available. Willem Dafoe got the part.
In "Daniel," Susanna Thompson costars as Webster's martini-loving wife. Their offspring are poster kids for diversity: a gay son, an adopted Chinese son and an angst-ridden daughter. Ellen Burstyn plays the Rev's unconventional bishop.
Quinn had no clue about the workload for a weekly one-hour show, particularly when the star appears in virtually every scene.
"It's insanity," he says with a chuckle. "I thought with a big ensemble cast, it wouldn't be that hard. My hope is that the wealth is shared more. ... They want me to work more. I want to work less."
Not that Quinn's got a gripe.
"I'm used to 12-hour days from movies. I've worked exclusively in independent films, so the pace is not that different. I like working fast ... Jack (creator Jack Kenny) assured me it will get better."
"It's a good thing Daniel started off so neurotic," says Quinn, the father of two girls. "He wants to be an evolved, spiritual man who takes care of his family. He's got miles to go before he sleeps."
Quinn, who calls himself a non-observant Irish Catholic, went miles to understand his Episcopalian character.
After attending services in New York, New Jersey and California, he came away impressed. (The pilot was shot in L.A.; the series, in New York.)
"The ministers all had sermons that dealt with social issues relevant to the local community, and they dealt with them in a brave way, with a sense of humor."
Not so with the Roman Catholic Church, according to Quinn.
"There are exceptions, but for the most part the sermons are pretty dry and boring. Basically, they're more focused on what you're doing wrong and what a sinner you are."
If "Daniel" offends some Catholics, "I don't really care that much," Quinn says. "That's certainly not the intent. That's certainly not the truth. There are filters it goes through, including Jack's and mine."
Sharp-eyed viewers will recognize at least two of the Rev. Webster's quirks from other series.
Firefighter Tommy Gavin (Denis Leary) talks to Jesus regularly on FX's "Rescue Me." Hugh Laurie plays a pill-popping doctor on Fox's "House."
When Quinn saw Leary chatting up Jesus on "Rescue Me," "I said, 'Oh, my God,' and went to Jack. He said we filmed our pilot before they did theirs.
"I don't worry about anything I don't have control over. I never have, I never will."