Jeff Daniels did not receive an Oscar nomination for portraying Tom Baxter and Gil Shepherd in The Purple Rose of Cairo.
Jeff Daniels portrays both the character who comes out of the screen Tom Baxter, and Gil Shepherd the man who portrayed the character of Tom Baxter for the film. Tom Baxter really is not based on any particular character as the Purple Rose of Cairo is not poised as any sort of masterpiece. Instead it is shown to be clearly an especially lightweight piece of work, which is reflected well in the character of Tom Baxter. Something that is interesting actually about Daniels's dual role is that he does not portray them especially differently like say Peter Sellers plays his three parts in Dr. Strangelove. This is not a criticism though, because although his portrayals are not massively different they are not the same either.
As Tom Baxter Daniels portrays a very simple character who is suppose to be simple by the nature of that he is suppose to be a fairly simple character in the film within a film. Daniels is quite believable as this character within this film, which is just a character who is suppose to be a wide eyed optimist. Daniels plays up this fact in his portrayal as that is exactly what Baxter does. He looks at things in a wide eyed almost always happy fashion, and with a constant interest with his new surroundings once he finally decides to go and leave film. Daniels manages to bring the charm what is fitting in the role by just playing up how simple and nice the character of Tom Baxter is suppose to be.
Daniels actually has a very particular posture and style of movement for when he is Tom Baxter that emphasizes the fact that he is a film character, and not a really person. He always is very much proper in his posture, and his movement are always tight and distinct very much like the way the actors would move at the time. One thing he never does is ever really convey his emotions with his body more of just fairly simple facial expressions. He is always proper as the character's in those films were so often portrayed as there is not a hint of method acting in Tom Baxter. This actually a brilliantly handled aspect by Daniels, as he never brings to much attention to it, but still manages to show how Baxter is otherworldly.
Now of course Daniels also portrays Gil Shepherd the actor, and as I said he does not portray them all that differently. The truth is though he really should not portray him in an exceedingly different fashion though since Gil Shepherd is not suppose to be any sort of Laurence Olivier, in fact in many ways is suppose to be a fairly stock actor therefore he is not an actor with a great degree of range who becomes inseparable from a role. He is not even suppose to be a star actually, and Daniels therefore only really has small subtle differences between his two performances. One of these being his posture is more lacking, as well as he does express his emotions with his body quite often something that Tom never really does.
It is quite amazing actually the way Daniels so carefully pulls off the difference between the performance and the performer but he does it marvelously. Their other main difference comes in their attitudes and Daniels shows their differing personalities well. Gil is not a simple optimist in anyway instead he is a very self involved actor. Daniels is quite good here as well because he does not overplay this and make Gil some sort of self indulgent pompous jerk. Instead he portrays him fairly realistically downplaying the whole ego aspect, but still making it clear that Gil is always contemplating in his head his thoughts about his career first.
This is particularly well handled in his scenes with Mia Farrow. Daniels still has a certain charm as Gil, but there is always a particular drive in his performance that always seems to move toward something about himself. Daniels shows that even when Gil is talking to her pleasantly enough he only really comes to life whenever there is something mentioned about how great he was in something. On the other hand Daniels portrays that Tom is always light up in every moment he shares with Cecilia no matter what the situation. He never loses that simple outlook and his romantic love he shows for her is always absolutely genuine even if rather simple.
Jeff Daniels performance here is quite an achievement actually because of how carefully he does portray the two different men. He creates an interesting portrait of both a fantastical creation limited by the constraints of the black and white world he comes from which contrasts well with his realistic portrait of an actor who is very concerned with his own image and career. Both of his characters are both interesting in their own right, and Daniels manages to never overplay either character even though both could have been heavily. This is a strong performance that manages to bring life to this quite peculiar story.