Daniel Roebuck has been in the business for over three decades and has become one of the most interesting and versatile character actors of his time. He starred in cult classics like Dudes, The River’s Edge, and Cavegirl before moving on to smaller roles in big budget Hollywood fare such as The Fugitive and U.S. Marshalls.
In theaters now is his feature length directorial debut Getting Grace, a warm-hearted tale of a teenage girl with terminal cancer who touches the lives of those around her. As an artist, uplifting films may be where his heart is but as an actor, he still gets a kick out of being in horror films. Rob Zombie recently announced 3 From Hell, the House of 1000 Corpses and The Devil’s Rejects sequel and guess who returns as talk show host Morris Green?
I recently spoke with Daniel Roebuck about Getting Grace, Rob Zombie, as well as his jealous alter ego, Dr. Shocker.
Horror Geek Life: Good morning! How are you?
Daniel Roebuck: I’m terrific.
HGL: Thanks for taking the time to talk with me.
Daniel Roebuck: That is what I do! A good friend of mine overheard Sid Haig and this woman. She asked him to sign her poster and he said, “That is what I do! I sign shit!” So on the eve of tomorrow I’ll be shooting for Rob Zombie on his new movie.
HGL: Are you excited?
Daniel Roebuck: Oh yeah! Rob is such a great guy and great director. I always enjoy any chance I get to work with him. Every time I meet someone who has had an interaction with him as a rockstar, they always have a pleasant story. Where are you calling from?
HGL: I’m in Michigan. Actually, we met briefly a few years back when you did a show in Flint.
Daniel Roebuck: Oh yeah, that was something Chuckie set up.
HGL: It was a cool experience.
Daniel Roebuck: I always try to be a nice person. I remember that was difficult because I was shooting so I flew in and out pretty quick. The producer and co-writer of Getting Grace, Mark Rupp and Jeff Lewis, are both from Saginaw. Jeff’s original script is what started me on this path. Back then it was called Bending Spoons. It was such a terrific script but over the course of time we re-wrote it together. All of the groundwork Jeff laid out so expertly.
HGL: I watched the movie yesterday. I don’t tear up very often, but by the end of the film I was bawling like a child.
Daniel Roebuck: Do you have kids?
HGL: I do! That’s probably a huge reason why.
Daniel Roebuck: As do I. The character of Grace as she appears in the final film, is really my daughter. She’s not sick, but she is nuts. She’s filled with life, love, and zaniness. You never know what’s going to come out of my kid’s mouth. Most fathers would kill themselves if they were in a situation like that.
HGL: My girls are the same way and I couldn’t help but think about them when I was watching the film by myself. It got to me.
Daniel Roebuck: How old are your daughters, Corey?
HGL: They’re ten and twenty.
Daniel Roebuck: You’re right in the pocket there. My daughter, Grace, is twenty two and Buster, who plays my character in the flashback, is twenty.
HGL: He looks so much like you, too.
Daniel Roebuck: (laughs) I think the movie freaked him out when he saw how much. He went on a weight loss regimen and he’s down thirty five pounds. He looks now like I did on Matlock. He’s a nice kid, a good guy, and not an actor by the way. I’ve been getting a lot of great feedback about his performance, which I think is extraordinary. It’s not what he does for a living, he wants to go into the Coast Guard. I never told the kid because it was too much and you never tell actors stuff like this. The success of the movie rested on his shoulders. If he didn’t sell that moment in the flashback, then who my character is in the present makes no sense. If you do tell an actor that, they’ll most likely screw it up.
HGL: I thought everyone was terrific in the film, especially Madelyn Dundon. This was her first film, where did you find her?
Daniel Roebuck: Oh god yes! All the kids, the actress who plays my sister, they’ve never been in a movie before.
HGL: I never would have guessed that. They were all so good.
Daniel Roebuck: I started directing community theater and I was a non-professional director. I built a theater company at our church. I know that sounds terrifying, especially if you’ve been to a play at a church. We see people in a play at a church as being sweet and fun, but it’s not generally professional. But if you consider where I live, I have access to the best costumes because I can go to the Universal Studios Prop House for props and Warner Bros. for costumes. The actors were all parishioners, so I spent most of my time listening to words more than anything else. I don’t like to name drop, but Don Coscarelli would come see the plays and he thought they were better than some professional theater. We would do something like Arsenic and Old Lace and we would do it well. You never really get the chance to see something like that done well. Sara Karloff came to one of the shows which was one of the highlights and she was very gracious about my performance. I was absolutely doing her old man because, why wouldn’t I?
HGL: You did some crowd funding for the film, did you face any other challenges trying to get funding?
Daniel Roebuck: We did crowdfund, but the community really stepped up and it’s a love letter to Lehigh Valley. I knew it was going to be before we even shot a frame of it. I really do feel God’s hand was so firm in the making of this movie. Once we started rolling, everything started to fall into place. I literally met a man on an airplane on a one-hour flight. We connected on very real level. By the time we landed in Bethlehem, I had made a new friend and he was one of our main investors. That was Sam Edwards and Mike Molewski, they became my partners. People in my life who have done well stepped up, my great friend Mick Trombley, who I met at the Governor’s School for the Arts almost forty years ago, we were there for five weeks one summer. Neither of us really concentrated on the arts, we were concentrating on girls as I recall. The only formal training I have as an actor were those five weeks. We were seventeen-year old boys, so what do you think we were doing? Or lets say, trying to do. I’m a better man now and would approach things much differently, of course. I make no excuses for the seventeen-year old me who did the best he could.
Funding a movie is a very hard process, but people really began to believe in the vision of the movie and also the message of it. We should celebrate every day of our lives and be a voice to a fate that is necessary to move forward no matter what obstacles are placed in our path. I don’t want to fit my art into just a narrow vision, I want to tell a story that I’m compelled to tell. If I’m working for the man and doing a Lifetime movie, of course I’ll do it their way, but if I’m putting year of my life into something, why wouldn’t I put my own points of view in it? Once you find an investor that shares that POV, you will find others. My friend Don Adams always says, “If you have less than $100,000 you make a horror movie, if you have more than $100,000 you make a horror movie.” I want to make movies that will make people feel better. I’ll act in the horror movies, but I want the films I direct to make people feel good.
HGL: That’s interesting to hear because I’ve always appreciated the way you have gone from role to role without ever being typecast. You’ve been able to work at both ends of the spectrum and everywhere in between, all while staying true to your ideals and beliefs.
Daniel Roebuck: Thank you for saying that. You know what’s interesting, I know a lot of actors who have had crap fed into their brains about being “a brand.” They’re only concerned with certain types of roles in order to uphold their brand. I’m writing a book called The Audition is the Job and Other Truths I’ve Learned in the Land of Make Believe. It’s a story told through the prism of my life and is a self help book for actors. The first film I ever walked into was Cavegirl. It’s a movie on no one’s ten best list, most likely it’s on their ten worst list. Cavegirl led me to The River’s Edge and the two roles couldn’t have been more different. There was only seventeen months in between those two films and filming. From there I went on to Dudes and after that was Disorganized Crime. I went from the killer, to a punk rocker, and then a cop, one after the other. All four of those characters were very different so I had a good jumpstart in being the character actor.
There’s no such thing as a brand, it’s all about if you work, if you work well, come prepared, and can you inhabit the character as it was conceived by the writer. Thank you again for noticing that. It all really comes back to watching all of those gothic horror movies as a kid. I learned so much watching Boris Karloff or Bela Lugosi. Lugosi had this distinctive voice, but all of the characters he played were so different and well defined. Karloff was equally as interesting. I always wanted to be that guy who would look different in everything. It may have hamstrung my ability to nab one audience. But looking back, I’ll tell you I have every audience. I was recently talking to the students at my old school and they were listening, they just weren’t all too interested until some of them figured out I was on the Disney Channel show Sonny With a Chance. Your oldest daughter may have watched it.
HGL: She most certainly did, all the time!
Daniel Roebuck: (laughs) After that revelation, I became the God of Gods on the stage. I did have to tell them Demi Lovato and I dated for while, then they listened. (laughs) Now that I’ve given you a very long answer to a very short question, the answer is thank you for noticing and I hope to continue and do that.
HGL: We talked a little bit about the messages in Getting Grace. Why was it important to you to get those messages across and what do you hope audiences take away from it?
Daniel Roebuck: I think we’re in a fractious world. As a dad, like you’re a dad, I worry about my twenty-year old. I worry about your ten-year old and I’ve never even met the kid. Our children are fed misinformation so often and I just don’t think the modern media is giving them a well rounded world view. There has to be some counter-programming. I’m not talking about Christian or right-wing, I just want to see a film where the kids, as well as adults, are real and overcoming stuff. The common theme is the celebration of our humanity and acknowledgement. We are supposed to work together to make the world better and no one is working together lately. People seem to think that working fractured or only supporting one view will save us but dear Lord God, it’s not. I just want to make a movie with a positive outlook even with something like cancer where every single person in the United States is touched by that disease in one way or another. Some relative or friend is suffering right now for all of us. I don’t want us to be afraid of their baldness or potential demise. When someone loses their spouse, the next thing that happens is that the survivor will lose their friends. Their friends just don’t know how to say that they’re sorry they still have a spouse. It’s hard for people and we just don’t know what to say, so lets educate people so they can learn to communicate better in situations like those.
HGL: I know exactly where you’re coming from. Just over five years ago, I lost an aunt to cancer. Then the day after this past Christmas, my grandfather passed away from the disease. He was pushing ninety but it was still a very aggressive form of cancer.
Daniel Roebuck: It’s hard to see anybody suffer, but we need to learn to deal with it. Before we started filming, I had a couple meetings with the Pediatric Cancer Foundation in Lehigh Valley, where we shot. We wanted to involve them, and I gave them the script so they could see what we were shooting. They were so grateful it was a comedy, especially parents of children. They were so happy the movie seemed like a real exchange of how everyone fights. The real heart of the movie is the young girl Audrey. Grace has to be witness to her suffering and she knows it’s coming. It is an allegory for God’s grace, but I’m talking about my own belief system and I’m not trying to push it on anybody. I do believe that Jesus suffered on the cross to remind us that suffering is part of our experience, but the glory will always be there in the end. I was born and raised Catholic and I try to go to Church whenever I can. There’s suffering in all our lives, but there’s something better coming in the end. Even though your grandfather suffered a bit in the end, he lived to be almost ninety and that sounds like a life well lived.
HGL: He was a great person and everyone in my family has always tried to be as good of a person as he was.
Daniel Roebuck: If you make it to ninety, then you’ve won.
HGL: So this question may be a bit off topic, but where has Dr. Shocker been hiding?
Daniel Roebuck: Are you familiar with that amazing mask company Trick or Treat Studios?
HGL: Yeah, of course!
Daniel Roebuck: They just asked me if Dr. Shocker would participate in their Kickstarter and I told them absolutely. Dr. Shocker is a bit of an odd bird and all the press I’ve been getting lately for Getting Grace has really infuriated him. He really has a huge ego, so I have to watch my step around him. I think we may have invited him out so we’ll see what happens. In the world we live in, I really do wish Dr. Shocker could have more of a life but I’m just not sure how to integrate him into the world. I’m about a quarter of the way through writing the Dr. Shocker and Igor movie called Edgar Allen Poe’s Dr. Shocker and Igor Movie only because I thought it would be funny because he never wrote Buried Alive. He said “alive” in one book and “buried” in another so why not, it’s funny. It’s a family comedy that would only be made for twelve families. If Getting Grace and the next one are successful, it would be a really good quickie movie to do after. Chuck Williams is so amazing as Igor, we’re both doing Christian films so maybe at this point in our lives we are doing them because we’re just prepping for our inevitable demise. We’ve been presenting Getting Grace as a faith-based film and I don’t want people being scared off by that. It’s really not, it’s more about having faith.
HGL: I had originally read that it was a faith-based film and they’re not something that usually appeals to me. Getting Grace was different though, at least to me. It had those messages in there but I never felt like it was trying to force the message on me.
Daniel Roebuck: Instead of using a sledgehammer, I used one of those little things the doctor hits you on the knee with to test your reflexes. The whole point of making art is to let people know how you feel. If I walk out this door on my way to work with Rob Zombie and I get hit by a car and I die, then you will know everything Daniel believed in based on that movie.
HGL: Speaking of Rob Zombie, I know you probably can’t say much about it, but will your character Morris Green get more screen time in 3 From Hell?
Daniel Roebuck: (laughs hysterically) Well it would be very hard to get less than in The Devil’s Rejects. I just enjoy being a part of that universe. The truth is, they’ve been so secretive with the script, I do think I have a script, but I’ve been so busy with Getting Grace that I really don’t have an answer. I doubt it will be too expanded because I know for a fact the story isn’t about Morris Green, that I can tell you. Even though the audience is demanding the Morris Green story and Rob keeps turning a blind eye to it. So I think he’s just going to stick with Sherri, Sid, and Bill.
A couple years back when we did 31, I was strapped to a chair, covered in blood, Richard Brake is going to do his amazing monologue, and I got to see him do it three times. Then they turned on the water, that frigging water was dripping on me, the fake blood was going into my eyes, and then I said, “Excuse me, Mr. Zombie? You do realize that other people actually let me star in movies and don’t just kill me in the first four seconds?” Whatever it is will be great and I get to work with my buddy Jeff Daniel Phillips. I think Duane Whitaker is in it, so it’s always great working with my friends, and I’m grateful he likes to include me. One of my favorite things I’ve done for him was the “The Life And Times Of A Teenage Rock God” music video.
HGL: That was you? I didn’t even realize that.
Daniel Roebuck: Yeah, he never gave me credit for it. He called me up out of the blue and says, “Hey, you want to play the devil in a music video?” I said yes but I wanted to play him like Paul Lynde. He agreed and that’s (imitates Paul Lynde) “why the devil talks like this!” We totally emasculated the devil.
HGL: I think it’s great he’s been so secretive about the film. With the way the internet is today, he’s been able to do the impossible and that’s awesome.
Daniel Roebuck: I know, right? They’ve been worried about getting me the pages, but I’ve been doing this a long time and I’ll learn my lines while they’re setting up the cameras. Rob really does encourage his actors to improvise so you need to be on your toes.
HGL: In Getting Grace, I didn’t even recognize Duane Whitaker.
Daniel Roebuck: Wasn’t he great? When I did the re-write, I knew I wanted him to play the priest. When actors get the chance to play against type or get roles you would never expect them to, they always knock it out of the park. They don’t want to let the opportunity slip by. Rob always jokes that Duane twirling the baseball bat in Halloween II was the most rehearsed improv he’s ever seen. It looked like he was improvising it but he actually was rehearsing it in the trailer for hours.
HGL: So with that amazing special edition of Dudes being released, you don’t have to sign bootlegs anymore.
Daniel Roebuck: (laughs) That’s right! It’s funny how some actors are just appalled by that idea, it’s illegal. Who cares? I never received a residual off any of the Dudes releases so really, who cares? The new one though, I single-handedly have kept photos from the sets of all my movies. I take the pictures just so I still have the memories. Have you seen the photo gallery on there? Those are all mine and Susan Malerstein, who was the script supervisor. They’re a lot of fun! And now the film is on Turner Classic Movies that is just crazy. I’ve made so many movies that people really don’t care about, and the ones they do care about are the bad ones (laughs). I don’t think Dudes is a bad movie, Dudes was just a very hard sell.
HGL: People really love the film and it’s one people will continue to love and appreciate for years.
Daniel Roebuck: I loved being a kid who loved movies and I love being an adult being in movies. I have truly never had any aspirations to call myself and artist as an actor, but I do give myself that consideration as a director. I want to create something myself that will last, to leave my mark.
HGL: If you want my opinion, you’ve carved out a pretty amazing legacy for yourself already and I truly hope that you continue to do so.
Daniel Roebuck: Thank you so much and I’m really grateful for those words.