Daniel Roebuck [Interview]

Hello Folks! We have an absolutely wonderful interview to share with you fine folks today! And I know we say this a lot, but this man is one of the most versatile and hardworking people in the world of art and entertainment. And when I say that Daniel Roebuck has done just about everything there is to do, I mean that with absolute sincerity. The man grow up as an actual clown in the circus. That’s right, he developed his performance chops in the circus. He has a journey into this world that is so profound and exciting and we are beyond excited that he is here to tell us all about it.

Beyond just being a phenomenal character actor, Daniel is also an acclaimed producer, writer, and filmmaker. One of his latest films, Getting Grace is available now on DVD and VoD, and is an absolute delight that you have to see. From his performance as Jay Leno, to his work on our friend Penelope Spheeris’s cult classic film Dudes alongside the lovely Jon Cryer, to another dig into the world of the television series Becker that we bring up on every occasion possible here at Trainwreck’d Society.

The man is a damned delight. And we are so excited that he was willing to grace our digital pages today. So please enjoy some wonderful words from the brilliant Daniel Roebuck!

When did you first discover your passion for the world of performance? Was it something you had wanted to do from a very young age?

I can pinpoint a moment at about first grade where I tried to write my own script.  The problem was I didn’t know how to write yet because I was only in first grade, so I decided to draw the script instead.  I ended up showing it to Sister Kathleen who insisted we perform my play.  And just about that same time I started talking about “when I’m on TV…”, to the point where my parents got me a cardboard television to pretend I was on TV.  So from the cardboard television, I moved to to actually performing in front of people.  I tried to be a ventriloquist first, then I was an impressionist like Rich Little.  And then at 12, I became a clown in a circus. I swear to god that’s the truth… other kids would run away to the circus but my mom drove me back and forth for every show.

I read in your bio that you were once a full fledged professional clown in the circus! That is beyond intriguing! I don’t believe we have ever had a true clown on the site before. So what was that experience like? And were there any sort of lessons from that experience that you may still incorporate into your work today?

Well, I like to be the first in any instance, so I am glad to be your first clown turned actor.  The greatest thing I remember about that time in my life, was that the adults in the show taught me a valuable lesson because they never treated me like a kid.  As far as they were concerned, if I was hired as a clown, I was a clown.  So the other side of that great lesson is that because they didn’t treat me like a kid, I never acted like a kid.  I went to every rehearsal.  I learned every gag.  They were all much more experienced than I was obviously.  And I learned a lot about physical comedy.  And yes, all those things I still utilize in my work.  An amazing side note, that although many of the clowns have passed on because they were older when I was only 12, the next oldest clown and my first mentor, Neil Fehnel, is actually in the movie I just directed, Getting Grace, as a clown.

Copyright Daniel Robuck.

You have become a sort of staple in one genre of film specifically, which is the one we love and adore the most around here, and that is the world of horror! So, as a professional who has worked in so many different genres of film and television, I am curious to know what it is that you enjoy about working on horror films? What sets them apart from all of the other types of films and shows you have worked on?

So it’s beyond ironic that I am in so many horror films because as you may, or may not know, I was a huge fan of the Gothic Universal Horrors of the 30’s & 40’s.  Such a fan, that I bought a museum to hold artifacts and collectibles of that time frame.  People can still view it, at the original www.DanielRoebuck.com site, if they look under the tab marked “Dr. Shocker’s House of Horror.”

What I love best about being in horror movies is this ridiculous opportunity that people dont generally get in the world of acting in which I have actually entered into the same stories horror wise that I used to watch as a kid.  Like imagine that I said in the Boyd theater in Bethlehem PA in the 1970’s and watched Jamie Lee Curtis running from Michael Myers.  And then 35 years later, in another movie, so was I.  The same goes for being killed by one of the Phantasm Orbs.  If you would of told me when I saw that original movie so many years ago, that I would of been dodging, unsuccessfully dodging, one of those orbs, I would of never believed it.  One of my favorite things about working in the genre is wearing the SPFX makeup.  That is a big deal for me, having grown up on all those great Jack Peirce make ups in the Universal stories.  So I do love that.  Also any time I spend with horror mistro, Rob Zombie, makes me happy.  It’s kind of become a joke, the brevity of my roles in his films, but I definitely enjoy working with him.  He really is a visionary filmmaker.

In 1987 you starred in a film directed by our dear friend Penelope Spheeris called Dudes, that is an absolute cult classic, at least in my mind. I’d love to know what it was like to work on this amazing & a little dark (but not too much) film? Is this one of those films that you get recognized for often?

Let me tell you this about Dudes.  I get recognized from that movie so much more than I ever thought would be possible, considering it only played in three theaters, 31 years ago.  I think what was the thing about it that makes people go back to it is the relationships.  I think Jon and I really appear to be friends in the film, and are actually real friends still 31 years later.  Penelope was great, an innovator by the way, because there weren’t a lot of female directors.  She definitely knew what she wanted and I think we had a good time giving it to her.

By the way, I saw Katherine Mary Stuart a few weeks ago, and she doesn’t look like she aged a day.  And yet Jon and I, look like we could be the fathers of the guys from Dudes.  I have really enjoyed the resurgence of the movie lately (the Shout Factory Bluray) and Penelope is finally getting the credit she deserves for the amazing work she has done.  She is a great lady, and when ever I say nice things about her, she acts like I am insincere, so I hope she reads this and learns once more how grateful I was for the opportunity to be in the movie. I am also a huge fan of J. Randall Gahnson, he’s the greatest guy ever and a very excellent writer.

Jon Cryer & Daniel Robuck on the set of “Dudes”, directed by Penelope Spheeris. Copyright Daniel Roebuck

We also love us some stand up comedy around here, and you happened to have portrayed one of the absolute legends in the comedy world, one Mr. Jay Leno, in the HBO fim The Late Shift. So what was it like to channel in on Mr. Leno to pull off the performance that you did? Did you manage to shadow him at all?

Not only did I not shadow him, I was a nervous wreck about not wanting to annoy the pour guy.  But here is an astounding tale, the very first day I was working on the movie was the first day I went to my fitting for my blue contact lenses.  By the way my eyes are already blue, but his are much bluer.  Anyway, I was driving down Franklin Avenue in Hollywood toward the optometrist and I stopped at the stop sign, and across from me was Jay Leno in a vintage car.  We passed each other in that intersection, and I thought all was right in the world.  After I wrapped filming, I called him at his office and he came to the phone immediately and couldn’t of been move gracious.  He was very curious to know how it went and very congratulatory.  Since then, I have seen him a number of times and even cast him to narrate an animated film I produced (“Christmas is Here Again.”)

And I have always felt grateful, that I got to play the nice guy and poor John Michael Higgins, who is truly a terrific actor, and has proven so for the last three decades, got stuck playing Letterman.  And now that I’m an older guy and older people are aloud to speak what is in their heart, I can say that I was appalled by how Letterman treated Jay as he proved himself to be as neurotic, as despicable as any famous person I have ever heard of.  I know there was camps of people who clearly love Letterman, and to them I say, look at the man’s character.  There is nothing funny about that.

I know this is very specific, but I really have to ask: In 2003 you appeared on episode of one of my personal favorite sitcoms of all time, known as Becker. One of our first interviews was actually with Hattie Winston. So whenever I get someone on here, I have to ask about Becker. How was your experience working on this highly underrated program?

Well lets begin where we have to begin.  Ted Danson is a god.  Like the guy is really the greatest guy.  Ive gotten to work with him a few times and hope to do so many more.  He is gracious and talented and funny.  He always kept his good humor up the entire time I was there on Becker.

Now here is an interesting side note about that episode, it was directed named Randy Carter, making his television directorial debut.  Randy Carter, you may recall, played Randy Carter the first AD on the Curb Your Enthusiasm, Seinfeld reunion episode, because he was the actually first AD on “Seinfeld” for many years. You know, as a guest star, which I have been hundreds of times, you never know what you are walking into.  Sometimes you think, “Oh this show is funny, its going to be amazing and we’re going to laugh all week…” and you get there, and everyone is a douche.  Other times, you think, “Oh, this show is serious, we’re going to be serious all week.”  And you get there, and everyone is laughing the entire time.  And it’s like Christmas morning, you don’t know which package you’re going to unwrap, or what is going to be inside.

But I would say Becker, based on Ted Danson’s leadership, was a happy set.  And I’d like to speak to that for a minute if you don’t mind.  I’ve learned from literally the best people that part of your job as the series lead is to keep the set moving forward because its very easy to get bogged down in drama.  Anytime creative forces meet, there is the possibility of any kind of explosion.  And even a minor explosion can throw all the schedule.  With only 8 days to shoot an episode, every moment is precious.  So when I am the lead, or a regular on a TV show, believe me, I keep everybody laughing the entire day even if it means insulting myself or tripping over things.  What ever it takes, I’ll do it to make people’s work day pleasant.

I am very intrigued by the 2017 film that you not only starred in, but also directed and co-wrote as well, entitled Getting Grace. Can you tell us a bit about it? Where did the concept for the film come from?

Getting Grace is the story of a teenage girl who is dying of Cancer.  She goes into a funeral home to find out what is going to happen after she dies and ends up teaching the funeral director how to celebrate life.  Although I’ve had a great interest in the funeral business in my teenage years when I briefly considered it as a career, I was surprised at the simple elegance of a script I read called Bending Spoons.  It was written by a Michigan writer named Jeff Lewis.  I found that script 9 years ago and it took 7 years to get it made.  We rewrote it together and turned it into Getting Grace.  So I am excited to say that our little movie has been making great waves.  We’ve ran in 85 theaters and played for eleven weeks around the United States.  The movie has not started moving into international markets, and became available on November 6, 2018, and Netflix a few months later.  It’s been an extraordinary journey, extremely fulfilling, I would invite your readers to go to gettinggracethemovie.com to see the trailer.

What does the future hold for you? Anything you would like to plug to our readers?

As usual, I have such a wide swaff of films coming out that are all different.  There’s a crazy horror movie called Wild Boar by Barney Burman, the Academy Award winning make up man. A lovely faith based film called Palau: The movie about the South American Tel-evangelist Louis Palau, and a comedy by Tom Callaway called Give Til It Hurts,” in which I play a despicable preacher.  But first out of the gate, will be a lovely Alzheimer’s drama called A Timeless Love, which I also produced.

What was the last thing that made you smile?

The first answer is this question.  The second, kinda grosser answer is that I got this amazing copy of a Herman Munster head today… but really if you want to know what makes me smile is knowing that God loves me and lets me experience like sitting in the theater in Edmonton Alberta, Canada, and watching 200+ people laugh exactly where I thought they would while they were watching a movie I made two years earlier.

Check out the trailer for Getting Grace right here:

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About rontrembathiii
write. write. write.

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