Daniel Roebuck is known as a modern “Man of a Thousand Faces” and has a vibrant acting career portraying many characters. He credits his success as a gift from god. In this interview, he discusses his film Getting Grace, his love for Star Wars, and much more!
As someone who is new to your work, can you tell me a bit about yourself and how you discovered your love for acting?
Daniel Roebuck: Oh gosh! You know Nadia, when I was a little boy— it sounds so ridiculous but I started talking about being on TV and I talked about it so much that my parents got me a cardboard television. I just really wanted to be on TV and I wanted to be an entertainer somewhere. I was a ventriloquist as a little boy, I was an impressionist which is ironic in that you spend a lot of time playing other real people as an actor, I was a magician, and I was a clown in a circus when I was 12 years old.
There was this extraordinary event back in the mid-70s’ and there was a movie out called Give ‘Em Hell Harry! where it had actor James Whitmore play Harry Truman in a one-man show. He went to the movie theatres and eventually did his own play and this had never been done before. I walked into the theatres to see that and I walked out saying: “I want to be an actor! That’s what I want to be!
You’ve had an interest in Universal Studio’s Gothic Horrors: Phantom of the Opera and Frankenstein at such a young age. What was it about those stories that captivated you?
Daniel Roebuck: I think it was how they looked. Were you know the Phantom of the Opera or Quasimodo a monster or people deformed in some way? And truly when I started figuring out that it was the same actor from movie to movie that excited me and sort of informed me about what was going on, and I had a life long passion for makeup. There is a great movie that I just watched again the other night called Man of a Thousand Faces [which details the life of silent actor Lon Chaney] and they would show “The Man of a Thousand Faces” and you’d see him putting on the makeup to become the monster essentially. So that was my big [Aha moment] much to my mother’s horror.
Because mothers generally as I understand it, don’t want to come down the stairs and see you crawling around with half of your face covered in [makeup] it drives them crazy.
It sounds like you were very adventurous as a little boy!
Daniel Roebuck: I was happy to be the kid that I was and I didn’t feel weird. It’s funny because it ended up being the very thing in which I make money and raise children with. The thing that made me different also gave me a career.
Nadia, I think that god sealed my life’s fate when I was a child. And you know, all the things that I loved as a kid are the things that I worked in as an adult. That seems weird to other people but to me, it’s completely natural. Everybody likes Star Wars but did I like it more because one day I better understand how it’s working because I may get a part to be in it one day?
Even Michael Myers. I’m watching him as a teenager and then one day I’m being killed by the guy! [Laughs]
It’s like your career has come full circle for you!
Daniel Roebuck: Yeah! And you know the saying follow your dreams right? For me, it was more like following my reality. I wasn’t dreaming to be an actor. I WAS an actor. By the time I walked out of that movie theater the very next day I was going out and auditioning for plays. So I became an actor. I didn’t just say “ I dream of being an actor” I became an actor.
You took action!
Daniel Roebuck: You’d be surprised. I mentor so many actors― I haven’t had much time lately because I’ve been working and making my own movies too but you know, there’s a lot of people in Hollywood who take money from actors and take advantage of them. I try very hard to mentor younger actors and direct them away from being taken advantage of. And I’d speak to an actor a year later and they’ve taken no action, same job at Starbucks or whatever and I go ”Look man if you want to work at Starbucks just be the best Starbucks employee and make the best lattes and drinks” Maybe you came out here and wanted to be an actor but your life goes in another direction.
I mean for me personally journalism was a gamble for me. Because at the time when I was applying for colleges here in Canada I didn’t know what I wanted to do. But when I found out that you could write about video games, and do the thing you love the most I was like what do I have to lose? It’s been a unique experience. You just take a leap of faith and go for it!
Daniel Roebuck: Well look, you are a great example of exactly what we’re talking about. The thing you love begins the thing you make money from. By the way, I’m going out on a limb here and I’m not saying life is about making money, but life is about living within the community you live. So you know, we must have jobs so that we can have families or have dogs if that’s what you choose, go to restaurants, have friends and be there for them. It’s important to be part of the greater machinations of the world. If you’re someone who’s a gamer you will have a better understanding of how things are connected, because you have to keep achieving goals or moving level to level but that’s really what life is too. It’s not about money, it’s about community.
Can you talk about what inspired you to join the circus at 12 years old? And what did you learn during your time there?
Daniel Roebuck: Everyone likes to joke about how I ran away to a circus― Nadia I didn’t run away. My mother had to drive me. My mother worked in an organization that showed activists the program they sold at the circus. And she was like: “I’m working for a circus!” So then you have my full undivided attention. “What do you mean you’re working for a circus?” So I was 12 and joined a clown troupe. What did I learn? Exactly what I’m talking about. Traditionally I am a clown but I’m part of a clown troupe. And what I love about it is once you’re in that troupe I wasn’t the kid of the troupe. I was a performer. It wasn’t like: “Oh Dan’s going to take a while to figure it out” No. If I was in it I better hit my mark, I better be funny, I better be silly, all the things that are expected of me― I have to perform as a performer. Not as a kid performer but a performer.
Getting Grace is a film that you co-wrote and produced. From what I read it’s about a young lady who is dying of cancer and helps a disconnected funeral director celebrate life. Was there something personal that happened in your life which served as an inspiration to create this film?
Daniel Roebuck: Oh boy. So the answer is no thank god, but what is completely embodied in the film is the personality of my own daughter Grace, who’s 24, and a happy and healthy young lady. Although I did not have an event that made me want to make that movie, what has happened― I just answered two emails today as people write to me every week about how the movie has touched them. The movie seems completely authentic to everybody who sees it, and I involved the community of the Pediatric Cancer Foundation early on in the concept of the story and their feedback was so great, and they were so grateful that it was a comedy. You know, all of our lives are funny and sad at times.
And how do YOU remember to celebrate life every day?
Daniel Roebuck: Man. Nadia I am just so blessed with love every morning when I wake up, and the gift that I’m given is that I get to wake up, and go to work on Star Wars. I smile all the way through traffic down to the studio, and I smile all the way home on my way from the studio. I smile constantly, constantly, constantly. Because I recognize that this all is a gift to me. I definitely work hard. I work hard and I stay focused, but it’s still a gift. I look at it like the gift it is every day.
Star Wars is an intellectual property that generates income and work for hundreds of thousands of people. I mean that’s what George Lucas did. He gave so many people the opportunity to work creatively.
Video games are a popular and healthy art form, and it’s no surprise that Star Wars continues to receive love from fans. In Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order you play the character of Greez. What did you like about him?
Daniel Roebuck:.When you’re gonna be in Star Wars and in the game it’s going to be different now right? To be a part of that, to watch Star Wars as a child and then become a part of the story as a surprise character, I’m definitely blown away and thrilled by it. Greez is written so well by the writers of the game and animated so beautifully by the animators of the game, that I probably had the easiest part because I had to just joyfully act in it so that’s fun!
Now, Greez and I are different. You know, I’m taller, my skin is fleshier, and I only have two eyes and not four, I’m not as grouchy as he is generally. So because it’s Star Wars it’s actually a character that fits completely into the storyline itself. Even if you just watch the cutscenes he seems like a completely natural Star Wars character. Greez is definitely good at piloting his ship.
What was the most challenging part of the process when it came to performance capture?
Daniel Roebuck: So I’m six foot tall Cameron Monaghan is six foot tall, and Debra Wilson is about five foot nine, so we’re all tall right? Greez is not tall. So we were performance capturing and we had to kind of re-negotiate at where we were looking at each other during the rehearsal process because when we filmed the game, I couldn’t look directly in their eyes, I had to look above their heads, and they had to look at two little dots of my gun where my eyes were supposed to be. Debra Wilson and Cameron certainly do the heavy lifting in the story but I was always happy to be a part of it.
Who is your favourite character from Star Wars?
Daniel Roebuck: If you put a laser gun to my head and asked: “Who’s your favourite character from Star Wars?” I think Yoda would seal the deal!