Daniel Roebuck On Loving The Original Munsters And Rob Zombie's Artistic Vision For The Film [Exclusive Interview]

Rob Zombie's "The Munsters" hits home video and streaming today, and it's a loving ode to the widely beloved original 1960s series. Gone are the buckets of blood that accompany some of the director's other work (like, say, "House of 1000 Corpses" or "31"), but his usual flair and attention to detail remain. It's a prequel to the campy classic we know and love, set before the titular Munsters were a happy monstrous family. Starring Zombie staples Jeff Daniel Phillips as Herman Munster, Sheri Moon Zombie as Lily Munster, and Daniel Roebuck as The Count/Grandpa Munster, it's a loving and colorful engagement with the classic franchise.

For fans of "The Munsters," there's a lot of fun to be had here, while Rob Zombie fans will find both differences from his extensive film canon with some stylistic commonalities that make it feel like a proper Zombie affair. I spoke with actor Daniel Roebuck about the film, the original series, what makes Zombie's approach different between "The Munsters" and his adaptation of "Halloween," and more.

'If you are punking me, it would be very mean'

You've worked with Rob Zombie on a number of projects before: "Devil's Rejects," "Halloween," "31," and others. What was the process of landing the role of Grandpa Munster?

Daniel Roebuck: Well, it was not unlike the other roles that I land, and he generally is kind enough to call me and say "You want to play the part?" This one, because I didn't have to take an axe in the chest, I was I was on board very quickly. We're driving one day to a wedding and my wife is wearing a Lily Munster T-shirt, and the phone rings on the rental car ... and I'm saying rental car because I'll tell you why — I got confused, it said Rob Zombie ... you know, your phone's plugged in. So he goes, "Hey, Dan, I wanted to talk to you. We're doing a movie, and I really think [you'd] be good for a part. We're doing 'The Munsters,' and I was wondering if you play Grandpa." I looked at my wife, and the first thing I thought of [was], "Is this a TV show where they punk character actors and dangle the dream job in front of them, and then watch them weep when you tell them it was all phony?" But I was thinking, "How could they have rigged this car?" because they didn't know which car I was going to rent. So then I realized it was not [a prank]. I did say, "If you are punking me, it would be very mean," because I'm not a practical joke guy.

So it was that simple. That's what he did! He sent me a picture, he said, "This is what it looks like." And the mustache was on to dry, and that's how he had envisioned him for so long. And then it took years because of this thing called Covid, and they kept postponing our movie. But now we're a week away from the whole world seeing it, thank God! Because it's been three years for me. That's a long time; my hairline has receded at least an inch in those three years.

'How is that even possible, that I get to do that in a movie?'

What did the original series and the work of the original Grandpa Munster, Al Lewis, mean to you?

The original series is very dear to my heart. You may not know this, but I'm a big collector of Universal Monsters memorabilia. I've got a huge, huge collection. Smaller now as I got older, but really great ... Don Post masks, and Munsters stuff. I have great Munsters stuff and always have. In my home, when I watch TV, I have a three-sheet of "Munster, Go Home!" that's on a wall. A three-sheet, to explain to your readers, is seven-and-a-half feet tall and five-and-a-half feet wide. So I always look at that, that's right outside the door where I watch TV. So every night I watch TV, and I look at "Munster, Go Home!," and I have busts of Al and Fred [Gwynne, who played the original Herman Munster].

You may not know this, but I knew Al and Fred. I had worked with Fred on "Disorganized Crime," so we spent months together back in the '80s. And Al I knew through the biggest Munsters collector in the world, Kevin Burns, and we hung out a couple of times. I can't say that we were friends, but I can say we were longtime acquaintances. So I have all that in my brain ... plus, I love the thing. Plus, I collect on it. Plus, I love Universal Monsters. And then I am Count Dracula in a Universal Studios movie! [...] I'm in hog heaven. It's a dream come true. That scene where I rise up out of the coffin, when I read that in the script, I was like, "How is that even possible, that I get to do that in a movie?"

'He's got a way of seeing things from a different perspective'

It's interesting that Rob Zombie remade two very different classics: "Halloween," which you were also in, and now "The Munsters." Were there differences in how he approached the two?

That's a really good question. The genius of the guy — and I do say "genius" because he can really do anything — he's having a different point of view. What was great about his "Halloween" was, "Let's just not make it a guy killing people." And by the way, that's what it devolves back into, which I think is weird. The last "Halloween," there were like 14 stabs in the trailer, and I thought ... now we're just two guys who love horror movies, I was kind of grossed out by it, because it's just like ... they're seven firemen, they get stabbed ... so it devolves back. It first started out as a suspense movie, then it became the supernatural thing, and then Rob turned it back into a family drama. And then with "Part II," he made it an opera, like it was bigger than anything it's ever been. And then, once they went back into the thing, then it just became [does stabbing motion] again. So I think Rob, he's got a way of seeing things from a different perspective.

I think that's definitely helpful in "The Munsters," because we couldn't just do what they do in the TV movies. If you've seen them, great actors and all that in the TV movies. I've known every one of the Hermans over time, I've known several of the Grandpas, but the TV movies are extended episodes, kind of episodic, drawn out to be an hour and 25 minutes ... and that's bad. It's like "A Night at the Roxbury," when they take the 10 minute funny skit and they make it a two hour movie. So that said, Rob Zombie coming at this with an origin story makes it cinematic. He gave it a reason that it should be a movie. He did something that hasn't been done. And it's also Rob Zombie, so it's his art. It looks like Rob's brain: Psychedelic fun, quick cuts, silly cuts. He gets to make his interpretation of it. I love that! It's called Rob Zombie's "The Munsters."

'There are people who just aren't going to ever like that it's not the same'

I like that it doesn't feel like just anyone doing "The Munsters," it still feels like something in his filmography.

That's very good, I like that very much. There are people who just aren't going to ever like that it's not the same, but I think this is more in keeping with the story than — respectfully, because I always try to be positive, but the Bryan [Fuller] thing where they made "The Munsters" like they were high-fiving themselves because they said, "Well, 'The Munsters' is about scary-looking people that are really nice. Our show's about really great-looking people who are scary." I thought, "Why don't you just call it something else? Because that's 100% not the same thing. Again: Great actors in the thing, but I think what Rob's done is he's given fans another part of the story, and maybe if people like it, maybe we get to go back and do the next part of the story that still isn't the TV series.

What was it like for you to get into character and costume as Grandpa Munster?

Well, it was three years in the making. I saw the Grandpa nose and the chin by January 2020, and then I had to wait. I never got to do a makeup test in L.A. — Jeff did, but I never got to because of Covid. So once I finally started putting it on, it's not like "Guys, go rent a tuxedo." These geniuses who built our costumes– my God, the costumes in the movie are gorgeous, and these guys built everything from the ground up. It was all built for me! I loved it, it fit perfectly. Tóth designed the makeup in L.A., a great makeup man, and then in Budapest, I had two beautiful women named Rita making me up. I can tell you that they were joyful, but they were also two top-notch artists. And because of Covid, they were making us up with these beautiful, like, space helmets on — masks and space helmets.

'I really do hope we have an opportunity to put these characters on again'

Were there any elements of Al Lewis's performance that you really tried to pull in, and how did you pull that in? And how did you make it your own still?

Well, that's good casting because Al and I were are essentially from the same part of the United States, the Northeast. He's from the Bronx or Brooklyn, I think the Bronx. I'm from Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. As the crow flies, it's maybe 70 miles or so. And we're, you know, Eastern European descent, so there's so many similarities. The other thing is we're the exact same size. People always thought he was small, he wasn't. He was 6-foot-1, and he weighed 220 pounds. So, big guy, and I know that we are the exact same size because they recently put one of these tuxedos for "Munsters, Go Home!" on auction, and I put it on, and it fit me like my tuxedo.

So what I'm saying is, because I'm from the same kind of place and I grew up in the same kind of area, I'm already able to do that kind of persona. Because we're the same size, I got to fill it in exactly like he did. So a lot of the groundwork was done, and in the series, he and Herman could be more of a comedy team, because their relationship is established beforehand. In our movie, we don't have that relationship yet, so I wasn't able to ping pong the jokes off Jeff. But I do hope and pray there is a sequel, because I love Jeff very much and he's a great actor. I know we'll be able to get into all that by the time we get a sequel going, so let's get that petition!

I love it. The relationship between your character and Herman is so different here initially, and it's obviously building towards what they become. I'd love for you to talk a little bit about their evolving relationship in this film.

Well, we're diametrically opposed as any father who wants his beautiful daughter — who he knows is beautiful — to marry a handsome man with money. And then Herman presents himself, he's kind of flat-headed, he's greedy. He tells stupid jokes. He's not funny, and he's poor. So nothing about him is what I want in my family. And he is what I get in my family. (laughs) By the end of the movie, though, we're seeing things kind of the same way. Like, I really do hope we have an opportunity to put these characters on again, so that we can explore that.

'We're in a building that was built 350 years ago'

Rob Zombie's movies always have really, really elaborate and rich production design. That was so prevalent in the mansion. Let's talk about that.

Well, I can tell you that Rob — people may not know this, but he has an art director's eye. On any movie I've been in, he is completely capable as a director to go, "I want something here," and he'll go get the paint, and he'll go paint what he wants there. You'll see Szurdia very young designer who knocked it out of the park, just like we had the great costumes. Her designs are amazing. Frankenstein's laboratory was Communist-built. Where the electricity came from was under the Communist regime, so it was built very utilitarian, but whoever the designers were, the architects under the Communist rule, were still smart enough to get their color choices and the lighting and everything just right. So that place was unbelievable, and unbelievable that Rob found it and saw its potential.

The elephant in the room is there's a lot of haters out there. [...] For whatever reason, they don't like that he's successful, that he's married to a beautiful woman, that she's beautiful, that she's an actress, she can be in the movie. There's so much that they complained about when they were going after how this film looked cheap. I thought, "Are they crazy?" Like, this film is gorgeous. Gorgeous depth, the depth of the sets. It was a joy. You'd go to the set and it went on and on and on and on and on and on. We're in a medieval castle! We're in a building that was built 350 years ago, shooting these scenes — that's why the design is great and perfect.

'We were on an island for years'

You can really see the attention to detail.

As Grandpa, they bring the book, and I go like this [waves hand] and the page would turn, and I go like this [waves hand] and I was like, magic! All that stuff's alive — how cool is the lab?

Absolutely! I also appreciated the look and the dynamic of the wedding scene. Can you tell me about that?

It's the only scene of the movie where all the main actors, except for Cassandra, are in the scene. That was fun to do. Fun to know that Butch was eventually going to be the voice of the of the preacher, Butch Patrick, Eddie Munster ... my friend! I like saying that, "my friend, Butch Patrick." [...] But yeah, that was great, and it was funny. It wasn't written that "Grandpa walks her down the aisle." We were blocking it, and I was like "... I walk her down the aisle, I get to do that." Rob's like "Oh, yeah, right, right." They may not have had that kind of wedding. I don't know. They may not have gotten married in that kind of procession, but I just loved it. Richard Brake is so terrific and funny, and Jorge Garcia, my friend from "Lost," we were on an island for years. I was so glad he was in it. You know, Rob called one day and said, "Do we know any other guys who like horror movies who might come do this movie" I was like, "Oh, I got the guy." I recommended a few people here, and he's the one that he took, thankfully. So that was neat to have Jorge there. He's my friend. That was all just so great.

"The Munsters" is now available on Blu-ray, DVD, and Digital, and it's currently streaming on Netflix.