The Munsters Star Daniel Roebuck on How He Was Destined to Play “The Count”

Actor Daniel Roebuck has been working with filmmaker Rob Zombie for nearly 20 years, first joining the director’s ensemble back in 2005’s The Devil’s Rejects before going on to take on small but memorable roles in a variety of projects. While he’s often relegated to the sidelines, Roebuck gets to take center stage in Zombie’s revival of The Munsters, bringing to life the beloved figure of “The Count.” While their previous collaborations made Roebuck seem like the right choice for the role, the actor recently opened up about how this is a role he’s essentially been preparing for since he was a child. The Munsters lands on Blu-ray, DVD, and Digital HD on September 27th.

From writer/director Rob Zombie comes the strangest love story ever told. Lily [Sheri Moon Zombie] is just your typical 150-year-old, lovelorn vampire looking for the man of her nightmares . . . that is until she lays eyes on Herman [Phillips], a seven-foot-tall, green experiment with a heart of gold. It’s love at first shock as these two ghouls fall fangs over feet in this crazy Transylvanian romance. Unfortunately, it’s not all smooth sailing in the cemetery as Lily’s father The Count [Daniel Roebuck] has other plans for his beloved daughter’s future, and they don’t involve her bumbling beau, Herman. You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, you’ll howl at the moon as The Munsters make their way to Mockingbird Lane! caught up with Roebuck to talk his love for the franchise, Munsters for a new generation, and his time-traveling doppelgänger.

(Photo: Universal Pictures Home Entertainment) Before any talk of ever doing a The Munsters reboot came up between you and Rob, even before that, what was your connection to the series? What was it about the series that you loved and really resonated with you?

Daniel Roebuck: Well, I’m a lifelong fan of Universal horror movies and of comedy. You could only get Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein once, maybe twice a year, if you were really paying attention to the TV Guide. But The Munsters you could get every day. So you had your Munsters and your comedy, you had great actors. As far as I can remember in my life, I can remember The Munsters being part of it. And I’ve collected on it through the years. I have a rather substantial Munsters collection of papers, posters, figures. I mean, I just loved it. And then even better than all of that, Fred Gwynne was my friend, and Al Lewis and I were well acquainted, Butch Patrick is my friend, so the series has not only been something I’ve enjoyed, it’s been something that’s then surrounded me for the remainder of my life.

In that respect, especially knowing Fred and being in touch with Butch Patrick, how much of the project was intimidating to be playing The Count versus excited to take on that challenge?

Oh, that’s a good question. Well, I played Jay Leno once and I played Jay Leno when he was on TV every night and he was a juggernaut in the ratings. And so people could watch me and watch him, within four seconds of each other. So that was a little more scary.

You may or may not know I was a clown in a circus when I was 12 and I was a vampire clown, because I already had been so obsessed with Count Dracula. And Count Dracula was the only monster you could play without a $39.95 Don Post mask, because that’s what it cost. And, by the way, I remember saying to my dad, “Hey dad, look at this great mask, this great Frankenstein mask. Look at it, it’s only 39.95.” “Get the hell … What’s the matter with … Do you have no…” And I would be like, “The hands are only $19.” “Get out of here!”

So you could buy Dracula. All you needed was a tux, but you had to talk to your mom into buying you a tux. And a cape, which I coerced my poor grandmother. And I was like, “I need the… It’s got to have that thing.” “What thing?” “I don’t know, it’s the thing on the cape. Why do I have to explain it to you, for God’s sake.” I have the cape and I have that. 

I became a clown in a circus, and a clown had to have a name, and eventually I chose “The Count” as the name of the clown. So my business card that I still have says “The Count.” When Rob Zombie calls me 47 years later and says, “I want you to be in The Munsters and I want you to be Grandpa. And it’s a funny vampire and, by the way, there’s no Eddie in the script, so he is not called ‘Grandpa.’ He’s Count Dracula. So he is called ‘The Count.'” Then what I think is not intimidation. I think, “Thank you, God,” Because it’s all what it was supposed to be from the beginning. That’s a long way to tell a short story. 

You get the inkling that Rob Zombie is a time traveler that saw you as a 12-year-old as The Count and was like, “Oh, well this is perfect.” 

Can I just tell you a story that’s just ridiculous? One time, on the set of a movie in Iowa, this kid shows up who looks exactly like I looked when I was 11 or 12 years old. He was the kid of one of the extras and they didn’t have a babysitter, so it became a joke. I showed everybody, I showed him a picture of me at his age and him, he looked just like me. And I said, “Are you me, from the past, sent into the future to tell me something horrible’s going to happen to me?” And everybody laughed and the kid said, “No.” And we had the joke and we took pictures together. Dude, the next day I almost died. They literally had to rush me to a hospital where I was in for 10 days because my body almost exploded. This kid, he did a crappy job of coming into the future.

I don’t know though, because you are here to tell that story.

Yeah. Oh, maybe you’re right. 

He might have done exactly what he needed to do to circumvent what would’ve actually led to your death. But instead, butterfly-effected you into being here to talk about it.

That’s very interesting. So yes, because when I felt bad, I didn’t say, “No, I won’t go to the hospital.” I called and I said, “Get me to the hospital right now because…” Maybe the kid. Okay, well that’s good. I know we’re supposed to talk about The Munsters, which comes out the 27th of the month, we should. There’s just a little thing, you’re a nice guy and you like comic books, so I thought I’d tell you that story.

Well, I appreciate it. And might I say, I’m glad you’re here to tell that story. Now speaking to the legacy of this character and how much The Count is ingrained in your DNA, how do you find that balance of wanting to pay respect to the original version of The Count while also not being beholden to it and being allowed to put your own little flourishes and your own spin on that character?

Great question. Look, the bottom line is Jeff, Sheri, and I were hired to play the characters. When I play Garry Marshall, I’m Garry Marshall. I’m playing Jay Leno, I’m Jay Leno. Here, I’m playing a character that has been played by … I’m the sixth guy to play Grandpa Munster, I’m not the second guy, and great actors. I mean, Robert Morris played this part. And I like Howard Morton who played it in the ’70s show. I thought he was a good actor who was good at playing that character that he played.

So I think, because I’m similar to Al in so many ways, in height and shape and size, we’re from the same general vicinity of the United States, we have the same mutt background of Eastern Europe being descent in us. There was so much coming into it that was similar. I thought it was ingenious that Rob went with, “I’m Count Dracula, I’ve got a mustache. I live in Transylvania.” I look like Count Dracula would’ve looked in Transylvania.

I think that gave me my own spin. I was unsure of it until we put it on and then we all looked in the mirror and honestly we all went, “A-ha,” and we got it. And then the other thing is in his script, I don’t have the benefit of being the Grandpa Munster that’s been Herman’s father-in-law for 20 years and now that there’s a grandkid in the house. I’m still at odds with Herman in the story, as people will see. And I don’t want him to marry my daughter, he’s a bozo, so I’m mostly at odds with Herman. The character doesn’t evolve into the Al Lewis version of The Count for another 20 years or so. 

You talk about working with Rob and you’ve worked with him on so many projects over the years and sometimes larger roles, sometimes smaller roles. So other than the subject matter being more PG than some of his other things that he’s done, how did working on this project with Rob compare to the other times that you’ve worked with him?

Oh, well, on the set, it was very similar because Rob’s just a very good artist and a very good director who’s very open to you and your interpretation. He’s very good with that stuff. Perfect, really. Terrific. What was different about this was we lived together for three months, so we saw each other and it was like, “I’ll see you back at the place.” And then some nights we’d have dinner together. Once we’d started shooting, our schedules were all cockeyed, but we’d eat dinner together, we’d have breakfast together. We had COVID nose-swiping at 6:30 in the morning, every 48 hours. So we’d all be down there. Even if he didn’t have to work, they still swipe your nose.

It sounds like Rob himself should become a character in this family. It sounds like he’ll add the right dynamic.

Yeah, I like that. And then, “Because, now, Cousin Rob, now, listen, he plays the music. It’s not what I care for. I’d rather have Mr. Guy Lombardo, but he’s doing his best with the yelling and the screaming and the jumping up and down.”

As we wrap up, you mentioned that you’re not the first person to play this character, that this is The Munsters for a new generation or the current generation because it’s been off the air for so long. So there are people who, this might surprise you to hear, can be rather precious when it comes to reboots or remakes or reinterpretations. For anyone who you feel, as a longtime Munsters fan yourself, anyone who you feel might be apprehensive about this new take, what would you say to them to let them know your heart’s in the right place?

I would just say, “Trust me.” Rob and I, as much as anybody else on this planet loves those characters, Rob and I love those characters. Jeff does, too. Sheri does, too. But Rob and I have made The Munsters a lifelong passion. 

I did notice something else though, that distresses me a little, is I realize that there’s those who are precious and say, “Grandpa doesn’t have a mustache,” and those who are evil, who have learned that they can monetize their life by putting something negative on this computer. And if it’s negative, they feel more people will hit it. So they don’t say positive things.

We’ve got this whole new generation of people who are essentially leaching the talents of people like Rob Zombie and the IP of Universal Studios and figuring out a way to make money off it without really giving it any chance or credence because it doesn’t matter. Because even if they loved it, they’re going to [nitpick it], because it gets them more hits. And I’m sad about that. 

I can totally relate and totally understand that saying, “I sort of liked something or sort of wasn’t for me,” doesn’t get as much attention as, “It’s the worst thing I’ve ever seen.” Because people just want to blow things out of proportion.

And they make more money. Rob told us all years ago, he said, “They hate the movies when they come out, they love them 10 years later.” I have found that to be the case of many things.

But this is a unique experience because Rob Zombie, he didn’t have to bring Halloween to a new generation. Halloween always found its people. But The Munsters has not. He is bringing The Munsters to a new generation who would never ever find the old Munsters if it wasn’t for this. So what I’d say to those people really is, “You’re welcome.” Because people went to a lot of trouble to bring this into a modern place so that they could find the old one. I hope people get that, because my children watch black and white, but they’re my children and they understand. Other kids, you couldn’t get them to watch black and white, you’ve got to wrestle them into the thing.

I’m grateful that I got to be in this thing. And I’m grateful that … If he hadn’t cast me, I would’ve been on suicide watch, I can tell you right now. But I would be, as a fan of The Munsters and a fan of his, I would support this movie 1,000% percent. 

Well, we can thank that 12-year-old time-travelling version of yourself who visited Rob and said, “Rob, you’re going to save this guy’s life if you cast him as The Count.”

That’s right. That kid’s been busy.

The Munsters lands on Blu-ray, DVD, and Digital HD on September 27th.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity. You can contact Patrick Cavanaugh directly on Twitter.



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