By: Mara Botonis
As an actor, Daniel Roebuck's got one of those faces.
The kind of face that registers instant familiarity and a sense of affinity, even if you are one of the few fans that can't immediately place just exactly where you've seen him before.
Roebuck was born in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania and graduated from Bethlehem Catholic High School. He appeared in his first film role in 1981 and had been working in film and television consistently for the last three+ decades.
Some of you will remember him from his portrayal of Andy Griffith's assistant lawyer, Cliff Lewis, on the television drama "Matlock", from 1992 to 1995. One of Roebuck's more memorable roles was as Jay Leno in the HBO made-for-TV film "The Late Shift". There have been roles on Nash Bridges, Lost, and even Glee.
Despite that extensive resume, he might not be the first name that comes to mind when casting the role of a husband who is the primary caregiver for his wife, a woman living with younger on-set Alzheimer's disease. But, writer/director Scott Thompson knew Daniel would be the right choice for the leading role in the new film, His Neighbor Phil. The film follows a couple and their community of family and friends after Mary's dementia symptoms begin changing the dynamics of her relationships.
Daniel's tenderly nuanced performance as his wife "Mary's" primary caregiver "Harvey" is such a perfectly balanced blend of heartache and hopeful longing, weariness and worry, unconditional love and utter loneliness that Harvey comes across so authentically, you forget you're watching a movie rather than visiting with a fellow family member impacted by Alzheimer's or dementia. Daniel so respectfully and authentically brings the role of a caregiver to life, that I just had to learn more about what drew him to this role and what message he hoped to share with families impacted by this disease.
"Happily, I have not been touched by it but have known many families who have suffered through the disease. SO hard for the "survivors" in every single case.
Mara Botonis (MB): Have you been touched in your personal life by anyone with Alzheimer's/dementia?
Daniel Roebuck (DR): "Happily, I have not been touched by it but have known many families who have suffered through the disease. SO hard for the "survivors" in every single case. No matter how they all prepare, they find themselves in a great depression over it. This story that Scott wrote was about unconditional love in the face of unimaginable sorrow. It was a "no brainer" from an actor's point of view to play a character who loves completely despite the fact that it is ultimately a one-sided relationship with only heartache and hurt ahead."
MB: How has being involved in His Neighbor Phil changed any previous conceptions you may have had about persons living with dementia/caregivers?
DR: "Well, the fact is that when we take on a movie or TV show, we become instant experts on whatever we are playing. Not really, of course, but we learn so much in so little time to prepare for the role. I learned so much before shooting but have learned 100 times more since then. Thanks to people like Lori La Bey at Alzheimer's Speaks, I realize that my Alzheimer's education is going to be on going."
MB: Is there anything you would like to share with caregivers in the way of words of encouragement to help us get through our toughest days?
DR: "My prayers are with all caregivers. I was educated by The Sisters of Saint Joseph and realized, early on, that those who sacrifice on behalf of the rest of us are a unique and special breed. I imagine that when you are entranced in the day to day hardship of caring for a patient suffering from any debilitating disorder it's hard to believe that God only gives us what we can handle but I believe that to be true."
MB: Of all of the incredible characters you've created over the years, how do you think Harvey will be remembered?
DR: "I can sum it up in the words of someone else. After a screening for a producer friend, she was weeping at the end of the movie, as many do. But her initial comment after the credits rolled was not about the disease or the aggravation it causes. What she said was, 'I am crying because I don't think I will ever find my own Harvey!'
If Harvey, as Scott wrote him and I played him can be any kind of positive reflection on those who are burdened (or gifted, depending on your point of view) with the role of caregiver then we have done our job. It was nice to play the good guy."
When Roebuck is not in front of the cameras, behind the cameras or on stage, he enjoys his large collection of classic "monster" toys and memorabilia. He writes for numerous publications on the subject of horror movies and loves taking his children to amusement parks. He has also written his first children's book, BUMPAS, THE RELUCTANT KRAMPUS. Roebuck currently lives in Southern California with his wife Kelly and his children, Grace and Buster.
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