Here is what he had to say:
IAR: To begin with, these days we are used to almost every classic TV series getting a big screen adaption, but The Fugitive was really one of the first of its kind. In fact, it was even nominated for Best Picture at the Academy Awards, which is practically unheard of. What was your history with the original TV series and what was your initial reaction when you heard it was being made into a film?
Daniel Roebuck: What you may or may not know about me is that the fact that I’m an actor is only an extension of the fact that I love movies and TV shows. When I was a kid all I did was watch TV. I knew The Fugitive well because I was a fan of David Janssen (Richard Kimball on the original TV series) and when I was a little older I would watch him on Harry O. But The Fugitive was still on in syndication and I could still see those shows. That was unique to that show that he was in different places and situations. I was well aware of the show and well aware that David Janssen and Barry Morse (Samuel Gerard on the original TV series) had very big shoes to fill because I was again a fan. There were two different stages of this film that I think they talk about in the featurette on the new Blu-ray. The first time I auditioned for it, it was a Warner Bros. film and it was (producer) Arnold Kopelson’s movie but I auditioned to play the One-Armed Man, who was originally going to be a younger guy and maybe even a bit of a hick I think. I remember that well and then that disappeared. I think Alec Baldwin was going to be Kimble.
In that version, didn’t the conclusion reveal that the One-Armed Man was really working for Gerard?
Roebuck: Yea, it was strange. Then that went away like these things do. Then it came back and it was director Andy Davis (Under Siege) doing it. Arnold talks in the featurette about the moment he saw Under Siege and decided that Andy was his guy. I remember seeing that movie and thinking that Tommy Lee Jones was a genius and no offense, but anyone that could get that performance out of Steven Seagal was a genius too. That movie was so good! Then to turn out a year later to be working with Andy myself was great. I was extremely pleased and I have a very specific memory of an event that happened at my second audition for The Fugitive. I know that Andy acknowledged this while we were shooting and I wonder if he would remember it now. When I went to audition, it was right there at Warner Bros. and I had been waiting about a half hour or so. I was next to go in and read for a Marshal. At that point they just had me read for any of the names. They didn’t know what ethnicity or type any of the specific Marshals would be. I think Andy was just mixing and matching as we went. I was just about to go in and an assistant came out of a room and said to Andy, “Harrison is on the phone for you.” It was loud enough for me to hear it. I walked into the room because I was next and the casting director said, “I’m sorry Danny.” Andy then walked into the other room to take the call and I went back to the waiting room and sat down. After about 45 minutes I got up and said, I have to go, I can’t be here all day. Now I look back and think where did I have to go? How busy was I that I couldn’t wait on this movie? The casting director came out and said, “Danny, it will only be a few more minutes.” So I sat down and Andy came out and then they brought me in. Because he is Andy Davis he said, “I have to apologize and I am so sorry to make you wait.” I then said; if Harrison Ford had called me I would have made you wait an hour. I think that was the moment that he decided that this ass hole needed to be in the movie. I also had a fake mustache on for the audition because I’m an actor that likes to look different in every part I do. I think they were taken by the mustache and wanted me to keep it for the movie so we had to get big bushy mustaches to glue on me for the film.
I understand that the characters of the Marshals were not really well developed in the original script and that they became defined because of the casting of the actors chosen for the roles. Can you talk about creating your role of Robert Biggs and also the dynamic between you, Joe Pantoliano, L. Scott Caldwell, Tom Wood, and of course Tommy Lee Jones and how that helped create the characters?
Roebuck: Well yes. You know the credit there goes to Andy for being open to improvisation and Tommy for being very clear that he wanted something to be playing off of so he could constantly be playing off of something. Otherwise Gerard would just be talking to the camera, because there was exposition that had to come out and it would be more interesting if it came out through us. We went to North Carolina and we were all summoned to a tiny pizza place and there you had Tommy, myself, Joey, L. Scott Caldwell and Tom Wood. Tommy asked everyone what his or her character was like and I said well I have this mustache and I’m going to kind of look like Mike Ditka. Tommy was like, “No, just play yourself. You don’t have to play a part.” But I had just done Matlock playing a nerd and I thought if I was going to do a movie on my hiatus I didn’t want to play the same guy because I am kind of a nerd. So he tried to dissuade me but I stayed on it and ultimately it looked good because we had Tom Wood playing the normal guy. Tom is so good in this, and Joey is so good, and L. Scott is so good. All that dialogue, almost every ounce of it with all respect to the writers, all that dialogue we had was improvised from the beginning to the end. Anything that was exposition we had, but the rest was improvised like “Big Dog” or “Casey Jones.” Any conversation that we had that was not specific to the plot was improvised in rehearsal. Then we would show to Andy and he would fix it and film it. So that’s how that came to be. It was all improvisation. The only thing I remember that was specifically written in the script that I said was “This is hinky.” Which is a phrase that people still yell at me from their cars as they pass me.
I mentioned it before but not only is it rare that a film adapted from a TV series would be nominated for Best Picture at the Academy Awards, but it is also rare to have a summer action film nominated for Oscar’s top prize. Were you surprised by the critical success of the film and the legacy it has had over the years?
Roebuck: Oh yes. Honestly, and I hope I’m not telling stories that people don’t want me to tell, but I remember hearing Harrison say on the set that “This is going to be my Hudson Hawk.” Because I’ve never before and never since been on a movie where you are literally making stuff up. But that takes nothing away from the screenwriters who put the situations together and figured out the dynamics of the characters. Obviously that is the foundation on which this beautiful film was built. But I can see why Harrison was a little concerned. The reason this movie is what it is, is because beyond being a great movie star, Harrison is a very smart guy. I kept a lot of time keeping my mouth shut standing in the background watching Harrison, as well as Andy, and Tommy Lee. Harrison and Tommy Lee both have two very different styles by the way. I was very impressed with Harrison’s knowledge of filmmaking. He’s a smart guy. Him and Tommy together made for a perfect combination. When I recently watched the film for the first time in a theater in over 20 years I realized that the pacing is just extraordinary. There is logic to it all. The fact that Andy can constantly fool the audience into thinking that one thing is happening when it’s really something else that is happening is the other gift that he brought to it. You think we are going after Kimble when we are really going after the other guy. All those moments in the movie really kept you on the edge of your seat. Then there was that great fight scene at the end.
One of the best things about The Fugitive besides Harrison Ford’s performance of course, is the dynamic between Tommy Lee Jones’ Samuel Gerard and his team of U.S. Marshals. For years I always thought that you could make a great sequel without Ford’s Dr. Richard Kimble and just follow Gerard and his Marshals hunting down another fugitive on the run. Obviously, you did eventually get to make that film in 1998 with the sequel U.S. Marshals. How did it feel to reprise your role and reunite with Jones and the rest of the cast for that movie?
Roebuck: Well it was an extraordinary gift. Anytime you can do a sequel, and I’ve been fortunate enough to be in a few, it’s a gift from god, the fan’s of the movie, and the studio to take the project to another chapter. I meet people on the street everyday, and I mean everyday, that reference these movies to me. I’m surprised when people say, “I love U.S. Marshals.” I say, don’t you mean The Fugitive? I ultimately realized that it’s because U.S. Marshals is in a heavier rotation (on TV) then The Fugitive. It was a fantastic opportunity and we had a great director (Stuart Baird) on that movie. But what they did was kind of strange. They tried to write the banter between the Marshals that was so organic on The Fugitive. We created that on the spot. We had five actors of varying degrees of experience. Tommy and Joey being the most experience, and I then Tom Wood being next. We were all organic and easy going actors. So we came up with all that stuff and they tried to write that rapport on the second movie. I think we realized that immediately we had to change that. We had to go back to making stuff up, which we did. Then they separated us, which I didn’t understand. They put Latanya Richardson and me together. By the way, Latanya replaces L. Scott Caldwell who was doing a Broadway play. It was hard to not have her there but it was okay because Latanya is a great actress and a great person. But the moral center of our group was Tom Wood and Tom is a very deep feeling man. He once said about The Fugitive that we were the good of the movie and that really connected with people. We were the moral counterparts. It wasn’t good vs. evil, it was good vs. good. It was a very strange thing to have in a movie because you knew that we were righteous in our quest, and Kimble was righteous in his quest to exonerate himself. This is just coming to me now but maybe that is why people loved the movie, because it was unclear to them whom to root for. I’m just getting this but that’s it. It’s because it was unclear who should win at the end because both were right. 20 years later and it never occurred to me until now. The second movie was just too confusing. In the end going after a guy who didn’t kill his wife, who was a good person, was different than going after a CIA operative, who turned on the CIA. It didn’t have the same moral gravitas.
Finally, was there ever talk of doing a third film or was U.S. Marshals not enough of a box office hit to warrant another sequel?
Roebuck: The answer to that is, Arnold Kopelson did say to me at the premiere of U.S. Marshals, “We’re going to do a third one.” Then of course U.S. Marshals opened at number three. The Fugitive opened at number one and stayed there for like five weeks. Surely our friends at Warner Bros. have certainly done well with U.S. Marshals in TV rotation and on home media. It would be quite extraordinary to find an opportunity to put us all together again but that would probably be too good to be true.
The Fugitive 20th Anniversary Blu-ray will be available on September 3rd.