Brenna and Brittany Interview
Michael Roberds is the Canadian actor who played the part of Fester in 65 episodes of The New Addams Family, a Shavick production filmed in Vancouver, B.C., Canada.
Michael has granted us this interview, and has allowed us to put it on our web pages.
Brenna and Brittany: Hello Mr. Roberds (may we call you Michael?).
Michael Roberds: Of course!
B & B: You were excellent as Fester. Could you tell us a bit about your background and how you become an actor?
M.R.: I was born and raised in and around Vancouver. I began acting in school at five years old. I played Big Bird in our school play, Christmas on Sesame Street. I then did a lot of community theatre. I didn't begin acting professionally until 1987 when I did my first TV commercial (for GM).
B & B: When did you first hear that the role of Fester in the New Addams Family was available? Were you at first interested in that role?
M.R.: My friend Eric Partridge told me it was coming and that it would be filming in Vancouver. He was hoping to get on in the props dept (which he did). I told my agent that I had to get an audition for Fester and he arranged it.
B & B: How did you prepare for the the audition? Did you study some of the original Addams Family shows or the movies to decide on how you would play Fester?
M.R.: At the time of the audition, I was told that the producers hadn't decided which way the character of Fester was going to go. Would he be based on Jackie Coogan's characterization, Christopher Lloyd's, or something else all together? I prepared both versions, although I had to do Coogan's by memory, I couldn't find any videos of the old series! I called on another friend, make up artist Michelle Peterson (who later worked on our show) to put a bald cap on me for the audition. This took over an hour and had to be done three separate times as I had to audition three times! I owe a lot to Michelle!
B & B: Seeing you as Fester, it is hard to imagine that you may at one time have had hair (although you do grow and grow and grow it back in Episode 14, "Thing is Missing"). When did you first shave your head for the part? Were you nervous about that the first time? How long did it take before you were accustomed to it?
M.R.: After seeing myself in the bald cap, it wasn't as shocking when I finally shaved my head. But, it still took me by surprise when I caught a glimpse of myself in a mirror! I was so used to being in makeup fourteen hours a day, that Fester looked normal and Michael looked strangely unfamilliar!
B & B: Do you plan to grow your hair back now, or remain bald and beautiful?
M.R.: I grew my hair back as soon as I could. I wanted to get back to work and thought that the bald head might not help. People might have trouble seeing past Fester. Interestingly enough, I never get recognized anymore now that I have hair.
B & B: How long did it take to get Festerized and UnFesterized each day?
M.R.: When we began the series it took them over an hour to do my makeup, but we soon got it down to as fast as twenty minutes! Taking it off usually took less than fifteen minutes, but I still think I have some Death Grey makeup (the actual color used) under my skin working it's way out!
B & B: What grows faster? Head hair or chin hair?
M.R.: Chin hair seems to be more noticable. I had to shave my face every day, but I could get away with shaving my head every couple of days.
B & B: Fester was already a well defined character from previous Addams Family shows and movies. How much of your own self were you able to get into Fester?
M.R.: If you ask my friends and family, they'd say "A LOT!". My Fester had bits of Coogan, Lou Costello, Curly Howard (of the Three Stooges) and many other comedians from the past, as well as a lot of me. Occasionally, one of the other actors would point out that my delivery of a joke or a line reading was "too Michael, and not enough Fester". The two of us crossed over on many occasions.
B & B: By the end of the series, you and the others on the show all were playing your parts so expertly. How often would you find yourselves correcting the scripts because you knew your characters just would not say or do what the script called for?
M.R.: By then, the writers (Arnold Rudnick and Rich Hosek) knew our characters almost as well as we did! The only times that this would happen would be with directors. They would want us to do something out of character and we would have to try to adapt their vision to fit our mould. Sometimes it would work, sometimes it wouldn't.
B & B: How much ad-libbing were you allowed to do?
M.R.: We did most of it during the script readings (the week before filming), but occasionally a line would come to us during filming. It was pretty obvious if it was a good one... the crew would laugh! One that comes to mind is during the pirate episode when I leave Long John in the living room and toss away an "Arrr" as I go. Everyone cracked up during rehearsal and so I did it on film.
Another form of ad-libbing we did do a lot was the physical stuff. For example, when Ellie's Queen Helen (in Fester, World Leader) grabs the King (or Fester) in a claw-like grasp and he gasps in pain/pleasure...we made that up on the spot! That was normal for us. You'll find those kind of moments in almost every episode!
B & B: 65 episodes! Now that's a lot! How long did it take to make one episode? Was the pace hectic, or fairly relaxed?
M.R.: We shot an episode every four days! It was hardly ever relaxing, but it never failed to be fun! It was a dream come true for me. Even days when we had two crews working and I had to run from one set to another to film scenes from different episodes, I was still having a ball!
B & B: Doing the show itself must have been so much fun. The part you played. The other superb actors. Some very notable guest stars. Even the props, special effects, scenery and costumes must have been fun. What will be your most cherished memories from the series?
M.R.: There are so many. And I think of more whenever I watch an episode of the show.
Easily, one of the most memorable moments is sharing the screen with the legendary John Astin. I grew up watching this man and laughing (one of my favorite films as a kid was Evil Roy Slade!). I'll never forget the kind words he shared with me on the final night of his first visit with us. He and his wife Val are two of the sweetest people I've ever met in this business.
Beyond that, I have special moments of laughter and joy with each of the cast and many of the crew and I know that we will work together again, although I can't imagine a more pleasant working relationship than I had there. It was magic.
B & B: A few quickies: Your favorite episode? Your favorite prop? Your favorite line?
M.R.: Fester, World Leader. It was fun working with Ellie and Glenn as different characters after a year of being Addams'. Not to mention working opposite one of my favorite actors....ME...in a couple of scenes! My favorite prop had to be the lightbulb, which I got to keep as a momento. My favorite line...."sorry", the origin of which I credit to Ellie. We worked it into a bit that we created in the Cat Burgler episode. After that it became my sort of catch phrase.
B & B: The show is constantly hilarious! How did you and the others ever keep a straight face long enough to film a scene properly? When the laughing did start, who was usually the first to lose it?
M.R.: You laugh a lot during the rehearsals, while they set up the lights and camera angles and that gets it out of your system, but there were still times when something was just too funny. It's too hard to explain to someone later because it usually was just something in the moment. "You had to be there".
We all had our break-ups on set, but I would say that John DeSantis (Lurch) had the most trouble keep a straight face. If we wanted to, we could crack John up pretty easily...and that was fun to do!
B & B: What one scene took the most takes, and seemed like it would never get done?
M.R.: The basketball playing scene...I don't remember the episode. It took about eight hours to shoot. There were so many angles and shots...I thought it would never end! By comparison, most scenes took about two or three hours.
B & B: Did you and the other actors ever play any practical jokes on each other? Anything you can relate to us? Did they ever play one on you?
M.R.: One thing comes to mind. On Nicole's birthday, people hung small bags of candy all over her dressing room on colorful ribbons. I admired it and they asked if I wanted that on my birthday. I jokingly commented that I'd prefer chicken. You can guess what happened when my day rolled around! Dozens of greasy bags of KFC hanging from my dressing room ceiling from colorful ribbons! It was quite the sight.
B & B: If there was one thing you could change about Fester, what would it be?
M.R.: It would be nice if he dropped forty pounds! Maybe that and I hope he finds the right girl someday.
B & B: You appeared with the others on Gabereau Live in February 1999. Did you get to have any other public appearances as Fester?
M.R.: On Halloween the cast visited the Vancouver Children's Hospital and we also appeared on a local telethon (with some of the cast of Gilligan's Island). Since then I was Grand Marshall in a local parade (as myself) and I may do a few public appearences and autograph signings in the future if the interest is there.
B & B: So where will this all lead? What does the future hold for Michael Roberds?
M.R.: I'm back auditioning and searching for the next role. I also write, so maybe I'll create my own project. And, of course, I hope for the day when the entire Addams Family cast can get back together for a reunion (on film or in person).
B & B: Thank you so very much for taking the time and agreeing to do this interview with us. We wish you the best of success in all your future endeavors.
M.R.: Thank you for letting me be a part of your great web site. Keep up the good work!
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