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Actor Robert Donavan Discusses His New Horror Film Art of the Dead

November 2, 2019 | Posted by Bryan Kristopowitz
Art of the Dead

The 411 Interview: Robert Donavan


Robert Donavan is an actor who has been working in show business since the early 1980’s, with credits in both movies and television (check out his full page here). Donavan’s latest movie is the awesome horror flick Art of the Dead, directed by Rolfe Kanefsky and featuring Tara Reid and Richard Grieco and is now available on DVD and various Video On Demand portals including Amazon, Comcast Xfinity InDemand, Charter, Cox, and others. In this interview Donavan talks with this writer about making Art of the Dead, his character Father Gregory Mendale, his career, and more.



Bryan Kristopowitz: How did you get involved with Art of the Dead?

Robert Donavan: Rolfe Kanefsky, the director and writer of Art of the Dead, and I go way back, and have worked with each other more than twenty times. Just less than a year before production began, Rolfe told me about the project, and we talked about the role. I auditioned for the part, but did not do very well. Esther Goodstein and Andrew Brown, from the production department, allowed me to put a second audition on video, and that performance convinced Michael and Sonny Mahal that I was the right guy for the role.

BK: How did you approach your character Father Gregory Mendale? Is this the first time you’ve played a priest?

RD: As with any character, I first answer the basic questions that give me insight into his personality and outlook. What he owns, where he lives, what his ideals are, his relationships, who means the most to him, what is he hiding, and what is he protecting? This gives me a foundation from which I can react to the situations and the conversations he has in the film. I had played a priest before, and the conversation I had then with a real priest gave me an idea of how his religious convictions defined him.

BK: Considering what happens to him in Art of the Dead, why didn’t Father Mendale wear an eyepatch?

RD: Father Mendale did not wear an eye patch because, cinematically, the damaged uncovered eye made more of an impact. And the eye patch might be somewhat comedic in that it is associated with pirates. The uncovered eye acted as a constant reminder of what the paintings can do to a person, of his suffering, and his narrowness of vision in pursuing the destruction of the paintings.


BK: What was it like working with director Rolfe Kanefsky?

RD: As I mentioned, Rolfe and I have worked frequently together over the years. He is very easy to work with, and knowing how our ideas mesh, he has given me free rein in creating the characters I have portrayed with him. If I go too far, or he thinks I can go further, he will say so. Or he will make a suggestion that helps me in my work. He sees what he wants before the camera rolls, and that insight helps in developing realistic and believable characters.

BK: What was the hardest part of making Art of the Dead for you, as an actor?

RD: For me, the hardest part of making Art of the Dead was transportation. We stayed in a house about ten miles from the initial location. Uber was my option, and not being familiar with how it works caused some problems. I despise being late, and on my first day it was raining and my driver needed to pick someone else up first. Not only did this take us out of our way, but it was in a rather seedy part of Las Vegas. He then had trouble finding the location and I was late. After that, however, I got where I was supposed to be without incident.

BK: You’ve worked extensively in the low budget/B-movie world for several years now. How has the low budget/B-movie world changed since you got started? What did you do before you became an actor?

RD: The low budget film world has changed in that the budgets are not as low as they used to be. Producers realize that in order to be marketable, the films must have production value. The cinematography must be crisp and imaginative, the locations must be authentic, costumes and make-up have to be high quality, and the talent must be at a high level. All this costs money, more than what used to be spent. I once shot a film with Brad Rushing that had a budget of $30,000, and it looked terrific.

I had aspirations of playing Major League Baseball, and when that didn’t pan out, I interviewed for a spot in Mel Blanc’s School of Voices and Dialects. I have had an ear for dialects since I was six years old. They suggested I become an on-camera actor, and that long road leads us to where I am now. It was tough to balance dreams with making a living, but I did what I could do under those circumstances. I always make it a point to stress how important training and education are in developing an acting career. Learn theory and technique, and apply them through stage and screen work however you can. Early on, I was not diligent and serious about my training, and have been trying to catch up ever since. Kids… Go to school!

BK: Do you enjoy working in the horror genre? How is horror different from the other genres you’ve worked in?

RD: I do enjoy working in the horror genre because I have met some very interesting people in this part of the business. Being privy to the special effects has been a treat, and the people, like Vincent Guastini, are true artists and create worlds and creatures that are believable. They make the experience real. I have also met wonderful crew members and very talented actors. Except for the subject matter, I don’t think horror is any different than the other genres in film. For me, acting is always acting. That is the talent that I have developed and it is always a rewarding challenge to have a chance to practice it.

BK: How did you get involved in the voiceover business?

RD: Over the years, during movie shoots, people would ask if I did voice over work. I had toyed with the idea for a while, and finally took action. I studied for a year, and got a couple of jobs in the process. I continued to study and practice the technique, and ended up being the voice of Yahoo Fantasy Football, and the Toyota Fantasy Football Hall of Fame. I enjoy the demands of voice over that requires you to be genuine in your delivery, and to be a character that is pleasant or entertaining to listen to.

BK: What was it like working with Chuck Norris on that episode of Walker, Texas Ranger?

RD: On Walker, Texas Ranger, they shot two huge fight scenes simultaneously. I was fighting with Sammo Hung, whose show, Martial Law, crossed over to this episode of Walker. Chuck was fighting a few yards away. After getting the scene shot, I went over to introduce myself to Chuck, but approached his fight double instead. I never did get to meet Chuck Norris. The shoot itself was great fun. My character was not a good guy, and I got to do my own fight stunts. Dusty Rhodes, my character, ended up getting his ass kicked by Nia Peeples. She was a great gal, and one hell of a martial artist. Plus, instead of two days work in Dallas, we got snowed out for five days, so I was in Dallas for a week. I also got to watch Super Bowl XXXIV with Chuck’s doubles and the make-up ladies. It was a great time.

BK: Any moviemaking heroes?

RD: I have always gravitated toward admiring character actors. John Carradine, Basil Rathbone, and Claude Rains come to mind. And there are so many more. The variety of characters they portrayed made me want to do what they were doing. I am a big fan of Spencer Tracy, as well as Robert Mitchum, Gregory Peck, Gene Hackman, and Gary Oldman. All the greats are unique and watchable. The list is a long one. The English actors were also a big influence on me. Trevor Howard, Jack Hawkins, Peter O’Toole, Anthony Hopkins, and Richard Harris.

BK: Any upcoming projects you can tell us about?

RD: Two films, Attack of the Unknown, and CORN, should be coming out in October of 2020. I’m sure they will be featured at this year’s American Film Market in November. Right now, I am looking for my next film project. Or maybe it is looking for me?

BK: What do you hope audiences get out of Art of the Dead?

RD: My hope is that the audience gets a good scare out of Art of the Dead. And maybe they will be stimulated to think about what Deadly Sin they are subject to. We all are, or have been subject to each of their influences. I also want them to leave with the sense that, “This is a good movie.”

BK: Would you want any of those paintings featured in Art of the Dead hanging up in your house, and if so which one?

RD: The one painting I would like to have in my house would be the one with Father Mendale impaled on the tail of the peacock. Just as a keepsake. I might find myself affected by the other paintings, and I have seen where that leads. I don’t think I would want them on my wall.


A very special thanks to Robert Donovan for agreeing to participate in this interview and to david j. moore for setting it up.

Purchase Art of the Dead on DVD here.

Check out the official Art of the Dead Facebook page here.

Art of the Dead poster courtesy of ITN Distribution, Inc. All other images courtesy of Robert Donovan.