Dallas Roberts is the kind of actor whose name you might not recognize, but whose face and talents you probably do. On the big screen he's been in the likes of Walk the Line (he gives Johnny Cash the "if you had time to sing one song..." speech) and The Grey (as Hendrick, the family man who sticks with Liam Neeson), but it's his work in television that's perhaps most widely recognized. He's a regular on The Good Wife , the prematurely cancelled Rubicon, and The Walking Dead, the latter of which is proving to be the actor's most popular project to date.
Roberts still finds the time to take on smaller films, though, and his latest is now available on Blu-ray and DVD. It's called Shadow People and it's about a late-night radio host (Roberts) who starts to dig into the mystery surrounding a rash of deaths that follow people who claim to have recently seen a shadowy figure in their room. We recently chatted with Roberts about the film, what he draws on when he needs to sell fear, and what's next for the increasingly busy actor.
Movies.com: How does a movie like Shadow People end up on your plate?
Dallas Roberts: To be honest, I can't remember if I auditioned for it or if they just called and asked me to be a part of it. What really drew me to it was the thriller nature of it. It didn't have the easy gore thing going for it. It was similar to Tell Tale, actually, in that it was more psychological. That was at the forefront. I tend to jump on things that flip something for me, and this did for sure.
Movies.com: The movie deals in a very specific and reportedly real condition. Did you feel obligated to study up on cases in prep for the role?
Roberts: You start to do some research about the condition and you realize it spans a bunch of different cultures over a long, long time, and there's something about that that feels bigger and truer than just a piece of celluloid designed to make you jump. That was one of the more rewarding parts of it; getting to dive into it. And it does start to get into your head as you start to work on it. We would share stories around the crew of things you see in the corner of your eyes. That context alone starts to give you sprites.
Movies.com: Are you a supernaturally inclined person?
Roberts: I do believe that your brain does manifest your reality, and I believe that in a lot of situations, as far as the spiritual realm goes, it's the power of positive thinking. Or, in this case, negative thinking. Physicists would have us believe that light doesn't really decide where it is until it's observed, so the nature of the observer and his reality is something I totally agree with.
Movies.com: How do you approach having to externalize fears that are very internal and perception-based?
Roberts: I live in New York City with two boys and they run down the street sort of willy-nilly. I live with the visions of a truck jumping the sidewalk and wiping them out. So you sort of just take any fear you can access quickly and put it through your system. The amazing thing about film is that it picks that up. And in the context of this film, it really supplants as that character's fear.
Movies.com: Your career is one that seems to be on a consistent climb upward to bigger and bigger projects, though you still do take on indie films like this. Have you gotten to the point where you realize you're taking on projects you didn't think you could get even just a few years ago?
Roberts: I certainly feel like there's more oxygen around and a little bit more rubber on the tires. It's been a great and challenging career decision, this thing I decided to do when I was 16 years old. To feel a little more at ease and a little more proud of what I've accomplished and what I'm looking forward to next, I hope it's something 16-year-old me could look at and be happy with.
Movies.com: Does the rabid fanbase of a show like The Walking Dead make it harder or easier on you as an actor?
Roberts: What I like about it is that Milton and Dallas look alike, but they don't look at all alike. When I'm walking down the street it's very rare that I get recognized as Milton. In that case you can sort of hide in plain sight, which is a benefit. But the people who do recognize me from The Walking Dead tend to come with such a passion and joy for the situation that it's a welcome presence. I don't mind that at all.
Movies.com: What is next for you?
Roberts: I've got a film called The Dallas Buyers Club that's in postproduction and should be out in the next year or so. And then I'm about to start work in late May on a CBS show called Unforgettable. I'm joining them in their second season for a sort of summer run. In between that, The Good Wife and The Walking Dead, I've got a pretty full television plate.
Movies.com: What makes you take on a certain project?
Roberts: Scheduling is a huge, huge part of it, but script is always first. Just feeling challenged by the material. The benefit of playing, say, Milton on The Walking Dead and Owen on The Good Wife is that I wouldn't want to go to a different show and just play a bookish, nerdy, intelligent guy. So if something throws a challenge to me, I'm going to rush toward it.
Movies.com: If someone were to attempt to revive Rubicon in the wake of Veronica Mars' success, would that interest you?
Roberts: We died right before that outlet was around, right before Netflix and Hulu and that sort of thing where you could revive a show on a different medium. I haven't heard anything, but I would jump on the chance, even though we're all getting a little older and longer in the tooth. But you never know. Arrested Development 11 years later or whatever it is now? Anything is possible, I suppose.