John Robinson is making an impression with his performance as Ronald “Butch” DeFeo Jr. in Daniel Farrands’ The Amityville Murders. The film, based on true events, tells the story of the infamous murderer who, on November 13, 1974, took a high-powered rifle and killed his entire family as they slept peacefully in their beds. John and I discuss how he prepared for this role, his thoughts about the case, and his take on hauntings and spirits. Check out the interview below.
Courtesy of Skyline Entertainment, The Amityville Murders is now playing in theaters and On Demand and Digital, including iTunes. The movie’s distribution comes just months before the upcoming 45th anniversary of the notorious real-life murders of the DeFeo family in Amityville, Long Island – New York.
John Robinson Interview
John Robinson: Hey Ryan.
Ryan T. Cusick: Hey John, how are you doing?
JR: Pretty good and thanks for speaking with me today.
RTC: No problem the pleasure is all mine. Amityville on a personal level was something I had been into ever since I was a kid. I read the book at a very young age, yeah it has just fascinated me. For me it was fascinating because November 13 the night of the murders is actually my birthday.
RTC: Yeah, not the same year though.
JR: Did you initially know or find out about that later?
RTC: Yeah I learned about that later my grandmother had the book and the cover read, “This Book Will Scare The Hell Out Of You!” – I must have been like four or five trying to read that thing.
JR: [chuckles] No Way!
RTC: Yeah seriously. And when the internet came out I got into it. I was able to research and I think I have read all of the books. I watched Dan’s [Farrands] documentaries back in the day. Your performance was stellar man, it was great!
JR: oh thank you man, I’m glad you liked it.
RTC: It was great, did you do any studying or research for your character [Butch Defeo]?
JR: Yeah, I mean I didn’t read the book. I tried to understand Butch from an outsider perspective. It is obviously a tragic story, we love kind of celebrating tragedy. More so for me it was like “how do I conceive of not like his actions but his life?” And you know I think why people are drawn to it is because people don’t know…
RTC: Yeah, there is mystery.
JR:… it is a mystery and we see it quite regularly today with a lot of actions in the world specifically on our own soil. Yeah, so for me it was researching him. I feel like the more I dug at to what was written about him the more I was like, “you know what, I think that I am going to focus on how traumatic it was for him.” A kid in that era and it happens a lot nowadays, a kid that doesn’t fit in for whatever reason, someone that doesn’t connect with his society and Butch’s circumstance was his relationship he had with Ronnie his Dad and you know, being the eldest son in an Italian family, just the intense scrutiny and abuse that could possibly drive someone to even enter a space where you could commit something horrific like that. I wanted to tell a story about trauma and abuse and to me sometimes we get to do that in horror and that is kind of exciting.
RTC: Most definitely and I think you accomplished that for sure because the abuse was horrific. And the way it was played out is almost like a “choose your own adventure” story because you could either play it as the drugs made him do it, the abuse made him do it, there was something in the house that made him do it. So the viewer was able to ultimately choose.
JR: Yeah, I think that is what Dan wanted to do. I had started seeing the trailers and stuff and it was talking about, “the voice made him do it.” Why are we saying that? [Laughs] Why do we need to say that? But that is what happens with movies, how did we get people excited about the film? “The voice made him do it,” you know. For me what was exciting we got to do a line, a line about the house was about the native American burial grounds that were underneath the house. And maybe it is just a fantasy for me but this notion that the country was built on the bones of nations of people and what if that over time those spirits were really seeing the rapid escalation of society and wanted to come back and give us our lessons – to the white privileged societies. What if they were having a say in what was happening in these suburbs built on holy grounds, you know what I mean?
JR: To me that was kind of fun as an added thing.
RTC: That has always been a theory as well, I had read.
JR: I mean I think more and more society right now we are watching kind of us holding onto this notion, however you feel about politics, just kind of holding onto this notion that we are great, we are perfect, you know, and it is our land and keep these foreigners out. You know what I mean? It is bizarre in a certain way but it is highlighting that notion itself, “well did we really just forget history?” [Laughs] “Did we really just forget that we have colonized this world and made everyone suffer for it? By being great?
RTC: Yeah, it does feel that way sometimes. We get caught up in everything else. What was the audition process for you? How did you get involved with this film?
JR: Umm.. Dan approached me actually, surprisingly enough. I was living in Europe, I had been living in France the past couple of years.
RTC: Oh very nice!
JR: I was kind of like, “Wow.” You know I never get to play dark roles when I was in my teens and in my early twenties it was playing that “nice boy” and that “funny guy” role. As an actor you always want to go against what they think of you, so I jumped at the opportunity. I was like, “oh yeah what can I do.” I talked to the director, “I will get super into this, give me a shot man.” [Chuckles] Yeah, it was fun I was very excited to play the role.
RTC: Had you heard about the case or anything prior to doing the film?
JR: Yeah, I knew about the case for sure. That’s why I was like, “Oh wow, I get to play that guy.” My wife was actually like “please don’t play that guy.” [Laughs] “Don’t bring that energy around.” I was like, “this is an opportunity.”
RTC: An opportunity for sure.
JR: In horror you don’t often get to talk about something social so why not, you know?
RTC: And you’re playing a real person too.
JR: Exactly, it was interesting. So yeah I knew the story, I didn’t know the details completely, especially that everyone was face down.
RTC: Yeah, that still gets me!
JR: Anyways I will say that it was not fun to do the killings. Pointing guns at kids, not fun.
RTC: I am sure that you were ready to get it over with.
JR: At least in the film most people watching it will know what is going to happen that’s where maybe in the middle of what was going on and what made him do it will be interesting for the audience.
RTC: Yeah, to see it unfold. My last quick question, I know that we are almost out of time. Would you ever go into the real 112 Ocean Avenue?
JR: [Excitingly] Yeah I would, I totally would. I know that they re-constructed it.
RTC: Yeah and they changed the address
JR: I totally would. I was haunted to tell you the truth. I was staying in like the slave quarters of a house in Michigan and there was a tiny little door in the corner of my room and it just started rattling like crazy. Papers from the side of my table flew off the table and went across the room under this chest. And then I started talking the door stopped, I closed my eyes and looked back up the chair was against the other wall. I fully believe in ghosts, there is no doubt to me that spirits are trying to talk and be heard. I don’t know if they are violent but they definitely want to…
RTC: … communicate and be heard. Very interesting! And spooky! Well thank you so much.
JR: Good to speak with you Ryan.
RTC: Take care.
Check Out ‘The Amityville Murders’ Q&A From The ScreamFest Film Festival.