Method Actor Ron Keck: From Grinch and Clown to Ghosts and Ghouls

Anyone who visits Universal Studios in Hollywood knows that the theme park showcases several actors portraying characters such as Dracula, Frankenstein and the Mummy. Among the iconic character personalities is the ghost with the most – Beetlejuice! Portraying this beloved character from Tim Burton’s classic ’80s horror comedy is Ron Keck who also hosted We Are Indie Horror Film Fest in Las Vegas last year as the ghoulish character of Unman Dane. I recently caught up with Ron to talk about his leap from the Midwest to the City of Angeles, his work at Universal, and his alter-ego in indie horror.

Ron Keck

PopHorror: Hi, Ron! Thank you for speaking with me.

Ron Keck: No problem!

PopHorror: Unless I’m mistaken, you’re originally from Illinois. What made you decide to make the leap to Los Angeles?

Ron Keck: When I first got started, I didn’t come out here. Back in the ’90s, Orlando was suppose to be the new Hollywood of the east. They had sound stages, productions were happening, and there was lots of live entertainment and theme parks. So, that’s where I headed. After about three years, I met a woman, and we went to L.A., where I landed a gig doing Beetlejuice’s Rockin’ Graveyard Review at Universal Studios! After awhile, I left for Vegas, where I worked at Caesar’s Palace as a wizard at Caesar’s Magical Empire. About six and a half to nine years went by before Vegas chewed me up and spit me out. I went back to my home state of Illinois for awhile to work at a dinner theater I use to be apart of called The Barn Dinner Theater. Eventually, I returned to L.A. to reunite with the woman who first lead me there and our son.

Ron Keck as Beetlejuice

When I came back to L.A., I landed the gig of Heath Ledger’s The Joker for Halloween Horror Nights at Universal Studios. After that, I got the part of The Grinch. Following the Dr. Seuss character, an audition for Beetlejuice became available. And, since I portrayed him for Universal in the ’90s, I said, “Let’s do it again!” And I’ve been back at it for about 11 years now!

PopHorror: That’s awesome! You’ve been doing a great job keeping that gig for so long. Any guests who visit Universal Studios in Hollywood know you as the ghost with the most! How did you get started as Beetlejuice in the ’90s?

Ron Keck: Well, that’s an interesting story. As I mentioned before, I came out here from Orlando. When I first got to California, I was selling framed and glass pictures out of the back of my car. That was going nowhere. So, the woman I mentioned earlier and I went back to Orlando for a little bit. We talked about other things that I could do out in L.A. and the subject of portraying Beetlejuice came up! So, we came back to the west coast. The day after the Northridge Earthquake of ’94, I was back in Brentwood selling my framed and glass pictures. I get out of the car, go to cross the street, and I see Michael Keaton crossing from the opposite direction! We meet right in the middle and I said, “Hi there!” He said, “Hi there!” And that was it. About a week later were the auditions for Universal’s Beetlejuice show. I went, and I got the part! (laughs) So, there was a little Michael Keaton inspiration.

PopHorror writer Brandon Long at Universal Studios with Ron Keck as Beetlejuice

PopHorror: (laughs) And I’m glad you did! I remember the first time I met you was at Universal [read my L.A. adventure here]. So, I know first hand that you give Michael Keaton a run for his money! How do you prepare for your part at Universal Studios?

Ron Keck: Well, initially after getting the role, I watched the movie over and over again and learned how to do what Michael Keaton does… and then extrapolate on it. I take and utilize the variants of all the voices he does, all the imitations he does of other people as well as all his ticks and movements. Now, as far as preparing to go out on every set at the park, I do a stretching routine, and I try and conserve my energy between sets. It can be a lot doing 5 days a week!

And, now, not only am I playing Beetlejuice at Universal, but I’m portraying him at Beetle House LA!

PopHorror: I remember seeing something about that! I was surprised to learn that they allowed you to do Beetlejuice outside the theme park!

Ron Keck: Well… they haven’t come after me yet. (laughs) Let’s just say that. What I would really love to do is become an actual licensed Beetlejuice through Warner Brothers.

PopHorror: (laughs) You’d be great at it! You spend quite a bit of time as Beetlejuice. What is the biggest challenge in your day to day portrayal of him?

Ron Keck: (laughs) Makeup, which is what I’m in the process of taking off as we speak. I easily get burnt out on it. Currently, I have a wart on my foot, which has caused all kinds of leg and hip problems because it feels like there’s glass in my foot. So, repetition of six sets a day can be very tiring! (laughs) But getting the makeup on and taking it off is probably the biggest challenge.

PopHorror: What do you like most about your work portraying such an iconic character?

Ron Keck: Making people laugh and smile! And giving them an emotional memory to take home along with their pictures. Because when the people are having fun, then so am I!

PopHorror: It seems like that would be a lot of fun to do what you do!

Ron Keck: It is! It can be a little daunting, though. Especially if it has been 89 degrees all day.

PopHorror: That’s true! I don’t imagine that they allow Beetlejuice to wear shorts and a t-shirt.

Ron Keck: (both laugh) Nope! So, in the summer time, keeping dry is a little bit of a problem.

Ron Keck as Unman Dane

PopHorror: (laughs) Well, I’m also aware that you hosted the We Are Indie Horror Film Festival in Vegas last year as a different character known as Unman Dane. Did you come up with this character yourself?

Ron Keck: Yes! He’s my own creation.

PopHorror: What was the inspiration for Unman Dane?

Ron Keck: I first wrote and created him back in 2002. I was in Las Vegas at the time, and I was hosting a freakshow called Shock that starred Zamora The Torture King. I did that show for awhile, and the guys who convert the Adventure Dome into the Fright Dome began consulting with me because they wanted the freakshow for their venue. So, it was at that time when I came up with Unman Dane.

I wrote a show, but we never actually got to do it. Six weeks from the show’s opening, some executives decided that they didn’t want to do it. So, all this work, time and effort got canned. I had music written and a whole bunch of stuff to go with the show, and they decided not to go with it. BUT I always kept Unman Dane in my mind and in my heart. So, when I got back to Los Angeles, I started talking to people about this character. We Are Indie Horror had their own horror host thing going on, but they wanted Unman Dane to come in for one episode. At the time, I didn’t have a costume. I created him to be a wendigo with a deer skull … but that was about it. So, I had someone draw a concept of what I was thinking, and I emulated that to get Unman off the ground! I put together a costume for him and hosted ScareLA in 2017. But I have yet to do a show that I have in mind called Late Fright with Unman Dane.

PopHorror: Do you see that happening in the future?

Ron Keck: Oh, yes! Really soon. We wanted to do something this month, and we still might. I’ll be working with Joseph Davis and Brian Gerson of PROco PROduction coMPANY [read the PopHorror interview here] to do The Legend of Unman Dane. It’s a whole backstory of how he was created. We have a whole song to go along with it, and we plan to use shadow puppets to tell the story!

I just made an appearance as Unman Dane in something called The Bone Yard, which is put together by makeup artist and owner of Bone Yard Effects, Larry Bones. So, I got to give people a glimpse of Late Fright with Unman Dane. We were going to do a Halloween show with Bone Yard Effects, but their venue fell through, and they’re unable to do the haunt this year. So, we haven’t actively gotten Late Fright with Unman Dane together. But I have everything lined up for my first show. I have my performers, sideshow people, fire people, music and special effects! I’m ready to go! (laughs) I just need a venue.

The idea of Late Fright with Unman Dane is that it will be a weekly show filmed in front of a live audience. We plan to showcase sideshow freaks from around the world, horror rock bands, directors, stars, composers and whoever we can get from the horror film industry. We plan to incorporate the whole Elvira thing where we show a feature length film or a couple of horror short films, and the Late Fright part is done before the commercial breaks. Kinda like Svengoolie.

I’m a big fan of horror comedy! I like to have fun with my blood and guts. Think Eric Andre meets Ash Vs Evil Dead. (laughs) That’s the kind of chaos and energy I’m hoping to capture with Late Fright with Unman Dane! I will have people dying on stage and in the middle of the audience. The goal is that the first few rows of the audience gets blood on them. We’ll send people home with a souvenir. Buy a white poncho to get blood on and take it home! (laughs) Or wear white and go home with blood on your clothes! (laughs) But, like the Blue Man Group, we’ll have plastic to put over people who want to keep the gore off of them.

PopHorror: (laughs) That sounds like a chaotic good time! Are there any other exciting gigs coming up that you would like to mention?

Ron Keck: We recently had a killer clown party at the Beetle House where I got to play Twisty from American Horror Story, and, on another night, I revived my impersonation of Heath Ledger’s Joker that I portrayed years ago at Universal. I also have a few Unman Dane videos on YouTube with the recent introduction of the ghoulish wendigo’s son, Little Jawknee. he’s only 6 months old and he ate his way out of his mother. (both laugh) He’s the product of a groupie and a wendigo. Oh, I’m also excited to be doing Halloween Horror Nights at Universal as Beetlejuice for ’80s Throwback Thursdays! There will be prizes for best ’80s attire and an ’80s dance contest with a band and DJ. It’ll be loads of fun!

PopHorror: I think your performances speak for themselves. Seeing you as Unman Dane during the We Are Indie Horror promo and then as Beetlejuice, I never would have guessed they were both portrayed by the same person. Do you have any plans to jump into film any time soon?

Ron Keck: Oh, I’m just waiting for people to cast me! (laughs) Yes, I am available, and I am a member of the Screen Actors Guild. I am out here to pursue film and television.

PopHorror: I think you have some great ideas, and I look forward to hearing about them as they come to life in the near future! Thank you, again, for your time, Ron.

Ron Keck: Of course! And hey … Stay spooky!

As Ron continues entertaining at Universal Studios making it a day for guests to remember, we look forward to seeing the development of Unman Dane as he haunts and rocks the indie scene. With proven range, it wouldn’t surprise me if we see the method actor rock other roles in the near future!

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