With a remake of the horror classic A Nightmare on Elm Street in post-production and scheduled for theatrical release in late April of this year, Freddy Krueger, the infamous villain of the franchise, is poised to once again terrorize the dreams of movie goers. In this new re-imaging of the original Nightmare movie, Krueger’s trademark hat and razor-clawed glove will be worn by a new actor (Jackie Earle Haley) for the first time. However, it is impossible to forget Robert Englund — the man who first brought the sinister character of Krueger to life and who helped to establish the fictional serial killer as a permanent part of pop culture.
Mr. Englund, a classically trained actor, first portrayed Krueger in the 1984 original installment and continued to play the role in eight subsequent slasher films, as well as in various TV appearances. In fact, Englund and Doug Bradley (Pinhead from the Hellraiser series) are the only actors to have played a horror character eight consecutive times. He last portrayed Freddy in the 2003 movie Freddy vs. Jason.
Outside of his famous work with the Nightmare franchise, Englund has also starred in numerous other film and TV roles and has worked as a director on films such as 976-EVIL and Killer Pad. Most recently, Englund has written a memoir entitled Hollywood Monster: A Walk Down Elm Street with the Man of Your Dreams with co-author Alan Goldsher. The book was released last fall and is an account of his life in the movie business.
With Robert Englund busy promoting his memoir and horror fans anxiously awaiting the new Nightmare installment, an interview with the original Freddy Krueger seemed appropriate.
I was fortunate to have had the opportunity to pose questions to Mr. Englund about his experiences portraying Freddy Krueger, his other projects as an actor and a director, his favorite horror movies, his thoughts on the possibly participating in the new incarnation of the Nightmare movies, and his future in movie business.
You are an established icon of the horror genre. Were you always a fan of horror movies, or did your involvement in them come by chance?
I remember watching Frankenstein on TV as a kid and being very scared. Back then, movies were shown largely uncut to fill time. It freaked me out.
My involvement came by chance. I was starring in V as Willie, the good alien and thought I would be forever typecast as the lovable sidekick. My agent called me to go on an interview for Wes Craven, whom I'd heard of. It sounded interesting and a nice change from Willie so I went. The rest is history.
As I understand, you are a classically trained actor. How, if at all, did that background influence your performance as Freddy Krueger?
Freddy's physicality, his gunslinger swagger, is influenced by stage acting and my classical training. Most straight acting is really reacting. So Freddy gives me a chance to be more broad.
When creating the role of Freddy in the original Nightmare movies, were you given a great deal of freedom by director Wes Craven, or was he very specific about how he wanted the character to be portrayed? Also, if you were given freedom with the role, what were your inspirations as you created it?
Wes created the character and had many ideas. I brought his vanity (he hides his bald head under a hat) and in later movies his humor and sexual threat. I was influenced by Klaus Kinski in Nosferatu and a pocket book cover for The Shadow with a man in a fedora.
Your role as Freddy opened the door for you to star in and/or be involved with a number of other horror films outside of the Nightmare franchise. Which is your favorite of those films and why?
Because horror is international, Freddy really opened the door for me to star in movies internationally. Il Rittorno Di Cagliostro, directed by Cipri and Maresco was an amazing experience to film. We shot in studios and villas around Palermo in southern Italy. The film received a ten-minute standing ovation at the Venice Film Festival.
Of the Nightmare films, which is your favorite and why?
New Nightmare really holds up. It is so clever — a deconstructed horror movie, a wink to the fans of the genre. Wes is a smart guy. Plus it was fun to be reunited with actors from the original cast.
During the years that you portrayed Freddy Krueger, the character gradually took on a bit of a jokester personality that wasn’t as prominent in the original two films. Was this by your choice, or did the idea come from the writers and directors? Also, what is your response to those who have criticized that change in the character?
I blame the editors. Often when filming a scene I would give the editor the choice of a dark moment or a laugh. For better or worse, most of the laughs stayed in. Also, it is easier to scare the audience if you catch them off guard. Humor and horror go hand in hand for that reason. Critics are always going to criticize something, right?
What is the most frightening horror film that you have seen? What makes it so terrifying?
When I was eight or nine I went with some friends to a movie for a birthday party. The mom dropped us off. We were supposed to see some kid's matinee but instead saw the grown-up WWII movie The Naked and the Dead. In it there is a scene where a GI gets bit by a lime green snake and dies horribly, writhing in pain and foaming at the mouth. I have had an abiding fear of snakes ever since.
Aside from acting, you are also a talented director. What has influenced you the most as a director and why?
My classical training taught me to respect the word. I read the script and try my best to tell that story.
The Nightmare franchise is being revived with a new team, and I’ve read of your excitement about the project. If this new revival produces sequels, would directing a future Nightmare movie (and the new Freddy, Jackie Early Haley) interest you at all?
Not particularly. I would prefer to direct small stories about people rather than big budget FX extravaganzas.
You have finished your autobiography. Was writing it an enjoyable experience?
I am pleased that it is finished. I worked with a ghost writer who helped shape it. It will be coming out in Spanish soon.
What projects does the future hold for Robert Englund as an actor and/or a director?
I have a few projects lined up that are shooting in Spain. I don't want to jinx them by saying more.
Robert Englund's new memoir, Hollywood Monster: A Walk Down Elm Street with the Man of Your Dreams, can be purchased wherever books are sold. You may visit his website to learn more.