I’ve never been a big A Nightmare on Elm Street fan. There, I SAID IT! But, in my defense, I am 1) an idiot and 2) not a fan of any particular franchise, with Nightmare on Elm Street being no exception. I like the first movie and think A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors and Freddy vs. Jason are a lot of fun, but just never made a strong connection with Freddy Krueger. New Nightmare, on the other hand, is ambitious and fascinating, and as a big fan of Scream, I appreciate the ways in which Wes Craven began toying with the more meta elements of the genre. Despite not being a huge fan, when I had the chance to speak with Robert Englund, there was no way I was going to pass that up. Not only is Englund an icon for his work as Krueger, but he has starred in dozens of other genre efforts, making him a contemporary horror icon alongside the likes of Lon Chaney Jr. or Boris Karloff. While the reason for our talk was about his film Nightworld, I managed to guide the discussion towards his more famous role.
Robert Englund – October 3, 2017
WolfMan: Thanks for speaking with me, Robert, how’s your day going so far?
Robert Englund: Pretty good. I’m doing laundry. I got to fly to Spain tomorrow. I just finished a big virtual reality project with Alexandre Aja.
WM: Oh, that’s great. I’m a big fan of his work.
RE: I’m going to be a guest at a film festival in Barcelona with Guillermo del Toro and Alexandre, and I’m really looking forward to seeing The Shape of Things, Guillermo’s new movie that everybody’s talking about, because I’m a huge fan of his.
So I’m looking forward to some red wine, some tapas, and seeing Guillermo’s new movie. But I’ve got 10 days worth of underwear I’ve got to wash, because I’ve just gotten back from somewhere else. So I’m packing today, but I made time for you.
WM: I appreciate it, sir. And I’m a fan of Aja so I look forward to what you two are cooking up.
RE: Oh, he’s so good. I love the actors in his movie Horns. There’s just some terrific new talent in that movie.
WM: Daniel Radcliffe, Juno Temple…
RE: Yeah, and he was mentored by Wes Craven a bit, you know, and approved for the remake of Wes’s film. Gosh, I think he’s even worked second unit with Alexander Cuaron. I’m not sure but I think I heard that somewhere. Don’t quote me on that.
WM: Too late.
RE: But I mean, I think he did, and Cuaron is a genius too, you know. I love all those guys. It’s just there’s such a great interpretation of new cinema coming from a certain Latin perspective that I really love. I mean, Robert Rodriguez, I just did his new animated show Spy Kids and I had to turn down his TV show From Dusk till Dawn because of a conflict. But I just really love his work and I love Guillermo’s work. I think Devil’s Backbone is one of my favorite movies.
It’s easy to love Pan’s Labyrinth but Devil’s Backbone is like one of the best ghost stories ever, and it’s political, and Eduardo Noriega fucks a girl with a wooden leg. I mean, what’s not to like, you know? That should be a double bill, you know. That and Romeo is Bleeding. “Amputee Fucking” starring Gary Oldman and Eduardo Noriega.
WM: You mention you’re doing laundry, so will that be part of the immersive virtual reality project you’re working on with Aja?
RE: No, doing laundry will not. But I’ll tell you, it’s like another world working with virtual reality. Oh my god. It’s crazy because there’s 10 cameras and each one of them, you have to check the memory card, you have to check the electrical impulse, you have to clean it. And for the first time ever, Alexandre had invented, well his people did, they’re called Future Lighthouse, but what they had invented, playback for virtual reality after every take. But you have to watch 10 playbacks because there’s 10 versions.
So you have to watch every one of them. So if you’re cooking in a scene and you really got something going, after every time they say cut, it’s like 45 minutes. So you really have to get into that. You have to re-pace yourself and sort of surrender to the camera because it’s really god on a virtual reality project.
WM: Well I know how why you have to wash so much underwear, that process sounds terrifying and exhausting.
RE: It was awful hot and we were in the woods and everything.
WM: To call you a genre icon feels like a bit of an understatement, as not only are many of your roles iconic, but also your own personality has a legacy all its own.
RE: Well I like to think of myself as, and this is what I want in my obituary, a veteran character actor, because veteran really implies you’ve done a lot, and I think I’m coming up here, I think I’m between 75 and 80 films now. Now, I don’t brag about that because I get drunk with Lance Henriksen, and he’s done 150 movies.
We were doing our toast to Bill Paxton a while back and I realized just how many movies Lance has been in. God almighty, and he calls some of them alimony movies. But still, that’s the life of a working actor. That’s what we are. We’re players, we’re troubadours. I spent the entire ’70s as an A-list sidekick and best friend. I worked with everybody from Henry Fonda to Barbara Streisand to Susan Sarandon to Jeff Bridges, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Sally Field. I think I just quoted six Oscars right there.
I was starring with them. I was starring with those people in movies and doing nude scenes with them and fighting with them and shooting pool with them and playing their best friends. But that’s like a chapter. Then I became this TV star from a science fiction show that elevated special effects. That’s a chapter.
But during that time, I did this little independent horror movie for New Line Cinema, and I did it to work with Wes Craven because I really was curious. I really thought he was a talented guy, and then that made me international. That’s the great, happy accident that I got from being a genre actor. Wes taught me how to respect the genre. Then the world respected me. So that just like a natural volition after that. From then on, I just went wherever people wanted me and didn’t worry about career or image or anything like that.
I think somewhere along the line, I became a road company Vincent Price. When I got out of the makeup in 2003, I’d aged and I got this craggy, Scottish face, and my beard came in white when I grew it in. It had been a little bit of red and brown before that. With my weird dirty blonde hair, now my beard came in really nice and gray with some white streaks in it, and I looked sort of like Max von Sydow. I looked a little bit like old George C. Scott. I looked a little bit like Trevor Howard, the old English actor. A combination of all that, and it really served me well. As an older actor, I began playing the professor and the scientist and the stepfather and the old poacher. And the psychoanalyst. So I never would’ve probably been offered those roles because I’ve been this happy-go-lucky sidekick. Nerd, best friend.
In the ’70s, I did a lot of comedy in the theater, and because of my face, and because of my dues in fantasy and science fiction and horror, I’m allowed these roles now. I’m asked to play these parts. Like, the one we’re calling about, Nightworld is an example of that. It’s my fussy little Eastern European contemporary Van Helsing character.
It’s fun for me, at my age and I’ve got three movies coming out. It’s just fun to still be wanted.
WM: You might be most well-known for Freddy Krueger, but you have dozens of roles people love. Personally, I’m fond of your role in Jack Brooks: Monster Slayer.
RE: Well you know, it’s strange because there’s a bigger fan base for retro horror than I realized, and practical horror. I get a lot of feedback on that one. But what’s great about Jack Brooks is kids can watch it. It’s real kid-proof. I do tons and tons of cartoon voiceovers all the time. I just finished doing the new animated Spy Kids for Robert Rodriguez. But I’m always giving a picture of me with all my cartoon characters to the kids if I’m at a convention or a film festival. But I feel very safe about telling them to watch that. Also, I think, on early mornings now, sometimes on SYFY channel, and on Robert Rodriguez’s El Ray channel, they run V, and V‘s great for kids. Kids love V.
And it’s nice for them because it sort of stretches their attention spans because it’s a miniseries. Then a series. So I finally have things I can recommend kids to see, other than my cartoons. But yeah, Jack Brooks was fun to do. I did the old Goat, what do they call it? You know, they put the kind of goat bladder skin on you, and then they fill it with air, and they did it off of a makeup of my own face. They did pieces, I think it was on my temples and my jowls and my wattles on my neck. I don’t think it was in the middle of my forehead, but they brought the seam of the piece up like on a diagonal above my eye. So when they expanded my head, it really worked. It’s a really great practical effect. That was fun to do.
WM: Everyone loves Freddy Krueger and obviously that’s your most famous role, but is there another character you’ve played, whether it was from a horror, comedy, or drama film, that you wish got more attention?
RE: The thing is, with the new paradigm of streaming and cable and Netflix and … I’ve got on-demand, among other things, and I can go every Friday to the movie section: New Releases, Sundance, Independent. I can click on Horror and I can watch trailers for a half-hour for free of all the new horror movies that come out. Then on another site on on-demand, they’re all listed alphabetically. So people are finding this stuff. This is what’s great. I have one, when I do my homage to Donald Pleasence, I have one called, “Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon.”
I’m really proud of it and it has some terrific acting in it. Scott Wilson, Zelda Rubinstein, the lead boy, Nathan Baesel. And, by the way, it has a great sequel script, but I think that the producers want to see if they can peddle it as a limited series. But it’s a terrific, terrific movie within a movie. Just a great sequel script with doppelgangers and everything going on. Hollywood doppelgangers. So that movie, now, is actually probably achieved official cult status and gotten discovered.
My business manager had a movie, a little gem called “Suicide Kings”. It didn’t do any business when it came out, but it was on Cinemax every Saturday night for a year. Quentin Tarantino saw it, and then he put it in a box set with Jackie Brown, a movie I love, and Reservoir Dogs. So now, it’s a full-established cult classic. So that happens a lot with films and you can’t really predict it.
I did films in the ’70s that I’m really proud of that just didn’t quite click. I did one called “Stay Hungry” that’s about the new south of Jimmy Carter, and it’s that shift in change. It’s also the first movie that addresses the vanity of the fitness craze and whether it’s a good thing or not, the whole going to the gym rat thing. But it also deals with exploitation and real estate and gentrification. Also roots, it really deals with your roots.
I was hanging out on that movie with Scatman Crothers and talking about The Shining and I was getting my back massaged with Arnold Schwarzenegger. I was getting drunk with Sally Field while she sang AM rock n’ roll hits like karaoke. So it was just this great chapter of my life. But that movie never clicked, even though the guy that directed it had just directed Five Easy Pieces. So you never know.
I’ve had projects that we didn’t fully finance. I spent a year in Italy scouting for a great Russian horror fable, and I had Christopher Lee promised and Donald Sutherland, and I had Amanda Plummer and maybe Lance Henriksen, and maybe the guy from Under the Tuscan Sun and maybe Jessica Lowndes. I had all feelers out to all these people, and some promises that I’d used up a lot of my capital and a lot of friendship on it. Then the recession hit, and the European financing fell down.
But that’s one that is gone with the wind. But for every one that’s gone with the wind, there’s something new in the hopper and something new on the back burner, and something new coming out. I did a movie with giant puppets last year. I know it takes long because it’s animation. But I’m waiting to see what that’s going to look like. Chris McDonald’s in that. A lot of good people. So it’ll be interesting to see how that comes out.
WM: You mentioned Donald Pleasence earlier and, with a new Halloween on the way, petitions sprang up to get you to play Dr. Loomis in the new film. Is that something that interests you at all?
RE: Well I hear this stuff, but you know the internet is so crazy. You know it. I mean, we know now that every time on the internet you saw the word Benghazi or the time you saw the words “emails about Hillary Clinton,” we know now that’s a plant. That wasn’t your friend. That wasn’t your buddy, that wasn’t your mother. That wasn’t somebody that you know saying, “Did you hear?” It was like a plant by Russians in a troll farm in Macedonia in an industrial center. A bunch of poor students in crappy turtlenecks doing that. I mean that’s unbelievable to me.
The same thing happens with fake projects because people get that energy going out there and it looks real, and then sometimes they get lucky and get financing because they get a lot of hits. But no one has ever talked to my agent. Now, I love that guy that’s producing it from Eastbound and Down.
WM: Danny McBride and David Gordon Green.
RE: I love Danny McBride. I love Danny McBride, and I think he loves horror, just like Jordan Peele, and I think he’s probably going to do a great job with it. Because this is a guy that can do anything he wanted, and knows Robert Downey, you know, the richest man since God, and he can probably do anything he wants and he chose Halloween, which he’s got a lot of pressure on him and he’s got a lot of burden to do it right. But he’s got Jamie Lee Curtis, it sounds like. He’s going to figure it out right.
But I can think of English actors that are probably better than me for that role. There’s a couple I can think of. One or two are in Game of Thrones. One or two were in Harry Potter, just actors I love. But the thing is, I’ve already done my salute to Donald Pleasence, who I loved all my life.
Since the ’60s when I was in college, I’ve loved his movies. I discovered him in a weird little Roman Polanski movie. I’ve always been a fan of his. Then he was a big Pinter star, and we were all in love with Sam Shepard and Harold Pinter back in the day, and Edward Albee. So I loved that stuff, yeah. But I’ve sort of done that role now in Behind the Mask. I don’t really need to do it again.
And I also, because of the baggage I bring, as a genre actor, I could possibly throw it out of balance. Although I do understand the quest. But if I was casting, I could probably improve on Robert Englund. I look like him, and if I shave my head it would be very interesting and shaved it would be very interesting. I do a very good English accent because I went to school over there. But I don’t think that’s in the cards. But I do appreciate the fan love.
WM: Well speaking of fan speculation and the return of iconic figures, you’ve said that you’ve moved on from the role of Freddy Krueger, but support someone like Kevin Bacon taking on the character if there was a new movie.
RE: Well, Kevin did a great horror movie called “Stir of Echoes.” Kevin was in Friday the 13th. I know way down deep, Kevin has a respect for horror. He’s not one of those guys that goes on the talk show and says, “This isn’t a horror movie. It’s a psychological drama.” There’s a lot of people that still put down the genre.
Wes taught me to respect it. We used to all have to sit by the kitchen door in the commissary at the studios. Well now we’re top 10 every week, and now the horror, science fiction, and fantasy people are running the town. Every week, we have a top 10 movie and I’m really proud of that. Kevin, I really think of Kev, even though he’s a good-looking, rock n’ roll guy, I think he’s really a true character actor. I think he might have fun with it.
And he’s the right size and weight. I think it would be interesting. But it all comes down to the script, and I hope they don’t remake the original again. I hope they jump forward after the Jackie Earle Haley one. Maybe do part two, or maybe go and combine part three and four. God, I hope they don’t remake part one again. I don’t think that’s a good idea.