There’s more to Robert Englund than meets the eye. We all know him as the classic Freddy Krueger in the Nightmare on Elm St franchise, but behind the mask of horror’s greatest villain lay a serious actor with serious ambitions, as he revealed to Paul Fischer in this exclusive interview.
Robert Englund is an energetic mood. Lying down in his hotel room sofa in Beverly Hills, the 54-year old star of Freddy vs. Jason is busily promoting his latest outing as Freddy Krueger, from London to Texas and here in Los Angeles. “It’s exhausting but fun when you have a film that you are at least proud of,” the actor says. But Englund will continue his travels later this month, visiting the Venice Film Festival. No, the prestigious Festival is not screening any of Englund’s Freddy movies, but rather, an Italian film he shot outside of Rome last year, Il Ritorno di Cagliostro. “I’m a bad actor who is trying to resurrect his career,” Englund laughingly explains.
The Los Angeles native says that Freddy Krueger, the character he created in Wes Craven’s 1984 low-budget classic, A Nightmare on Elm Street, enabled the once unknown actor, to be able to appear in films as diverse as Ritorno di Cagliostro. “I think it’s a happy accident that my career has kind of come full circle now. I would not have done that movie had I not been in Rome at a Freddie Krueger retrospective,” a laughing Englund recalls. “I met these guys and they asked me to come down to their beautiful little art theatre in Palermo, where they take the kids out of the projects, and they introduce them to world cinema. So I went there as a favour for them flew there on my own dime and I talked to their students. Finally these two directors offered me a part in this movie a year later and it’s just remarkable.” If that’s not enough, Englund will also be attending the Montreal Film Festival with another film, “based on a play called ‘Who the Fuck Started All This,’ but it’s now called ‘Like a Bad Dream’,” which, despite its title, is as far removed from his more famous alter-ego as you can get.
Robert Englund began his acting training at age 12, taking a variety of drama courses before making his first professional appearance in a Cleveland production of Godspell. His first film role was the self-important Whitey in Buster and Billie (1974), after which he paid his dues in a series of villainous bit parts: shooting down Burt Reynolds at the end of Hustle (1975); beating up Kris Kristofferson in A Star is Born (1976); as well as appearing in many a seventies classic. For Englund, the seventies in Hollywood remains an unforgettable period in his life.
“I remember being in the south with Scatman Crothers as a next-door neighbour on one side, Jeff Bridges downstairs practicing on his guitar, Sally Field in the pool in her little beautiful Gidget body, in a bikini, Joanne Cassidy from Bladerunner laughing loud in the bar, Arnold Schwarzenegger, rubbed down with baby oil with all his body-builder friends by the pool, working out. We were down there for three months shooting Stay Hungry a Bob Rafelson film. There was Buster and Billy, with the young, beautiful Jan Michael Vincent, before all the tragedy that befell him and being on location in the south. It was wonderful, with Daniel Petrie who spoiled me rotten as a first time director and was such a wonderful, gentle, kind, giving director. I remember watching a Lakers game in the jungle down there, in Georgia and he had fired the caterer and hired this wonderful old black woman, who was making homemade blueberry pie. Eating blueberry pie and watching the Lakers, during my first movie was pretty good. I got my nose broken by Kris Kristofferson and Richard Gere in fight scenes,” he recalls, smilingly and with nostalgic affection.
It was a wonderful period for Hollywood cinema, and says that he does miss those times, “because I miss my youth and I miss the sense of awe and wonder I had, but it just changed. Who knew that this kid, Steven Spielberg, would make a wonderful movie called “Jaws” but, because of that success, it changed the way that everybody deals with summer now.”
After appearing in the TV series ‘V’, the role that would change his life would materialise. Impressed by Englund’s performance in V, director Wes Craven buried Englund under several layers of latex and cast him as malevolent, mass-murdering Freddy Krueger in A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984). The actor became an instant star, appearing in five Nightmare sequels, hosting a 1988 television spin-off, and basking in the glow of a multitude of fan clubs. Though Englund has been able to escape the Freddy persona, he can certainly understand the character’s enormous popularity.
“What is interesting is that these movies have travelled so well, they’re international, appealing and you don’t really need subtitles with them, because they’re not that culturally specific. Everyone has this great primal basic hook which is the nightmare, the bad dream, so people can identify with these films.” Englund says that because of Freddy, “I’ve kind of come full circle now as a direct result of Freddie. I wouldn’t be going to Venice if it wasn’t for him.” As to Freddy’s latest sage in Freddy vs. Jason, Englund is pleased with this latest adventure but admits it wasn’t the easiest film to have made. “It was a rough one. I mean we were in Canada, it was cold, and I did a lot of water stunts. They over-glued me for a while. I chased outlaws, putting glue on raw flesh. It was a rough shoot, and there were a lot of pitfalls, and a lot of holes we could have stepped into on this one, that we had to avoid. We didn’t want to get too cute or too camp as we had to respect both of the parallel back stories.”
Englund is non-committal about doing another film, and forget those internet rumours, because Englund says he’ll only reprise the role if the script is right. “I certainly hope they don’t have me out there mud wrestling with Chuckie or doing a tag team with Michael Meyers. But one thing that I have heard of, which is a little bit intriguing, is and I understand there’s a script floating around called “Elm Street: The First Kills”, and it’s a prequel. It’s Freddie out of makeup, as the serial killer, and then it’s the police story of how they capture him. Then, even more evil than Freddie, are the lawyers that get him off. So you get that great Elm Street thing about condemnation of American society that we always have, so THAT’S intriguing.”
Englund, who loves to travel these days, says that he is also seriously contemplating writing his memoirs. “I’ve really got that kind of worked out, because I was near show business all my life, so my opening sentence in my autobiography is: “My mother grew up down the street from King Kong’s girlfriend and around the corner from the fat Little Rascal.’ It’s gonna be called Freddie Speaks, or Monster in Hollywood.”