One, two, Freddy’s coming for you. The man of your dreams is in Brisbane this weekend!
Best known for playing the sadistic serial killer Freddy Krueger in the Nightmare on Elm Street films, Robert Englund — in town for this weekend’s Oz Comic-Con — isn’t just a horror icon.
We sat down with the foodie, surfer and cinephile this morning to talk about the film that scares him, the surprising role he played in shaping Star Wars, and why he thinks the world is ready for a bigger, gayer remake of A Nightmare on Elm Street 2.
So, what have you been doing in Brisbane?
Well, I’ve been doing a lot of eating. I went out last night, you might know the place, it’s the hotel with the great seafood restaurant…
Yeah, Gambaro! I had the seafood platter. Oh, my god… I had the mud crab, I had some bugs, and the guy did the fresh prawns tableside, provincial-style, like they do in the south of France, with just a splash of Cognac and a little bit of cream. And oh, my god, this guy nailed it. It was so good.
So I’ve been enjoying myself immeasurably in Brisbane, but I’m going to have to go on a diet.
Have you had time for a surf?
I’ve got to be honest with you, I’m just so out of shape right now… I’ve been too busy working to get to the gym, so I would just get in the way here. My arms would be like noodles if I tried to paddle.
I’ve already made my pilgrimage to Bondi. I did do that. I went out to Dee Why Point and to Cronulla, just to look at them, because these were words — exotic words — that I hung over my bed as a child. I idolised Midget Farrelly and Nat Young. These Australian surfers were my gods, as a young Californian surfer boy.
So every time I come back here, I’ll be in traffic somewhere, and I’ll see the names of one of those beaches. And for a second, I’m absolutely transported back to being a 13-year-old boy, wanting to be an Australian surf pioneer.
You’re out here again for Oz Comic-Con. You’ve played countless characters over the years, in god knows how many films…
It’s somewhere between 70 and 80 films. I count some TV movies in there, because I did the TV movies in the ’70s, and they were movies then. They took six weeks to film, and there were big stars in them. So it’s somewhere between 70 and 80 movies.
I just finished one called Midnight Man, with Lin Shaye from the Insidious franchise. We go all the way back to the first Nightmare, she played the teacher. That comes out next year.
And I’ve got one coming out on DVD that I did in England with Finn Jones from Game of Thrones. It’s called The Last Showing, I play a projectionist. It’s coming out now on DVD in Australia, so I’m proud to toot my horn about that.
But of all those roles you’ve played, Freddy Krueger is obviously the one people recognise you for. Why do you think that role, in particular, has endured?
Well, it’s a great irony. Just before Nightmare, I starred in a huge, hit miniseries called V, and people were finally starting to put a name to my face. I’d done 15 movies, but up until then, I was getting a lot of, ‘Hey, did I go to school with you?’
I mean, I’d worked with everybody. I’d worked with Henry Fonda, Jeff Bridges, Sally Field, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Burt Reynolds, Charles Bronson, all the big stars of the ’70s… but it wasn’t until V that people started to put a name to my face.
And then I did A Nightmare on Elm Street. Here I was buried under a pound of foam latex, prosthetics, glue and a hat, and suddenly everybody knew my name. They looked my name up right away.
I’d love to take credit for why Nightmare on Elm Street works, but I’m more the logo for the experience than anything else.
But the appeal is twofold. The first part is the nightmare, the dreamscape. That subconsious world that’s so private that is violated by this ghost, this horrible serial killer that never went all the way to hell, so he’s operating out of some sort of subconscious purgatory.
He’s whispered about and he’s talked about in the gymnasium and by the lockers and after school in cars where teenagers smoke cigarettes, or at sleepover parties amongst girls in their pyjamas. “I heard my mother talking about this man, he wore a filthy old sweater…”
In a perfect world, I think every one of his victims would imagine a different Freddy, actually. They’d all be in a red-and-green sweater but maybe one of them would be a cardigan, or one of them would be a turtleneck. Maybe the hat would change. Maybe the claws would be longer or shorter.
But I think nightmares are so universal that it made us an international hit. Hollywood had exploited the dream sequence before, but mostly in MGM musicals. The genius of [director] Wes [Craven] was to take it into the horror realm, where there’s that sense of a personal privacy invasion. You know, Freddy knows what’s in your underwear drawer. He knows what’s in your diary. He knows what you’re afraid of. That’s what he’s exploiting, and I think that’s really magical.
You know, I always have to caution people, Freddy was not, and never has been, and should never be depicted as a paedophile. Freddy killed children, but he didn’t do anything else to them. Isn’t killing them bad enough?
If you’re killing children, what are you doing? You’re killing the future. The children are our future. Freddy has no future. So that’s what that means. You could imagine going to see a punk rock band in Brisbane tonight called ‘The Child Killers’, because it’s very negative and nihilistic imagery.
The other component of those films is that there was always a strong girl, the survivor girl. We always had a strong girl vanquish Freddy. She always wins. In every single movie, a girl wins. She survives, she’s smart, and she’s clever. So we had this sort of feminist through-line in all the movies.
I think we were the first horror movie that claimed the ‘fan girl’, the horror fan girl. Before that, you’d go see a horror movie and it was almost exclusively boys in the audience at the Saturday matinee… that all changed with Nightmare, because we had the survivor girl, the heroic girl.
You mentioned some of the huge names you worked with in the ’70s. Is it true you actually auditioned to play Han Solo in Star Wars around that time as well?
Well, here’s what happened. I auditioned for the surfer in Apocalypse Now, and I was too old. I really thought I was going to nail it. I was 170 pounds of solid muscle, I had long, blond hair down my back, and when I went into the audition I was wearing thrift clothes — a pair of tight green Levi jeans, a pair of work boots, and a military green shirt with the sleeves rolled up, and I had dog tags on, too. So I looked a little military, but I looked like a surfer, too.
I didn’t get the part, and as I started to leave, they said, “Wait, Robert, they’re doing something across the hall with George Lucas”. And I perked right up when I heard ‘George Lucas’, because I love American Graffiti. It’s a perfect movie. The perfect film about my generation. I love it. So my eyes lit up and I went across the hall.
They wanted an older Han Solo at that point. They wanted him to be like that cool uncle who just comes around once a year, you know? Luke Skywalker’s cool uncle who smokes a joint with him or something. At least that’s what they were talking about in the office with me.
They just took Polaroids of me and that was it. I could tell I was too young. I don’t think Harrison was on their radar at that point; they were all friends but I don’t think he was on their radar for that part yet.
So anyway, I picked up the sides [the parts of a script used for actors to audition with], went across the street, had a drink at the old Formosa and sat next to Elvis Presley’s sound mixer and shot the s**t for an hour. I drove home in my battered old sports car, up into the Hills.
At that time, Mark Hamill was always on my couch. He was a TV star. He was filming a TV series across the street; I think it was called The Texas Wheelers, with Gary Busey. So he was always at my place, and I knew he was home because his cowboy boots were out front. He always left his boots outside.
So there he was, halfway through a six-pack, watching The Mary Tyler Moore Show. I went in and I said to him, ‘Look at these sides, I think you’re right for this, man. This character is like a space prince, and it’s George Lucas!’
Mark loved science fiction and horror. I’d been a fanboy, too, but Mark was in arrested development as a fanboy. He’d been an army brat, and he just idolised everything in American popular culture. But he was hip, too! He was into The Kinks, he was into Lenny Bruce, he was into Monty Python before anybody. He turned me on to some of that.
So I said to him, ‘Mark, you’ve got to do this, it’s George Lucas!’ I wasn’t even really pushing the space bit, I was just saying, ‘Wow, what if you got to be in a George Lucas movie, Mark? You’re the kind of actor he loves!’ So he got on the phone to his agent and the rest is history.
That’s the true story. But the internet wants to make it like, you know, I turned down the part of Luke Skywalker for Mark Hamill. I would never have turned it down! F***ing Mark never even paid rent!
Did he pay you back in some way?
No, no, Mark was my dear, dear friend. Mark had so much money then because he was a TV star, and there was more money in television. He was always picking up the bill at coffee shops. There were always a couple of six packs in the refrigerator, courtesy of Mark. He was actually really generous, a real generous guy.
But the thing was, Mark had an apartment in Hollywood. And he was such a terrible bachelor that he’d let his kitchen get out of control. He would never clean it, it would get so bad.
He had the most beautiful girlfriend in the world, Anne Wyndham. She was a phenomenally beautiful actress, and she and Mark were in deep, deep love. But Mark was so worried that if she saw his kitchen, she would break up with him, because he was such a pig. So he literally nailed his kitchen door shut.
So he was always at my apartment. I had this great contemporary apartment designed by the architect Richard Neutra, with a beautiful backyard and really hip gay neighbours, and Mark could walk to work from there. So that’s why he was always there.
His nickname back then was Baby Mark, because if he was late, or if his watch stopped working, or if his car had problems, he would throw a little fit about it. That was Baby Mark.
You’re a real cinephile. You’re always recommending these movies that most horror fans would never watch if Freddy Krueger hadn’t recommended it. Have you seen anything lately you’d like to recommend?
Okay, I’ve got three for you. First, just listen to this cast — Kurt Russell, Patrick Wilson, Matthew Fox. The movie is called Bone Tomahawk. It starts out like an old-fashioned, lyrical Howard Hawks movie. Patrick Wilson is the Jimmy Stewart type, Kurt Russell is the John Wayne type. But then it mutates, it mutates into full Italian-style cannibalism horror.
I actually freaked out in this movie. It’s a brilliant movie, because they go somewhere you can’t believe they would ever go. So that’s Bone Tomahawk, you have to see it.
Then there’s a movie called Green Room. It stars the late Anton Yelchin, the wonderful actor who was just killed by a car with a parking brake on, and Patrick Stewart. I really like this movie. Now, the movie the director did before this one…
Blue Ruin! Now, that’s a thriller, a wonderful revenge thriller. That’s a phenomenal movie, too. So I’m recommending both of those, Green Room and Blue Ruin.
I’m also telling everybody to watch Deadpool again. You can’t watch it too many times. I just saw Deadpool for the third time on a plane, and I laughed at jokes I didn’t even hear the first two times, and references I’d missed.
It’s just extraordinary, and everybody’s terrific in it. The guy behind the bar [TJ Miller], he has a lot of lines you don’t get the first time.
And you get to see Morena Baccarin naked again! That’s worth the price of admission alone, she’s so beautiful.
The last time you played Freddy was back in 2003, in Freddy vs Jason. And there were rumours for years after that — well, I don’t know if they were real rumours or just wishful thinking — about a Freddy vs Jason vs Ash movie…
That was real! Here’s what happened. We were going to do that almost immediately after, and we should have, because everybody’s getting too old now. But Sam Raimi was the King of Hollywood back then, because of Spider-Man. Sam wanted to make it and he wanted Ash [played by Bruce Campbell in Sam Raimi’s Evil Dead series] to win the battle, which I thought was a great idea.
My fantasy for the poster was, we’d take Bruce Campbell, we’d rip his shirt off, we’d give him 300-style airbrushed abs, and he’d put me in a headlock and Jason in a headlock and it would say, Freddy vs Jason vs Ash: Keeping the World Safe from Sequels.
But because Freddy is the ‘rainmaker’, New Line Cinema wasn’t prepared to have Freddy lose again. He’d just lost in Freddy vs Jason, and they didn’t want him to lose again. So they put the kibosh on the deal.
Then Time Warner bought New Line, and they have a subsidiary company with Michael Bay called Platinum Dunes, and they gave him the rights to reboot their horror franchises. And hey, sometimes they do a decent job. I understand remakes. I’m a Hollywood kid!
Personally, I think they should remake A Nightmare on Elm Street 2. There were some problems with that film, but I think they should remake it, and I think they should cast a guy that’s openly bisexual or gay [as the teenage protagonist].
Because in the original, he does have a crush on that guy. It’s obvious in the staging, in the way those actors are playing it. He gets in bed with his best friend when he comes to him when he’s afraid. And I think that’s great!
He never made love with the girl in the movie, they’re just friends. I don’t want to use the old epithet for girls who hang out with gay boys, but that’s sort of what she was. They’re best friends, they’re more confidantes than they are boyfriend and girlfriend, and I love that.
People are in denial about [the gay subtext of] that movie, but it’s so obvious. We all knew. There’s a scene in an S&M gay bar. There’s a scene where he gets whipped in the shower. I mean, come on!
There are people writing PhD theses now about how it was the first gay horror movie, but I’d love them to remake that with integrity. Cast some beautiful bisexual boy, some David Bowie look-alike, in the lead. Have Freddy in a gay bar. It’d be terrific, fun stuff.
But I think they’re leaning towards remaking Parts 3 and 4. Dream Warriors is the most successful entry in the whole franchise, and it is the fan favourite, and it’s rich with storyline. It’s just ripe for new special effects technology.
I don’t know what they’re doing, I keep hearing all this misdirection. But I would love to be invited back for a cameo as the old dream expert or something like that, I think that would be fun.
I think they need to do that for the fans, because they really pissed the fans off with that remake, even though it had a great cast, and the director [Samuel Bayer] was a great music video director. He directed that Nirvana video [Smells Like Teen Spirit]. But there’s a huge difference between 95 minutes of film and three minutes of film. Some music videos have the same budget as a movie, but you only need to put three minutes of it in front of an audience.
Are there any circumstances under which you would want to play Freddy again?
Well, there was a script running around called Krueger: The First Kills. That might have just been a codename for it, I don’t know, but it was a prequel.
I heard great things about that script. It’s Freddy killing the first children, and the cops solving the mystery and catching him, and the ambulance-chasing lawyers getting him off, and Freddy gloating about it, before being burned alive. I kind of like that.
Now, I don’t know if I might be too old for it. If I lost 10 pounds and put in a couple of plugs, maybe dyed my hair and lost the beard, maybe I could pull off 50 years old, and that’s how old Freddy is supposed to be at that point.
But other than that, no, I should just come back as the wise old dream professor or something, you know?
The guy who says, “There’s no such thing as nightmares…”
Robert Englund will appear at Oz Comic-Con at the Brisbane Convention and Exhibition Centre on Saturday 17 September and Sunday 18 September. For more information and tickets, visit ozcomiccon.com.
This interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.