At the recent Los Angeles press junket for Warner Bros.’ remake of A Nightmare on Elm Street (being released this Friday!), B-D’s Chris Eggertsen had the chance to sit down with “the new Freddy”, actor Jackie Earle Haley, for an exclusive one-on-one interview. During the sit-down, Haley gave his personal opinion of the original franchise, spoke about taking over the famous role from horror icon Robert Englund, and was forthcoming on the hell of being covered in all that burn-victim makeup (on stilts, no less!). Read on for the full interview.
Best known previously for his turn as the rebellious Kelly Leak in 1976′s The Bad News Bears, Jackie Earle Haley fell off the movie map in the early `90s before returning to the screen in a stunning, Academy Award-nominated performance in director Todd Field’s 2006 drama Little Children. Since then, the actor has gone on to work regularly in high-profile films; roles have included the mentally unstable Rorschach in Zack Snyder’s Watchmen, and the part of George Noyce in Martin Scorcese’s blockbuster Shutter Island earlier this year. Haley returns to the screen this Friday in perhaps his highest-profile role to date, that of Freddy Krueger in director Samuel Bayer’s remake of A Nightmare on Elm Street.
In person, the diminutive Haley was friendly, well-spoken and eager to talk about his role as the razor-gloved dream killer, his eyes partially hidden behind the now-signature blue-tinted glasses he wears to most (if not all) of his public appearances. He was also candid about feeling the pressure of taking over such an iconic role from the beloved Robert Englund, who played Freddy in a total of eight Elm Street films before passing the torch.
BD: Were you a fan of the original Nightmare on Elm Street films?
You know, not a huge fan. I was never like a real big horror fan…but I always appreciated the genre. Certain things would grab me. big `Alien’ fan. That movie was the shit. I mean, I love that. Part of that was my age at the time and all that. Sophisticated horror. But at the same time, `The Evil Dead’ series, Sam Raimi. That guy just blew me away. Those films, I loved them. `Nightmare on Elm Street’, when it started to get into the genre of the Jasons and the Michael Myers…just putting teenagers into a cabin and then start hacking `em up one by one. There wasn’t enough depth to kinda hold me there.
But I do remember seeing the trailer to `A Nightmare on Elm Street’, that first one, and it got me. Cause I actually went and saw it in the theater. And I didn’t go see a lot of those movies in the theater. But that one I did. Cause I loved sci-fi. There was like the paranormal quality that seemed to be kind of going in with the horror. So that whole “if you fall asleep, and this guy kills you, you’re dead in real life”…just the character, the way he looked, what Robert was doing, it was like `I’ve gotta see this.’
And it was a kick…it was definitely a movie that was clearly done for, you know, a dollar fifty. And think that was kind of part of the charm, too, is like what Wes was able to kinda get at with flipping sets upside down, and just copious quantities of blood…it was kinda cool. It was neat. And what I’ve always appreciated about `Nightmare’ over the other groups in this subgenre, was the fact that it was the one that had more dimension. It was better realized, it was more multi-dimensional. I think the young adults, the characters, they’re just written better. I think you get more vested in them. And you know, Robert’s Freddy was just…fascinating.
BD: Were you nervous to take over the role, considering it was so closely associated with Robert Englund?
Absolutely, yeah. I mean, it’s super-scary because again, Robert’s been playing Freddy and playing him brilliantly. Even as the character has changed over time, he just did it so well. And Freddy is part of our culture. People know the name Freddy Krueger that have no idea what `Nightmare on Elm Street’ is. I mean, that’s how famous he’s become. He represents that character in the campfire story. So when a character becomes that famous, and when you bring up the [name] Freddy Krueger, everybody automatically thinks of Robert and `that’ Freddy. So it’s really hard to try to come out in a movie…he’s got 20 years of being Freddy. We’re just coming out in one movie here. So it’s kind of comparing apples to oranges. And I’m good with that. You know, I kind of just had to accept that.
Because at the end of the day, there’s this voice in my head saying, `How can you not play Freddy Krueger?’ They’re offering you the role. How can you not play one of the most iconic characters on the planet? There was just no way to not do it. So it’s like, do it, go for it, do your best, and just let the chips fall where they may. It’s not a competition sport. There’s no way that I could be Freddy if Robert Englund was not Freddy. No matter what, we need Robert. He’s created this. So for me to even get a shot to get to go play it…there would be no Freddy if there was no Robert.
BD: Was it surreal knowing you were the first choice for the role? And did you ever wonder `why me?’
No, I kinda get. There’s like the physicality…the first I saw of it was on the Internet, and I kind of immediately thought, `Hey, that could be good. That kind of makes sense.’ So I was intrigued, and then I talked to my agent and found out he was already talking to them. So I sat down and talked with the guys. Sam and Brad and Andrew were there. And Sam was telling me how he really wanted…to go back to its roots, its origins, where it was a bit darker. And that really kind of interested me, you know, that it was being re-envisioned and gonna be reintroduced to a new generation. Because at the end of the day, as much as people love horror, it’s still most effective when you’re seventeen. It just is, you know? So I think that younger audience should really get a kick out of this newer film. And I really hope that the older fans of the franchise get a kick out of it just because it’s fresh and new and revitalized. You know, it’s kinda cool. I was really pleased with it.
BD: Have you met Robert before?
No, I haven’t. We have some mutual friends and we were gonna try to kinda hook up for a dinner, and we were just always in different cities and stuff.
BD: Obviously it’s a very different film from `Little Children’, but did you ever feel reticent playing a pedophile again?
You know, I kinda had to look at that. But you know, first off, Freddy to me has always represented that. So it wasn’t like news to me. You know, he’s always been a molesting killer guy. But to me, in kind of looking at that and considering, `hmm should I do that?’, to me they were just such different characters in such different genres, that that commonality isn’t even really a commonality, at least to me. Because Ronnie [his character in `Little Children'] is a real character in a drama. And drama to me is kind of the [genre] that has the least suspended disbelief.
So it was really kind of going about the work of truly trying to figure out what makes a human being like that tick. And when I started to embrace this Freddy character, it was in a completely different genre, this horror genre. And at some point I realized I’m playing a bogeyman. I’m playing like the main character in a campfire story. So the worlds and approach just couldn’t be [more] different. I even thought as far as to think that this genre, `Nightmare on Elm Street’ and `Little Children’, what’s the crossover audience on that? I’m thinking it’s kinda small. You know, it gets to a point where I start over-analyzing, you know what I mean? It seems like they’re so unrelated that for me to hang up on that one [element]…it wouldn’t have been prudent.
BD: I know the makeup process was ultimately really long and arduous, but did you end up having fun playing the part?
You know, I’ve done a lot of complaining about the makeup, cause people are asking me that question. But it was well worth it. There was even something just about the arduousness that really helped for the preparation for the character…yeah, it was a fun process. It was incredibly difficult, incredibly arduous, challenging, physically and just everything. But it was also fun getting in there and playing Freddy Krueger.
BD: Did you have any input in the design of the makeup?
That was more with Sam [Bayer], and then of course I had some input, and we’d talk, and make some suggestions as we were looking at it, but I think they had a really good handle on it before they even hired it.
BD: There was a scene where you were on stilts originally. Do you know why that was kept out?
No. Probably pacing, and you know, you just get in there and you’re editing…
BD: Man, you were on stilts, they could’ve at least put that in the movie.
Dude, that was like on one of my first days too…[there was] all this cumbersome stuff everywhere, fake fingertips, [the] glove…and [then] they’re strapping shit to my feet. I mean I swear, this whole thing was like this. Imagine being agitated and then you can’t do anything. It’s enough to drive you nuts. But again, that’s Freddy! [Laughs]