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'Hollywood Dreams and Nightmares' profiles Freddy Krueger actor

AYESHA RASCOE, HOST:

In Hollywood, sometimes being the leading man is less romance and more slasher. And there's only one that can haunt your waking world and your dreams.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET 3: DREAM WARRIORS")

ROBERT ENGLUND: (As Freddy Krueger) Welcome to prime time.

PENELOPE SUDROW: (As Jennifer Caulfield, screaming).

ENGLUND: (As Freddy Krueger) Sorry, kid. I don't believe in fairy tales.

(As Freddy Krueger) What's wrong, Joey - feeling tongue-tied?

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET 2: FREDDY'S REVENGE")

ENGLUND: (As Freddy Krueger) You are all my children now.

RASCOE: That's right - the unmistakable voice of the knife-gloved, fedora-wearing Freddy Krueger. The man behind the evil is actually a really nice guy. His name is Robert Englund, and he's profiled in the new documentary "Hollywood Dreams And Nightmares: The Robert Englund Story." I spoke to him recently, and he said he had some conditions for doing the documentary.

ENGLUND: I didn't want it to be just about Freddy, and I didn't want it to be about Robert Englund, you know, with this great act. I'm just a survivor. And - but I love the idea that I've been around over 50 years in Hollywood, and there's been hills and valleys, dreams and nightmares, wins and losses and all of those together have given me a little bit of wisdom over the years. And when you look back with hindsight, I could, you know, maybe share a little bit of that wisdom and just some stories.

RASCOE: It was amazing to see you beyond just Freddy. But I do want to dive into one of my favorite topics, which is Freddy Krueger, my personal horror icon. Why do you think that people appreciate Freddy so much, even though he is a child-murdering demonic presence (laughter)?

ENGLUND: Well, I think that the image of Freddy - the silhouette, the striped sweater, the fedora, the claw, the disfigured face from the fire - I think that that's become the logo for the experience of having been a young teenager and sitting in the dark and seeing this movie at your neighborhood theater, you know, with your boyfriend or your girlfriend, or at home as a video rental. And over the years there has been such extraordinary reproductions of images from the film and original artwork and action figures. The character has sort of entered popular culture. He's sort of got his foot in the door now, along with, you know, Vincent Price and some of the old horror greats like Frankenstein and the Wolfman and stuff. And it's just kind of a strange thing. I just consider myself a working actor.

RASCOE: I love Freddy, but Freddy scared me - like, I still remember nightmares about Freddy where Freddy Krueger came up behind me and grabbed me like this and picked me - (laughter) and I woke up screaming. Like, I have vivid memories of this. And yet I love Freddy, even though I was very scared of him. Have you thought about how people can love something that scares them so much?

ENGLUND: Well, I don't think people want to be Freddy. It's not like, when I grow up, I want to be Freddy Krueger. I don't think it's that kind of thing.

RASCOE: No, no, no.

ENGLUND: I think it's more of they recognize that Freddy is unapologetically evil.

RASCOE: Yes.

ENGLUND: He is on a full revenge motif against the vigilante parents that burned him alive. So he's...

RASCOE: With good reason (laughter).

ENGLUND: And the way to punish them is to go after their offspring, their relatives, their family. And that's just such a terrifying concept. And the idea that he accesses you in your subconscious when you're asleep - he has a key to that private door. He's violating that incredible personal privacy. And that's a very scary thing.

RASCOE: And that voice. And that voice.

ENGLUND: (Imitating Freddy Krueger) What voice are you talking about, Ayesha?

RASCOE: (Laughter) I'm going to get up and run out of here. (Laughter) People can't see, I'm...

ENGLUND: (Imitating Freddy Krueger) Take a nap, Ayesha.

RASCOE: Oh, no (laughter). I'm going to run. But, like, there's also this, like, humor with Freddy that really takes shape in the sequels. And it's a very dark humor with a lot of cursing. And I still think about the times when he would, like, cut off his fingers to talk about all the times they killed them. And did that evolution of the character surprise you, or did you always feel like there was, like, a funny part of Freddy?

ENGLUND: If you go back and watch "Nightmare" 1, Freddy sticking his tongue out of a phone...

RASCOE: (Laughter) Yeah.

ENGLUND: ...I'm your boyfriend now. He's putting on Tina's face. We knew that the audience loved that. It's his dark, cruel clown sense of humor. I always see Freddy as like - you know, when a cat plays with a mouse before he kills it. And I think Freddy sort of does that with his victims' nightmares and dreams. It's sort of his toying with them.

RASCOE: Obviously, it can be a love-hate relationship for an actor to be so closely associated with one character and one genre. And it feels like in the documentary you explore a bit of what it means to come to terms with that because you are a great actor, and everyone in the documentary says so, but you're also very associated with this one character.

ENGLUND: Well, I'm sure the first line of my obituary will be Robert Englund, aka Freddy Krueger...

RASCOE: (Laughter).

ENGLUND: ...You know, and I made peace with that a long time ago. I've done close to 100 movies. I had my sort of A-list career in the '70s, and I was playing, you know, best friends and sidekicks a lot. And when I went to Europe the first time, because of the success of my television series "V," I was pulled out of a car in Italy at the festival that I was attending, and the fans were all chanting, Freddy. And I realized then how big it was and that people recognize my name now and put my name to my face all over the world. When that was all over, I had aged, and I sort of segued into these other films that were horror genre, but I was playing the Vincent Price roles now, you know, and...

RASCOE: Mmm-hmm. The more elder...

ENGLUND: Yes, I play - and now...

RASCOE: ...The more, like, scientists. Yeah.

ENGLUND: ...And now I'm the old priest, you know, or I'm the old doctor.

RASCOE: Yes. The wise man.

ENGLUND: I'm the old fisherman that tells you the backstory...

RASCOE: (Laughter).

ENGLUND: ...About the creature in the woods. You know...

RASCOE: Yeah.

ENGLUND: ...I'm the exorcist. And I would never have been offered those roles had I not stayed loyal to the genre.

RASCOE: You know, in the documentary, you talk about how both of your parents missed the real peak of your fame. Your dad got to experience a bit more of it than your mom. Like, what do you think they'd say about your fame today?

ENGLUND: My parents never saw me on stage in the theater, but my father went to the opening night screening of my very first starring role, my very first movie, "Buster And Billie" in 1973. And it was at the famous restaurant Chasen's in Hollywood. So he knew it was a pretty great swanky night out. I had a single card credit. I think I was fourth billing in that movie - my first movie, my name all alone on the screen. And my father saw the family name. And from that moment on, I had him in the palm of my hand, you know.

RASCOE: (Laughter).

ENGLUND: Even when times were lean, he'd have to take me out for steak and fries.

RASCOE: Oh, my. I mean, that must - yeah.

ENGLUND: Dad, Dad, meet me. I'm hungry.

RASCOE: (Laughter) Well, that - I mean, that has to be an amazing feeling, though.

ENGLUND: It is a great feeling. I know I made him proud, you know? I know I made him proud. And although my mother never confessed it to me, I heard from other people that she was very proud of me. You know, she'd find my clippings and things.

RASCOE: That's actor and director Robert Englund. Thank you so much for being with us.

ENGLUND: Thank you. And Ayesha, as soon as you fall asleep, (imitating Freddy Krueger) I'll see you.

RASCOE: No, no (laughter).

(SOUNDBITE OF CHARLES BERNSTEIN'S "MAIN TITLE (A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET)") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Ayesha Rascoe is a White House correspondent for NPR. She is currently covering her third presidential administration. Rascoe's White House coverage has included a number of high profile foreign trips, including President Trump's 2019 summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in Hanoi, Vietnam, and President Obama's final NATO summit in Warsaw, Poland in 2016. As a part of the White House team, she's also a regular on the NPR Politics Podcast.
Ryan Benk
[Copyright 2024 NPR]