Excl: Robert Englund on Donning the Freddy Makeup “One Last Time”
Convention goers and Freddy’s Children alike have been buzzing since the announcement that iconic actor Robert Englund will don his equally iconic Freddy Krueger makeup “one last time” this summer, to give fans at Chicago’s upcoming Flashback Weekend some real q.t. There, on August 8, Englund will set up shop in his classic burned visage and take part in countless photo ops, a seemingly once-in-a-lifetime event only improved by makeup application from FX legend and NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET veteran Robert Kurtzman (KNB, Creature Corps).
It’s slightly surreal for sure, a sort of leap-off-the-screen experience for those partaking that cements Freddy as more than just a movie monster (not that it needed cementing). He’s folkloric in a sense, a presence hovering over at least nine films, a television series, a video game, comics, collectibles, and experienced by various generations through it all. With a cinematic reprisal unlikely for the actor, Flashback Weekend makes for a fascinating Freddy finale, as Englund melds two worlds not unlike Krueger, and gives the fans that love them both the ultimate face to face.
FANGORIA reached out to the longtime performer to get backstory, details and his own musings on putting on the makeup one last time.
FANGORIA: Tell me how donning the Freddy makeup one last time came to be. Did you need any convincing, at all, considering the daunting task of application?
ROBERT ENGLUND: I think late last year, or very early this year, a wonderful company that I’ve worked for before up in Chicago, Flashback Weekend, approached my handler. They got back to me with this idea of maybe donning the Freddy makeup. I haven’t worn the makeup since 2003 and I think the last time I ever wore it in personal appearance public was at a Video Convention in Las Vegas. So, it would’ve been the same year ROGER RABBIT went to video. That’s a long time ago. I just remember that my line was longer than Roger Rabbit’s [laughs].
The problem has always been, in public you’ve got to light it. But over the last couple of years, I’ve done fan photos with a green screen or really nice photography background at a convention. I’ll wear the glove and the fans really get their money’s worth. We’ll kid around. A lot of the girls dress like Freddy, a lot of the guys dress like Freddy; families will mug along with me like Freddy’s attacking them; people will lie in my lap like they’re asleep. They come out really well. They’re beautifully lit.
So, when Mike from Flashback Weekend called and approached me with this, it came back to me that I had very good experiences with Flashback up in Chicago. Not only that, this is a company that uses a lot of its profits to save old movie theaters in Chicago and Drive-in Movies throughout Illinois. I’ve always been impressed with that and I’ve always loved that retro appeal. As I remember, they also organized a screening of one of my films—I’m not even sure if it was a NIGHTMARE film—and I think we used a great, old movie theater in downtown Chicago. There was a great Q&A and I remember running into my old director Gary Sherman, he directed me in a really great sci-fi movie [DEAD & BURIED] and he used to work with Steven Poster, who was one of Spielberg’s DP’s—really great guy. So, I had this great experience.
So, I thought about it and I said, “Yes!” We got the waters wet and shortly after that, I went to a charity event outside of Cleveland for Robert Kurtzman. I worked with Robert on some of the middle NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET movies, I worked with him in WISHMASTER and I’ve always liked Bob. I knew that he had gone back to his hometown and opened up a Special FX Makeup school. I did a charity thing for this school and I was starring in a movie in Cleveland—I was shooting FEAR CLINIC right up until Christmas Eve. Robert came up to work on the film along with [FX Artist] Steve Johnson and [Director] Robert Hall to throw some FX and some makeup on me. It was kind of a reunion. I thought, “Well, if I could get Robert there…”
We sent a little memo off to Robert to see if he’d be interested and he said, “Yes.” I talked some more with Mike at Flashback Weekend about getting a really good lighting control so the makeup looks good.
And I’m not going to dress up as Freddy. I’m going to be “Robert Englund donning his famous Freddy makeup for the last time,” and I’m going to make a special Flashback Weekend t-shirt that the fans can get and I’m just going to put on my old Freddy boots and a pair of black jeans and the glove. But I’m not going to wear the hat, because if I wear the hat, we’re always fighting with lighting. You can’t really see it’s me and if I dress completely like Freddy, then I just look like another Freddy impersonator, like some chorus boy from Universal Studios Orlando, who runs around and jumps out behind the KING KONG ride every Halloween.
This is really going to be me, and I’m going to be goofing around with the fans and we’re going to knock off a ton of photos. I know if we get the lighting right on this, it’ll be cool. I think what’ll be fun is if the fans get the t-shirts, which help the Flashback company, that’ll look cool too because the t-shirts are going to commemorate the 30th Anniversary of the release of A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET. Everybody will know this was the time that Robert Englund put the makeup on again.
FANG: Throughout the films, the makeup shifted a bit. Are you and Mr. Kurtzman looking to a specific design?
ENGLUND: I think Robert has taken, as a lead, the Kevin Yagher makeup. Those would be the makeups of Two, Three, Four, Five and even into Six a bit. He’s taken that makeup—it was applied in the later films by KNB people, but it was still based on the Kevin Yagher molds and I think Robert has a face cast of me from FEAR CLINIC. I did a face cast for Robert Hall and Robert Kurtzman was able to use that. So, he’s got molds and he can use those molds and he will design based on all of the photos and all of his experience back in the late ‘80s. Also, he’s done a bit of a hybrid. It’s a bit of Two, and also Four. I think that’s the best way to think about it. He’s being creative with some of the boils and blistering. He’s probably being a little creative in the color. I’m imagining, because it’s 2014, the actual foam latex itself might be a little finer by now.
Again, I haven’t been in the makeup since September of 2003. That was the Bill Terezakis makeup for FREDDY VS. JASON. I really can’t remember if I was in the traditional Freddy makeup that Bill designed or the demon makeup for some of the water stuff. I think I was in the traditional makeup. I think I was just being flung around on fire there for the last couple of days; bouncing around between Jason and Monica Keena’s cleavage [laughs].
FANG: Did you learn things about yourself as an actor, under so much makeup?
ENGLUND: You always want to be loved as an actor. That’s part of why we do this. I was quite successful in the theater and I had probably done a dozen, if not more, movies by the time I did Freddy. I was in the process of starring in a television series off of a miniseries—the science fiction show V. So, in film acting you’re constantly evolving. You’re trying to do less and less and less, which coming from theater isn’t the most fun. Behavioral acting, I call it, can be nothing more sometimes than listening to a little voice in your head say, “Don’t act.”
It helps, in some roles in film acting, less is certainly more. But then we get to that point where you’re on American network television, where everybody just stands around and whispers medical dialogue because they’re afraid to embrace the emotions. Then, when you watch THE SOPRANOS, or you watch people who aren’t afraid to act on a show, you realize how great it is.
I was in the middle of doing a lot of behavioral work on V. I was getting to act occasionally and I had a definite character that I would don every day, but a lot of that television work is very behavioral. So when I did Freddy—and this was the first couple of times—there was something very liberating about being hidden under the makeup. I was able to change my voice. I was able to change my posture. I had just seen NOSFERATU with Klaus Kinski and Isabelle Adjani and I borrowed a little bit from that, with the hands especially and that little bit of the neck thrust thing that I stole from Klaus. I watched an old gangster movie with Jimmy Cagney and I borrowed a little from that in Freddy’s stance. I discovered, while doing it on the first film that my shoulder was a little lower on the right side because of the weight of the glove and I exaggerated that. I took advantage of that and made it look like a gunslinger. There was even a little bit of Bob Fosse, asymmetrical stuff, that I did sometimes using scenery and things. I could tell what the frame was.
I felt liberated to do that, to use some of my theater tricks and go beyond just the confines of a kind of behavioral non-acting that so many of us are required to do in front of the camera, but also can be trapped by in front of the camera. That was part of it. That was probably my biggest learning curve being in the makeup.
Also, being surrounded by a fanciful story. NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET, it doesn’t take place in reality. It does, but you almost have to look at it as a story, a myth, a tale…a legend that’s being told around a campfire and being regurgitated to the audience. Especially the kills and the hunt in A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET, you’re straddling the world of reality and the subconscious and the dreamscape.
FANG: You mentioned that Video Convention. Do you have any great memories of public appearances in the makeup?
ENGLUND: I did it at the big video convention in Las Vegas, I remember that. I did a fake press conference, also in Las Vegas, for FREDDY VS. JASON and I also did an appearance years and years and years ago in Chicago. This would’ve been in ’84, and I think the early, early ENTERTAINTMENT TONIGHT crew followed me around. That was kind of memorable because I remember coming out of the sunroof of a limousine in a working class neighborhood of Chicago after visiting a Mom & Pop video store. Somewhere, I have a photo of this. There were hundreds of kids running down the street after the car.
Later on, we saw some kid playing hooky and walking home from school and I popped out of the sunroof and did the laugh or something. The kid just looked at me and went, “Yo, Freddy!” That’s when I knew I sort of entered the culture.
I think in ’85 I was sort of the guest Grand Marshall of the Greenwich Village Halloween Parade, and I donned the Freddy makeup and costume and I wore a big, giant overcoat. I looked like a combination between Freddy Krueger and some guy in the park that might expose himself. It was a great, flowing jacket to keep me warm on a late October night in Manhattan. I had the drum corps from, I think it was the High School of Performing Arts, and they were doing a kind-of New Orleans Funeral Dirge as I worked the crowd on the route through Greenwich Village. I remember we were taking over the parade, and some of the politically correct hippie moms didn’t like that. With their little princess and My Little Pony girls, which have nothing to do with Halloween. We just took an alleyway out of the parade and jumped back in the limo.
I actually think I did a late-night rap show appearance that night, too. Early, early hip-hop thing somewhere in Manhattan. Those were the last experiences I can remember; those were so long ago, my god.
Before we concluded, Mr. Englund wanted to tell fans and Fango readers about some upcoming films he has particular fondness for…
ENGLUND: I just finished FEAR CLINIC and I’m really happy with it. Thomas Dekker is just terrific in it, and I just wanted to give everybody a heads up that Fiona Dourif is great. FEAR CLINIC will be coming out soon. As I speak to you, I think Robert Hall is living on French Fries and coffee and Red Bull and doing all of the post production work on it. This is going to really be a terrific fanboy delivery, and the idea of phobias being exploited is terrific. It’s got some great retro practical stuff in it as well, with Robert Kurtzman and Steve Johnson and Robert Hall doing makeup.
Fans can look forward to FEAR CLINIC and then I’m off in August to my premiere in London of THE LAST SHOWING, which may be re-titled here in the states. I star with Finn Jones and Emily Berrington. This director Phil Hawkins is a protégé of Spielberg and it’s a terrific little thriller, and I play the old projectionist who gets fired and laid off and he has his revenge at the midnight movie.
Both FEAR CLINIC and LAST SHOWING, the fans are going to love. Sometimes movies are just a job, but these are two projects that are well done, brand new and I think the fans will really enjoy them.
For more info on Robert Englund’s appearance, visit Flashback Weekend.
Top image from Elm Street resource Nightmare on Elm Street Films.