SciFi TV Profile - Robert Englund

SciFi TV Profile - Robert Englund
You know this guy better from the movies than TV. At least, you should, since he played the evil Freddy Krueger in the "A Nightmare from Elm Street" movies. Robert Englund is a horror icon, and his Internet Movie Database entry is chock full of sci-fi, fantasy and horror productions from the 1970s on. From NBC’s 1980s alien invasion epic "V" to this year’s "Zombie Mutation," a low-budget British picture, this accomplished actor has been a fixture of our bad dreams - and pop culture - for decades. 

Rumor has it (if you believe the Internet) that Robert Englund tried out for the part of Luke Skywalker in the "Star Wars" films, failed, and urged a friend to audition as well. That friend, apparently, was Mark Hamill. But even without this bit of lore, no one can deny the effect Englund has had on the horror landscape. His guest acting credits include shows from the '70s and '80s such as "The Hardy Boys/Nancy Drew Mysteries," "Charlie’s Angels," "Simon & Simon," "CHiPs," "Knight Rider," "Police Woman," "Manimal," "Alice" and a personal forgotten favorite, "California Fever."

But although his career could have ended up like many of that era’s actors - mildly successful, but not stellar - he was also cast in a number of low-budget horror films, starting with 1977's "Eaten Alive" from Tobe Hooper. Then, in the early '80s, Englund was cast in a Wes Craven film from 1984. And after "A Nightmare on Elm Street" came out, his life would never be the same. This classically-trained actor soon became recognized as one of film’s greatest movie characters, and has parlayed that into a career full of interesting science fiction- and horror-based roles. 

He is married to Nancy Booth (a third marriage) and lives in Laguna Beach, Calif. 

Here, he discusses his career via a press conference call arranged by SyFy Channel that took place in September 2012.

On whether or not he’s ever done anything that gave him nightmares: "Nothing really scares me. I got a jolt the other night watching 'The Cabin in the Woods.' And I remember the original 'Alien' got me several times, and I was a grownup when I saw that. And I dragged my poor father to see it." 

On one lasting effect of being in "A Nightmare on Elm Street": "When I was in makeup for the original Freddy, I fell asleep. We were shooting nights. And I fell asleep trying to get a nap and the AD [Assistant Director] banged on the door and said, 'Mr. Englund, hurry up - we're going to try and get this shot before the sun comes up.' And I sat up, forgetting I was in this makeup. I sat up with that kind of bad breath you have after a little nap, and I rolled off of my cot in my tiny honey wagon dressing room. And there in the recesses, in the forced perspective of my makeup mirror, opposite my bunk, surrounded by dim light bulbs that had been cranked down on the dimmer, I saw this old bald man with scars and burns all over him looking back at me. And I went, 'Oh, geez.' And I put my hand on my head and so did he. So it became this sort of nightmarish Marx Brothers routine. And it literally took me till about the count of five or six to come out of that semi-conscious state you’re in when you wake up real fast and when you're fighting for the alarm clock. That moment of time. And I was very disoriented. The point of this story is, that moment, looking into the mirror, I can remember it like it was yesterday. And occasionally - I don’t want to gild the lily here, but occasionally that does enter into my subconscious and it does get into a dream, or it comes in as a random image that's still stored in my brain somewhere, because it was so disorienting....That really was a strange moment, and it was so early in the film experience for me. I had been doing a lot of very normal fare up until then, except for science fiction...That really did disorient me, and it did stay with me. I think there’s a definite crease in my gray matter that makes a home for that image."

On the early part of his career: "I played a lot of rednecks, and a lot of white trash, and a lot of sidekicks. I wanted to be, for many years, Strother Martin - you ride down the mountainside with Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. Strother Martin, who tells Cool Hand Luke that what we have here is a problem of communication. And I wanted to be L.Q. Jones, who steals a scene from Robert DeNiro in 'Casino,' and who is in all those movies like 'The Wild Bunch' and everything. And I wanted to be Warren Oates, and I did a little bit of that in the '70s when I was young. But I quickly became the best friend, and the sidekick, and the nerd. And this was before I had done any science fiction or horror, and I was sort of typed as that for awhile."

On returning to those roles in projects like SyFy’s "Lake Placid: The Final Chapter," from 2012: "So it's fun now, in my early 60s, it's fun for me to return now to those roles. With the lines in my face and my gray beard and my balding hairline. It's fun to get to play those roles again, because they come easy to me. Which means I can spend more time really getting into the moment, and getting into the tone of the piece and having fun with it."

On his career now: “I'm busy all the time. But this great thing has happened to me, and it's a happy accident - it's through no control, or goal, or steering on my part. But after I came out of the makeup, after eight Freddy movies over 20 years, and 'Phantom of the Opera,' which was extensive makeup, and my Stephen King film, which has become kind of a classic now, 'The Mangler' for Tobe Hooper - after all of that, I came out of the makeup and I was acting a lot more. I was doing Disney movies for a while to change my image - family films and then some TV work. But I’m older. I wasn’t the Robert Englund that auditioned for Freddy Krueger. And the momentum and the baggage, and the establishment I have as a horror actor and a science fiction actor and fantasy actor has given me - I'm now into these Vincent Price, Klaus Kinski roles, and again these Strother Martin character roles, Warren Oates roles. I don't know if I would have been able to do the Vincent Price parts - the mad scientists, the doctors, the bad daddies, you know, the Klaus Kinski roles, the red herring roles - I don’t think I would have been asked to do them had I not toiled in the fields of horror and science fiction over the years. So it’s this great gift to my career at this chapter in my life. I’m not sure what I would be doing had I not done [Freddy]. I think I might have been third of fourth billing on a sitcom, like a 'Murphy Brown.' Or maybe I would be Doctor Number Six on some show now that gets a couple of scenes on 'Gray’s Anatomy' and occasionally has to say 'Stat!' and 'Lidocaine!' But instead, I’m getting to choose scenery a little bit and I’m getting some interesting roles. And when things get slow for me or my pilots don’t sell in L.A., I run over and do a movie in Europe. Because [in] Europe, the horror films and science fiction films are like action movies. They have this huge international audience, because they all speak the language of film, as opposed to the language of a specific popular culture, of a specific country."

On the roles he does today: "Tomorrow I go to work on a little send-up spoof on workaholics for Comedy Central. And I’ve been guest-starring on all the top ten shows in the last year. I’ve been on 'Criminal Minds,' and 'Bones' and 'Hawaii Five-O' just guest-starring on those, doing normal roles. So it’s fun for me to do these."

On whether or not he ever regretted becoming Freddy: "No, I've never regretted taking the role or my association with the great Wes Craven, and the success it brought me - both economic and career success. Now, am I somewhat funneled into genre films? Yes, I am. I've done - I think I’m about to do my 77th feature-length film. And I think literally if you added up all my horror movies, it's less than 20. So there’s another 55 films that I’ve done. A couple of those are scifi, some of them are thrillers, some of them are a little bit fantasy. But most of them are just other movies that I've done. And TV movies. The thing I've been telling people that this happy accident for me is the fact that after I got out of the makeup and I got enough baggage and enough reputation I've become like a surrogate Vincent Price, a surrogate Klaus Kinski. A go-to guy for those roles, and somebody has to do that and we don’t really have a Cary Grant or a Steve McQueen anymore. But if I can fit into Vincent Price's loafers, or Klaus Kinski's boots a little bit, even if it’s a low-budget genre film, which both those gentlemen did a lot of...I'm happy to be that guy."

On becoming a horror movie icon: "It was a happy accident, but the back end is more interesting. As a child, my godfather was the number one salesman for the publishing house Simon & Schuster, west of the Mississippi. And he had all these free samples, all these great original art pocket book covers of Agatha Christie novels and things. One of the books he had was called Life Magazine Goes to the Movies. It was this giant coffee table book with a red cover. That's all I remember, and my mom and dad would go over to see my godparents and they'd be sitting around the pool with a martini and the barbecue would be going. And I'd go into my uncle's - my godfather's - office, and I'd open this book. And I went right to the horror section. I'm talking like seven years old now, maybe eight. Not a day over eight years of age. And I remember going right to the horror section, and there was a giant photograph of Frankenstein with the little girl whose neck he breaks and throws into the lake after he's played 'she loves me, she loves me not' with the flower. And I loved that photo. And then there was a real sexy photo from 'Daughters of Dracula,' and I think that 1933 or something. I think it was one of the daughters of Dracula in a see-through nightgown, and that intrigued my little eight-year-old hormones, you know. Then I would go back to the silent sectiion of the book. And there were two pages, fold-outs, small photos all in a sequence of all the different makeups that the man of a thousand faces, Lon Chaney, had done. I remember one of them, he had boiled an egg in some vinegar and water, and hard-boiled it and cracked it under cold water, and peeled off the placenta around the egg while and used that milky placenta over his eyeballs to make himself look blind. And I thought, 'Oh my God, the guy invented the first contact lens.'...I kept thinking, 'What a genius.' Now, you have to understand that for years I was this serious actor. I was this snob stage actor. I was doing contemporary theater and anti-Vietnam plays and I was doing Shakespeare and Pinter and George Bernard Shaw and Moliere. So when I finally came back to Hollywood, my hometown, I was kind of a snob. I didn’t want to do television. And horror wasn’t on my radar then. I was part of the '70s renaissance in Hollywood...and it took me awhile, and I think it was some time after Wes gave me new respect for the horror genre, for me to remember how much I loved horror as a child, and how I watched every episode of 'Chiller' and every episode of 'The Twilight Zone,' and how I loved films like 'Forbidden Planet' and the Hammer films. And I remembered little Saturday matinee movies like 'Horrors of the Black Museum.' And I remembered 'The Angry Red Planet.' And I remembered seeing these films and talking about them with my friends after school and after the Saturday matinee. I had sort of repressed all this - put it on the back burner after all these years of being indoctrinated as a so-called serious actor. So yes, I really was a serious fan boy, in my youth. And Wes taught me to respect it again.'

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