If you’ve ever had the pleasure of getting to speak with the legendary Robert Englund, or even hear him speak at a convention, then you know he’s truly one of the greatest conversationalists ever. Not only is he happy to speak with you about whatever project he’s currently promoting, but he’ll enthusiastically jump into a discussion on a myriad of topics, which is why he’s always been one of this writer’s favorite people to interview.
As usual, Englund has been keeping himself busy as of late on a variety of projects, including Travel Channel’s True Terror with Robert Englund, which premiered in March, and a brand new animated series that he’s participating in kicks off on Adult Swim this Sunday, May 10th (technically the 11th) at 12:15am EST. Daily Dead recently spoke with Englund about his involvement with JJ Villard’s Fairy Tales, and he discussed what initially attracted him to the project and how much he enjoyed collaborating with Villard on the wonderfully demented new show.
Because this writer can never resist getting a chance to chat about the Nightmare series, I also asked Englund about New Nightmare and he revealed that it is his favorite amongst the sequels and why that project in particular means so much to him. He also talked about how the success of the Scream series ended up being a good thing for New Nightmare and went into detail on the Nightmare prequel that almost happened: Krueger: The First Kills.
Great to speak with you, as always, Robert. What was it about JJ Villard’s Fairy Tales that initially piqued your interest?
Robert Englund: I’m an old guy, Heather, and I remember falling in love when the Jay Ward company did Fractured Fairy Tales. It was a more innocent time, but it was still satire and I thought that they were extremely funny.
I used to love those, too.
Robert Englund: Yes, I used to love watching them as part of Rocky and Bullwinkle. So that was my source when I was told about JJ Villard’s Fairy Tales. I knew it was on Adult Swim and I’d worked for Adult Swim before. I’d also worked for Nickelodeon and the Cartoon Network and I’d done some fun stuff like Regular Show and things like that. But the great thing for me was that they actually had these pencil storyboards of the show when I went in to do my voice work, so I saw the style and I saw the subversive, raw look that the show was going to have. I’d already responded to some of the gross humor in the script, but I loved the rough, twisted way it was going to be.
JJ Villard actually came into the booth with me, which is unusual because the booth is kind of a sacred space for the actor when you’re doing your voiceover work. You have your coffee and your water and your notes and it’s this little workspace that you create. You look across the studio to the other aquarium with all the sound engineers with their sound mixers and the director. And it was fun having JJ with me in there, because in the middle of a take, he’d get an idea, so he’d wait for me to finish the take and then he’d say, “Do it this way, or try this, or do more of that.” I think we got more variety and more takes that way, and it was really fun.
What was your impression of JJ Villard when you were working with him?
Robert Englund: Well, the thing about JJ is that every once in a while, you get to work with somebody and you don’t want to just work with them, you just want to hang out with them. He’s one of those guys that you can share all of the stuff that you love to watch, whether it’s Korean horror like Train to Busan or some film that you’ve found on Netflix while you’re digging way down deep in the Netflix offerings. JJ’s just one of those guys you can talk with like that.
He reminded me a little bit of Adam Green, the horror director, as he’s got that high energy thing, too, and it’s fun. When you work with all these people all the time, some people like different stuff. You work with someone like Adam Goldberg and he’s really deep into the purest ’80s stuff and then you work with people who are into grindhouse or you end up working with someone who’s into everything, so they’ll talk about Orson Welles, they’ll talk about French cinema, and they’ll talk about grindhouse all in the same breath like Quentin Tarantino. I just love going all over the place.
I just did a tweet the other day about these two chase scenes in two new shows on Netflix; one’s with Blake Lively and one’s with Chris Hemsworth, but they’re two of the best car chases I’ve ever seen. They’ve got the camera in the car and it’s just unbelievable stuff. And they’re both like a whole new level of that work, that kind of French Connection classic cinema car chase, and I tweeted about how they were done so well. But I just love people like JJ Villard, who you can spend a lot of time just talking about cinema with.
I worked recently with Alexandre Aja and he’s the same way. You go and meet with him, and by the end of dinner, you’re writing on a napkin all the movies he wants you to see or these TV shows that you’ve never seen before. To me, it’s really fun to collaborate with people like that.
When you’re doing voice acting versus an on camera performance, does that change the way you approach your performance then?
Robert Englund: Oh, yeah. I do a lot of narration work in my new TV series True Terror on the Travel Channel, and it’s tricky because I was doing narration without having the image. All you have is just the content and you have to decide when to be theatrical and deep and mysterious and you have to decide when to be conversational and when to be stylized and when to do traditional narration. So you’re always looking for all those values, but you’ve got that headset on so you can modulate like a disc jockey does. It’s fun because that third eye is not worried about what you look like. You’re not worried about the light or have someone shadow you or getting the light in your eye or having your bald spot showing or not being on your mark. You’re not worried about any of that, and that’s very liberating.
I know you get asked about Nightmare on Elm Street a lot, but one of my favorite things is that it seems like with New Nightmare, people have been talking about it a lot more over the past couple of years, and it’s probably my favorite of the sequels--
Robert Englund: New Nightmare is my favorite as well, and I don’t just say that lightly. It’s not just because Wes conceived and wrote and directed it and it’s not because Wes is gone now, has passed and left us. Its always been my favorite because there’s a deconstructed meta thing that Wes was going for there. He made it for the fans, about the fans, about how it’s influenced all of our lives as participants. And then there’s the great "what if": what if Freddy Krueger was a real killer? What if Freddy Krueger, his evil essence, is now rejecting this Hollywood exploitation of him and he’s come back to haunt us? We who created and profited off of his evil. And I love that.
And what happened is, when New Nightmare came out, it was successful, but it wasn’t a huge hit. It was just a moderate success. And then Wes Craven’s Scream came out and that was even more meta and more deconstructed, but it was a little easier for the audience to digest, and all the characters were people that were self-referencing horror movies and the elements in horror movies. Wes was playing with that in New Nightmare, but we were also playing with that before the Scream movies. Eventually, a lot of the Scream fans started renting Wes Craven’s New Nightmare and they picked up on just how smart it was. You could watch New Nightmare several times and still discover new stuff in it. In fact, I tell people watch the beginning, when Heather [Langenkamp] goes to visit her husband, the special FX guy on the set. If you watch her costume, there's a mutation that happens there, and it’s a real signal as to when the nightmare begins.
Did Wes ever talk about a future for Freddy beyond New Nightmare? Or do you think that the Scream movies made it harder for Freddy to move forward?
Robert Englund: No, I just think that Wes had [said] all he had to say about Freddy. I think that because of the new technologies and the advancement in effects and in film technologies, I think that there probably is an appropriate time to remake the Nightmare on Elm Street films for a new audience. If you think about the effects that were used in Inception or the effects that were used in that Robin Williams movie What Dreams May Come, those effects can be done even more sophisticated and even better now. But those are the kinds of effects that lend themselves to a remake of one or all of the Nightmare on Elm Street movies.
I just think what happened is they just rebooted the original Nightmare too soon. It was just too soon after the great success of Freddy vs. Jason. They probably should have waited a couple more years, maybe waited until 2015, and then start it all over. They just did it a little too soon, and I think the remake that did happen fell victim to a timing problem.
But I think that’s probably the best way to go. There’s probably a prequel script out there somewhere on somebody’s shelf and that would maybe be the way to start it. Start with a prequel and then reboot the franchise, but don’t reboot number one; go right to number two or three. I just don’t think they can remake part one again, that would be a bad idea.
I thought there was some interesting prequel stuff in Freddy’s Nightmares.
Robert Englund: I agree. That was a great episode, some of those elements should be in the prequel. There was this great script called Krueger: The First Kills and I talked to somebody from New Line about it at an Oscar party. At one time, they wanted to do it documentary style and I thought that was a great idea. And the best characters were the lawyers who get Freddy off during the courtroom scenes. The cops who catch Freddy were great characters, too, and of course it ends with Freddy being burned alive, and I heard that at one time they were thinking of John McNaughton as the director, who did Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer. That is something I really wish would have happened.