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A Nightmare on Elm Street – Jackie Earle Haley on making Freddy his own

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A Nightmare of Elm Street - Jackie Earle Haley
Freddy Krueger (Jackie Earle Haley) © New Line

Jackie Earle Haley has the rare distinction of being a successful child actor who, after virtually disappearing from Hollywood for 15 years, made an unprecedented comeback in back-to-back feature films, All the Kings Men and the controversial drama Little Children, for which he was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor.

He recently starred as Rorschach in Zack Snyder’s film Watchmen, and is now taking on the iconic role of Freddy Krueger in the remake of A Nightmare on Elm Street, a character created by Robert Englund.

A group of friends who all live on Elm Street, are having the same dream – of a man wearing a tattered red and green striped sweater, a beaten fedora half-covering his disfigured face, and a gardener’s glove with knives for fingers. One by one he is terrorizing them, and the only way to stay alive is to wake up.

I spoke with Jackie Earle Haley today about the challenges of bringing Freddy Krueger back to life.

Taking on this role, what did you want to make different and what keep the same?

A Nightmare of Elm Street - Jackie Earle Haley
Freddy Krueger (Jackie Earle Haley) © New Line

The real challenge was just to get in there and somehow create a Freddy that was somewhat recognizable but that I could still own. So, I really just tried to own it and make the guy my own. It’s probably a bit more serious, a bit more angry.

Did you go back and look at the old movies?

Yeah. I looked at the first one because I remember seeing that one in the theater when I was, I want to say ‘a kid’ but I think I was not quite a kid at that time, and I really dug it and the tone of it was darker than where it had gone (in sequels).

I think it had gotten more campy and more of a comedy, which was great. I think people loved that but I think Sam’s (Bayer, the director) call and the Platinum Dunes guys’ call on going back to re-envision this thing as a really dark, serious piece, was kind of a cool idea.

Did you want the make-up to be similar to the first movie?

A Nightmare of Elm Street - Jackie Earle Haley
Freddy Krueger (Jackie Earle Haley) © New Line

The make-up seems completely different. I feel that the make-up that Sam and Andy Clement, the designer, got was pretty cool. It was more grounded in reality. He’s kind of a burn victim, but it still has a cool overlay of boogieman on top of that.

We definitely stuck with the iconic things of the sweater and the glove and the fedora. I couldn’t really imagine changing those. It’s so iconic. I might have thought of a baseball cap for a minute but it’s such a change I think it would just be wrong.

Did you try to keep away from the young actors on the set or were you as friendly as you are now?

We played at this for a week or so where I think Sam was trying to keep them away from me and the make-up. And I think it was kind of shocking at first and I could tell the first couple of days it was kind of odd for everybody, me included. But then pretty soon, it was just Jackie in silicone.

Was there ever a time when those scenes were really tense?

A Nightmare of Elm Street - Jackie Earle Haley
Freddy Krueger (Jackie Earle Haley) © New Line

There was, especially for Kyle (Gallner). I’m thinking of one time specifically where I was wearing metal gloves and I reared back and jabbed him right in his.. (face) and if didn’t go like this (he indicates curling his finger back in) just in the nick of time (I would have stabbed him). I stabbed him once (he laughs). It also wasn’t my fault. It was a design flaw.

Are you comfortable with being known for playing darker roles? And would you want some quality control if you were to do a sequel to this?

Am I comfortable (with dark roles)? Next up… the Devil.

In terms of where this goes, I don’t know. I haven’t really thought it through. I kind of want to see how the movie does. I don’t know what’s the best direction for it to go forward. More darkness and more sinister or, all of a sudden for it to kind of get funny. I don’t know what’s better at this point. I haven’t really thought about it.

Did you have any trouble sleeping while filming this movie?

A Nightmare of Elm Street - Rodney Mara and Jackie Earle Haley
Nancy (Rodney Mara, foreground) and Freddy Krueger (Jackie Earle Haley) © New Line

There was a time or two where I’d have a little difficulty getting to sleep but not because of any nightmare or anything. It was because, literally, I felt like the make-up was still on my face. I’d be lying in bed and it would dawn on me that it felt like it was still there. That’s a nightmare in a weird kind of way.

You are stepping into the remake of one of the biggest horror film franchises in history. Are you feeling the pressure?

Pressure? Stepping into the shoes of Robert Englund, who’s on this role for two decades so that when everybody even just thinks of the word “Freddy”, they automatically conjure up his image? Pressure? Not at all [he laughs].