Haley's career has spanned over 30 years, from his role as Kelly Leak in 'The Bad News Bears' to the iconic Rorshach in 'Watchmen.' His performances have gained him a legion of fans, and it was those fans who originally suggested him for the role of the dream demon of Elm Street. He's also starring in the television show 'Human Target' on Fox. Haley told us about the research he did on serial killers, finding the darkness and the first time he wore the makeup on set. The remake of 'A Nightmare on Elm Street' opens this week, and in honor of the event, we got to chat with the new Freddy Krueger himself, Jackie Earle Haley.
Haley's career has spanned over 30 years, from his role as Kelly Leak in 'The Bad News Bears' to the iconic Rorshach in 'Watchmen.' His performances have gained him a legion of fans, and it was those fans who originally suggested him for the role of the dream demon of Elm Street. He's also starring in the television show 'Human Target' on Fox. Haley told us about the research he did on serial killers, finding the darkness and the first time he wore the makeup on set.
The fans were the ones that suggested you for the role of Freddy Kreuger.
Yeah, I mean, the first thing I heard about 'A Nightmare on Elm Street' being redone ... I was just kind of surfing around the Internet, and I noticed that some people were suggesting that I might be right for the role of Freddy in this remake. I had no idea they were doing it. I was immediately intrigued. I had no idea they were doing it. I thought, oh, he's an incredibly iconic character. Man, if I were ever to do a horror film, that's the one. [Laughs] And I called my agent and he said, "I'm already talking to them, dude." And sure enough, within a week or two I was sitting with Sam (Bayer) and the producers, and Sam was telling me his vision for 'Nightmare on Elm Street.'
It was really interesting watching how much darker it was and how updated it felt. Can you talk a bit about the difference in tone?
Yeah, you know, that kind of gets back to that first meeting with Sam. He was telling me his vision. He kind of felt that the very first 'Nightmare on Elm Street' kind of had a darker tone and feel to it. And from there, it started to get more campy, more comedic. It's still wonderfully horrific and gore-ific, and the things that it needed to be. And it was fun. It was great, but Sam wanted to re-envision it. He wanted to go back to the origins. More scary. More of a serious Freddy. And that was intriguing. That seemed to be a good way to go. So that's where our focus was.
I know you did a lot of research on serial killers and came to an interesting conclusion. Tell us about that.
You know, one of the first things that Sam did, and it was early on, and he really didn't have any specific reason, but before he hired me, he was talking to people and he described his Freddy as a cross between Nosferatu and Ed Gain. So he sent me 'Nosferatu' and he sent me this book on serial killers. And he said, "Hey, check this stuff out. I don't know why, but start and let's yap." So I watched 'Nosferatu' and I loved it. And I think that that was ingested somehow, and I think I might have pulled a little bit of mannerism and posing from the guy.
When I started to get serious with the, "Let me get into this mind space," the serious actor work, where it's uncomfortable and you're trying to figure out why these guys, these serial killers, why are they sick? Why are there minds broken? What is it about these guys? And I keyed into Ed Kemper. He's this serial killer -- and I'm doing research and it's sick, it's uncomfortable, it's ick, and I notice, oh, they did a movie on him. And I follow these links over to YouTube and I watch the trailer, and it's a slasher movie. And it pissed me off. It really did. It really irked me that the movie industry would take this real person, this human being, and turn it into a titillating horror pic. That's when I realized, I'm not playing a serial killer. We hate serial killers and rightly so. I'm playing a mythological boogie man named Freddy Krueger, and oddly enough, it's part of this sick, twisted, yet fun and entertaining and beloved culture, horror genre. You know, that's what Freddy Krueger is. He's the main guy in a campfire story. And that's what I needed to embrace, and when I did that, it was incredibly freeing. Because that's what you've got to think about with Freddy. No matter how dark it is, or how serious or how scary it is, it's still part of that campfire genre, which to me means, we love to have this guy chase us down, to scare us so that we can scream and then giggle right afterward.
You have a reputation for being so nice. I've always found that to be true when I've spoken to you. But the characters you play are often incredibly dark. How do you find that darkness?
Jeez, I don't know. Maybe... I'm definitely drawn to unhinged characters. For one, they tend to be kind of zingy and have awesome kind of curves. And there's something that kind of draws me to that. My natural state is pretty happy-go-lucky. I'm usually a pretty positive thinker. I'm usually pretty smiley. I find the positive things. But you know, we all have mood swings. I also have my moments -- you know, the wife could tell you, where I'm all grumbly like everybody else. I don't know, I think each character that I play represents completely different stuff and completely different approaches. Especially when you go from genre to genre, where the suspension of disbelief is completely different. So it's kind of getting after it in different ways. Sometimes the process will plain old be inexplicable. You know? You just do it. Look, there is is. How did you get there? I don't know. Just did it. [Laughs]
Everyone's been talking about the makeup. It's such an amazing design. What sort of reaction did you get on set when you first had it on?
Oh, everybody was completely checking it out. Everyone was totally digging it because, here we were on the set of 'Nightmare on Elm Street' and we're all getting to re-envision such an iconic film, such an iconic character, and Andrew Clement, under Sam's direction, did an incredible job of crafting this makeup, of sculpting it and applying it, and everybody was blown away. You know, it trips me out. I went to the premiere last night, [Laughs] and everywhere you look there are all these Freddy standups. Freddy posters. It's bizarre. I know I'm in there. I can kind of see me in there, but he's already starting to take on his own self-ness, you know what I mean? [Laughs] It's bizarre.
Would you want to revisit this? There were so many of the earlier films. Would you want to do sequels?
You know, I think, let's see how the film does and take it from there, but they've got me for a couple more, so I think if everybody's digging it and they want to see more, I think we'll be at it. Because, you know, you can't kill Freddy! [Laughs]
No, you can't! So any news on a renewal for 'Human Target?'
No, you know, I'm waiting. I sure hope they pick it up. I'm kind of in holding mode right now, because if they pick it up, I'll be very busy for the next eight months or so. But I love that show. I hope they pick it up.
How do you find the difference between working in TV and film?
You know, boy, a lot of that has gotten a lot better over the years. Twenty years ago, when TV was 4x3, and was coming through one little speaker, then maybe two, and the technical aspects of it, of course they were doing it real fast and movies were just so much better ... they looked so much better, and on a technical level, they had all that time, something's happened over the years. You know, with the 16x9 and the 5.1 sound, the experience of it, the crews, I don't know how they've gotten so much better at what they're capable of getting in like, eight or ten days. I think it's talent. Part of it is the tools, but a lot of it is that they've gotten better at it and they darn near look movie-esque. 'Human Target' is darn near looking like a flick. But I think the biggest difference is time. The time that you get to spend on it. And the other difference is just the development aspect. Usually on a movie it's all of that kind of pre-work. You work with the director, and you make the movie and you're kind of done. Here, so much is being developed behind what you're working on. So it's this on-going process. It's like making a hundred one-hour movies instead of one one-hour movie.