I can already tell that I am going to be in the minority opinion on Platinum Dunes' remake of A Nightmare on Elm Street. I found it to be a faithful (to a fault) remake of Craven's original that managed to respect both the source material and the fans while also striking out just enough on its own. This independence came not by way of any drastic script changes, but by delivering a slight variation on Freddy Krueger that is more monstrous than he's ever been. And while the filmmakers share in that credit, I think a healthy chunk of it belongs to Jackie Earle Haley.
So when Cinematical was given the opportunity to sit down with Haley and talk about his role and horror movies in general, I must admit I was kind of surprised by some of his answers. A few of Freddy's staple quips make their way into the final film, but because the story this time around defines Freddy's motivations quite clearly, I found it to be the most disturbing the character has ever been. It's interesting to me, then, that Haley's take on the character is a little more, well, old school.
Cinematical: When it comes to '80s horror it seems like a lot of people latch onto one icon or the other. Is there any particular way you remember '80s horror?
Jackie Earle Haley: '80s horror I kind of came to a couple of things. From this specific genre group – and by the way, I'm not a big horror fan so I may have this a little mixed up. I appreciate the genre, I have fun in the genre, it's just never been like, 'Oh, that's my favorite genre!' But I always kind of recall that there's Jason Voorhees, there's Michael Myers, and then there's Freddy Krueger. I was at the right age, so I'd see those other ones, and they would hold my interest for a minute. To me, you can't only take 10 kids, stick 'em in a cabin and start slicing and dicing 'em. I've gotta care about the characters. You've gotta dish up some multi-dimensionality, some real people, and then when stuff starts to happen, then I care.
And I kind of found that of that group, Freddy was by far the most interesting.
Cinematical: I completely agree.
Haley: And it wasn't just Freddy! Freddy was definitely the most realized, but it was the other characters as well. And that's one of the things I think Sam and the guys really nailed with this movie. I was so thrilled when I saw it to see how good the young actors were and how well written the scenes are. I mean, it's a story...
I'm excited that we did this genre pic, in this horror genre, and Sam's got these characters you get invested in, and that's what is important to me. And, of course I hope the monster is scary too.
Also, of the '80s, I have to say Alien is probably my favorite horror film; though that's very early '80s. And of this sub-genre group, the stuff that blew me away the most was Sam Raimi's Evil Dead series. Phenomenal! That shit was so off the hook that I would accept the cardboard characters a bit more just because the guy was so inventive. It's like you have to put a seat belt on to watch that movie.
Cinematical: I'm just trying to trace back the order of events here. I first heard the idea of you as Freddy Krueger as a fan suggestion. Were you involved before that? Or was it the fan outcry that made the studio go, "Hey, they're right, he would make an awesome Freddy..."
Haley: You know, it might have been. My first hearing of it was on the Internet. I didn't know they were remaking Nightmare on Elm Street and I didn't know they'd be looking for a new Freddy. Then I read on the Internet, "Jackie would be right for this part" and immediately I go...
Cinematical: 'You're right! I would be good!'
Haley: Yeah, immediately I was intrigued. Scared and intrigued both. I mean, it's Freddy Krueger, one of the most iconic characters on the planet. You don't even need to know what movie he's from to know Freddy Krueger; he's a monster.
Cinematical: He's one of a very few number of characters that transcends in that way.
Haley: Yes, exactly.
Cinematical: Is there something in particular that attracts you to these darker, twisted, often masked characters? To these scripts? Or is it just a matter of, "Hey, it sounds like a fun gig"?
Haley: Well it's kind of what's been coming to me, but also looking in and among that to find the stuff. I do respond to unhinged characters, because I'm kind of the opposite of that. I am happy go lucky and probably what you'd call a nice person. I have mood shifts just like anybody, but there is something very attractive about a mysterious character.
It's like Guerrero [Haley's character from TV's Human Target], everyone keeps wanting a little bit more. I want a little bit more too, but I also want when an answer comes to also come with two little mystery questions. You know what I mean? I want to keep that guy unhinged, to keep us guessing on him.
It's a complex world and all our good guys are just sort of homogenized down to this banal place we can all agree is 'the good guy'. But with unhinged characters, whether they're good or bad or what, they're all over the place; but they're still just unhinged a bit. Some are darker than others, but it kind of speaks a little bit more to the complexity of what's out there in the world.
Now, I'm not really talking about Freddy, though, when I talk about any of that. Freddy, to me, was an exercise in mythological bogeymen. It was the opportunity for me to get to embrace the campfire story – that's what the genre represents to me. And man, I've been so lucky to get to go into all this different genres. To go do a drama, a comedy, a comic book. So to get to do a horror flick, I kind of feel like I'm doing it in the coolest way possible.
Who else gets to step in and say, 'You know, I think I'll just play Freddy Krueger'? It's like, 'Let's just go right to the top!' We'll take a stab at that. What a thrill and honor at the same time. And scary and daunting as well.
Cinematical: Well since this character seems to be the antithesis of your own personality, is it then hard to shake the role when cut is yelled? This was – and I'm a huge horror fan – but this was the first Nightmare film that contained scenes that I found were legitimately difficult to watch in a very calculated kind of way; particularly the scenes with you and Nancy [Rooney Mara] toward the end of the film. Do you need some comedown time after a scene like that? Or does your approach allow you to just slide in and out of character?
Haley: No, no, you still have to get into what you're doing, but the freedom of that was embracing the mythological bogeyman. It was a different experience, again, because even as uncomfortable as it is to watch, it's still in that genre. It's still followed by a giggle; it's still a campfire story. And if you tell a campfire story right, there's going to be the tension and the build toward that scare, but it's still followed by a giggle...you know what I mean?
Cinematical: Were there any limitations to the makeup? We were having a debate with some of the other critics today after the screening if you had to do a lot of ADR or if you had complete freedom with the prosthetics. How restrictive was it?
Haley: Not restrictive at all. I probably made it look more restrictive than it was, actually.
Cinematical: I guess I'll wrap things up with something I'm personally very curious about. Since this version gives us our first real look at Krueger pre-burn with the kids, and he's soft-spoken with a bit of disarming twang...in your opinion was post-burn Freddy always there and his gardener personality was just a mask? Or did the burn transform him into the extreme post-burn monster? Obviously he's never a good guy, but is there a dividing line, for you, where the bogeyman is created?
For me, he's a bogeyman the entire time. The reason I say that is because he's Freddy Krueger; pre-burn or post-burn. It's because it lives within the horror genre and I don't want to give the character any more weight than he deserves. I'd really like to reconcile him within the genre. I think he's meant to be creepy and scary and horrific in that fun, sick, twisted, entertaining way that for some reason our culture has developed over time. And for me that's something I always wanted to embrace with Freddy.
I started the process going down some serial killer books. Sam sent me these Nosferatu and serial killer books with nothing specific, just a simple, 'Take a look in here and let's talk.' And I was pouring through the books and I was pulling things out. I started doing that actor's work...what does a serial killer think like? What's wrong with their mind? Why is it broken? Why are they obsessed in areas we wouldn't be?
I ended up on Ed Kemper. And I'm doing some research and, 'oh look, they made a movie about him!' So I go to YouTube and see the trailer and...it's a fucking slasher movie! And it pissed me off. And what pissed me off was they turned him into a titillating character in a campfire story. That's when I realized, 'dude, stop, you're going completely down the wrong road, man. This is Freddy Krueger!' And I had flashes of everything Robert had done over the years and it solidified.
I mean, I should have realized this, but it's a process. And it was incredibly freeing when I realized that's who this guy i'. If I took him too serious, I think we'd lose what makes Freddy lovable.