Cookies help us deliver our Services. By using our Services, you agree to our use of cookies. Learn More.

Why Robert Englund Was Never The Same After Playing Freddy Krueger

If the monsters are only figments of your imagination, then they can't hurt you ... right? Not in the 1984 slasher film A Nightmare on Elm Street, in which four teens are tormented by a killer who comes after them in their dreams. Freddy Krueger, the villain who only shows up after you close your eyes and doze off to sleep, had plenty of viewers tossing and turning in bed after watching the film, hoping that he wouldn't show up in their dreams. He's so scary that even Robert Englund, who played Freddy, is spooked by his own character.

Decades after Freddy's chilling debut as one of horror's most notorious monsters, Englund still credits his time as Krueger for taking his career to new heights. Naturally, the man looks back on the Elm Street films with pride,  and he should. The Nightmare series is a landmark horror franchise, but it also completely changed Robert Englund's life. Here's why the man was never the same after playing Freddy Krueger — and why his iconic character still gives him nightmares.

Typecasting saved his career

Robert Englund never set out with the intention of playing a monster like Freddy Krueger. In fact, his earliest work was in theater, and from there, he often found himself playing sidekicks in supporting roles. He also played some unsavory characters in films like Eaten Alive and appeared in controversial movies like Dead & Buried, but playing Freddy was an entirely new experience.  

"I had gotten typed early in Hollywood as a Southerner. ... Then it was the 'best friend' and 'sidekick' roles," Englund told Hollywood Chicago. Although playing Freddy was a big step up from his previous parts, Englund has said that the reason he got the role was simply because of typecasting. He had experience working in the horror genre, and this time, he just got to play the main villain instead of a side character.

But Englund isn't resentful of the fact that he was typecast. As he explained, "I didn't choose to be in horror movies, I just like to go where I'm wanted."

He's had endless opportunities

One of the perks of playing an iconic monster like Freddy Krueger? Englund may not be winning Oscars or raking in the biggest salaries in Hollywood, but even though he's in his early 70s, he never finds himself wanting for work, and he has plenty of freedom to choose the projects he wants. Englund acknowledges that if he'd never gotten the opportunity to play Freddy, he probably wouldn't be enjoying the same level of success today. He's been consistently working in Hollywood since landing a supporting role in the 1974 film Buster and Billie, but after playing Freddy, the offers started flooding in. As a result, he's played in movies like The Phantom of the Opera and Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon, TV shows like Bones and Supernatural, and in 2020 he hosted a show on the Travel Channel called True Terror.

Plus, the role literally opened up a whole new world for the actor. "I started working abroad," he exclusively told Looper. "I've done about a dozen movies in Europe. I've done movies in Africa and Russia. I've done movies in South America and Mexico. Lots of movies in Canada. And that is the greatest gift that was given to me by the success of the Nightmare on Elm Street franchise."

He also attends horror conventions and Comic-Cons across the United States and around the world.

"I don't think I'd have this longevity without the genre. ... I can't believe I'm still here," Englund told Den of Geek. "It keeps changing and growing, and I feel like I'm on cruise control now — I can go where I want."

Robert Englund's celebrity status

Robert Englund had been a working actor for years before playing Freddy, but after Elm Street came out, his life seemed to change overnight. Suddenly, audiences all over the world knew his name, and the film made a huge cultural impact. 

"The Freddy phenomenon was international, I had no control over it," Englund told Hollywood Chicago, before adding, "I realized it's best to surrender and enjoy it, because you can't fight it." During that interview, Englund recalled a particularly surreal moment when he visited Italy after Elm Street was released. He was pulled out of his limo and ended up crowd surfing the mob of fans, and he didn't have any say in the matter. For the first time, he was experiencing what it was really like to be an international star, not just an actor with a few films and TV shows under his belt. It was a whole new level of fame, but he simply embraced the changes and didn't allow it to overwhelm him. 

In fact, he enjoys the attention, especially when it comes to seeing his name appear in different languages around the world.

"I really like foreign posters," he exclusively told Looper, "especially the ones where my name is written in Russian or Chinese. I think that's cool. And some of them are just amazing. There's one from Thailand from A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors with the Freddy snake, which is a little phallic. He's swallowing [co-star] Patricia Arquette, who's in her Peter Pan Wendy nightgown, arching her back in a combination of terror and pleasure. It's a strange, creepy, weirdly sexual poster. But it's an image of me swallowing an Oscar-winning actress, so I had to have it."

Playing Freddy Krueger let him use his theater roots

Robert Englund was trained in theater. He started acting in plays in high school, and he insisted on taking every drama class available. Eventually, he started teaching drama classes, too, and he knew that theater was what he wanted to do for the rest of his life. After attending a professional acting school and working in regional theater, he started to get opportunities in film, but he still valued everything he'd learned acting in plays. And when he got the role of Freddy, he was finally able to put those skills to good use again. There was so much he could express about Freddy's character through body language, and his theater skills gave him a leg up. 

"I learned back in my theater days that villains are better written," he exclusively told Looper. "They're more complex. There are more layers. And it's fun to do it. When I finally got all that makeup on and found the voice and found the moves, I realized I didn't have to worry about what Robert Englund looked like. I was hidden under the makeup, so I could use all of these tricks that had come from the theater: Changing my voice, changing the way I moved."

He helped change the horror genre

The slasher films of the 1980s managed to frighten an entire generation of teenagers (and their concerned parents). But Elm Street explored a whole new possibility in the realm of horror. What if the monsters were really all in your head, but you were still in danger? Slasher films were already scary enough, but Elm Street took horror to a new level. The implications were terrifying, and Freddy's ability to injure and kill his victims by infiltrating their dreams meant that no one was safe. 

The exploration of a literal nightmare realm in Elm Street set it apart from other slasher films of the era, and Englund was proud to be part of a horror film that was centered on an original concept. "The thought that someone could terrorize you through your dreams and your subconscious was something new," Englund told Florida Today. He added, "It was all very surreal and to think the landscape of the mind could be used in that way was almost Salvador Dali-like. ... It gave us all great freedom of expression."

Both Englund and Freddy went international

Fear seems to be an international language. Englund realized just how well the narratives in films like Elm Street could translate across cultures when he saw the worldwide response to the film. There are certain primal terrors that affect all of us, no matter where we're from, and Elm Street played on those emotions. The thought of someone attacking you in your sleep, when you're most vulnerable and totally defenseless, is an ancient fear, one that we've lived with since humanity's caveman days.

"These movies have traveled so well ... you don't really need subtitles with them, because they're not that culturally specific," Englund told Movie Hole. "Every one has this great primal basic hook which is the nightmare, the bad dream, so people can identify with these films." Because most people could relate to the premise of the film — even though they'd never encountered anyone like Freddy — Englund became well-known among global audiences. 

Playing Freddy Krueger has let him travel the world

As Robert Englund accepted more and more offers to work on films shot abroad, he was able to indulge his love of travel and history. Englund is actually quite a history buff, and when he was able to combine his career with travel, he explored regions of the world that he might never have had the opportunity to see otherwise. Englund has worked on movies shot everywhere from Italy to Israel, and he's always been very grateful that playing Freddy opened up those doors for him. In fact, he says that nowadays, he often prefers working abroad. After all, who wouldn't love an excuse to spend time in Spain, South Africa, or Prague, and earn a solid paycheck at the same time?

"I would never have been able to go down into the caves in the Dordonne region and see the original Neanderthal graffiti. I would never have been invited to Lake Balaton in Czechoslovakia. ... I never would have spent six weeks putting my make-up on in the same room that Rasputin was shot in," Englund told IGN, adding, "These are all things that happened because I'm Freddy Krueger — pure and simple."

He's missed out on comedies

Although Englund is certainly best known for his work in horror films, he also enjoys comedy. However, the fact that his name and face were so strongly associated with Freddy Krueger in the '80s and '90s meant that comedy directors weren't exactly knocking on his door and asking to work with him. Audiences knew him as a villain, not a comedian, and Englund knows that he missed out on some roles because of it. But at the end of the day, he's come to accept that it was all for the best. 

"I think in the middle '80s, there were a couple of gigs in comedy, both as an actor and a director, that I lost because I was so, so connected with Freddy Krueger," Englund told IGN, admitting, "I wish it hadn't happened." However, he has no regrets about pursuing work in the horror genre and sacrificing some comedic roles because of that decision. After all, no actor can really do it all, and in the long run, his career decisions have clearly worked out in his favor.

He's haunted by Freddy

If you ever found yourself lying awake at night after watching Elm Street, afraid to close your eyes because Freddy Kruger just might show up in your dreams, you're in good company. Elm Street has resulted in plenty of sleepless nights for audiences over the years ... and even for some cast members. In fact, Englund himself admits that he's had nightmares in which he's Freddy. 

While shooting at night for the original film, Englund spent hours and hours wearing the heavy makeup that created Freddy's frightening look. He got used to seeing himself looking monstrous, but every once in a while, he would catch a glimpse of himself in a mirror at the end of a long day and feel disoriented and confused by his own reflection. And that feeling has haunted him for years. "Occasionally I do have a nightmare. ... I dream of me sitting up, and I'm looking in the mirror and it's not me, it's Freddy in the mirror," Englund told This Bird's Day. So yeah, that's how you know a slasher villain is truly terrifying — when the guy behind the mask is having bad dreams.

Robert Englund has become a horror connoisseur

At this point, you could definitely consider Robert Englund to be an expert on horror films in general. The genre is certainly in the midst of a modern resurgence, and Englund says that after so many years of playing creepy characters, he's developed an eye for which films will be successful and which ones will flop. So what qualities can really make or break a horror movie? According to Englund, he says it all depends on whether or not the film offers something genuinely unique.

"If something is good or original, it does eventually get discovered," Englund told Flavorwire. "It can take a while, but it will rise to the surface." And as you might expect, Englund is glad that horror is finally getting the recognition and respect that he's always believed the genre deserves. Back in the 1980s, he often found himself defending horror films for their artistic merit because they weren't taken as seriously, and now, the genre has entered a whole new era.  

Leaving a legacy

For Englund, one of the best parts of playing Freddy is the fact that younger generations still love the Elm Street films. Although it's been decades since the original movie was released, Freddy still scares new audiences today. Englund credits technological advances since the first film with its longstanding appeal, although the continuation of the franchise certainly didn't hurt, either. With several Elm Street films coming out in the years since the original, including the Friday the 13th crossover, Freddy vs. Jason, fans had a whole lot of new material to look forward to. 

"A Nightmare on Elm Street came of age at the same time as MTV, early cable, and then VHS generation, and the DVD generation, and then Blu-ray and Netflix. So I'm probably on my third generation of fans by now," Englund told Nerd Bastards. Englund said that the digitally remastered versions of the films represented a significant improvement in quality, adding, "The movies look better now than when they did when they came out. So there's a great advantage I have."

In an exclusive interview with Looper, Englund talked about what he's learned over the years about what the character means to fans. "I've met thousands of fans whose memory of Nightmare on Elm Street is not as a horrible, violent film," he says. "They have great, fond memories of watching it with their moms and dads, and brothers and sisters, after the whole family went out to a video store and chose a movie to watch on the weekend. They stayed home and sent out for pizza. They have these memories of a family experience."

Will Englund return to Elm Street?

Can Robert Englund ever really say goodbye to Freddy Krueger? As of the right now, his answer is a definite "maybe." In 2018, Englund appeared on the Halloween episode of the sitcom The Goldbergs as Freddy. It was the first time that he'd played the character since appearing in Freddy vs. Jason in 2003. But as far as returning to the role for another movie in the future, he's not sure he can commit to it. 

"I think they want to reboot the franchise, but they're gonna need a new actor," Englund said during a 2018 interview on Access Live. "They're gonna need a new actor to play Freddy because they're gonna have to do eight of them. I might have one left in me." At this point, it would be pretty unrealistic to expect Englund to sign on to play Freddy in eight more films, but since this is the role that means more to him than any other, there's a good chance that we'll see him on screen (and in our nightmares) as Freddy once more.