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How Robert Englund Really Got Into Character To Play Freddy Krueger - Exclusive

Freddy Krueger haunts nightmares — both in movies and in real life. And actor Robert Englund is the person who brought him to life.

The Nightmare on Elm Street franchise includes nine films, and Englund has portrayed the severely scarred child murderer with a razor-blade glove eight of those times. Although he didn't appear in the 2010 reboot, which starred Jackie Earle Haley as Freddy, Englund's Krueger career has spanned four decades, starting with the 1984 original directed by Wes Craven. His last film in the franchise was 2003's Freddy vs. Jason, and he revived the character for a 2018 cameo on the hit TV sitcom The Goldbergs.

In an exclusive interview with Looper, Englund admits that his classical training, background in theater, and a childhood love of the dramatic makes the transition from nice guy to bad guy both fun and rewarding. Here's how Robert Englund really got into character to play Freddy Krueger.

Robert Englund's theater training helped create Freddy

Englund is a classically trained actor who got his start in regional theater, where he focused on Shakespearean plays. He once was the understudy for the role of Iago in Othello alongside Tony-winning actor Roger Robinson at the Great Lakes Shakespeare Festival in Ohio.

"I learned back in my theater days that villains are better written," Englund says. "They're more complex. There are more layers. And it's fun to do."

However, living up to "the challenge of the makeup" in Nightmare on Elm Street was something that took some time and experimentation to get used to.

"It was larger than life," Englund says, noting that it took several hours to put on the Freddy face. "I had to live up to the makeup and the exaggerated scenery and special effects that were going on around me. But since Freddy exists in the imagination of his potential victims, he could be portrayed a little bit stylized. And when I finally got all the 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 adds, "It was very liberating for me to play Freddy because I had just come from doing television [in the series V], where you spend a lot of time trying to look like you're not acting. I think I'm a better actor for it now that I've come back to working without the makeup."

A childhood obsession with special-effects makeup

Before landing the role of Freddy Krueger, Englund admits he was a "bit of a snob" who preferred theater and art films over horror movies and big-budget motion pictures. And at first when he moved into on-screen acting, he played a lot of comedic "sidekicks and best friends."

However, when Englund reflects on his childhood, the seeds of his horror movie success were present at an early age.

"When I was a kid, I was obsessed with Lon Chaney," he says. "My uncle had a coffee table book with all these pictures of Lon in his different, famous looks and makeup. He was called the man of a thousand faces because of all the wonderful characters he played. But, of course, he's best known for The Phantom of the Opera. I was so intrigued with that, and I think that way down deep inside of me there was a little bit of Robbie Englund, the kid, when I said yes to starring in Nightmare on Elm Street."