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Whatever happened to the guy who played Freddy Krueger

Since arriving in theaters in 1984, Wes Craven's A Nightmare on Elm Street has sent shockwaves through pop culture, mostly in the form of the decades of notoriety enjoyed by the nigh-unkillable psychopathic villain at its center: Freddy Krueger. We're all familiar with Freddy at this point, but who was the man behind the makeup who wielded that nightmarish claw? His name is Robert Englund, and he's really much more than just a guy who knows how to dispense quips and rock a fedora while leaping into teenagers' dreams to slay them with a razor-tipped glove—in real life, Englund is a respected veteran character actor. And whatever happened to the man who played Freddy Krueger once the nightmare ended with his final turn in the role, 2003's Freddy vs. Jason? Read on to find out what the man who haunts your dreams has been up to all these years.

He's critical about the reboot

Most fans agree: about a solid half of the Nightmare on Elm Street movies are kind of bad. But what they did all have in common was a certain charm — a mischievous, mean-spirited charm, but a charm nonetheless. But the 2010 remake of the original movie lacked all of the original's charm and spark, leaving some reviewers to criticize the film as a "cash grab made by people who really don't care at all." Robert Englund is diplomatic in his own comments, complimenting where he can. But it's not hard to see that he doesn't exactly care for the movie.

"I think the problem with the reboot was in timing," he said. "It was a terrific cast[…] I think that they had just released the deluxe Blu-Ray digitally remastered box set of all of my movies months before, or within a year before the reboot, and an entire new younger generation saw those films […] And those movies look great, and they hold up." He goes on to add that he also has problems with the tone of the film from its opening moments, beginning with a very public Freddy kill in the first ten minutes. "It casts a pall over the film," Englund concluded. "Everyone is already tainted by Freddy."

He still has fun with horror films

Over the course of his tenure as Freddy Krueger, Englund's very visage became synonymous with the horror genre. To this day, he still lands roles left and right in horror movies around the globe. "To be honest, horror has been very, very good to me," the actor said in a 2013 Daily Herald interview. "I respect the genre very much. Both horror and science fiction opened doors for me to work around the world. I've done 75 movies or more now, and probably 20 of them are horror."

Not one to mince words, Englund says the horror work is always reliable for a payday if he needs it. "When things get slow for me in Hollywood [...] I can always go off to Europe and do a movie in Italy or Spain. This is the great gift, the happy accident of my career. Because horror movies, like science fiction and action and fantasy movies, speak the international language of cinema. Sometimes I do it just because it's been good to me, sometimes I do it for the role, and — I'll be honest — sometimes I do it simply for the paycheck." Well, that explains Strippers vs. Werewolves.

You can still hear him everywhere

Like many veteran character actors, Englund has made a name for himself as a voice actor, appearing in animated shows and video games for over a decade following the end of his involvement in Nightmare on Elm Street. He played three characters on the Cartoon Network's late, lamented Regular Show, work that he called "one of his favorite gigs ever." He's also popped up on a number of superhero cartoons, playing a bevy of villains from both the Marvel and DC universes, such as The Riddler in The Batman, Vulture in The Spectacular Spider-Man, and as a consciousness-invading Dream Beaver in Nickelodeon's Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles series — a role that's strangely reminiscent of Freddy Krueger. He's even voiced the Batman villain Scarecrow in the DC Comics fighting game Injustice 2. One big advantage of his second career as a voice actor? It's work that he can do without slowing down, even in his seventies.

Making appearances a few times a year

Who wouldn't want to watch one of the better Nightmare on Elm Street movies with the Springwood Slasher himself? Some actors grow to resent the fandoms that pop up around their most famous characters, but if Englund has any frustration with being associated with Freddy, he doesn't show it. "Freddy will get top billing in my obituary," he's said, matter-of-factly, and he acknowledges the character's popularity by making time to meet fans whenever he's able. You can most often see him making appearances around Halloween, naturally. "To be honest, Halloween is a very lucrative time for Freddy Krueger," Englund has said

Depending on his work schedule, Englund will generally do three or four appearances a year, some at Comic Con-style conventions in a city he likes, and some at screenings of the more classic films in the Nightmare series. It's a good occasion to meet the man behind the makeup, pose for a photo, or get something signed. In the movies, messages from Freddy were heart-stopping moments that portended death; you can have a lot more fun with an autograph from Robert Englund.

Directing films

Englund has also stepped behind the camera on occasion, like his work in 2015 on an Italian project called The Vij, based on a novel by Nikolai Gogol. Unfortunately, The Vij is unlikely ever to be completed, with Englund lamenting in an interview that funding issues in the middle of production killed the project. 

That said, he still looks at potential projects often, helming the 2008 release of what he calls "a little teen comedy" he shot by the name of Killer Pad. To date, it's the only directorial project he's actually completed following his departure from the Nightmare movies, but it's not his first. Between the filming of Nightmare on Elm Street 4 and 5, Englund got the opportunity to direct a barely-remembered film called 976-EVIL, a bizarre curiosity of the horror genre that, despite its terrible reviews, really couldn't be all that much worse than, say, Freddy's Dead: The Final Nightmare.

Participating in documentaries

To become Freddy Krueger, Englund had to spend a long time in the makeup chair. That's part of what makes Freddy so unique — every crag and crevice of his messed-up mug is on full display in his appearances. Taking Englund from a kindly-looking Californian to the Bastard Son of 100 Maniacs takes a lot of prosthetic work — hours each day

To tell the story of these unseen hours, Englund has starred in and helped to produce Nightmares in the Makeup Chair, a documentary on the creation of Freddy directed by Mike Kerz. "Nightmares in the Makeup Chair is my love letter to the Nightmare on Elm Street series and to practical makeup," Englund said in a statement regarding the film's release. "This documentary not only captures their talent, but I think it might inspire a new generation of practical effects artists. I was happy to become Freddy once again to share the makeup process with the fans." The movie, announced in 2017, does not yet have an announced release date as of this writing. But it may pop up on the film festival circuit on its way to a wider release.

From the dream world to the game world

In one of the stranger media crossovers imaginable, Robert Englund made an appearance in the video game Call of Duty: Black Ops – not as Freddy Krueger, but as himself, playing one of a handful of influential horror filmmakers in a zombie-filled level called "Call of the Dead." Teaming up with the likes of Danny Trejo, Sarah Michelle Gellar, and Michael Rooker in an insane interactive love letter to horror cinema, the level is one of the coolest, most unexpected treats for fans of the genre who also happen to like playing military-styled first-person shooters. 

"It's really an honor to be in this," Englund said in an interview about the game. "There's kind of a movie within a game element to it, which I like — it's one of the things that attracted me to the project." Playing a game as a cast of real actors who are making a fake movie is a slice of postmodern weirdness that rivals Wes Craven's New Nightmare for its winking at the audience. Englund says he loved the reaction to his role from the children in his family who are too young to remember Freddy Krueger at the height of his powers. "Freddy's kind of old, sort of old-school to them," he said. "Now that Uncle Robert is working on Call of Duty, he's cool again."

Residing in Laguna Beach

Far from the haunted streets of Springwood, Ohio where Freddy Krueger hunts his prey, Englund is a lifelong Californian. He lives in Laguna Beach with his wife, Nancy, a set decorator whom he met in 1987 on the set of his film 976-EVIL. He's lived in this same home on Laguna Beach since 1989, falling in love with the area thanks to a long-held passion for surfing, and fond memories of family vacations to the beach. 

He's largely left alone and well-liked in the area, usually only getting badgered for autographs when he ventures outside the neighborhood, though local kids at Halloween have been known to treat his home with some reverence, as though the real Freddy lived there. In one incident, a large wax claw was left in his driveway. Though his main home is in Laguna Beach, Englund and his wife Nancy also have a second home in Santa Fe, New Mexico, the city in which they were married more than twenty-five years ago.

Sharing insights on social media

When he's not busy acting, producing, or seeking out that next big project, Englund connects with his fans on Instagram and Twitter, serving up what he calls "snark-free showbiz insights from a veteran character actor." In practice, Englund's social media feeds provide dates and details for his appearances, commentary on media he likes, or serve as a platform for the actor to exuberantly share details of his life — even lousy news like a broken foot.

A sought-after TV guest star

Even though his most famous role caked him behind layers of monstrous makeup to make him thoroughly nasty, Englund is still effective as a plain-faced character actor. It's work he's kept up steadily following the end of his involvement in the Nightmare franchise, appearing in popular shows like Bones, Supernatural, and Criminal Minds, to name a few. While Englund's nightmare may be over, the man of your dreams is still with us, still working, and never too far away from his history with Freddy Krueger. 

"Believe me, there was once or twice when it was difficult to get out of bed and say 'yes' to things," Englund said of the tiring nature of his longtime role as the Springwood Slasher. "Sometimes Freddy cost me a directing gig or maybe a comedy role, but I could probably count those times on one hand. I just don't think I'd be as busy, or as successful, had I not continued to put on Mr. Krueger's claw, hat and that stinky sweater." It's a benefit to all of us that he did. Robert Englund may be onto different projects now, but the immortal spirit of Freddy Krueger will live forever.