The actor best known as Freddy Krueger answers your burning questions on auditioning for Star Wars, becoming addicted to Tipping Point – and why he’s definitely not a shape-shifting lizard
Did filming A Nightmare on Elm Street give you nightmares? Mrblancmange
On part one, I didn’t have my movie star trailer; I had a little tiny honeywagon about the size of a urinal, with a Formica table, a plastic chair and a mirror with lightbulbs around it – the classic backstage makeup room. The lights were on a dimmer. I had them turned down low when I was taking a nap at about 4am, with my head resting on a tightly rolled towel so I wouldn’t smear my makeup. I was waiting to be called on set and heard this banging on the door. As I sat up, I saw this disfigured face looking back at me in the mirror. The shock made me jump out of my skin. I brought my hand up and I realised: “Oh my God, it’s my own reflection!” But it was such a startling moment that it still inhabits a variety of nightmares.
In behind-the-scenes photos from A Nightmare on Elm Street, there seems to be a great bond between you and the young cast. Did that make it difficult killing most of them on screen? Ker555
Making movies, you certainly develop an actors’ rapport. We’d all be getting up at dawn, puffy eyed, full of caffeine, apprehensive about the day’s work. I remember teasing Heather Langenkamp [Nancy Thompson in Nightmare 1 and 3], who was a Russian major at Stanford University. I’d tell dirty jokes, which I think repulsed her, but correlated to Freddy’s nastiness and innuendo, and helped break the ice. I know Mark Patton [Jesse Walsh in Nightmare 2] agreed we should play on the sexual innuendo of Freddy circumcising his mouth with my blade.
Back in the days of practical effects, so much was left to the imagination. You’d be stepping over puppeteers and animatronic crews crawling around dressed like ninjas. So that backstage goofing around really helps for when they say: “Action,” so you can step over into acting reality.
Do you have a favourite iteration of Freddy, from the dark origins of the first two to the wisecracking sequels and the return to a darker Freddy in New Nightmare? ninkwink
The fans loved the dark, cruel clown sense of humour, which became apparent when people began quoting Freddy’s lines, like: “I’m your boyfriend now.” So we exploited that as the franchise progressed. But by the time we got to part seven [Wes Craven’s New Nightmare], we made him very dark again: what if Freddy, the manifestation of evil, was really out there?
But Freddy was always a wisecrack. In the original Nightmare, Freddy sticks his tongue out of a phone, eviscerates a girl and wears her face as a mask as a cheap thrill. He cuts off his fingers and cracks wise as the green pus and blood spurts outs. I know Wes thought we took it too far, but we were responding to the fans who loved this unapologetic, politically incorrect wise-ass, exercising his nightmare revenge mode.
Do you dress up as Freddy on Halloween and frighten children? TopTramp
No. I leave Halloween to the amateur dress-up people and I leave New Year’s Eve to the amateur drinkers. But during filming, we certainly used to have fun. Making the first movie, I got sick of the catered food, so Nick Corri, Johnny Depp and I went across Sunset Boulevard and sat at the back booth of this dark Thai restaurant. I took off the hat, we ordered, and as the waiter opened the kitchen doors, I was illuminated with bright fluorescent lighting. The waiter took one good look at me, dropped his tray, backed into the kitchen and we never saw him again.
I did sometimes worry that I wasn’t scary any more, so once in a while I would hide behind the scenery and leer out of the dark at some unsuspecting crew member on their way to the bathroom. I think a couple of 6ft 2in grips soiled their underwear, so I knew I still had it.
Did you really audition for the parts of Luke and Han Solo in Star Wars? How far did you get? TopTramp
No. I really wanted to be in Apocalypse Now. I wanted to read for Chef – played by the late, great Frederic Forrest – but that part had been taken. They heard that I was a surfer, so I read for the surfer, but I think they thought I was too old. As I was leaving, one of the producers told me they were casting across the hall for this George Lucas space movie. George Lucas was my hero, so I thought: “Hell, I’ll go.” At the time, they wanted Han Solo to be played older, like a cool uncle who lets you smoke marijuana at Christmas. They looked at me for five minutes, took a couple of Polaroids; I did not read. That’s all I remember.
But as I left, I snatched the audition sides [script excerpt] for this much younger character called Luke Skywalker. I went back to my apartment in the Hollywood Hills and my buddy Mark Hamill’s cowboy boots were on my front porch. He was working down the hill at the CBS studios as a very successful television actor. Mark was watching the Bob Newhart or Mary Tyler Moore show. We’d watch together in the afternoon and then call our agents at 5pm to see how our auditions had gone. I remember saying: “Guess what? George Lucas is making this space movie.” We both loved American Graffiti, so Mark called his agent and put her under pressure to get him an audition. It’s a bit like the Tarantino movie Once Upon a Time in Hollywood. I was living at that time with Jan Fischer, who went on to The Lost Boys; our best friend became Luke Skywalker; and I became Freddy Krueger. At the time, we were just three young people living in the Hollywood Hills with big dreams.
Did you really sing backing vocals on Elton John’s Can You Feel the Love Tonight with Gary Barlow and Rick Astley for The Lion King? Princeton
I think that’s an internet rumour. I’ve done a million different voiceovers, but I didn’t have anything to do with The Lion King. Plus, I can’t sing.
What can you tell us about your role in the fourth series of Stranger Things? TopTramp
This season is a homage to 80s horror. I think it’s their scariest season. I come in around episode four. [The series debuted on 27 May.] When Covid hit, I was doing some personal appearances and some Stranger Things fans were asking me such specific questions that I just assumed that other actors had already talked about it. So I had my hands slapped for that.
Are you, in fact, a friendly reptoid from outer space in human skin, as the 80s TV series V suggests? Random_Dan
No. I’m not a reptile. Snakes are one of the things that give me nightmares. Way back in the early 80s, they still had an old-fashioned makeup lab on the Warner Bros lot, with all these men in white medical jackets making gloriously designed prosthetics. On one occasion, because I was playing a reptile who could take extreme cold, I got to rescue an Earthling and they had to do a kind of frozen blister effect. They literally stuck grapes on to half on my face with wax, so it I looked like it had been blistered on one side.
Later on in the series, I discover that my fellow resistance buddies are going to experiment on me to see what is toxic to aliens, like an alien allergy test. I had my entire back fitted with reptile skin, up into my hairline and behind my ears, with fake skin on top. Then they did this weird surgery where they removed my false humanoid back and saw it was made of shiny, scaly reptile skin.
What are your memories of appearing on a 2012 Halloween special of Come Dine With Me? Notknownhere
I remember I asked for fresh tuna fillet, to add my secret ingredients – scallion, sweet gherkin pickles, finely chopped red pepper, a hardboiled egg, a little gourmet mayonnaise and a little honey mustard. I whip it all up, put it on toasted sourdough with a little butter, then melt on cheese; it’s an old bachelor recipe called a tuna melt. But it only works if you use really high-quality tuna. The crew brought this terrible canned tuna. I ended up serving my poor fellow contestants glorified cat food.
The problem with doing British reality shows is that sometimes I know exactly who the people are – I know all the gossip and scandal – but sometimes I don’t. Put me on I’m a Celebrity … Get Me Out of Here! with anyone from QI, or the host of Tipping Point [Ben Shephard]. I do anything to get over to London, because I’m an anglophile. Often, I’ll have been out and about in London, had a couple of cocktails and gone back to my room. When jet lag kicks in, I find Tipping Point and it’s a great comfort food for me, just like reruns of QI with Alan Davies and Stephen Fry, quipping so wonderfully.