When A Nightmare on Elm Street was filming last June in Chicago, I was invited – along with a few other online journalists – to watch filming one night and also interview some of the cast. While I’ve conducted many interviews while working for Collider, I’ll admit the interview with Jackie Earle Haley was definitely memorable. That’s because Haley did the interview while in full Freddy makeup! And on top of that, I was sitting directly to his right, so when he was answering other people’s questions, I was starring right at his head and blown away by the level of detail. Trust me, when you see a close-up of Freddy in the movie, you’re going to think you’re looking at a burn victim.
While the interview was conducted late at night and even though the make-up was difficult on Haley, he couldn’t have been nicer. He talked to us about the challenges of acting under the make-up, does he have empathy for Freddy, working on the finding the voice, was he nervous to sign on for multiple films, going from Watchmen’s Rorschach to this, and so much more. It’s a great interview, and you can either read or listen to it after the jump:
As always, here’s the audio of the interview. And if you’ve missed the teaser trailer for A Nightmare on Elm Street, watch it first and then read the interview:
Question: How are you?
Jackie Earle Haley: I don’t know.
We have to reflect on how this works in the full light now.
Haley: These guys did an amazing job with it. It’s incredible.
How hard is it to act through all of that latex?
Haley: I’m still kind of trying to figure this stuff out. It’s kind of torturous for me. It’s just a long time in the chair and then wearing this stuff my ears are killing me and it pulls down on the back of my neck. I have to eat Advil, but, at the same time, it’s kind of odd, man. It’s almost like I’m wondering if I can even like play this character if it wasn’t on.
Haley: You know what I mean? I kind of reaches this point where it starts to become the character and without it, especially when they expand it’s like what they do on top of this too is they throw in contact lenses and they’re huge so it’s like scratching your eyes. You can barely see out of one. It’s kind of a trip so it’s oddly encumbering and oddly empowering as the character, but it’s like I’ve got fingertips glued on here and then they put the glove on so I can’t tie my shoes. I can’t pee. It’s just a trip.
How much of that did they explain to you up front? Like how much did you know going in and how much did you have to find out when it was happening?
Haley: You know nobody really warned about what to expect. I think, you know you kind of have an idea. I mean my biggest experience with this is just sympathizing more and more with Jeffery Dean. So much of what he says it’s like no I’m living it. It’s like he said he’d come out of that trailer as The Comedian just ready to fucking kill somebody. And it’s like the best Freddy research and motivation shit I could do is sit in that torturous chair for 3-1/2 hours and come and I’m pretty ready to throw the glove on and start slicing just about anybody.
The glove, we understand, you got to take home just to get kind of feel for it?
Haley: Yeah, I’ve got one.
Haley: Yeah, I take it home. I play with it in the trailer and stuff.
Was it about just trying to get adjusted to the weight and feel?
Haley: Yeah, it’s about kind of letting it become just a little bit more second nature and just getting used to it being on.
Is this like Ronnie McGorvey with a serrated edge?
Haley: I’m sorry?
Are you trying to bring necessarily a pathos to it that you might to something like Little Children or is this just being full-on viscerally frightening as this character?
Haley: You know I think we want to…this version of Freddy is I think we’re focusing more on the less camp and a little bit more of the scarier side. More of a serious side. And there’s definitely, I think, a little more focus on, you know what makes this guy who he is? And so there’s a little bit of a deeper kind of look at him. But at the same time it’s like in my research I really started to delve into like serial killers an I was looking at all this kind of stuff and I remember I found one on Ed Kemper or I was studying Ed Kemper and looking around. Oh gosh, they did a movie on him. So I went to it and I’m looking at it and it’s like…and it was a total slasher movie. And it kind of pissed me off. And that’s when I realized I’m playing a boogeyman, you know? So that’s what I’m really trying to embrace, but at the same time find out what makes this boogeyman tick. So there is room to kind of look at his past and to see what’s happened and to see what makes him who he is-to see what’s made him the boogey-man that he is. But I think it’s really important that Robert Englund and New Line has done such a fine job over the years of creating this world and this character. It’s fun to kind of re-envision and do that but at the same time we need to remain true to a point of who Freddy is and what the franchise kind of represents. You know what I mean? It’s neat to get to re-envision it but at the same time you don’t’ want to go so far that we’ve left what makes it so kind of cool and bitching. I’ve never been a big horror genre fan, but I did go see “Nightmare on Elm Street” in the theatres and I dug it. I thought it was cool. Just the concept of it. Also just the idea that there was one of these films in the genre that had a little depth to it. That Freddy, definitely always to me, was always my favorite of that group of classic monsters, you know? Meaning like Jason, Michael Myers and all them.
As an actor, can or do you have a degree of empathy for this character or does humanizing him sort of undermine how scary he can be?
Haley: I think it makes him scarier.
Haley: I just think that when you start to get a sense of what somebody tick and you realize that that clock is kind of ticking out of whack, that’s scary. That scares me in this world. You know what I mean? Sometimes when you just run across people that seem to be tracking on a different kind of cord and something’s up. To me, that seems more scary. There’s even more uncertainty knowing that whoa, something’s driving this and it’s real and it’s…you know what I mean? But it’s just not making any real sense. You know it makes sense to him though and that’s what’s scary about it. Did that make sense?
How did you go about developing the voice for Freddy this time-your take on it?
Haley: I’ll let you know when we’re done.
You said something similar when you were on “Watchmen” doing Rorschach.
Talk to me when we’re done.
Haley: Yeah. This, to me, I’m kind of a compartmental actor. I mean, this really throws me for a loop sitting with you guys right now, but I mean it’s cool but it’s like I’m so in the middle of it now. I feel like when we’re done I’ll have been able to process it and then really okay, what did I do? You know? Right now I’m just kind of in the middle of it, so I’m still kind of…
Is there a process though before the day before shooting, the week before shooting, the months before shooting when you’re doing makeup tests and you’re doing your research. Were you standing in front of mirrors and trying out vocal patterns and postures? Can you talk about the process or is there a process with you of playing around with that?
Haley: Yeah, there’s a process. It’s kind of like knowing to allow the subconscious to do some of that work. In terms of like posture and voice and things like that it’s kind of about…it’s not about sitting down and let’s try voices although sometimes you do that, you know what I mean? But it’s just about kind of like working with the material, thinking about it and sometimes things will happen while you’re just driving your car. It’s when you’re not thinking about it, all of a sudden stuff bubbles up. I believe strongly in like thinkubation. It’s like I recently I went and saw John Cleese’s college tour where he’s going around talking about creativity and he kind of talks about the subconscious mind. The conscious mind is but a mere oil slick on the top of your brain, I guess. And it’s all this subconscious that’s down here that on the conscious level we do logistical thinking but so much of the creativity just bubbles down in here and kind of pops up because I mean how do you describe when just an idea kind of comes out. That’s creative idea. It’s you know like from input to that conscious level and then your subconscious plays with it and stuff just kind of bubbles up, so part of it’s that. So the process for me is really making sure I’m feeding that conscious level and allowing…giving it time for the subconscious to brew and to put things in front of me. I don’t know if that makes any sense or if I sound like a madman.
Has this been an approach that sort of has come to you more recently or have you had this approach going back to your earliest work?
Haley: I think I’ve always had the approach. I think I’ve just become a little bit more aware of it, especially in listening to Cleese’s talk. Just in dealing with-my wife is an art director. So many of our friends are creative directors and art directors and designers and stuff. And one of my friends calls it thinkubation. It’s just part of the process. It helps being aware of it, so that you can feed that conscious and then know to give that subconscious time to do it’s thing with the process.
Was there any apprehensive…we heard that you most likely signed like a 3-picture deal for this. Was there any apprehension for signing onto a picture that you could be playing the same character again and again?
Haley: A little bit. You know I definitely had to think about it. And it just kind of all boiled down to how do you not play Freddy Krueger. You know what I mean? It just like such a cool project. Such an iconic character and such a cool challenge. Clearly I wasn’t thinking about all this shit glued to my head, but, yeah, it was like man too cool to not do, man.
You’re also on a new Fox show “Human Target”.
And that’s obviously you signed on for TV that’s a multi-year contract. You signed onto this-this is a multi-picture contract. It’s conceivable you could be doing both things for the next little while. Were you a little nervous about that or are you sort of bring it on?
Haley: A little bit from the standpoint because it kind of takes me out of the game, but it takes me out of the game by being in the game, right? So it’s kind of like…yeah. The TV series…I’m real excited about that. It should be a real fun kind of throw back to the 80′s action type of films like “Die Hard” and stuff and kind of like the weekly action show of the week. What’s kind of cool about it is it’s a different type of character and I’m also kind of really looking forward to acting every day for a period of I think it might…as an actor to grow to become a better actor is to work in that environment and to work every day for months. I think it would be a really good experience as an actor.
Where does the fearless come from? Where does the reserve come from because once again you’re playing a character, like Rorschach, I mean a lot of fans are looking to you now. I mean, you’re taking on a character that fans have followed Robert Englund for 8 or 9 films. Where does that come from and did you think about that at all–the fan reaction at all–or by the time you were done with “Watchmen” you were like I don’t care?
Haley: Not sure. What are you asking?
Well, just asking in terms of were you afraid of the fan reaction once they see you?
Haley: Oh in this?
Yeah, in this.
Haley: Yeah. Sure. Yeah. I think it would be kind of unhealthy if I wasn’t. I think it’s just we’re re-envisioning this thing. Robert Englund’s done an amazing job over the years playing Freddy. Everybody’s that’s a fan of “Nightmare” loves Robert and you know so that’s a challenge when you’ve got to step in a big man’s shoes like that, so it’s scary but it’s also exciting. You can’t please everybody. All I can do is really just try to work from the heart and do the best job at playing Freddy that I can and hope for the best.
Have you met Robert?
Haley: No, I haven’t. But one thing I’ll say and I’ll probably keep saying this forever is that me and Robert aren’t competing with one another. The man is, like I said, he’s played this part just awesomely over the years and I’ve got nothing but respect for the guy and it’s a thrill to be able to get to step up and to be allowed to get to play this character, because it’s such an iconic character, like Rorschach, but the difference is one guy has played this character. It’s not even like Frankenstein where it’s like you’ve got 20 guys playing Frankenstein over the years and so it makes it a little daunting, but it also makes it exciting and scary in its own right, too.
Was there anything specific that you drew upon or sort of borrowed from any of your earlier films that you wanted to bring to this or was it all sort of your own invention?
Haley: Well, besides the fact that it’s me playing it, yeah not really.
I mean there weren’t any like moments from the films that you were like I really like this detail and I want to sort of borrow this or something like that?
Haley: I don’t think so.
Okay guys that is a wrap.
Haley: Thank you guys very much. I really appreciate it. Good seeing you guys.
These guys just did an amazing job on the makeup. I mean it’s really…sitting up close and looking at you it’s disturbing how insane it is.
Haley: I mean it’s incredible and of course on film it’ll even look better but I’ll tell you even in this makeup in this raw state, I feel like I could walk into a 7/11 and the person would be like oh would you like….You know? Thanks you guys.
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