The first time Academy Award-nominated actor and San Antonio resident Jackie Earle Haley heard that Warner Bros. Pictures was interested in remaking the 1984 classic horror film “A Nightmare on Elm Street” he was surprised to learn his name was already swirling around the Hollywood rumor mill.
“I saw that people were suggesting me for the role of Freddy Krueger on the Internet,” Haley, 48, told me referring to the main “Elm Street” antagonist, a deformed serial killer with a razor sharp glove who preys on his teenage victims in their dreams.
“I was immediately fascinated by the idea. [The studio] wanted to start all over with [the franchise] and introduce it to a whole new generation.”
While actor Robert Englund had been synonymous with the name Freddy Krueger for 25 years, a total re-imagining of the series included a change in lead actors. Haley, who was nominated for an Oscar for his role in 2006’s “Little Children,” jumped at the opportunity to be the actor who would replace him.
“Freddy is such an incredibly iconic character, so it was an honor to play him,” said Haley, who owns his own production company, JEH Productions, Inc., in San Antonio.
“It was also very daunting because one guy has played this character for decades. When you think of Freddy Krueger you think of [Englund].”
To play Krueger, Haley said the process was less about trying to make him different from Englund’s portrayal and more about returning to what made the character so terrifying in the original film. As the franchise continued over the years with Englund at the helm (the last film was 2003’s “Freddy vs. Jason”), screenwriters continued to add more sarcastic wit to Krueger’s personality.
“The very first film was a little bit darker in tone,” Haley said. “I think it started getting campier and more comedic and sardonic as it went along. We wanted to get it back to the original.”
With help from music video director and first-time filmmaker Samuel Bayer, who had worked with such bands as Marilyn Manson, the Smashing Pumpkins, Metallica and Green Day, Haley started researching the traits that would make Krueger more hellish than humorous for the latest film.
“I started reading this book about serial killers that Samuel asked me to look at to figure out who Freddy is,” Haley said. “I realized I was going to play a mythical boogieman. That’s what I needed to embrace.”
The book allowed Haley to see that Krueger was different from the real-life murderers he was reading about. While it was important for him to capture some of these realistic qualities, Haley considered Krueger more of a character developed in the minds of creative storytellers.
“I still wanted to definitely look at his human side and do the proper work there, but Freddy Krueger is like the main character in a campfire story,” Haley said. “I really think the horror genre is an extension of people sitting around a campfire out in the woods late at night trying to scare each other.”
Nevertheless, Haley feels Krueger is someone who represents something different to everyone who has witnessed his capabilities as a fictitious killer who haunts his victims when they least expect it.
“One of the scariest most vulnerable times is when you lie down in bed at night and fall asleep,” Haley said. “That is what has made Freddy part of the horror culture all these years. He’s the monster that we almost sort of enjoy being scared by.”