Monday, October 24, 2005
Former student finds fame with Hollywood horror films
By Rebecca Wyatt, OU Web Writer
On Halloween, former OU student Robert Englund puts his life-size Freddy Krueger cut-out, complete with tattered red and black striped sweater, dingy brown hat, horribly scarred face, and razor blade fingernails, on his porch. When neighborhood children stop by for treats, he stands behind the cut-out, cackling just like the horror film icon. But the creepy laugh is no imitation — Englund really is Freddy Krueger.
Since his role as Freddy catapulted him to worldwide stardom, Englund has starred in numerous movies and performed in many television shows. But before he started scaring audiences as the villain in the “Nightmare on Elm Street” movies, Englund spent some time at Oakland University.
Englund was attending the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts in London, England, but he was forced to return to the United States because of the Vietnam draft. He followed John Fernald, formerly of the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts, to a little-known place called Oakland University. There, Fernald led the Academy of Dramatic Arts where Englund began to study.
The Academy of Dramatic Arts was a two-year program run out of Meadow Brook Theatre for actors seeking careers in professional theatre. It was the first of its kind and often used as a model for other theatre schools around the country.
“I have nothing but good memories of Oakland,” Englund said. “There was some wonderful talent there.”
While studying at the academy from 1968 through 1970, Englund enjoyed the atmosphere, education and camaraderie.
“I had a lot of friends, fellow students and faculty,” he said. “There was a really interesting mix.”
Many of the English actors who visited the theatre lived in the stables on the grounds of the university and created a pub with some of the open space. It was a hang out for many of the actors who attended the academy. It was where Englund learned to drink Irish whisky and play darts.
When they weren’t in the makeshift pub, the actors hung out in downtown Rochester, sometimes at Red Knapp’s where Englund said they had the best burgers in town.
“Rochester was still sort of funky and undiscovered so we kind of had the whole city to ourselves,” he said.
Englund worked at Meadow Brook Theatre through 1973 where he started out as an understudy, watching and learning from the veteran actors, and then began getting parts in plays, including a role in “A Mid-Summer Night’s Dream.”
Englund also worked at Meadow Brook Music Festival where he ran the lights and listened to what he called “the best classical music.”
In 1973, Englund left Rochester and headed to Hollywood where he landed the lead role in the film “Buster and Billie.” From there on, Englund experienced much success, acting in movies with big names like Jeff Goldblum, Burt Reynolds, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Henry Fonda, Susan Sarandon and Richard Gere.
In the early 1980s, he began doing a television show called “V” that followed in the science-fiction footsteps of “Star Trek.”
“I thought ‘V’ was going to be on forever,” he said, but the series ended and Englund’s career took off in ways he never imagined.
“I had an audition with this weird fellow named Wes Craven. I kind of wanted to work with him,” said Englund, mostly because it was different from the sci-fi work he had been doing with “V.”
Englund took the role as the lead character, Freddy, in Craven’s 1984 blockbuster “Nightmare on Elm Street.”
“It has been a great, happy accident,” he said.
Now with seven “Nightmare” movies spanning from 1984 to 2002, Englund feels he has been able to reach multiple generations of horror film fans.
“Fans are getting a lot more sophisticated and a lot more die-hard,” he said.
In his early theatre days, Englund never imagined he would be a pop-culture icon for his role in a horror movie.
“I was a real classical theatre snob. I just wanted to do Shakespeare,” he said, but that all changed after he began working with Craven. “By the time I was Freddy, I just kicked back and went with the flow, which was the right thing to do. Wes taught me how to appreciate horror movies. I’ve learned to respect the horror genre.”
With his horror movie experience, there isn’t much that will make Englund jump.
“It’s hard for me to get scared because I know how they do everything," he said. "When you are doing it, it’s pretty silly work.”
However, he still likes to scare fans.
“It’s fun to sneak into a movie theatre and watch people jump,” he said. “The horror movie, to me, is the last place in American culture where we deal with death. The great thing about the horror movie is that it brings people together. People like to sit in the dark and watch it together.”
To become the ghastly Freddy Krueger character, Englund spent four hours a day in make up, more if he was being rigged for special effects.
While he knows the tricks of the trade, Englund said there are many good horror movies out there and he has tried to see most of them. He regularly attends movie festivals to view international and original scary movies.
Movies like “Skeleton Key,” a movie he saw at a festival in Spain, and the movie “Salt and Sea” impressed him. “May,” the English version of “28 Days,” “Sister” and “Rosemary’s Baby” are some of his favorite horror movies. Englund also likes the originals of “The Exorcist,” “Texas Chainsaw Massacre,” “Dawn of the Dead” and “House of a Thousand Corpses.”
Since his role as Freddy catapulted him to worldwide stardom, Englund has starred in numerous movies and performed in many television shows. He also frequently travels to Europe and Asia where horror movies, including the “Nightmare” films, are wildly popular.
When he is not acting or traveling, Englund spends his time surfing near his home in Laguna Beach, Calif.
While other acting and directing jobs are already on the horizon for Englund, a return to the stage on OU’s campus isn’t out of the question.
“If I could come back and do something at Meadow Brook Theatre, that would be great," he said. "I would love to do that. I learned a lot there and I think it would be nice to give back.”