Growing Up on Elm Street
Heather Langenkamp, everybody’s favorite dream queen, discusses Nancy’s return to her Ol’ Nightmare Home.
By: Marc Shapiro
Published in Fanorgia #63.
A Nightmare on Elm Street has become an annual Halloween viewing event at California’s Stanford University since the film’s 1984 release. And, while Freddy Krueger gets the expected hoots of support from the frat boys, the major ovation during last year’s screening was for the cute heroine’s first appearance.
In a sense, it was a signal as well—a signal that Stanford day student Heather Langenkamp was about to go back to Elm Street. “After I did the first film, I tried to remain pretty anonymous when I went back to school,” Langenkamp confesses. “I cut my hair real short and started wearing glasses. I didn’t really look the same, but that did not stop people from picking me out as the girl from the Nightmare film.”
Langenkamp is looking back on this bout with campus notoriety during a break from shooting her return to Freddyland, A Nightmare on Elm Street, Part 3: Dream Warriors. Langenkamp, 22, remains refreshingly enthusiastic despite being only half-way through Dream Warriors’ rigorous shooting schedule. She chuckles that she likes the idea of her character, Nancy Thompson, growing up and getting “a real live job.” She’s also excited about the fact that Nancy finally gets her first on-screen kiss (at the hands of co-star Craig Wasson).
The attractive actress is also quick to admit that some things about a Nightmare shoot have not changed. “I’m still gulping down lunches,” exclaims Langenkamp who, this day, begins playing off special FX with a hall of mirrors that features a cackling Freddy at every turn. “And that always seems to happen just before I do battle with Freddy. It’s like somebody has preordained that I cannot fight Krueger on an empty stomach.” Much has changed in her life since A Nightmare on Elm Street; most of which does not run according to the usual grand plan. Rather than using the rave notices from Nightmare as a springboard to bigger and better things, Langenkamp jumped right into what she describes as “a strange, weird way to work.” “I did pursue acting roles,” says the actress, “but I also got married and went back to school. Being a wife and a student tends to take a lot of time away from acting.” What work she did get was far from the world of horror. Langenkamp starred in two children’s afterschool specials, Can a Guy Say No? and the Emmy Award-winning Have You Ever Tried Talking to Patty? She also guest starred in an episode of Heart of the City, did a couple of commercials, and played a suburban housewife in an unsold television pilot. But Langenkamp claims that memories of Freddy were never too far away.
“After the first film, I figured that would be it,” she offers. ” However, I knew in my own head that they could bring Nancy back if they wanted to. But when they departed so radically from the original storyline in Nightmare 2, I said ‘OK, that’s it. There’s no way they are ever going to bring any of the original characters back!'” Oddly enough, following the release of Freddy’s Revenge. Langenkamp started hearing through the grapevine that Nightmare 3 was already in the planning stages and that the preliminary story had the potential for bringing Nancy Thompson back to Elm Street. The rumor became reality early in 1986 when she received a telephone call from Wes Craven.
“Wes called me up and said he was considering writing the script for Nightmare 3. He wanted to know if I would agree to come back as Nancy if he included her as a character. I said I would and told him I was anxious to see what story he came up with.” Langenkamp, who discussed the earlier Craven film in Fango #45, had a pretty good idea of how she wanted the character of Nancy to be this second time around.
Langenkamp’s hopes were realized three months later when she met with Craven over lunch and received her first look at the grown-up Nancy. “I was really excited,” Langenkamp gushes. “Nancy was a real adult. She was a woman who was very serious about herself and her life. When she realizes that Freddy’s back, she wastes no time in fighting back.” Because she has not seen Freddy’s Revenge, Langenkamp can’t compare that film with this current project. But she’s quick to contrast Nightmare 3 with the initial Nightmare on Elm Street. “I still consider the first film a classic,” praises the fetching Langenkamp. “It had all the elements of character and horror that a thriller should have. At this point, I believe Dream Warriors does a good job of expanding on the ideas in the original. The budget is bigger, so we’re able to do more effects, and the story is real good. Wes’ influence is definitely there. But no matter how many Nightmare films are made, people will always refer to the original as the best.”
Langenkamp came to terms with New Line in September 1986 and reported to the Dream Warriors set later that month. Her first day included running headfirst into Freddy Krueger (Robert Englund) in full makeup, their first meeting in nearly two years. “It was one hell of a reunion,” enthuses Langenkamp. “To see him in makeup after two years was like old home week.” According to Langenkamp, the two’s socializing soon gave way to some serious talk about how to play the pivotal relationship between Nancy and Freddy. “We both knew the relationship would change now that Nancy was older. Since I was now an adult, Freddy had to deal with me much more as a woman. All the sexual overtones that were sort of there in the first Nightmare film could now be a bit more upfront because Nancy was grown up.”
“We obviously cannot carry the sex things too far,” Langenkamp cautions, “but there are some moments in this film where Freddy and Nancy exchange some glances and you just know that some real sparks could fly. Freddy and Nancy are equals now. He knows she is just as powerful as she can be with him and that she is not afraid of him. There is a mutual respect, and it makes for a much more complex relationship.”
During this conversion, cast and crew members wander by offering good-natured jokes and comments. On the surface, there is a collective good mood on the Nightmare 3 set. Langenkamp, however, admits Dream Warriors has not been the perfect set. “There has definitely been tension,” she says. “We are under the gun, schedule-wise, and time tends to put a lot of pressure on people and shorten tempers. There have been a few explosions so far, and most of those have centered around the fact that everybody thinks everybody else is not working fast enough.”
Langenkamp recalls that one of the biggest uprisings to date was in the recently completed “Freddy Hell” dream sequence. “We were real high up on an elevated stage in a closed soundstage. It was hot and we were not getting any water. Everybody was starting to feel faint. Finally, we just started screaming and hollering and basically acting cranky. We finally got the scene done, but if it comes across like we were in real agony, that’s because we were.”
The actress admits that a major cause for concern has been the first-time director Chuck Russell’s helming of Nightmare 3. Langenkamp insists she has no complaints and offers that working with both Russell and Craven has given her first-hand insight into contrasting styles. “They are definitately different in their approaches to making Nightmare films,” explains Langenkamp. “Wes, on the first film, would just sort of sit in the background. He would watch you go through your paces and then step in and fine tune your reactions and emotions. He was the kind of director who would just let you go to extremes and use your reactions. Chuck, on the other hand, has really strong ideas about what he is looking for to begin with. We know even before we rehearse a scene what he wants and what we should deliver. Both ways of directing have their advantages and disadvantages as far as I’m concerned. Working with Wes was a little looser and freer experience. With Chuck, the whole filmmaking process has been a bit more narrowed down and precise.”
Following Nightmare 3, Langenkamp might return to Stanford to continue her studies. Langenkamp says she enjoys the campus atmosphere, but adds that starring in this latest Freddy romp sets her personal life up for another bout with the same double-edged sword that cut deep after the first Nightmare film.”
“After I did that first film, I found that people seemed to have different motives for being around me,” admits a candid Langenkamp. “There are people in my life right now who are keeping in extra special contact with me because I’ve done A Nightmare on Elm Street and because I’m an actress. I’m sure that scene is going to get even more intense when Dream Warriors comes out and that really bothers me. And then there are others who don’t care what I do and don’t treat me any different than they always have. I knew if I was going to be an actress and, eventually, a good one, I would come up against hangers-on at some point. I try to keep with the real people as much as possible and try not to get too discouraged by the others.”
The Oklahoma-born Langenkamp explains that she has no film projects lined up after the completion of this Krueger escapade and feels no pressure to immediately line up more work. “Being married has a lot to do with that,” she reveals. “Basically, I’ve never been the type to jump from one project to another just for the sake of saying I’m working. I am a pretty patient type and the pace my career is moving at is fine with me. If it wasn’t, I would do something about it.”
While not letting too many cats out of the bag, Langenkamp concedes that she does survive the Nightmare 3 film relatively intact. But that does not necessarily make her a prime candidate for a fourth adventure in dreamland. “Doing Part 4 would depend on many things,” Langenkamp maintains. “Who writes it?” Who directs it? Is the story good? The part would have to have some substance. I would not come back to do a one-line cameo. That would not benefit Nancy’s character. But I suppose I know the character well enough to be in a position to wrangle with the film people to come back for a Part 4. Sure, they could say, ‘Well, we can always get another Nancy.’ But, at this point, it would be like trying to get another actor to be Freddy. You have to wonder if the audience would believe anybody else as Nancy.”
A yell from the set indicates it is time for Langenkamp to go back to work. She trades one last rimshot with a crew member and wanders back to the hall of mirrors set. Down the corridor, Freddy awaits. Russell calls for quiet as the scene unfolds. Langenkamp does a quick psyche job and slips into Nancy. Russell yells action. And Nancy Thompson takes one very grown-up step forward.