Freddy’s Fresh Face

Posted on: April/1/2010 12:01 AM

By Luis M. Rasales & Angel Sucasas

Published in Fangoria #292.

The sunset is fading. A strip of pink lines the bottom of the sky in the east as Fango waits to interview Jackie Earle Haley, the new Freddy Krueger, during the filming of the Nightmare on Elm Street remake. Finally, a door opens and he steps through in full makeup.

And it’s… terrifying. Hard to stare at. Haley truly seems to be a burned man who, in some impossible way, has managed to stay alive. Scars and sores cover his face and one of his arms. The other is makeup-free because, as you may know, Freddy wears a glove…

But, at the same time, the experience is kind of funny. Haley, unforgettable as the harsh-voiced Rorschache in Watchmen, in real life speaks in very soft and calm tones that are completely counter to his horrendous visage. The actor even jokes about his feelings when he checks out his latest appearance in the mirror.

“Well, it starts to become a habit,” admits Haley, who is becoming a specialist at playing tortured characters requiring plenty of makeup work. “Usually, when the shooting day finishes, I look at myself and get this surreal feeling. For example, with Rorschache, I’d pull off the mask and say, ‘Well, there’s that guy,'” he laughs. As for worries about typecasting, he notes, “All I can say is that, realizing I’ve played too many tortured souls, maybe now was the right time to play a tortured soul!”

But this habit has its issues—for instance, the physical challenges of the gruesome getup. “It’s uncomfortable, yes, but it’s worth it because of the transformation it allows. The work of [makeup FX creator] Andrew Clement, researching and then creating this look, is, in my opinion, topnotch. And when you see it in the final shot, with all the illumination and effects implemented, it simply blows your mind.”

Haley is very conscious of the importance of his role to horror fandom. And he’s also aware of the love and passion that Robert Englund put into the character over three decades’ worth of features. It’s a tough legacy to deal with. “That’s the scariest thing. If you think about it, only one guy has played Freddy Krueger—and that guy was Robert Englund. For eight films, no less! And he did amazing work. He managed to create a fandom out of nothing. So obviously, the pressure is there. But we’re trying to offer something new and fresh, a totally different experience from the previous ones. Cut the jokes to a minimum and be much darker.”

To achieve this tone, Haley did quite a bit of research. “I followed some strange paths to prepare for this role,” he says. “The core of it was studying all I could find about real serial killers. During that process, I realized one thing: Freddy is a bogeyman [laughs]. Although the main goal was to be realistic, I couldn’t forget that this element is a key part of him. It’s a campfire story. The moment I realized that, I change my approach a little bit and played it slightly funnier. That doesn’t mean the character isn’t very serious—he is. But, speaking only about the interior process of playing Freddy, I relaxed the tension somewhat—though I certainly keep it very high. He’s a dark character, sinister and troubling. It’s interesting to delve into that type of consciousness. But I have to do it with control, because it was a very disturbing immersion.”

Haley isn’t the only newcomer to Elm Street; Samuel Bayer is making his feature directorial debut on this Nightmare, and the actor believes he’s adding a great deal to the long-lived franchise. “He’s brought a very fresh and innovative vision,” Haley says. “in fact, every time I watch a sequence in the monitor, I’m surprised at how beautiful the film looks. I’m tremendously thrilled about the visuals, and I also have to praise his work with the actors. The kids are really something. Samuel did a terrific job with the casting.”

Haley is in the midst of a highly publicized comeback that began with his Oscar-nominated turn in Todd Field’s Little Children. It has been a return to mainstream visibility following a run of strong roles like The Bad News Bears as a youth in the ’70s, which dried up by the ’90s and led to him finding a new career helming commercials.

“Man, it’s incredible,” he says. “I’ve been blown away by having the opportunity to work with directors like [Watchmen’s] Zack Snyder and Todd Field [not to mention Martin Scorsese on Shutter Island]. The truth is that coming back to this job, especially with these incredibly talented filmmakers, is a dream come true. Directing is part of my soul, but acting is also part of it. And I can’t just put one of the two away. To be happy, I need both.”