Robert Englund on Freddy Krueger and the Twisted Humor of JJ Villard’s Fairy TalesPhotos via Getty Images, Frazer Harrison, Michael Buckner, Adult Swim Comedy Features Robert Englund
At 72 years old, Robert Englund is an extremely prolific, impressively busy man. Before the coronavirus pandemic sailed into 2020 and upended every aspect of world culture, he had been planning something akin to a “world tour,” hitting various markets to promote a bevy of projects. There’s his new Travel Channel-starring project, True Terror With Robert Englund, which sees the horror icon holding court on real-life historical horrors. There’s a Netflix project he hints at, but “can’t talk about right now.” There’s the ever-present stream of indie horror films that seek out Englund as one of the genre’s most beloved faces. And not to be forgotten, there’s this weekend’s guest starring appearance on Adult Swim’s new animated series JJ Villard’s Fairy Tales. Englund is surrounded by creatives who want his attention, and speaking with him, you can tell he lives for the pleasure of performance.
On a recent call from his home in quarantine, where the once (and future?) Freddy Krueger is riding out the pandemic with his wife, Englund chatted with Paste about his enjoyment of vocal performance, his excitement for JJ Villard’s Fairy Tales, and his thoughts on returning to his most iconic role: Freddy. Along the way, he also commented on the perceived failure of the 2010 A Nightmare on Elm Street reboot, offering some thoughts on how that attempted reboot strayed from the flock a decade ago. You can read that piece here.
As for JJ Villard’s Fairy Tales, it’s a premise that certainly reads like vintage Adult Swim raunchiness: “The charm and cuteness of classic fairy tales are updated and packaged into a ball of raw, visceral, gross weirdness.” Englund guest stars in the Sunday, May 17 (12:15 a.m.) episode “The Goldilox Massacre” alongside Linda Blair, voicing multiple characters with names like “Porridge Daddy,” “Hive Head” and “Toilet.”
Our conversation with Englund follows:
Paste Magazine: Hey there, Robert. How have you been riding out quarantine?
Robert Englund: Well, my wife has mastered the swiss chard quesadilla. So we’ve been eating a lot of quesadillas, a lot of white wine, a lot of Netflix.
Paste: What does Robert Englund binge on Netflix?
Englund: Just about everything. We binged Ozark, and I’m really into it. You know what’s interesting to me on Netflix, though? After Girl With the Dragon Tattoo I discovered a lot of these really dark, suicidal Scandinavian noirs. There’s always like an alcoholic ex-cop who goes back to his hometown hoping there will be no crime there, and the first thing he does is encounter a serial killer or something. I call these shows “blood in the snow, with Volvos.” But enough about my TV habits!
Paste: Is there something that specifically stuck out to you about JJ Villard’s Fairy Tales?
Englund: Well first of all, I love doing anything the public thinks is out of my wheelhouse. For like 10 years in the 1970s I was “the best friend” and sidekick in movies and TV. Then I was cast as a Southerner for a while. Then I became this sort of nerdy guy in the early 80s, and then out of nowhere I’m a horror star for a few decades. So I’m really excited when someone asks me to do something like comedy on TV, which is almost entirely what I did in my theatrical career. In fact, I’d say 85 to 90% of my theater roles were comedic.
Paste: You’ve indeed played a lot of unique roles, although I have to imagine this is the first one where you’re a “half-man, half-porridge” creature.
Englund: I do have some weird ones on my resume, going all the way back to something like “Bad Guy #2” on Charlie’s Angels … which is better than “Bad Guy #3,” anyway. This one has some really unique titles though, between “Porridge Daddy,” “Hive Head” and “Toilet.” I’m pretty sure that’s the three best character descriptions I’ve ever played! I’m a triple threat.
One of the things I especially loved about doing JJ’s show, though, is that there’s a little bit of an homage to the old Jay Ward Fractured Fairytales, which was a spin-off from Rocky and Bullwinkle. That was a great series when I was a young man, and JJ Villard’s Fairy Tales is the first series I’ve seen that really reminded me of it.
Paste: Is there an aspect of voiceover performance you particularly enjoy?
Englund: Well, I’ve been doing voiceovers from way back. The thing that was cool with JJ, is that I do an awful lot of superhero cartoons (Vulture on Spectacular Spider-Man, Riddler on The Batman), so it was fun to go more in this punk, twisted, gross, roaw direction they have on Adult Swim. JJ also comes right into the booth with you, and I’ve never worked like that before. He just lets you go and try new stuff between takes, which was so much fun.
Here’s the thing, though—and this is the big, dirty secret of voiceovers—when we show up as a celebrity voice there’s always two or three of what I’d call REAL voice actors on the gig with you, and watching them is fascinating. These guys have to run around all over town, racing from session to session to do multiple gigs in a day. And the dirty secret is, they’re much, much better than us at voice acting. They’re real actors, but they can also do 50 distinct voices. You sit down with them and they’re doing the Irish cop, and then a goon in Batman, and then a southern senator, and then they’re off to their next gig. Meanwhile, we’re still trying to get our guest star lines right. Their talent is incredible—some of the most unsung, talented performers in Hollywood.
It’s not to say that some celebrities don’t do great voices, but there’s other times you can tell that celebrities have only been cast to have a recognizable name. I appreciate getting a chance to dabble in this world with the true professionals.
Paste: In 2018, you returned to the role of Freddy Krueger for a guest spot on The Goldbergs, which was the first time since 2003’s Freddy vs. Jason that you’d worn the costume. How did that come about?
Englund: It all started with the sweetest email from Adam Goldberg. It was like the best fan letter I’ve ever gotten. And he explained how that episode is really true to his life—he literally had to sleep next door in order to see A Nightmare on Elm Street.
Englund: It came along at the right time, because I had recently had an epiphany about playing Freddy. When the movies first came out in theaters they were controversial for being really scary and surreal, but what I’ve come to realize with hindsight is that it was really in the mom and pop video stores where it became a huge hit. And because of that, the experience of that film was ultimately a family one for so many people—they didn’t see it in theaters for the first time, it was at home with their family. Like, Mom and Dad would rent Pretty Woman at the video store, and the kids got Nightmare or one of the sequels. I never realized that experience existed, of kids watching their Mom get scared, or their Dad scratching the window to scare them after seeing the movie. I’ve had all that feedback come to me now in the years of conventions and fan mail—people saying that this was the most connected they ever felt to their parents, watching Mom jump under the afghan because of Freddy.
So when Adam Goldberg sent me this email and asked me to don the makeup again, and with the show already being this great 1980s homage, it didn’t seem like there would ever be a more perfect opportunity. And it was a chance to work with Wendi McLendon-Covey, who I’ve long thought was one of the funniest women on TV. Working with her in every scene was really a treat.
Paste: What was it like, getting back into the makeup and headspace of Freddy?
Englund: Well, the degree of difficulty inherent in the makeup is no small thing. My makeup guys, like Kevin Yeager and David Miller, they’re very busy, heavily awarded artists. People like sitcom producers don’t always understand that; they don’t realize I can’t just show up with a mask. It’s like a four-hour process with all these custom pieces that have to be remade and customized and painted every few years. Then they have to baste me like a turkey with KY jelly and vaseline before we even get it on. So they had so solve all that process, but thankfulyl we were able to spring Robert Kurtzman from The Haunting of Hill House for the day. It was a dawn to evening shoot, but we got it, and it was a good makeup.
Paste: You mentioned the idea of a Nightmare on Elm Street 9 at one point, and I can’t just let you leave without saying that there’s a lot of people who would love to see that happen.
Englund: Well, I think it would just be a cameo for me if they did it. I think what they’re going to try to do is reboot the series again. I think they’re foolish if they don’t reboot part 3, Dream Warriors in particular because that’s a huge fan hit. It’s smart, and it’s got some of the best lines and sequences in it.
Jim Vorel is a Paste staff writer and resident horror guru. You can follow him on Twitter for more film and TV writing.