Interview: Jackie Earle Haley, on Nightmare -- and His Own Real-Life Nightmare

Interview: Jackie Earle Haley, on Nightmare -- and His Own Real-Life Nightmare

Apr 28, 2010

Most people know Jackie Earle Haley as Rorschach in Watchmen and for his Oscar-nominated performance in Little Children. We caught up with the talented and affable actor just before he slips on the infamous razor-fingered glove and invades our dreams as the new Freddy Krueger in A Nightmare on Elm Street.

First of all, thank you for making Freddy Krueger scary again.
Haley: Oh, dude, that’s awesome to hear. I’m scared as to how people will receive it, so that is wonderful.

You are playing an iconic movie monster like Dracula, Frankenstein or the Wolfman. What did you do to try to make your Freddy different from the one Robert Englund played in eight movies?
Haley: It wasn’t so much about me making it different. My first meeting with Sam [director Samuel Bayer] and talking about his vision, he said he wanted to go back to the origins of A Nightmare on Elm Street when it was darker and scarier. He felt that it got very campy and comedic, although still horrific. He said, “That’s great, but if we’re going to re-envision it….”

Your Freddy has some unique mannerisms, like when he scissors his finger knives together in anticipation of a kill. Was that your idea and what inspired that?
Haley: I had to wear the glove a lot on the set. I couldn’t just snap it off—you had to screw it on and it was stuck on for hours. I’d also take it home and wear it to rehearse, and I’d leave it on while watching TV or doing things around the house. The move you’re talking about, I just discovered myself doing it. I wanted to get it second nature. I discovered myself doing things absentmindedly and then I made a note to do that in the movie.

What were some of your favorite movie monsters when you were growing up? Did any of them inspire Freddy?
Haley: Alien is one of my all-time favorite horror films—that has a great monster. There is a little inspiration from Nosferatu. Sam sent me a book on serial killers and Nosferatu. I watched that old silent movie and was inspired a little bit by that guy’s body movements and mannerisms. What really makes a great monster is a great cast with fully realized victim characters. If you can make me care, then the monster that you send after them is going to be better because of that.

Are you a fan of horror movies?
Haley: The horror genre is not my favorite. I think it’s fun, there’s a great place for it and I get a kick out of it, but some stuff I’m too old for. You can’t just take 10 guys and stick them in a cabin and off them one at a time—I’m not vested. This is a campfire story and Freddy is the mythological bogeyman. We love for him to chase us down so we can scream and giggle.

Did you keep away from the other actors on the set and only show up for their scenes to make it scarier for them, or did you kind of hang out on set in costume?
Haley: I stayed away from the actors for four or five days. After a while, they’d look over at me in my makeup and say, “Poor Jackie.” In the scene where I’m chasing Thomas Dekker, he didn’t want to clown around between takes and then act scared. So he stayed with those emotions and remained scared while they’re moving lights around and changing setups. It’s really hard to retain that throughout a day, but these guys really pulled that off. I was going through my own crap with the makeup, but I know how hard it was to do what they were going through.

You are signed on for two more Elm Street movies. Can you give us any details about the concept for the sequel?
Haley: I have no idea. First we have to see how the movie does and if everyone wants to do another one. I haven’t talked to anyone about what they think about a sequel at this point.

What’s your worst nightmare?
Haley: I’ll give you my worst nightmare. I’m dreaming that I’m onstage, the curtain goes up, and I have no idea what my lines are or what’s going on. I think I should know, I kind of know, I remember rehearsing…and the audience is there waiting. I’ve had this dream a lot for years. That’s a real nightmare, my friend.

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