Every horror fan knows the classic film A Nightmare on Elm Street, and if you’re anything like us, you spent many a night desperately trying to stay awake for fear you would be visited by Freddy Krueger, played so memorably by Robert Englund. Happily, Englund is actually a pretty nice guy, and here are some interesting facts about the actor which you might not have known.
20. He had a surprising job in 1978’s Halloween
Robert Englund got his big break in horror movies in 1984’s A Nightmare on Elm Street, but it wasn’t the actor’s introduction to the genre. Just six years prior, Krueger had also taken a small role on the set of another classic of the era: 1978’s Halloween. According to Englund, his roommate at the time convinced him to take a trip to the film set, located in Pasadena.
Don’t go into detective mode looking for the actor, though; Englund had an entirely off-camera job on this one. Englund was tasked with tossing sacks of dead leaves around the set, in order to make things look more autumnal (as the film was actually shot in May).
19. He inspired a scene in Quentin Tarantino’s Kill Bill
Nothing says you’ve had a lasting impact in Hollywood more than having Quentin Tarantino reference you in his work, and it seems Englund is one of the few actors who can hold this claim to fame. This was in reference to one of his earliest roles, in director Tobe Hooper’s 1976 horror movie Eaten Alive (aka Death Trap).
Englund appears in the film as an unsavoury young redneck named Buck, who at one point declares, “My name’s Buck and I’m here to…” You can probably guess how that sentence ends, chiefly because Tarantino directly quotes that line in 2003’s Kill Bill Vol 1. It’s delivered by Michael Bowen’s Buck, named after Englund’s Eaten Alive character.
18. He helped get Mark Hamill cast in Star Wars (although the story has been exaggerated)
As a budding actor in the late 70s, Englund was one among many who tried out for a character called Han Solo in Star Wars A and suggested to his buddy Mark Hamill that there might be a part in it for him. Hamill was pretty much a newbie at the time and, according to urban legend, he was sleeping on Englund’s couch.
Alas, the legend isn’t always quite the truth; Hamill explained recently that, while Englund did indeed talk to him about the role of Luke Skywalker, so too had several other actors and his agent. In addition, Hamill has since clarified that he had his own apartment at the time and definitely wasn’t couch-crashing at Englund’s place.
17. His first big acting role was in cult TV sci-fi series V
Englund may have missed out on Star Wars, but he first came to the attention of many thanks to another much-loved science fiction property: the miniseries V. The actor would also go on to appear in the 1984 sequel V: The Final Battle, as well as being a regular cast member on V: The Series.
The role of Willie, a tech guy and resistance fighter, won Englund a large audience, and caught the attention of TV producers alike. However, it also meant he tended to get typecast in nerdy comic relief roles as well as the red-neck-type characters he had been playing previously. This, of course, would make his big-screen breakthrough in 1984 even more shocking to his many fans.
16. He almost lost the part of Freddy Krueger to David Warner
In the 70s and 80s, most of the big screen bogeymen tended to be imposing, heavy-set figures, such as Leatherface, Michael Myers, Jason Voorhees. Writer-director Wes Craven initially envisaged someone similar portraying Freddy, and his first choice was the 6’2″ English actor David Warner, best known to horror fans for his role in The Omen.
However, due to scheduling conflicts, Warner had to step down from the project. As Englund was thin and stood only 5’9″, Craven had doubts about the actor but invited him to audition anyway, and soon had a change of heart after seeing Englund’s authentically horrifying performance.
15. He’s played Freddy more times than you might think
We all know that Englund portrayed Freddy Krueger in all eight of the original Nightmare on Elm Street movies (including 1994 semi-reboot New Nightmare and 2003 Friday the 13th crossover Freddy Vs Jason). But what you might not have been aware of is that he also played the role in all 44 episodes of Freddy’s Nightmares, a small screen spin-off of the film franchise.
Outside of the Nightmare on Elm Street movies, Englund’s other appearances as Freddy include The Simpsons episode Treehouse of Horror IX (in which he is seen sitting on the sofa alongside Jason Voorhees from Friday the 13th) and 2011 video game Mortal Kombat.
14. He had a (very) brief career as a rapper
Freddy’s popularity wasn’t restricted to the movie industry, with Englund making his foray into the world of music when he collaborated with 80s rappers The Fat Boys on Are You Ready for Freddy. This was recorded specifically for the soundtrack of 1988’s A Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master.
Coincidentally, Will Smith – then still known professionally as The Fresh Prince – did his own Freddy-themed rap song that same year, A Nightmare on My Street. Unfortunately, Englund doesn’t rap on that one, so obviously it isn’t anywhere near as good.
13. He’s a keen surfer
A born Californian, Englund has been a surfing enthusiast all his life. Of course, growing up in Los Angeles, it’s hardly a surprising choice of hobby. This passion informed his film career too, helping him get an audition for the role of the young surfing soldier in Francis Ford Coppola’s Apocalypse Now.
However, despite his best efforts, he was ultimately passed over for the role. Still, while Englund missed out on that part, he did get to ride the waves on screen in John Milius’s 1978 surfing movie Big Wednesday, alongside Jan-Michael Vincent and Gary Busey.
12. He has a massive horror CV outside of Elm Street
Beyond his many appearances as Freddy, Englund has literally dozens of horror movies to his name, including a grisly 1989 take on The Phantom of the Opera. Not only this, but Englund appeared in an oddly unsettling Stephen King adaptation of The Mangler to Wishmaster, as well as various other movies including Urban Legend, 2001 Maniacs, Hatchet and Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon.
He also made appearances in some, um, slightly less highbrow movies, like the 2008 comedy Zombie Strippers. They’re not all great films, but there are plenty of them; and Englund’s even directed a few too: 1988, Englund’s 976-Evil, two episodes of Freddy’s Nightmares and 2008’s Killer Pad.
11. He was tempted out of Freddy retirement by sitcom The Goldbergs
Englund officially stood down as Freddy following the 2010 Nightmare on Elm Street remake. This led to many fans being surprised when, aged 71, he was lured back to play the role one more time in – of all things – 80s-centric TV sitcom The Goldbergs. This was for a 2018 episode, rather aptly entitled Mr Knifey-Hands, in which Freddy Krueger makes an appearance on Halloween.
However, it seems getting back in the iconic make-up and costume one more time may have given Englund a taste for it again. Much to our excitement, he’s recently hinted he might be interested in reprising the role when the latest revival of the Nightmare on Elm Street movies finally gets out of development purgatory.
10. He stays loyal to his fans
We hear about any number of celebrities who brush off fans and refuse to engage with them. However, it seems Englund didn’t get the memo. The actor has fans of all ages, aided by the enduringly timeless nature of his films. ‘I’m on my third generation of fans,’ the actor explained in an interview.
Englund also recounted how he is frequently recognised by fans and casual viewers alike. “I get lots of teenagers going ‘yo, Krueger’, and honking their horn and giving me the claw.” His cult status means he’s a popular figure at fan conventions worldwide.
9. He started out as a Shakespearean actor
Being a classically trained actor, Englund isn’t afraid to branch out of the realms of horror movies every once in a while. In fact, at the start of his career, he was heavily involved in revolving repertory theatre. According to Englund, many of his earlier roles were exclusively in Shakespeare plays.
It seems Englund’s career has been nothing if diverse, and in the words of the actor himself: “I had a nude scene with Susan Sarandon, for God’s sake.” Not only this, but he has partaken in fight scenes with Kris Kristofferson and Richard Gere, and has also “shot Burt Reynolds point blank.”
8. He’s been married twice
Unlike many celebrities these days, Englund does not come with an arm-length list of ex-wives. He has been married twice, first to Elizabeth Gardner in 1968 at the tender age of 21. Gardner was a nurse and it seems, despite their best efforts, the pair’s lifestyles were simply incompatible.
This ultimately resulted in their divorce just four years later in 1972. After a rather notable gap in his love life, Englund wed Nancy Booth in 1988, and the pair remain married to this day.
7. He broke a movie industry record
There is clearly no end to Englund’s talent, and he is actually a record holder. In the movie industry, that is. Englund is one of only three actors to have portrayed a horror movie character eight times in a row. The other holders of this prestigious title are Doug Bradley and Tobin Bell.
Bradley portrayed the Pinhead character eight times in the Hellraiser films, whilst Bell has played Jigsaw since 2004. Meanwhile, the late Christopher Lee played Dracula nine times between 1958 and 1976, although these were not all consecutive entries in one series.
6. He thinks Freddy is ‘misguided’ rather than evil
Many actors have a love-hate relationship with their onscreen counterparts, and it seems Englund is firmly in the former category. In the past, Englund has commented on how much he enjoys playing the role of Freddy. According to the actor, inhabiting the incorrigible Krueger gives him a break from ‘always being the nice guy’.
He describes Freddy as a ‘cruel clown’ and more misguided than inherently evil. But let’s be honest, isn’t that what they all say?
5. He was so talkative on the Elm Street set it made the makeup process even longer
Unlike the stereotypical diva-like film star, Englund prides himself on his ability to work well with others. Seemingly destined for a life of ‘nice guy’ roles, Englund was thrilled at the chance to bring out his evil side and play Krueger. Luckily, it seems some of his more disturbing character traits did not extend offscreen.
Many people who have worked with the actor will attest to his congeniality, a rare attribute in the acting world. Makeup artists on the set of Nightmare on Elm Street would later recall that Englund was so talkative and friendly that it made the application process lengthier than it needed to be.
4. He started his acting career at 12
According to Englund, he had a passion for movies from a young age and, as a child, was obsessed with Peter Pan. He staged a performance of the classic play in his garage not once, but twice, aided by neighbourhood kids. They improvised scenery and props, as well as sourcing some surprisingly lavish costumes.
By the age of 12, Englund had begun to seriously pursue a career in acting. He would perform in professional children’s theatre shows, with roles in various productions including Hansel and Gretel, Pinocchio and Aladdin.
3. His parents wanted him to be a lawyer
Englund may now be a successful movie star, but it seems that initially, his parents weren’t so keen on his career choice. His father was an aeronautics engineer who helped develop the Lockheed U-2 airplane whilst his mother, in true 1940s fashion, was a housewife. Despite being the ones who introduced their son to the world of theatre, they had different ambitions for him.
Englund speculated that they were ‘disappointed’ when he chose acting over pursuing a career in law. However, his father soon came around after he saw the family name in the billing for his first feature film, Buster and Billie, back in 1974.
2. He is ‘obsessed’ with horror movies
According to Englund, he was interested in the horror genre from an early age. He was intrigued by the mystery surrounding horror stories and would pour over archival images of 1950s horror movie sets. Before he hit his teen years, he discovered The Twilight Zone, and would argue over the hidden meanings in the plot with his school friends.
Later, when he became a ‘snobby, classically trained actor,’ Englund put horror to one side. He credits Wes Craven with reigniting his respect for the genre, and over the years he has continued to work with numerous horror filmmakers and actors whom he holds in high regard.
1. He once got ‘creeped out’ by an overzealous fan
Being a film star means you’re likely to receive your fair share of attention, and Englund is no exception. He is apparently frequently approached by Freddy Krueger fans, some of whom even bear full body Krueger tattoos. He also encounters lots of death metal fans, and recounts feeling pleasantly surprised when most of them turn out to be ‘really sweet guys’.
However, it seems his biggest fan was a girl who was obsessed with ‘V’, even going so far as to dress head to toe in a full alien costume, perm and all. After an influx of fan letters, Englund got ‘creeped out’ by this seriously dedicated fan and told her she should channel her energy into ‘writing a screenplay or something’.