Sunday, April 04, 2010

WONDERCON 2010—A Nightmare On Elm Street

The poster for the reboot of the Nightmare On Elm Street franchise welcomes us to a new nightmare, and the cast of that new nightmare—Jackie Earle Haley (in his highly-anticipated incarnation of Freddy Krueger), Katie Cassidy, Kyle Gallner, Rooney Mara, and Thomas Dekker—were welcomed by Geoff Boucher of the L.A. Times to their WonderCon 2010 panel.

Of course, the obvious question hovering in the air was what it's been like for Haley to become Freddy, a recognized cinema icon lovingly created by
Robert Englund over 20 years ago? "It's a scary process," Haley admitted. "It's tough to take on a character that one guy has played. Robert Englund has done an incredible job. Wes Craven created this character and Englund is the only actor who has played him over the decades. So, yes, it's a bit scary and daunting; but, these guys were going to re-envision the film and start over so they were looking for a new Freddy. I can't tell you how exciting it was to be offered the role. The first thing I heard was that you guys were suggesting me for the part"—Haley gestured to his audience—"I guess some of you must think I'm a little creepy or something? I don't know what's up with that; but, it was a trip and an honor to play such an iconic character, especially after playing such an iconic character as Rorschach in Watchmen."

Englund's original interpretation of Freddy Kreuger was a mixture of menace and wicked black humor and Haley was asked if his interpretation would retain that sense of humor? "We're a little darker and a little bit more serious," Haley responded. "There's a bit of humor but not as much." Boucher noted that as the various chapters of the Nightmare franchise evolved, more and more comic elements came into Englund's performance of Freddy as time went along and opined that it would be difficult to reboot a franchise starting off with such a comic take.

As for what elements of the original he incorporated into his performance, Haley said, "I actually saw the original in the theater in the early '80s. I remember seeing the trailers and the film at the time. I rewatched it, but I made a point of not watching them all because I knew that the first one—from my recollection—was a bit different than the others, it was more serious. I watched the original to take a look at the tone and what went on there, what Robert had done, and it wasn't so much like, 'Let me see how I can incorporate that into what I'm doing' as it was to re-see and re-apprise myself of what the film was. I felt it was important for me to play this character where there was still something familiar about him—because he has so many fans of, obviously, the hat, the glove, the sweater—but, to do it in such a way that I could still be able to own it, to make it my own." Aware of just how much the Nightmare franchise is a part of American pop culture—"a sick part of our culture but a fun part nonetheless"—Haley likens it unto the campfire story that's been in circulation 100+ years. "Nightmare on Elm Street is a special one of that ilk, and Freddy Kreuger is a special character, and I for one am really excited to introduce him to existing fans but also to a whole new generation."

Having now played an admittedly creepy sex offender in Little Children, and the morally ambiguous Rorschach in Watchmen, and now a slasher villain in Nightmare, Haley discerns that—though a commonality of creepiness can be ascribed to his characters—for him, they require diverse approaches. "I like them all in different ways. Ronnie [from Little Children] is the most real of the group. They're all satisfying in different kinds of ways. Watchmen was such an incredible comic book. For me it was fascinating because I had never been a comics fan and that book was what introduced me to that world. It was cool just to become a fan of it. Getting to play that character was tough in a whole different kind of way because I was isolated a bunch and would run everything through a filter in my head and I came out of that experience a little bit cynical. But it was such a different energy.

"Working on Nightmare, I started down this road when Sam [Bayer, the film's director] sent me the script and—not with anything specific in mind—we were looking together for a way for me to access the part. He sent me this big book on serial killers and so I started to go through that and get into the minds of these guys. I focused on Ed Kemper. By the way, this actor's work on studying the mind of a serial killer is not fun work. The mind of a serial killer is a messed-up mind. But while I was doing this I noticed there was a movie on Ed Kemper so I thought, 'Let's go check this out' so I brought it up on YouTube and it was a slasher movie. It pissed me off; but, it was at that moment that I realized I was playing a bogeyman and that I really needed to embrace playing this mythical bogeyman, this character from a campfire story. I still wanted to embrace his human side and define what made him tick and go after him in that way; but, it was neat to discover early on that this wasn't an exercise about getting into the mind of a serial killer. It was an exercise in embracing this monster, this bogeyman."

The make-up was particularly challenging for Haley. "Once all the artistic decisions were made for the day's shoot, then the process of putting on make-up was a mere 3½ hours and an hour to get out of it, and that was even before stepping onto the set."

Curious if Haley had to put in a lot of practice to master his glove, he described that it took only a little bit of time to put it on. First it snapped on and then the screws were secured with a screwdriver and, basically, he kept it on for long periods of time and had plenty of opportunity to work with it. "Luckily, I never stabbed anybody and never cut my face or anything." Kyle Gallner—who plays Quentin—interrupted Haley to remind him that during one of their sequences Haley actually sliced him on his stomach a bit. "Oh yeah, I forgot about that," Haley grinned, "Sorry."

Rooney Mara—who has taken over the role of Nancy Thompson (originally portrayed by Heather Langenkamp)—revealed: "Our Nancy's slighter darker than the original Nancy. She's a tortured, lonely soul trying to figure out what's happening to her."

Thomas Dekker said the role of Jesse was offered to him no less than a day or two after he finished shooting All About Evil here in San Francisco when he returned home to Los Angeles. Familiar with the original, he didn't even bother reading the script. He saw the title and knew he wanted to do it. As for what he felt about the hazards of doing a remake of such a classic film, he countered, "Remakes and reboots are very tricky subjects and they're very hard to do because you don't want to piss off the people who loved the original and yet you want to give birth to something that new people are going to love, and they're always going to be in opposition. However, when the script is written well and you have great actors—all these folks are incredible—I feel confident and do believe that all of you who are here because you love this franchise will not be disappointed. I'm adverse to remakes and yet this one is great. We have a great product and I think that all we cared about was keeping the faith of all of you."

Kyle Gallner concurred: "It's a franchise that's been loved by so many people for so long that—when you take it on your shoulders—you don't want to screw things up. You want to pay homage to the original but you also want to have the balls to make it your own and not do a frame-for-frame remake. We want to show you something you haven't seen, technology's different, visual effects are different."

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