As A Nightmare on Elm Street scares the pants off audiences, we talk to director Samuel Bayer and stars Jackie Earle Haley and Rooney Mara
Nancy, Kris, Quentin, Jesse and Dean all live on Elm Street. At night, they’re all having the same dream–of the same man, wearing a tattered red and green striped sweater, a beaten fedora half-concealing a disfigured face and a gardener’s glove with knives for fingers. And they’re all hearing the same frightening voice… One by one, he terrorizes them within the curved walls of their dreams, where the rules are his, and the only way out is to wake up.
But when one of their number dies a violent death, they soon realize that what happens in their dreams happens for real, and the only way to stay alive is to stay awake. Turning to each other, the four surviving friends try to uncover how they became part of this dark fairytale, hunted by this dark man. Functioning on little to no sleep, they struggle to understand why them, why now, and what their parents aren’t telling them. Buried in their past is a debt that has just come due, and to save themselves, they will have to plunge themselves into the mind of the most twisted nightmare of all… Freddy Krueger.
At the Los Angeles press conference for the rebooted A Nightmare on Elm Street, director Samuel Bayer and stars Jackie Earle Haley (Freddy Krueger) and Rooney Mara (Nancy) talked to us about their worst nightmares, the challenges of acting underneath all the makeup, and the possibility of a sequel.
Samuel, after years of making music videos why did you choose A Nightmare on Elm Street as your feature film directorial debut?
SAMUEL BAYER Why this movie? I think seeing all the billboards all over Los Angeles and the excitement that there is for this movie has made it the right decision because I waited so long to make a film! I can tell you that having Michael Bay ask you to do something meant a lot too. When we finally all sat down and talked, when I really realized that this was not only going to reboot the franchise, it was going to reinvent the franchise, that really got me excited and I think that’s what you’re going to see when you see the film. It is a departure.
Was there anything that you wanted to do differently and was there anything you wanted to keep as faithful to the original series?
BAYER The reboot element of it is sometimes creatively franchises need to be reinvented. Freddy had become a bit jokey and a vaudevillian kind of character. I don’t know how much he scared people anymore. So, there’s a reboot element of what we’ve done with this movie. I want to scare a new generation of people with this movie, but I want Freddy Krueger to be what I feel Wes Craven intended him to be, which is a real bogey man and someone that can murder you and hurt you and it isn’t a big joke when you die. That in itself is exciting about what this movie is because I wanted it to be really scary.
Jackie, how did you get involved in this project?
JACKIE EARLE HALEY I’m not a big horror genre fan. When I saw the A Nightmare on Elm Street trailer in the mid-80s, I went to see this one in the movie theater because it kind of turned me on. I was like, ‘Now that’s cool’. It has a kind of paranormal concept to it in terms of the whole dreamscape of it. I dug it. It was different. At that time, this was part of a group of films and this was my favorite. When I say that, part of, I mean Friday the 13th and the Halloweens and stuff. This one always held more interest for me. I always thought it was developed better. It was more multi-dimensional – not only the monster but also the rest of the characters. So I thought it was an interesting horror film.
What’s it like underneath all the makeup? What’s going on in your head when you’re playing your scariest bits of Freddy?
HALEY Wow, what it’s like in the makeup? It’s like the most cumbersome, arduous stuff I’ve ever dealt with. You sit in that chair for 3-and-a-half hours while they are painstakingly gluing this thing down all the way up to my eyelids, to my eyeballs on the eyelids. It’s just poking and prodding. I remember sitting there and thinking that it’s got to be better going to the dentist! Not only was the stuff uncomfortable when you got it on, but it took me awhile to acclimate to it. I was really agitated for awhile and if I was thinking it, it was just coming out my mouth. So, it took me awhile to get my political filters back in place. Then they’d also put fake fingertips on this hand and the knife on this hand, so now I can’t really get anything out of my pocket.
Surprisingly, the straw that broke the camel’s back was the contact lenses. One would go in this eye and it was kind of foggy and I couldn’t see out of it. And this one was bloody. So, everything was blurry. For some reason, that would make me recede internally even more. It would make me feel apart from the group because it was so uncomfortable. I would take all of that odd and otherworldly feeling– or maybe that was just how I was allowing it to feel – because I would give all of that to Freddy between ‘action’ and ‘cut’. To me, Freddy feels weird. It’s just weird upon weird.
Samuel, was there something specific you wanted when you went to the makeup designers?
BAYER I think all of us underestimated how much work it was going to take to make Freddy Krueger look like what he looks like now. It was a lot of work. It was all the way through the movie and what that face looked like under different lighting, what’s truly terrifying, what’s too far, what’s not far enough. There are elements of Krueger that we said we’d never change – the striped sweater, the fedora, the glove – because that’s like the cape and utility belt in Batman. You can’t change that stuff. That was the one place where I really thought we could modernize this movie and really make his face scary.
And what about the physicality? Was it intentional to have him more grounded in reality even if he was living in dreams?
BAYER First, I think we had done that if we had just replicated stuff that happened in the original movie, which we have tried to pay homage to certain classic scenes that I really wanted the fans to get. We did it for them. But, if we had just had the arms extend or cutting off the fingers or something like that, maybe the CG effects would have been better on something like that, but it was done nice the first time. It is this kind of gritty realism of making Freddy a bit more flesh and blood even though he exists in the dream world. The dreams in this movie – that world doesn’t look that different from the real world – so I wanted my Freddy to not have his arms stretch and not cut off his fingers and make him more threatening because he was less a supernatural character and more something that could actually hurt you.
Rooney, what was your first reaction to seeing Jackie in full makeup?
ROONEY MARA I was really scared! I think we had built it up so much that we didn’t want to see him until the day we were supposed to be shooting with him in the makeup. There was a lot of build up and anticipation and then he came. He would wear this cloak with a hood to hide him so people wouldn’t see him and that was even more traumatizing. The cloak made it so much scarier. And, when he took the cloak off, I really was shocked. I was just shaking and I started tearing up. He really looked like a real burn victim. I felt so bad for him. It was really shocking.
Nancy finds she has a much more personal connection to Freddy in this version than in the first series. How did that change her character for you?
MARA I think it completely changed the character because, without giving too much away, I don’t think you can really go through something like that without it really affecting you. We wanted that to be a part of her character. Our Nancy is much darker and she’s disturbed and trying to figure out why she is the way she is and what happened to her. It really affects her. I think because she’s been through so much, she has so much built up in her, and then when she finds out what’s happened, how can you not have so much rage and strength after that? She doesn’t really have a choice I guess.
Jackie, did you have any hesitation about taking on this role? After playing a sex offender in Little Children, did you want to play another character that potentially has that same background?
HALEY There was a big pause for thought on that. After playing Ronnie, I was fairly certain I was done with that. But, at the same time, this was Freddy Krueger. When I was considering this, this voice in my head kept saying ‘How can you not play Freddy Krueger?!’ The reason why I was able to embrace this was because what I embraced was the boogey man. To me, Freddy has always been this molesting serial killer. That’s what he’s always represented to me. It’s such a completely different genre. It’s a different world. In one, I was truly trying to examine the human condition in a thought-provoking drama, and in this, I was just truly embracing the boogey man in a campfire story. That’s why I felt I was able to do it. I don’t even know how much crossover there will be from those audiences. I have a feeling that most of the people that see this probably will have never seen and never will see Little Children.
Have you signed on to make additional Nightmare films? Are you concerned about being associated too much with this one character?
HALEY Well I’m not planning on wearing the makeup out. I’m hoping that people won’t look at me and think I’m actually Freddy. Obviously we need to see how this movie does, but I’m signed on to do a couple more. I hope when it comes out that people aren’t scared of me being this monster guy, but I don’t foresee that.