Director Phil Hawkins’ The Last Showing has been getting praise from fans and critics alike. Horror legend Robert Englund steps away from the crazed glove of Freddy Krueger, instead playing the low-key, systematic Stuart; an old-school projectionist who’s irked at how the ‘youth of today’ view the art of film. Having discussed Freddy extensively with Robert last year, we were lucky enough to speak to the horror icon again, this time getting the lowdown on his latest movie and what keeps him interested in the genre.
Starburst: When we spoke to you last year, you mentioned having just finished shooting The Last Showing. How did you initially end up involved with the film?
Robert Englund: I get lots of scripts and I get lots of genre scripts. Some don’t come to fruition because of financing and things, but this one was all ready to go. I read the script and it reminded me of those great Brian De Palma films of the early ‘70s, like I could see the plot unfolding. Then I thought the use of the suburban mall movie theatre as a character in the film was a terrific idea, and I knew a little bit about Phil Hawkins because he’d be on the reality show, On the Lot, and I’d heard he was one of Steven Spielberg’s favourites. So I was really happy to do it. Then I found out that Phil Hawkins had written the part for me – I heard that 2 or 3 days into shooting – and that gave me great confidence, that he knew I could do a role like that, that he knew there was a quieter side to me. So I ate a lot of food in Manchester to pad myself out and I shaved my chin off, and I surrendered; I blew out any sense of vanity. I channelled a little bit of the great Sir Richard Attenborough in Séance on a Wet Afternoon and the banality of evil and all that, and I just got on with it. I think the real fortunate thing about the film is that we had Finn Jones – there’s whole reels of the movie where he has no dialogue and he’s just the mouse in the mousetrap. The audience needs to just go with Finn and feel his frustration because he’s the only one who knows what the audience knows, that knows as much of what’s going on as the audience. He gives such a wonderful performance and gives such a nice arc to it, as well as the terrific talents of Phil and Emily Berrington, too.
As touched on, The Last Showing is a slow-burning, intimate affair with maybe three core characters. How is that in comparison to some of the bigger, more over-the-top movies that you’ve done over the years?
There’s a sense of fun to it – there’s a bit of a wink in the way that it’s staged – and we almost had to be docudrama at times. We worked these horrible long hours every night in this empty theatre, so we sucked up that atmosphere, that kind of corporate mall cinema atmosphere. That helps, too. So it gives this soiled, late night, stale popcorn feel to this movie. And it was different to me as a lot of times on horror films or fantasy films or science-fiction film, the sets themselves are a little larger than life or the location is larger than life or the soundstage or camera angles are more different. This one was a little more traditional, although there was real style to it and a real interesting use of the frame within that medium. It’s almost what I’d consider a found style that I think Phil found within the complex itself – he found a kind of architectural style. There’s a moment in the movie when me and my wife were watching it in my hometown with the time frame going on in the corner, my wife says, “He’s made the movie theatre a character!” And it’s true. I loved that. I think that’s actually the fourth character of the film, the cinema itself.
Clearly Stuart goes to extreme lengths in the movie, but a lot of our readers will find themselves agreeing with some of his outlook in the movie. How much of the character’s thoughts are ones that are echoed by yourself?
Well that’s more Phil’s philosophy than mine, but I do share some of that. The other thing is, I don’t think Stuart ever intended to hurt anybody - that just happened and it got out of control – but I think when it does get out of control then he enjoys that. And I’m a bit like that too, with all of the rejection actors deal with over their careers as well as their success. You may have experienced this yourself in a pub or on a motorway, but you find that your middle goes away; you’re either really nice or you can really be an asshole. For me, I’d rather buy somebody a pint than fight in a pub if someone’s misbehaving. But I do find that point coming in me, where I don’t have a buffer. And I think that happens to Stuart – there’s no turning back. Actually he’s quite good at this, with his anonymity serving him quite well. There’s a great film out now called Blue Ruin, it’s a terrific film that you must look for. It’s a revenge fantasy film, a bit Peckinpah and a bit Don Segall in its style and construction, but the lead actor plays a homeless man that is damaged goods. He uses that invisibility to serve his revenge fantasy and it’s quite brilliant how he does it. There’s something about Stuart… there’s a moment where Stuart realises he’s good at it and a bit of arrogance starts to come up in him - this may be this little grey man’s calling.
As such an iconic veteran of the genre, what does it takes these days to grab your attention and pique your interest?
I just go where I’m wanted now, basically. I’ve done movies that I thought were great but were not hits for me early in my career and I’ve seen actors try and control their career, and that doesn’t always work. I’m at that stage in my career now where I just go where I’m wanted. I’m closing in on my eightieth feature film, I’ve done four television series, and I toy a little bit with reality television occasionally. Sometimes I get a job just to be working, sometimes I get jobs because I want to have a genre film out for my fans, sometimes it’s because it’s a great location – I’ll say yes to work in Sicily – and sometimes it’s quite frankly just about the money. It can be lucrative. Basically it’s just going where you’re wanted now. Also, it means that I don’t have to audition – I haven’t auditioned in years – and that’s fun. Auditioning is such a compromised, vulnerable moment in time in an actor’s career. No matter how established you are or how good you are, you’re compromised because you’re never really reading with actors – you’re reading with secretaries. Not to put down secretaries, but I can’t tell you how many times I’ve paused and they think I’ve forgotten my lines. You wanna strangle them, you know, grab them by their ironed Gwyneth Paltrow hair, grab them by their neck and strangle the little bitches! And I gotta say, sometimes you wonder why actors maybe do a direct-to-DVD career. I won’t mention any names but many times it’s because they’re sick and tired of playing the games in offices and in readings and in auditions, and they’d rather be a direct-to-DVD star than go through that dance. That’s part of just making that decision and going where you’re wanted and loved. By doing that, I occasionally strike gold. In the case of The Last Showing, it was really hard work and really exhausting work. I don’t think I had a bowel movement the whole time I shot the movie because I was working nights and eating too much curry in Manchester, but it was a great experience. Looking back on it in hindsight, I would’ve done the whole thing for free because I’m really pleased and happy with the way it came out. I think that performance in that film may give me a bit of a fourth act here in my life, which is nice at my age.
The film definitely shows a different side to you for those who are only familiar with the likes of Freddy…
Well it’s something I’ve always done, something I’ve done for years early in my career, but it’s not something that they always let you do after they get a sense that you’re just a really strong bad guy. So many directors like me for my energy and strength, and they don’t realise that there’s a quiet side that can also be compelling and/or very dangerous. I’m still athletic even though I’m an old man now. I surf and I bodyboard, I was a gymnast when I was young, and now I can barely get out of bed on Mondays if I’ve been doing stunts, but I can still move and sell a punch. There’s actors that I love, wonderful comedic actors like John Cusack, but I never want to see him hold a gun; he just can’t do it right, I just don’t buy it for a minute. Then there’s actors, some are tiny little men, who have a rage that makes you believe their anger, you believe it on screen. I have a bit of that and people seem to want to exploit it, so it’s nice to be kind of quiet at times. I’m angling for some suit-and-tie parts here in the future, to be the cold, strong, angry corporate type because I can do that well, too. Yet they sort of ignore me for that. Now that my hair’s gone grey, maybe they’ll put me in a chair with a suit and let me talk some exposition.
Being so synonymous with the Freddy role, having played the character for so long and so well, is there ever a feeling with you that you maybe get pigeonholed or not given the credit that you deserve?
You know, I have to look at the career. The only thing it’s ever cost me, it cost me a director’s job. I’d actually discovered Helen Hunt, who I believe has an Oscar. I got her in this film, she did the film but it was my idea, but the company thought, “Oh no, we can’t have Robert directing – he’s a villain!” What people don’t understand is, for five years in the theatre and in early television and film work, I did comedy. That’s their job to know that, that’s their job to do their homework. So you do get typed, but I never would’ve thought that I’d have stepped into the shoes of Klaus Kinski and Vincent Price and others. At my age, it’s just wonderful now that I’m playing the old priest or I’m playing the mad scientist or I’m playing the evil stepfather or I’m playing the crazy doctor. These are roles I probably wouldn’t be getting at my age if I’d have just stuck with comedy and sidekicks and best friends. All in all, I think Freddy’s been very good for me. And when you work in horror or sci-fi or fantasy work, you become international, as oppose to rom-com actors and talk show hosts who don’t translate internationally. So that’s been a great gift for me. I’ve done fourteen movies on the continent now! If I do a pilot and it doesn’t sell, I can run off to Spain and chase a beautiful, young Penelope Cruz lookalike around a castle. And believe me, the wife loves shopping in Barcelona, so it’s a good thing.
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