The Story of How Robert Englund Almost Didn’t Play Freddy Krueger!

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Robert Englund

Today is the 67th birthday of Robert Englund, who is of course best known for playing Freddy Krueger in all seven original Nightmare on Elm Street films, as well as reprising the role in Freddy vs. Jason. Needless to say, it’s highly likely that Freddy would’ve never become the iconic pop culture figure that he did, if it weren’t for Englund, and for that reason and that reason alone, we should all be kissing the man’s feet and wishing him the happiest of happy birthdays right about now.

While it’s almost impossible to imagine anyone in the role other than Robert Englund – let’s pretend that remake doesn’t even exist, shall we? – an interesting bit of trivia connected to the Elm Street franchise is that Englund actually wasn’t Wes Craven’s first choice to play the nightmarish dream demon. That honor instead belongs to English actor David Warner, who donned the Christmas sweater in the early going. Yes, Freddy was almost an Englishman.

The origin story of the Freddy Krueger character is tied to a memorable event in Craven’s childhood, where he heard strange noises outside of his house one night, and upon looking out the window, saw a creepy old man walking past in a fedora. As if sensing a young Craven’s fear, the man looked up into the window and spooked him something fierce, leaving an indelible mark on the director’s life. Craven was particularly struck by the way the old man seemed to get enjoyment out of scaring him, which became the general basis of Freddy Krueger.

David Warner

Conceived and written as being an old man, Craven naturally auditioned older actors for the role and it was David Warner who stuck out to him. Warner, who had previously played Jennings in The Omen, was originally cast to play Krueger, going so far as to sit for makeup tests (above). Proving that it just wasn’t meant to be, Warner soon thereafter dropped off the project, due to scheduling conflicts.

It was then, and only then, that Craven met Robert Englund, whose audition so impressed him that he had a complete change of heart about the character, deciding that a younger actor could pull it off just as well, if not better, than an older one could – after all, once the makeup is on, you can’t tell the age of the actor underneath anyway. And so, with Warner no longer attached, Englund was hired to take his place, and Freddy Krueger – as we know and love him – was born.

(Interesting to note that over a decade later, David Warner appeared in Scream 2 as drama teacher Gus Gold, at long last working with Wes Craven.)

All due respect to Warner, but I am incredibly happy that things worked out the way they did, as again I truly believe that Freddy just wouldn’t have been Freddy, without Englund underneath the makeup. As we saw in that awful remake, just because you’re a great actor doesn’t mean you can handle the role, and though I’m sure Warner would’ve done a fine job, I’m willing to bet that Freddy would’ve never become as iconic as he did if he didn’t leave the project, and pave the way for Englund to come in.

On this day, and every day, we kiss your feet and bow to you, Robert Englund. But on this day in particular, we wish you a Happy Birthday!