CS Interview: Robert Englund on J.J. Villard’s Fairy Tales
Just in time for the premiere of Adult Swim’s latest bizarre animated comedy J.J. Villard’s Fairy Tales, ComingSoon.net got the opportunity to chat with horror icon Robert Englund (A Nightmare on Elm Street) to discuss his role in the series and work in the world of animation.
In choosing to sign on for the series, Englund reflected back on his time in the animation world and how he has a few frequent collaborators over at Nickelodeon, Cartoon Network and Adult Swim, with someone at the latter believing him to be “a good fit” for the Fairy Tales, especially as they were looking to build their cast roster with iconic genre stars.
“I knew it was going to be beyond Rick and Morty and beyond Beavis and Butthead and this kind of raw, twisted interpretation of fairy tales and that intrigued me,” Englund opined. “I’m an old fart and I remember back in the day as a youngster Rocky & Bullwinkle and of course Natasha and Boris, but one of their other spin-offs was Fractured Fairy Tales, and it was a sort of intellectual Stan Frieberg satirical take on the Brothers Grimm, but very adult and I loved it so much and I thought now, we’ve seen with Gretel and Hansel and some of the new Snow Whites and Sleeping Beautys, we’ve seen some dark revisiting in terms of films of these sort of things. Now it’s sort of the time to just have fun, to get twisted and surreal and strange with some guerrilla punk animation and it was fun because I got to see the pencil drawing storyboard sequences for scenes I was voicing and you never get that luxury on voice-over work, sometimes at the end of a project you’ll come in and sweeten some laughter or you’ll sweeten some grunts and groans and you’ll get to see the image, and I’ve got to do that on a game a couple of times, but it’s rare.”
Englund described the early storyboards he got to take a look at as “these kind of punk, scribbled, penciled” sequences that really helped him “get a sense of the show and its flavor” but found that one of the biggest assets for helping him get into his role was Villard himself, who would sit in the recording booth with the actors while they read their lines.
“Normally, we’re in our own little private world, it’s the actor’s space, the booth, you have your favorite drink in there and coffee and lots of freshly sharpened pencils for notes and you get the music stand at the perfect height and you get the stumpy stool and you get your voice and your headset, so you get that late night DJ, Tim Burton-like in your voice,” Englund explained. “With J.J., he’s right there and he’s so on top of how he wants it to be and how off-the-wall he wants it to be. Like you’re practically not even done with a take yet and he’s going, ‘Oh that was great, do more of that’ or ‘Do less of that’ or ‘Let’s try it this way’ or ‘Let’s go further with that.’ He’s just great that way, because he’s right there, so what happens is you do it almost immediately and it’s a little bit fresher in your head. He knows what he wants, they didn’t have to sit across an empty soundstage in the engineering booth and re-listen to the whole thing and then talk to me on my microphone about what they want, it just seemed to be quicker and more immediate. Not only was it more fun, I think we got more options for them to play with in post.”
One of the ensemble cast members in the series roster is The Exorcist alum Linda Blair, who among the various character she portrays includes Goldilocks, who when Englund initially read the script envisioned the role as more of a Valley Girl character until he heard Blair was set to star.
“The moment I heard Linda was doing it, I thought, ‘Oh, I get it, she’s going to be a mean girl,’” Englund noted. “That was great, I know Corey Feldman did a couple, they got a lot of people in there from genres as well as really great voice actors and actors period. But it’s such a strange and twisted show that you sort of just have to surrender to it that it’s going to be fun on my resume. One of my characters is a toilet, one of my characters is called “Porridge Daddy,” but he’s really Goldilocks’ father but I’ve been turned into a gob of snot and then I’m also one of the three bears and I have a bee hive stuck on my head. They let me really have fun and do some dumbass stuff. I’ll be honest with you, 80 percent of my voiceover work, if I’m not doing some straight-up moody narration, I’m usually doing villains and this was fun. I’m not as good as the voice-over actors that I get to work with, those guys can do 15 accents in a second and they do 15 different octaves, they can sound like a little girl or a little boy or a grandmother or Irish cop, they could do it all in one sentence.”
He goes on to explain how doing Fairy Tales along with his new Travel Channel Show, True Terror with Robert Englund, helped him get better at embracing the voice-over process and expand his repertoire of voices he could do.
“I just had to do some challenging straight narration for my new show on the Travel Channel and I do some on-camera hosting, and it’s tricky because you’re blending from the theatrical to the evil to the matter of fact and scientific,” Englund described. “But I learned a lot doing that, I’ve narrated before, but lots of times I’ve narrated in character, this was sort of me or an extension of me, the Vincent Price version of Robert Englund. On this one, I got to go way out of the box for the voices, which is just fun. Seeing the style and then JJ being right next to me, he’s so enthusiastic. He’s so full of energy that you’re just not afraid of fucking up, you’re not afraid of making mistakes, because you know they’re not going to use the mistakes. But when you make a mistake, it gets you to the good one, the one you’re going to want. Or the one where you make a mistake and you’re not free enough or you’re too free or you made a wrong choice, but you’re going in the right direction. When you first start out, everybody’s a little conservative when you start to do this stuff, you want to sound your best or you don’t know quite know what they want, whether it’s a deep voice or a high one, or sound like a cartoon or just get right in to this character, like a Genie from Aladdin or a crazy, dumb-ass bear that sounds like a Bill & Ted character.”
Though he found his rise to stardom in the horror genre with A Nightmare on Elm Street, Englund initially began his work acting in the comedy world on stage and on screen as “the best friend or the sidekick and I played nerds for a bit” before landing the iconic part of Freddy Krueger. He finds himself grateful for having landed the role of Freddy and recalls how once he found himself done with the role, his “face had aged” and he began “looking a little more like Vincent Price or Klaus Kinski or Max Von Sydow” and that helped him transition into other roles in the horror genre.
“Because I was so loyal to horror, I could segue into the parts of the old father or the old priest or the psychiatrist or the doctor or the mad scientist or the Van Helsing characters, I’ve done some of those,” Englund said. “I would not normally been offered those had I not toiled in the fields of horror movies for so long, but I really know how they fit in and I just happened to look right. Most of those best friends and sidekicks are for younger actors now, so I was just really lucky that the horror thing came along because I think it really prolonged my career in a way.”
Despite this, however, he does still find a love for comedy, especially on stage, as “you get that instant reaction from the audience” and you “know if you’re selling it and if it’s working,” but that it’s tougher for him in film and TV as multiple takes and rehearsals can take away from that first time in which everybody laughed. He went on to describe how he is “kind of glad” he didn’t land in the comedy genre, looking back on his time guest starring on a handful of sitcoms and how “it’s a little weird, even with a live audience.”
“It’s not the same as theater, you can’t really tell, they always give you laughs where there’s not really a laugh anyway,” Englund explained. “They think they gotta put a laugh in there, and that throws you off, because you know it’s not that funny, it’s just a smile and is just setting something up there. I don’t need a big laugh here, it’s not like ‘Ba dum bum’ rimshot, but they treat it like it is, they treat everything with a laugh, it’s a little weird. What happens is even with a really good show like The Big Bang Theory, and I love all the actors on that show, but even on that show you can tell that they sweeten them too much and the fans love that show, they have certain characters they love, but they’re not a real audience. They’re fans who have stood in lines for eight hours, they’re huge fans of the show and they’ll laugh if you cut a fart, they’ll laugh if you pick up a salt shaker, you know? You can hear it, you hear a nice little light joke is just a little laugh or a smile but then they crank it up and it gets this big laugh that kind of slows it down and it makes the actors think everything is more important than it actually is. It’s better sometimes when you do those kinds of shows without audiences, just a couple of people and let them do it and let us laugh where we want, not where we’re told to laugh.”
Created by King Star King‘s J.J. Villard, the series will feature new and bizarre takes on iconic Grimm fairy tales, as well as various well-adapted folklore stories including Cinderella, Pinocchio, Red Riding Hood, Goldilocks, and the Three Bears.
The animated quarter-hour series will also feature an ensemble voice cast including The Exorcist‘s Linda Blair, Leprechaun‘s Warwick Davis, A Nightmare on Elm Street‘s Robert Englund, The Lost Boys‘ Corey Feldman and Bride of Chucky‘s Jennifer Tilly.
J.J. Villard’s Fairy Tales is set to premiere on Sunday, May 10 at 12:15 a.m. EST.
(Photo Credit: Getty Images)