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[Warning: This story contains spoilers for Stranger Things 4, Volume 1.]
For Robert Englund, becoming a part of Stranger Things was an itch he just had to give a deep scratch.
The living horror legend who brought the iconic supernatural serial killer Freddy Krueger to life in eight Nightmare on Elm Street films (and a number of TV guest appearances) knows what it takes to give audiences a fright.
And that is exactly what he accomplished in Stranger Things 4, Volume 1 as Victor Creel, an institutionalized Hawkins resident who was accused of brutally murdering his family decades prior to the season’s plot. Creel, who blinded himself with a razor, blamed his family’s murders on a demon. It’s later revealed Victor’s son, Henry, killed his mother and sister with his psychic powers and subsequently became subject 001 (Jamie Campbell Bower) who was later sent to the Upside Down by Eleven (Millie Bobby Brown), where he becomes this season’s villain, Vecna.
In an interview with The Hollywood Reporter, the actor discussed how he landed the pivotal series role and his intriguing inspiration for Victor. In the below conversation, Englund also shared his thoughts on the obvious Elm Street series nods and how he got into some hot water with Netflix for oversharing at a fan convention.
Before we get into anything, I have to say that my mom is still mad at both you and my dad. He let me watch Nightmare on Elm Street with him when I was a kid in the late ‘80s, and I had nightmares for two weeks.
(Laughs.) You know, I owe at least half my career to cool dads and cool stepdads who left the movie on or rented it over the weekend from mom-and-pop video stores.
Hilarious! So diving in, the Creel father-son story this season reminded me some of Freddy’s Dead: The Final Nightmare in that we got a glimpse of the monster’s family backstory. What was your approach to Victor?
I was very relieved when I found out that Barrie Gower and Duncan Jarman from Game of Thrones, the guys that created the Night King, were doing my makeup. I did a makeup test with them early on over in London. So, I did know what the makeup would look when I was preparing the dialogue. Obviously, I couldn’t see out of the makeup, so I didn’t have to act blind. And because I was imprisoned in that cell for so long, I knew that a blind man would know his way around in there. He knew where his bed was, where the bars and his desk and his chair would be. I didn’t have to devote any energy to worrying about the makeup or playing blind.
As actors, we access strange imagery. We use imagery sometimes that has nothing to do with what we’re doing. And one of the things I was using was a character from Treasure Island named Billy Bones, who tells a huge story to Jim Hawkins about Long John Silver. It had nothing to do with Freddy Krueger or Nightmare. It was just one of those weird images that come to you.
My only concern was that I knew they were spending lots of money doing this reenactment, this flashback of the story I tell about the house that the Creels lived in that was haunted. And I knew that they’d be cutting away from me while I was telling parts that were very emotional. And I wanted that emotion to bleed into the parts, so they used the dialogue I performed. It wasn’t done in post. I didn’t want it to sound like I was doing some post-production, late-night jazz disc jockey with a deep voice.
The nails scratching the desk gave me goosebumps as a Nightmare fanatic. It was a great nod and set the tone for what unfolded perfectly? Was that your idea?
I wish it was me because everybody loves it, and it worked so great, but that was [episode director] Shawn Levy who came up with that. I don’t know whether he came up with that earlier or whether he came up with it on the spot. We just thought it was a great thing because it says Victor is threatening, it says that he is troubled, and it also has a little Nightmare on Elm Street echo. [Levy spoke about the nod with THR here.]
Why do you think Victor blinded himself? I have seen several reasons posted by fans, from a bizarre suicide attempt to saving himself from future visions that could horribly kill him.
I think it is classic mythology. Oedipus blinds himself when he realizes he slept with his mother. And this sounds a little academic, but maybe Victor, way down deep, knows that Henry is the source of the evil. And because Victor loves Henry so much, loves his boy, he allowed the mayhem to happen, so that is why he is blinding himself.
How did you become a part of this season? The idea of you being in Stranger Things just seems like such an obvious slam dunk.
I was a fan, and then I was up for a role in season three that I didn’t get, I was disappointed. I really wanted to be on the show. Then they called me for Victor Creel. I sent in a little home audition tape my wife filmed. I saw him as this strangely sympathetic man — but also frightening because he’s blinded himself and has these terrible scars. But he has this damaged tale to tell.
And finally, did you happen to meet Jamie Campbell Bower or Raphael Luce, who played versions of Victor’s son?
I saw photos of those guys, and I had the photos in my mind’s eye, but I didn’t get to meet them. I figured Henry was the origin story for all that was coming; I just guessed that on my own. I’m so proud of myself because they don’t give you the full script. And boy, you have to keep your mouth shut. (Laughs.) I went to a convention a while back, and I’m not allowed to talk about it, no spoilers — but some kids at the convention already knew! And I don’t know how! I think I answered one question about being blind or something — and I got called up by Netflix, and I got scolded because I had done a spoiler. (Laughs.) I didn’t even mean to! The fans at the con were actually ahead of me on their knowledge of the plot, but that’s how careful you have to be.
Interview edited for length and clarity.
Stranger Things 4, Volume 1 is streaming now on Netflix.
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