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INT: Heather Langenkamp

Oct. 25, 2001by: The Arrow

The Arrow interviews
Heather Langenkamp

All horror fans should know who I'm talking about when I mention the name Heather Langenkamp. She played Nancy, the original Freddy basher, in the first "A Nightmare on Elm Street", reprised the role in its zany sequel "A Nightmare on Elm Street 3" and played herself in Wes Craven's off-the-wall "New Nightmare". Heather stopped by The Arrow's to talk about the inauguration of her Official Site, which goes LIVE on October 31, 2001 and her career.

1- What's your favorite horror movie?


Nightmare on Elm Street and Wes Craven's New Nightmare... surprised?

2- Did you get into acting by fluke or did you always want to do it?

I've loved acting all my life but I was from the kind of family that valued more traditional occupations. When I was 17, I worked at The Tulsa Tribune newspaper as a copy girl. I saw an ad for extras needed for Francis Ford Coppola's "The Outsiders" that was shooting in Tulsa. My best friend and I went downtown and met the casting director, handed in our Polaroid headshots and hoped to get a call. It was definitely a fluke but also one of those rare moments in life where opportunity knocked and I actually answered the door. The casting director later gave me a tiny speaking role in "Rumblefish" - also shot in Tulsa that summer- which got me into the Screen Actors Guild (The scene wasn't in the final cut however.) From that summer, I met many encouraging people who helped me begin my career as an actress. I'd say that very few actors have such good luck in the beginning of their career.

3- "Nightmare On Elm Street" was your first lead part. Looking back, how was the experience? Were you nervous? Were you really afraid of Robert Englund in costume? Any funny set stories that you can share with us?

I had a few other roles before NOE, so I didn't feel like an absolute beginner. I think I am a very eager person and I tried to let people know that I would take advice if they had it. Robert Englund was a fountain of information as was John Saxon. I enjoyed learning from them. Of course you are always nervous on a set for the first few days. The funniest moments I remember from the first movie were the days I spent with Ronee Blakely, who played my mother. She had not played a mother of a teenager and so we decided to go to the Galleria - a big mall in LA - and pretend that we were shopping for a prom dress for me. I spent the afternoon trying on the ugliest dresses we could find and getting into a radical mother/daughter fight to the horror of the store clerk.

I also remember always showing up to work on days when big special effects were planned and having the feeling that no one was quite ready. The SP F/X crew was always pulling rabbits out of their hats at the last minute. The greatest example of this on film was the shot of Johnny Depp getting sucked into his bed and the blood gushing forth like a huge water spout. AN exact replica of Johnny's bedroom was rigged inside a room that could spin on an axle. All the walls were there but one – where the camera was positioned and where you could get in and out. I believe several men were required to actually spin the room 360 degrees. The blood was rigged inside the bed and then Wes called action. This was one of those kinds of scenes where it pretty much has to work the first time. Cleaning up all the blood and repainting the walls and redressing the furniture would be a major ordeal.

So the room starts to spin and the blood pours forth out of the bed and then Wes and the crew realized that the room was spinning in the wrong direction! Instead of all the blood gushing out of the bed and then splashing down the walls (to get a really disgusting blood drenched effect), the room had been spun the wrong way so that the blood gushed out of the bed and then right out of the room through the opening and all over Wes, the cameraman and the crew. If you look at the scene in the film, Wes ingeniously took a creepy wind effect and gave the impression that some kind of cosmic storm actually makes the blood disappear... it worked beautifully because in our dreams that kind of non-sequitur action actually happens. Rain falling up and the like. But truly, that scene was planned to have a totally different effect.

4- While shooting the Elm Street movies, did you sometimes bring the nightmares home with you? How did you sleep?

In Wes Craven's New Nightmare, I did experience a lot more nightmares during and after the filming. I was in every scene literally and I was totally wrapped up in my work on the set like nothing I'd ever done before. I was shocked to discover from my husband that I took to sleep-walking during that period and had several vivid dreams where I replayed the final scene with Freddy's tongue wrapped around my head (Please don't try to analyze me with that image.) I also remember in NOE 3 having several Nightmare's where I had to save Patricia Arquette from Freddy's claw. But in general, I sleep very well, thank you.

5- Were you disappointed that you weren't asked to appear in Nightmare on Elm Street 2-4-5-6?

No.

6- You played yourself in Wes Craven's New Nightmare. How different was it playing Heather in contrast to playing Nancy? Must have been odd.

An actor wants to play a character. I definitely learned from that experience that it's easier to develop motivation and actions when your own personal ego isn't involved. I often thought that people would think that the things I did in Wes Craven's New Nightmare were like me in real life. I only wish I could be as cool and brave as that "Heather Langenkamp." I actually felt I had more of a right to challenge Wes on certain lines and ideas because he was using my name for the character. I was more careful about what I wanted to portray because I personally felt more vulnerable to the way my character would be perceived. It is hard to describe but trust me; I wouldn't want to do it again.

7- You used to be on a show called "Just The Ten Of Us". I used to watch that show religiously and was quite bummed when it got cancelled. How was shooting on a sitcom different than feature films?

A sitcom is a great experience for any actor. You have to be quick on our feet and in top form. The schedule is grueling on one hand and wonderfully exciting on the other (No waiting forever for shots to be set up!) On JTTOU, the ensemble immediately trusted each other and we really got along well. We had a different director every week, which made every week very exciting. There was a lot of rehearsal, relatively speaking.... so we tried all sorts of wacky ideas to get a laugh. That was truly the greatest payoff - a huge laugh from the live audience!

I was the religious daughter and had a great time developing Marie's quirky personality. One day, you find a movement of the head or a way of walking that clicks and then suddenly the character comes alive for you. It takes a few weeks/months for that to happen but it evolves naturally from the day in and day out attention you are paying to your work.

In film, it is up to the actor to develop and bring to the set on the first day that sophistication with her character. It is a lot more pressure, and naturally there is often not the days and weeks of rehearsal time to work out the tiniest details. I can't count the times when I arrived on set and had only a few minutes to actually walk around a brand new set and look at it and figure out how I would move around and what objects I could use then I'd meet my co-star with a brief hand-shake and then suddenly the director's calling action and you're running the scene for the first time - it is extremely invigorating and exciting but frustrating too, knowing that with more time the scene would get better and better. Just when the director is happy, I always feel like I can still be better.

8- You played another Nancy (Kerrigan) in the TV movie "Tonya and Nancy: The Inside Story". Did you feel a lot of pressure having to play a real-life person? What kind of research did you do for the part? Can you skate?

I realized early on that no matter what kind of job I did, Nancy Kerrigan would never like my performance. Who would? There was something ridiculous about the whole story. So I felt freer to really go for a portrayal that would serve the purpose of the TV movie. Something not quite realistic, something bordering on the voyeuristic, tabloid kind of acting that this movie would sell itself on. It was very campy and quirky. I really loved recreating that terrible scene where Kerrigan got whacked in the knee. We had all seen that on TV a million times and I really tried hard to be exactly like Nancy in that. I studied her tapes of course to try to develop similar speech patterns. But talk about quick. we made that movie in about ten days I think. One or two takes per shot and that was it. I love ice skating and had taken lessons as a child. But I trained with a great skater for a few weeks and realized that I couldn't do much at all. I actually fell really hard a few times and realized that ice skaters are probably the toughest athletes out there.

9- You've just hopped on the "internet train" with your official site that goes LIVE on Halloween. What prompted you to hit the web?

I was tired of a lot of Web sites talking about me and getting stuff wrong. I also love my fans and wanted to find a way to have a more direct line to them. I've collected great pictures from the Nightmare sets and am aware of lots of different kinds of discussions going on about Nightmare on Elm Street... a web site is a perfect place to put it all together.

10- What can we expect from Heather Langenkamp in the near future?

I am working hard on my career after several years raising my two awesome kids. I have an independent feature at the end of this year that I'm doing, and producing a film of my own called "Grimke." It's the story of a horrible little boy who redeems himself on Christmas Eve.

11- Do you know if the "Nancy" character is set to return for the long awaited "Freddy vs Jason"?

I am curious to know myself. Though I think it will be hard enough writing a story to hold those two evil monsters without having to try to find a place for Nancy too.

12- Of all the parts you have played, which one is the closest to your heart?

In high school, I played Nora in Henrik Ibsen's "A Doll's House". It is one of the best roles for a woman ever written, I think. Learning that play and having the chance to play her made me want to be an actress. That role made me believe in the power of theater to express great ideas. I want to play roles like that. Second in line would be Nancy Thompson. Like I said, every girl wishes she could fight Freddy and win (or at least put up a good fight!)

13- I couldn't end this Q&A without asking this question: What's your favorite Elm Street film and why?

Nightmare on Elm Street - the original. I just can't believe I got to be part of that pivotal film. I am still surprised by its success.

I'd like to thank Heather for popping over. Another one of my dreams just came true. Man, working on this site surely has its perks. I encourage you all to be there on October 31, 2001 for the opening of Heather's Official site.

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