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Interview: Heather Langenkamp

Apr. 9, 2008by: JimmyO
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It is no secret that I love the NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET series. When I first experienced the original, it terrified me so much that I knew I was hearing Freddy’s gloves coming from my attic. It was such a powerful film which was made more powerful by such a likable cast. Heather Langenkamp was such a breath of fresh air as Nancy. She was not your typical horror movie heroine. I bought her ultimate victory over this boogeyman with knives for fingers because of her performance. I liked her so much that I even watched “Just the Ten of Us” for the sole purpose that I got to watch her on a weekly basis.

When I first started mapping out people I would like to talk to for the Horror Legends column, Heather was at the top of the list. There is something terribly approachable about her and that was clear if you had ever had the chance to see her speak at a horror convention. In fact, while covering HOSTEL 2 at Fangoria, I was most excited by the fact that I got to see a Q and A with Nancy herself. So put it this way, getting a chance to talk openly about her career was a dream come true. She is an absolute professional and couldn’t be any kinder. I always had a high regard for her, but after shooting the breeze with her, it seems that my respect has grown even more.

Horror fans, I present to you, Time Out with Heather Langenkamp.

Now I’m going to go back with you a little bit. You happened to do a little film that a couple of people had seen called A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET. How did you get involved because you were fairly new to the business at the time right?

Yeah, I was very new to the business. It was really my first feature film where I had a major part. I had been living in Los Angeles for about eight or nine months when I got - I’m tying to think of how long I had lived here - but I was going back and forth to Stanford because I really came to California to go to college, it was my main mission. You know, when you’re in high school, you work really hard to get into college. So I had attended my freshman year at Stanford. And then because of some extra work that I had gotten, the summer before college in Tulsa, Oklahoma where I’m from, I had met some really helpful people who had said, any time you have a free weekend or a long weekend, come down to LA and we’ll see if we can get you some auditions. And particularly, I had this one woman named Janet Hirshenson who was a casting director here in LA, who really was kind to me. And she even let me stay at her house and she helped me get some auditions and helped me get an agent. What you always realize is that, you just can’t do anything alone, you really need people to have faith in you and believe in you. This woman was instrumental in really getting me on the ground here. From her help, I got an agent and through their work, I got that audition for A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET. But, you know, I couldn’t have done it even without her help. Because she just helped me so much and I think back on it now and I hope she knows just how much I realize that she was the reason I was able to do so well in the very early stages of my career.

That is unbelievable to have that kind of support. Very few actors get that.

Yeah, it’s true. It’s very hard and especially coming from a place like Tulsa, Oklahoma.

So you came out here to study. What were your original expectations?

Well, I think… I was a pretty serious student. I started out studying Russian. I wanted to be, like a foreign service officer or something, [Laughing] I don’t know what I wanted to be then. I started out with a really ambitious idea about what my future was going to be. And I took a lot of languages. And when I started coming down to LA and acting more, I decided to make my college life a little bit more manageable. So I changed and became an English major and luckily Stanford had the policy where, they call it stopping out, you can stop out of college for ten weeks at a time because they are on the quarter system. So you can stop out for a quarter and pursue other projects. So I would stop out for ten weeks and pursue acting and I would go back and I would do ten weeks of studies. It was really difficult you know, because I didn’t make the kind of friends that a lot of people in college make. I was always kind of back and forth. But I was really committed and it took me about seven years to graduate from college but I ended up doing it. I remember I graduated from college after our first season of “Just the Ten of Us”.

Wow. That is commitment though, you actually stuck with it.

Yeah, I did. And I’m really, really happy that I did.

One thing about the NOES series, especially the first one and WES CRAVEN’S NEW NIGHTMARE, there is a real likeability factor in the cast. You really care whether these people live or die which is kind of unusual for a horror film…

Well yeah, you know, I just think that that’s a really good point, that Wes always was very… he really looked for that likeability, vulnerability, real person quality in all the actors that he always picked. Not always very beautiful, you know, glamorous people. And back then, there wasn’t such a parade of really sexy gorgeous girls.

There was no The CW back then.

There wasn’t a CW and there was no Access Hollywood, there wasn’t this 24/7 kind of, star worship. So as a result, all of us were really super normal. Maybe Amanda Wyss was the most glamorous of us all. And she had done FAST TIMES AT RIDGEMONT HIGH. She was part of a much more, hip and swinging group than I was in, that’s for sure. I think that that comes across, and she plays a character that’s a little bit more trendy and what we think of as “that girl” in horror movies now. You know, that blonde, really sleek, and kind of sexy girl. And the other characters in the film, we were all pretty… we weren’t quite there yet, you know.

And of course, Johnny Depp.

Well you know, talk about somebody who was really committed to what he was doing. You know, he started out, with not that many people around him to push him to success. And then we watched as it happened, slowly in the next year after Nightmare. So many opportunities came his way and he was able to really capitalize on each one of them. [He’s] very shrewd and very committed to what he was doing. And you know, if I can give anybody a push, it’s just like, to take everything that you do really seriously and be really committed to it at the same time. I think a lot of the actors who come on television nowadays, it all seems like such a lucky break and they were in the right place at the right time, I can pretty much guarantee you that they’re super committed to what they are gonna do. Because this business is really brutal. It’s really tough. And you don’t float to the top by just riding a wave, you just don’t.

I agree. I think there is a misconception whenever you see an “overnight success story”, you have to look back at what they have done to get there. Rarely do you get a case of someone like David Boreanez who was discovered walking his dog.

Well, I mean usually you have to get a lucky break somewhere along the line. Like, you know, Johnny Depp was playing a gig in Hollywood when that casting director, Annette Benson saw him. You know, she saw him and she’s like, ‘you know, he’s got something…’, she didn’t have to be there that night. Now that is a lucky break. He wasn’t looking to get cast in A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET that day. But everyone has to be open that luck will not happen, but you always have to know that lucky break isn’t going to be the final say in how successful you are.

When Nightmare became the success it did, were you asked to do part 2? Or did they want to go in another direction?

They just went in a totally different direction. I don’t know of the politics involved, they didn’t ask Wes to be involved in that. I think they were going to just… you know, New Line was a small company so they probably thought it was a lot cheaper way to go by doing things their own way the second installment. Because you don’t have to pay as much. You have to pay people a lot more to do a sequel if they were in the first. You can do it a lot cheaper if you don’t have to pay Wes Craven and you don’t have to line everybody up for number two. And they made those choices and I probably wasn’t even aware they were making a sequel. It didn’t seem to pick up a lot of steam as a franchise until maybe the third one. I think the third one, the forth one, they really were starting to think of it in terms of a long term deal. And I think that’s why they were willing to bring Wes back and me back, because they saw that if they do this right that we can even go, seven, eight, you know, sequels down the line. And they had made enough money, I’m sure by that time, you know, via all the second runs and cable and video was starting to provide them with quite a bit of money. So maybe that is why they felt it was justified to bring Wes, and that new kind of thrust back.

Who approached you when it came time for The Dream Warriors?

Actually Wes called and he really wanted to find out if I would be interested in doing it before he put a lot of time into writing the script. So he called me and let me know that he had written a script and that he had Nancy in it again and would I read it. And I really liked it. I thought it was really good and really clever. And a hospital full of kids is really sympathetic. So I was very excited, you know, I would have loved to see Wes direct that movie. But it was good enough for me just to be involved again.

Although they had to kill you which was awful [Laughing].

Yeah, I know. Each movie, it’s kind of this false death. I always felt like, if they did try, they could always bring me back. It wouldn’t take that much to do it. And I think its good sometimes to kill off an important character. I think it makes it real for everybody.

Well it certainly raises the stakes a little bit.

Yeah, it makes people realize that they’re not just keeping people alive just so they can bring them back later.

Exactly. Until of course, the New Nightmare.

Well there you go. I mean, they had to really be ingenious on that one. I really thought that that was my favorite of all the nightmare stories in some ways.

You know what it is, it was really ahead of its time.

Yeah it is, it is a little… at the beginning, what you could see happening with him later with SCREAM. The deconstructing of the normal plot that everyone knows so well by now. And actually kind of, playing a joke on the audience and I thought it was extremely clever.

Were there any fears going in to that picture? I mean, you’re playing yourself and your “husband” is brutally killed and your “child” is terrorized…?

I had a lot of conversations with Wes about it, because I didn’t… there was a line, that in my own mind, that I didn’t want to cross. You know, I didn’t mind that he used some of my, kind of, nuts and bolts of my real life to create a story. That’s done all the time, you know. But there were some things that I didn’t want to cross. One of them - it’s silly in retrospect - but I really didn’t want him to refer to my mother in a negative way. And because Nancy’s mother is, you know, kind of a lunatic, I didn’t want there to be any inference that my own real life family was kind of impaired or anything. But yet, for his storyline, he needed there to be some references to this kind of strange family that I belonged to. And so we had a lot of discussions about that. And it’s up to him, he’s the writer and director, and we kind of had to negotiate that line, you know, some things more than others. But you know, in retrospect I probably made too much of a deal about that.

I don’t know. It is kind of a weird line to cross for you as an actress, because you are dealing with things that, obviously, in real life are horrible tragedies. And the movie is played on a somewhat “real” level, you know, especially the first quarter of it.

Right.

The scariest scene for me is when your “son” climbs up on the rocket in the playground. That was terrifying to me.

That was actually… I really, really love that scene. And I’m not sure if I… I really as an actor, I just don’t think that I really pulled that scene off that well [Laughing]. Because it was so powerful when I read it on the page, and I’m happy to know that is an important scene for you because, after that scene there is a scene where John Saxon and I sit on the bench and kind of talk about it. And I think it kind of takes a lot of the drama away from that scene, because what just happened was so unbelievably dramatic, and then the next scene, it’s me and John Saxon jawboning about it. And I’ve never been really happy with that because, I wanted just that scene to be able to stand alone and have that be kind of the horrifying realization that, you know, what I did was impacting my son, really to the point where he was going crazy. And that scene was one of my favorites and that is actually the scene where I take about my mother being crazy [Laughing]. That’s why I just don’t really like that part where we are just sitting on the bench, its never been satisfying to me. And so it’s not the acting, I think it’s just kind of the messages that we say. I think the acting isn’t bad, but it’s just one of those scenes where so much has to be… It’s an expository scene and as an actor, no one ever really likes to do those.

Well you did a great job. Were you a mother at the time you did that?

Yeah, I had a little, three-year-old boy.

See, I felt that because I’m a parent and I felt that connection on screen.

Yeah you know it’s kind of… if you’re a parent, those scenes are a lot more fraught. The same with the hospital scene. The doctor accusing me of having, you know, Baron von Munchausen syndrome. If you are a parent, they are so much more… like you know exactly how that could happen you know, where you just take things too far. Or you don’t believe people are believing you. I mean, I really love Nightmare on Elm Street Part 7. Whenever people ask me which one they should see, I always tell them one and seven, and then you could see the others at your leisure. But both of those are just so… to me they are the most important ones.

Those two are probably my favorites also. But I liked most all the others, I liked three, four and five and even two for what it was.

I did too. I thought it was actually a really good story. And I think it really belongs in the course of events. I mean it kind of sticks out as its own story but I liked it a lot. And I think that New Line was probably really experimenting about whether they could use the house itself, and Freddy kind of married to that. And I think that they really realized it was more interesting to go back to the same people. I don’t know.

Now with all of this behind you, being a major part of the NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET franchise, you are now in the FX business.

Yeah, I mean it’s… you don’t really know where your life is going to take you. But after I had my daughter, actually I was pregnant during Nightmare 7, the final scenes that we shot. And after I had my family it just really became difficult to pursue an acting career with the kind of energy that you need to be successful. I think that’s what you find with probably a lot of women who have families, and they’re actors, you really have to make so many deals, you know, to continue your career at the same kind of level. And I think I just realized that I didn’t want to make those compromises. You know, so many actors that I talk to experience the same thing. So for many years now, I really haven’t… you know, I would love to be an actor. I just don’t find that it’s possible. I try to work it a hundred which ways, how could I end up doing this, and each time I come up at a dead end going, either my kids get the short end of the stick, or my husbands going to get the short end of the stick, or my career will get the short end of the stick. And each time, being an actor kind of gets the short end. So I love the business, I love the entertainment business, the creativity of all the people that work in this business. So my husband and I made a real commitment to work together in special effects. So I manage and coordinate all of our jobs and he is the creative mastermind. You know, I can’t take credit for his work because he’s a total genius. But we’ve done some really fine movies over the last ten years. I’m really proud of the things that I’ve done on this side of the camera. Just helping those projects get off the ground and managing them is really fun. I really love it.

It’s great. And you’ve still remained partially in the horror genre, with the work in the DAWN OF THE DEAD remake.

Yeah, I mean, whenever we can. I mean, we don’t say no to work so we’ll take whatever comes our way. But that was really the first job that I really jumped in and did a lot of work and we took our kids and we really immersed ourselves in that job. We just couldn’t of had a better experience. It was in Toronto and we actually set up a very large production shop, you know and manufactured everything in Toronto and hired a dozen make-up effects people up there. So we just took our whole lives up there for at least six months and did that job. And when we came back, we went up again next year and did CINDERELLA MAN for Ron Howard, which was a totally different kind of job, but we ended up using a lot of the same people because we had come to know them and respect them so much. Then last year we did DEAD SILENCE and then we did another horror movie called ASYLUM that we’re really frustrated… I don’t think it’s going to get released because of a dispute that the director and the production company are having, I think. Hopefully that movie will come out by… it’s by David Ellis. It’s a bunch of teenagers and a university, freshman dorm, and they all get… you know…

Things happen [Laughing].

[Laughing] Lobotomized.

It really is a pleasure to talk with both you, Lisa Wilcox [coming soon] and Amanda [Wyss] because as I mentioned, the series really was a part of my youth and to see how nice you all really are is just a bonus.

Well [in regards to work], Amanda especially. God, she has had so many roles in her life but it’s amazing when we go to these conventions and people just get… sometimes you just get known for something, and I’ve always told Robert Englund, that if this is what I’m known for, I would be so happy. It’s unfortunate in some ways that it happens when you’re eighteen-years-old… but the fact of the matter is, is that it’s a historic film and changed the face of horror. We’ve had so many fans just shower us with love and admiration. I mean, you couldn’t ask for anything more than that. If that is the thing in my acting career that will stand out in time, I really feel super fortunate, and we’ll see what happens next. I do have a couple of projects that I’m hopefully going to get off the ground this year. One is called PIGMAN ROAD, it’s a really scary story about being in the middle of the woods and having an unknown force trapping you. I’m hoping that’s going to happen very soon. And there is another project that I’m in line to do called NEMISIS. It involves a small town that’s cursed by… kind of a curse that goes back a hundred years and these people are kind of just know coming to terms with what it means. So both of those are good. And then my husband and I are working on a really fantastic project called, well right now it’s called G3. It’s an alien project, kind of like THE LAST STARFIGHTER. We’re really privileged to be working on this show so that’s going to take us to Santa Fe in the spring and I don’t know what I’m going to do after that. But we are very busy and that’s always good.

Well it would be great to see you back in the genre as an actress because I know the fans do…

They want it.

Yeah, they want it.

I feel a lot of responsibility for that. I think now, my kids are older so I can pretty much do whatever I want right now, to a point. And I have a feeling that freedom is going to allow me to get back into my acting career and I’m trying to map it out and figure out how it’s going to happen. Once you step off the treadmill, boy it’s hard to get back on sometimes.

5 QUESTIONS FOR HEATHER LANGENKAMP

What’s your favorite novel, horror or otherwise?

Well, you know, I’m a huge Jane Austen fan, so I’d have to say “Pride and Prejudice”.

You’re stranded on an island and you can only bring three movies, which movies would you bring?

Okay, I would bring WUTHERING HEIGHTS.

Good choice.

I would bring SOPHIE’S CHOICE. And I would bring, oh I’d have to bring a comedy… hold on, I have to think of my favorite movies… maybe JAWS.

Good choice, one of my favorites.

And LEGALLY BLONDE. That’s my favorite funny movie.

If you could play any historical figure, either fictional or factual, who would it be?

[A moment] Um… goodness… I think it would be, if I was able to… I mean, if I like have the ability, I don’t know if I actually have the ability, I think I’d like to play Lucille Ball. I mean, I just thought of one of my favorite people in modern history. I just think she had a really interesting life. It’s maybe not the deepest character you could play but I just think that she is so influential to me and a lot of the people that I know.

Good choice.

Oh God…. Okay… what’s next [Laughing]?

Okay this one is a little easier… it is always strange to see horror legends sitting around watching TV, but if you do, what do you watch?

“Survivor“.

Really?

My favorite show. And “24“. “24” and “Survivor” are the two shows that we watch. And you know what, I’m a total reality TV… I really love reality TV. I like “The Amazing Race”, I like all of those, I love “The Apprentice”. I just really like watching real people. With “The Amazing Race”, I just think it’s an interesting show. Like as an actor, I always need to watch people and see what they do and I find that that show is such a wealth of just watching people under pressure and getting angry. You know, you don’t get a chance to see people actually being themselves on camera very often. And I find that they’re wonderful for researching people, and what’s going on in their heads. I love it.

And finally, out of all the young filmmakers in Hollywood, who would you like to work with?

Young filmmakers?

Well, it really could be anybody whose work you are taken with.

James McAvoy. I just love him

Let me know what you think. Send comments and/or questions to JimmyO@joblo.com

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10:15AM on 04/09/2008

Good to see her again

I liked the interview. She was great in NOES. I wish her luck in the future.
I liked the interview. She was great in NOES. I wish her luck in the future.
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