MoreHorror Exclusive: 'A Nightmare on Elm Street' Leading Lady, Heather Langenkamp Interview

Interviewed by Michael Juvinall,

Heather Langenkamp is a remarkable woman. She is best known for playing Nancy Thompson, the lead in A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984). Her portrayal of a teenager being attacked in her dreams, then for real by a dead, severely burned, child murderer was nothing short of groundbreaking for that era. At a time when the vast majority of scream queens in horror films of that time period were either playing the helpless victim or the eye candy, Heather’s “Nancy” was a strong, no-nonsense fighter who wouldn’t roll over and die. She took on the plight of teenagers in America, helping to portray them as strong and self-reliant, and showing they need to be heard and understood.

Heather played the role of Nancy Thompson in three of the Nightmare films, A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984), A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors (1987), and playing herself as Nancy Thompson in Wes Craven’s New Nightmare (1994). She was an executive producer and narrator on the documentary, Never Sleep Again: The Elm Street Legacy (2010) and producer on her autobiographical film I Am Nancy (2011) about her unique experiences playing the teenage heroine Nancy Thompson.

She also starred in the popular TV sitcom Just the Ten of Us (1988-90) playing the super smart Marie Lubbock, who had seven other siblings and their misadventures. These days along with acting, Heather works alongside her husband, special makeup effects wizard David Anderson in their own effects shop, creating special makeup effects for such films as Dawn of the Dead (2004), The Cabin in the Woods (2011), and the upcoming Star Trek sequel Into Darkness (2013).
Read on as I sit down and chat with Heather about A Nightmare on Elm Street, Nancy Thompson, and more!

Michael Juvinall: We're here at the Days of the Dead horror convention in Chicago. Do you enjoy going to the conventions and meeting your fans?

Heather Langenkamp: Some weekends you're not really looking forward to getting out of town or there's a really fun event you're going to be missing, and I say "Gosh, I wish I wasn't going", but by the time Saturday or even Friday night rolls around, you're so glad you came. Folks have a way of really making you feel great about what you've done and the parts you play.

MJ: What do you get asked the most at the conventions?

HL: “What was it like to kiss Johnny Depp?” definitely the most popular question. The second most popular is probably, “Have you ever had any nightmares from making these movies?”, so those are the two biggest questions I get.

MJ: Do you stay in touch with any of the members of the cast?

HL: I see Amanda (Wyss) a lot, and then Robert (Englund) and I see each other quite frequently at the conventions. We stay in touch on the phone and by email. Those two are my closest friends that have remained. A lot of the kids from Nightmare 3, we love seeing each other. I worked with Brooke Theiss on Just the Ten of Us and she's often at Nightmare conventions too. There are just a lot of people I get to see because I come to these.

MJ: How did playing the role of Nancy Thompson change your life?

HL: When I first played her, I thought it was just another role. It didn't have much of an impact on me in the beginning but I'd say now, 25 years later, it's become the role for which I'm known. It's very important; I don't think I'd be invited to these events without her that's for sure. I think the movie itself has become a classic. I had little to do with that, it's all about the fans and their love of Freddy Kreuger and making that happen.

MJ: Are you surprised that even today how popular the Nightmare on Elm Street films are, especially the original?

HL: It's way more popular now than it was 25 years ago, believe me. It was a very small movie back then and very few people saw it. I had a hard time getting even my agent or anybody to go see it because it really wasn't up anybody's alley back then. Horror has really become a staple of American filmmaking; the fans are probably the most loyal fans you can have. That combination has made this kind of role an unusual miracle in the film world.

MJ: What is one of your fondest memories from working on the Nightmare on Elm Street films?

HL: Working with Robert, we always had such a good time in our scenes together when we were fighting. Choreographing scenes around my bedroom, those I've always loved the most. I'm a person who really loves athletics and am a physical person and doing those scenes with him was always the high point of the movies for me.

MJ: Can you tell me a little about your film 'I Am Nancy'?

HL: Well, because of going to these conventions, I started asking my fans some questions about why they cared so much about A Nightmare on Elm Street and why they love Freddy so much. I approached it from the point of view of Freddy's so popular, why isn't Nancy equally as popular? It's pretty clear when you go around the vendor hall that Freddy is the important character. I asked a question about what does it mean to be a hero and is it clichéd even to have a hero anymore?
What I discovered is that people really love Nancy because she's so strong and she faced her fears against Freddy and was able to win a lot of the battles against him by just being willing to attack him and fight with him. I use that as my theme of the movie, it's a love letter to my fans for teaching me more about Nancy than I ever really knew myself.

MJ: Your role as Nancy helped to create new roles for women as strong female characters, rather than just being the victim, how does that make you feel?

HL: I'm not sure if she started it. I really looked at her not so much as a woman but as a teenager because I think society has done a disservice to teenagers, we put them in front of TV's and give them little things to play with because nobody really wants to engage them or take their input. I think Nancy was one of the first teenagers who had to fight for herself because none of the grownups would. I look at that as her message more than her being a girl or being a feminine character.

MJ: You also work with your husband (David Anderson) doing makeup effects on films. Do you like doing that as much as acting?

HL: Acting is always my first love but the bad side of acting has to deal with all the rejection, the self-doubt and the problems with a woman growing older in this business when they don't really appreciate what happens naturally to a woman's face and body. You're constantly battling someone’s conception of beauty that I don't think is very realistic. As a counterpoint, I really like working with my husband because I can be me and I don't have to be worried about how I look that day.

MJ: He's a great makeup effects artist.

HL: Yes he really is. I've learned so much about filmmaking from being in the makeup and effects world and the more I learn, the more I really like being behind the camera.

MJ: You have a small role in the upcoming Star Trek film, what else do you have coming up that you can talk about?

HL: I can't really say I have a role but I did participate, my husband designed all the makeup effects for that film. I did a small film called The Butterfly Room a couple of years back that's getting released next year with Barbara Steele playing my mother. I love the story but I haven't seen it so I can't really say what kind of movie it's going to be but I know it's been getting some good reviews in Europe at some festivals these last few months. I get to play a mother in another film called Home, but I don't know when that's going to be released. I am trying to do more acting, I do love it.

MJ: I hope to see you in more films coming up. I want to thank you so much for taking time away from meeting your fans to talk with me. I wish you so much luck for the future; you've been so gracious with me.

HL: Thank you, thank you very much.

For more information on Heather Langenkamp’s film I Am Nancy, check out the official website

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