How The Goldbergs got Robert Englund to reprise Freddy Krueger for its Halloween episode
A series centering on '80s nostalgia wouldn't be complete without an episode honoring the mother of all horror movies, A Nightmare on Elm Street. And that tribute wouldn't be a proper one without Robert Englund, who is the man responsible for bringing iconic dream demon Freddy Krueger to life. For The Goldbergs' Halloween episode (Oct. 24 at 8 p.m. on ABC), the titular family deals with the fallout of Adam watching the 1984 movie against mom Beverly's wishes. While he deals with the ensuing scary dreams, she finds herself living a true nightmare after Adam tells Beverly that he wishes she wasn't his mom. Ahead, stars Wendi McLendon-Covey (Beverly), Sean Giambrone (Adam), guest star Englund, creator/EP Adam F. Goldberg, and EP/director Lew Schneider reveal how the "nightmare" episode came together.
Adam F. Goldberg on wanting to do this episode for years
"This [movie] was the first place I go to when I think of my childhood and Halloween. [I told Robert Englund] when I saw this movie — Part 3 [Dream Warriors] — I went home and I threw up all night. I didn’t sleep all week. It was so real to me, and my mom was freaking out and was trying everything — baths, the whole thing. That was a traumatic experience for me," series creator and executive producer Adam F. Goldberg recalls. "So every year I say to the writers, 'Let’s take the shot and try and get Robert to be Freddy,' and everyone said, 'Let’s do something we could actually make — we’ll do Poltergeist instead.' So this year I took the shot. It’s just one of those bucket list things to try and do this Freddy episode. It took quite a bit convincing — I first approached Robert’s manager, who knew the show, he related to the show, he knew we would treat it with respect, we would treat it real, and I get why that’s a hard sell, to have Freddy Krueger on The Goldbergs. I wrote from my heart, I said, 'This character is in my DNA, starting with the trauma, then turning into something with my friends' — this was our bonding thing, making these horror movies — 'this is why I do what I do now,' and Robert responded and said, 'I trust you.'"
Robert Englund on reprising his role
Englund hasn't appeared on screen as the iconic character since 2003's Freddy vs. Jason, but this was an opportunity he couldn't say no to.
"The serendipity for me was not only wanting to work with Wendi, but also...the last 10 or 15 years, people have approached me and told me these family stories about watching A Nightmare on Elm Street in the exact same period as The Goldbergs. The generation from the '80s that saw it, Adam’s generation, remember it now as a family-shared experience — getting to go to the mom and dad video store to rent it, pre-Blockbuster, pay-per-view, see it on whatever cable existed back then, a marathon for Halloween...and I get this response from people who’ve lost a parent now or an older brother that went to Iraq or somewhere, and they have this memory of a family being scared together and being alive together and eating pizza together and cracking open a brew together in the living room of the family home somewhere in America the first time new movies were brought home for a whole new generation," Englund says. "It's something I never, ever imagined, that you’d consider Nightmare on Elm Street to have any contribution to the American family. I was ostracized as being this purveyor of violence and gore and bad for the culture, and I was very defensive of that because prior to Freddy I had been a very successful, mainstream, almost A-list actor and television star, but now I’ve been getting this new feedback, and when I saw Adam’s first draft, it just touched me so much...that’s really when I had to say yes — when I saw the words, the script, the story, and how sweet and how absolutely true and authentic it is."
Step aside, Freddy — Beverly has worse things to worry about
"She’s breaking him down emotionally, but that speaks to how much Adam not wanting her as a mom — or even saying that flippantly — how that’s her biggest nightmare," McLendon-Covey explains of her scene (in her closet, where her flashy sweaters have all been replaced by Freddy's red-and-green striped ones) with Englund. "Yeah, you’ve got knives for hands and you’ve obviously been in a fire, but I don’t know if you heard me the first time but my son says he doesn’t want me as his mother and I don’t know if I can handle it. When Adam first pitched it to me I was like, [grumbling], 'Oh, what are we gonna do? Is Freddy Krueger going to run around Jenkintown? Eh, I don’t know about this.' Then I read the script and I loved it and I thought, 'Well that was pretty clever, she was falling asleep with the TV on, starting her dream that way' — I don’t know, I was just so thrilled that Robert even said yes to it."
Real Adam and TV Adam on living this 'nightmare'
"In the very first incarnation [of the script], it was Adam that faces off with Freddy and trying not to be scared of him, but then I thought it was more interesting to have my mom say this thing, that Adam wishes Beverly wasn’t the mom, and that’s her worst nightmare, and then using Freddy Krueger as a way to sort through that I thought was really interesting," Goldberg explains.
But that didn't stop Giambrone, who doesn't actually share a scene with Englund, from experiencing the horror classic for himself — you know, to fully understand his real-life counterpart's true terror.
"I saw them while we were shooting the episode. Yeah, it definitely freaked me out. I’ve never been one to handle horror films that much. I didn’t quite throw up, though," Giambrone says, laughing. "After watching, it’s so creative, that movie, and it scares you — it sets this tone right off the bat. Combine that tone with The Goldbergs, I just loved it."
Freddy's sweaters get cut
"Robert talked to the sweaters," executive producer and episode director Lew Schneider explains about a scene that didn't make it into the final cut, "because she breaks free, and he says, 'What the hell is wrong with you guys?' And they [shrug]. And he says, 'That’s what you’re giving me? [A shrug?] You know how many people would kill for this job?!' My things was promising [to Robert], it’s not going to be too jokey! And then the sweaters are like [shrugs]. I didn’t know!" Goldberg says of the improvised moment.
"Lew would throw out improv lines and I was a beat behind trying to catch up, and then it started to get fun, and then I saw where he was going," Englund explains. "Oh yeah, these are Freddy’s sweaters. He’s PO’d!"
Adds Schneider, "You got a Lamborghini? Drive it around a little bit! It was fun!"
This is really f—ing funny — times three!
"Wendi does the best ones," Goldberg says of dropping F-bombs every episode. Interrupts McLendon-Covey, "Nicer words have never been spoken."
"They used to be scripted and then Wendi would do them on her own to make it funnier," Goldberg explains, "So now whenever it’s scripted, we get a [safety take] without the f— because I know at some point Wendi will do a better one somewhere else. So I leave those to Wendi. And that is my mom — all she says is f— every other word. It feels the realest to Beverly."
"That was all scripted, which I loved because it gave us the freedom to be a little down and dirty and also know that the punctuation and the writing where the f-bombs fell would be funny when they’re bleeped," Englund recalls of the scene.
"Also, remember, it’s ABC, and they hate — HATE! — the F-bombs. One, let alone three," Goldberg says. "In the script Freddy was referencing an improved line Robert did in part 3, which is my favorite line, 'Welcome to primetime, bitch.' So Freddy referenced that and called Beverly a 'primetime bitch,' and the f—s with the bitch and the glove, I think we just couldn’t get everything, so I opted for all the f—s and lost 'primetime bitch.'"
Mother knows best
"I was raised by a smother as well. She would never use the F-word, ever ever. I was in my 40s when she finally determined I do use it," McLendon-Covey says. "But my mom knows her way around a guilt letter [the focus of this season's fourth episode, 'Hersheypark'], and my mom did exactly what Beverly did, which was, 'Don’t you dare go see that movie. Do not see it because I do not want to clean up the aftermath of you watching a horror movie. Do not do it!” Well, of course I did it, and tried to lie about it and tried to stay awake and tried not to be scared at night. So yes, [Beverly] has some outlandish methods, but I get it. And I don’t know that she was wrong — sorry, Adam. Everything she does comes from a loving place. I understand her, and I love her, and I love playing her. But nothing surprises me anymore with Beverly."