Robert Englund Talks Coronavirus and Putting Away His Striped Krueger Sweater For New Travel Channel Hosting Gig

In an exclusive interview with Newsweek, actor Robert England talks about his upcoming Travel Channel series, True Terror With Robert Englund, ahead of the show's March 18 premiere. Known to audiences as the iconic Freddy Kruger, the Nightmare on Elm Street alum has removed the red striped sweater and he's ready to get to work in his new role as host.

During the first installment of the six-episode series, the Englund presents three terrifying tales. The episode follows a North Carolina storekeeper awaiting his own demise, a New Orleans teenager buried alive, and a murder inside an Atlanta police station. Audiences will discover from historians and experts how these real-life based stories were all ripped from the headlines.

Englund spoke to Newsweek about his new show, how society's fear of the coronavirus outbreak relates to an upcoming episode, and his influences as host.

First off, tell me how you became involved with Travel Channel for this show.
Well, I'm not certain who there thought of me. I think it may have been the writer. He had always had a dream to do a kind of Rod Serling, Robert Stack, Unsolved Mysteries, but using stuff from history. And what really attracted my attention was the fact that even though a lot of the things that we bring up on the show, we are wiser now ,and we know more science now. We are less superstitious than we were a hundred years ago or 150 years ago.

Everything that we talk about was documented and reported by journalists in American newspapers. I liked the idea that it wasn't just paranormal, two rednecks in a swamp somewhere saying they've seen a UFO. And I love that our reenactments are period.

Alfred Hitchcock (Alfred Hitchcock Presents) and Rod Serling (The Twilight Zone) served as host of their own anthology series. Did you take influence from them for True Terror? Or did you have your own inspiration?
This was the first time I've matched hosting on-camera with using my persona or a slightly Vincent Price version of my persona, a little bit of Rod Serling thrown in for spice; but mixing my persona and my baggage as an onscreen host. Then also having to make decisions about my voice and how to treat the narration of the reenactments. And I don't do that to image. I do that independently because we're not always in sync, my career and with their shooting schedule on location.

For me, it's not so much, when I say the voice, I mean more not the quality of the voice, but like the choices of being conversational and matter of fact or being a little dramatic, or being a little dark and teasing the audience a bit. And that's with the narration.

And then with me, I bring enough baggage as Robert Englund. This guy that did Freddy Kruger for 20 years. I bring enough baggage because of my affiliation with horror movies and science fiction and fantasy films that I can kind of fulfill a kind of anticipation of fans and viewers, that I'm a guy that kind of likes this stuff and I do.

As the True Terror host, you introduce and end each episode, talking to the audience. Tell me about your hosting duties.
If I'm on camera, and I'm being me, and I'm obviously Robert Englund, I've got my jacket on. They've lit me nicely. I'm setting up a story. I'm doing a recap. And then, it cuts to the image. It might be a particularly dark image or whatever it is. When I do my narration, that's just a technical acting challenge. Do I make it more conversational? Do I make it more theatrical? Do I make it darker?

So, these are just acting choices and hosting choices. But they're different than the kind of things that you encounter when you're playing a role. And so, that was one of the things, that's what I was trying to describe earlier, that challenge also attracted me to the project.

Robert Englund
Robert England's new series on the Travel Channel, "True Terror," premieres March 18. Travel Channel

What should audiences expect in upcoming episodes of True Terror?
We literally have a segment of True Terror about a Sasquatch in Montana in the early part of the 20th century. And our source, besides the journalists and the guys in Montana, is President Theodore Roosevelt. So, we have quotes of Theodore Roosevelt and the Montana Yellowstone guides. So there's that!

I'd like to think that there's a lot of what if to True Terror. I mean, a lot of it is obviously disproved now, but there's a lot of what if. There's some ghost stories. There's some critter stories that I think science has sort of disproved. But then, we have stories like the validation of the president of the United States seeing a creature that may or may not be a Sasquatch.

What interested you the most about the segments you've worked on?
We have the sort of plague awareness, coronavirus now. We had the yellow fever, smallpox plague that hit New Orleans. Coroners, coffin builders, and grave diggers were all in on burying people alive. That they were just doing it per capita. They were getting many bodies as they could get in a pine box and throw it in the back of a carriage. Take it out to a cemetery, dig a hole and throw them in there. And there were cases of people being buried alive, a lot of them. Because these guys would get X amount of money and they were all part of a scam to do that.

But I mean, that's incredibly frightening! It draws upon one of our basic, base fears. The fear of being buried alive is right up there with drowning and falling off a cliff. And this is all true. I mean, this is absolutely reported and true and factual. So there's those segments, as well as ones that are a little more, for lack of a better word, say a ghost story or a premonition story.

Freddy’s social distancin’. Not gonna make it to Horror Hound this March in Cincinnati. Hope to see you another time! Wash your hands or else!

— Robert B. Englund (@RobertBEnglund) March 12, 2020

You previously directed Killer Pad and 976-EVIL. In a hypothetical situation, would you ever direct a sequel to the Nightmare on Elm Street movies?
It's strange, Jorge. Those were both movies for hire. One is a horror comedy and the other was a straight-on horror movie with a gimmick back in the late '80s. And it's because of who I am in the industry that I was offered this. My real gifts as a director are probably more for the theater.

I run this theater in the town I live in south of Los Angeles down here, Laguna Beach and maybe I'll offer my services there. I have a production and it's going to sound like kind of old fashioned, but I have a great concept for doing that old chestnut, Our Town. I have a great vision that I've had for years of how to do it with a diverse cast and make it about all of America and yet about a small town at the same time. I even want to use Frank Sinatra's cover of "Pennies From Heaven" in it.

Some day you'll see me directing theater again, but I haven't kept up. It's hard enough to direct a movie because the clock's always ticking. It's even more difficult with a lot of special effects, especially if you're not that familiar with how they're done. I'm getting a little behind in how they're done now. They're moving so fast now with all of the new technology. I don't think I'm up to speed. I would be even more nervous if I had to do a little horror film.

What about directing a segment on True Terror?
The guys that put these location reality shows together, it's really, really difficult because I think they keep the whole thing in their head, or all these options of what they're going to do, how they're going to do things in postproduction. They have that all in their head and I think they're kind of editing it in their head the whole time, like Alfred Hitchcock. And I didn't really work that way. That's really tricky and difficult. So, I think I'll leave the directing of the show to others.

Brace yourself for the series premiere of #TrueTerror with Robert Englund on Wednesday, March 18 at 10|9c.

Get the details >>

— Trvl Channel (@travelchannel) February 12, 2020

How has True Terror changed you as an artist?
[A]t this stage of my career and my age, it's nice to have new challenges. Last year, I worked for the really talented director, French director Alexander Aja [Crawl.] I did my first virtual reality project and now this year, hosting and narrating the show in the kind of tradition of a kind of hybrid of Dateline and Twilight Zone and Unsolved Mysteries, it's a bit of a challenge for me as an actor. It's a different way of working. There's different things you have to consider. Things that you never think of.

True Terror With Robert Englund premieres at 9 p.m. March 18 on the Travel Channel.

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