Hollywood's newest bestie friendship seems like an unlikely one but Bradley Cooper and Guillermo del Toro have really bonded in bringing their adaptation of Nightmare Alley to life over the last two and a half years. The pair revealed a lot about their take on William Lindsay Gresham's novel of the same name which only finished principal photography last December after a nine-month break in shooting due to COVID-19 lockdowns.
For the Tribeca Film Festival (going on now until June 20th), the two got together virtually to record an intimate, hour-long conversation: Storytellers – Bradley Cooper with Guillermo Del Toro. Nightmare Alley stars Cooper as Stan Carlisle, a carny with ambition that reinvents himself as a mentalist that takes advantage of the wealthy and gullible. Starring alongside Cooper is a dream cast including Cate Blanchett, Ron Perlman, Willem Dafoe, Richard Jenkins, Rooney Mara and Toni Collette.
With the film now in post-production, del Toro and Cooper were very reflective during their conversation about how Nightmare Alley bloomed into something neither of them expected in the making of it. "We had an instinctive understanding of it as a piece, but I never imagined it would become as deep as it became."
Del Toro said as the pandemic became more of a reality on production, and they "entered stranger times," the director admited that they started analyzing the material on a more personal level. And when they shut down for safety in March 2020, they ended up getting an unexpected nine months to edit the third of the film they shot.
"We literally shot one side of a scene and did turnaround nine months later," the director laughed. "We all went to lunch and came back nine months later."
Interestingly enough, all of that footage belonged in the later half of the film. Del Toro clarified that they didn't choose to shoot it that way but Cooper and the other actor's schedules, along with building the elaborate sets for the film and winter weather issues, dictated that everything filmed prior to shutdown all focused on the ending.
However, del Toro says it turned out to be a blessing. "I believe life gives you what you need, not what you want. We got to see these characters and we were able to go back—with 9 months in between—and analyze the characters. And we could re-write and go back to a set."
Both Cooper and del Toro admitted that Nightmare Alley asked for the most revisions they've ever done for a film. "The screenplay started to change a little and then after first shoot, it changed every day," del Toro shared. He says they found themselves revising pages in the mornings and evenings before the next day's filming. 'We'd write new scenes that are now in the movie. I’ve never enjoyed so much a movie being alive," he enthused about the process of finding what the film was all about.
Cooper added, "And this movie felt like it needed this rigor. As simple as the story is, and it is about one thing, it demanded all of our concentration and focus. I don’t think we realized how much it demanded of us in the beginning."
Del Toro added praise for their large ensemble cast who he said all brought a whole new world to consider with their performances and ideas about their characters too. "Dafoe, Blanchette, everyone brings a whole world," he enthused. "And the ultimate virtue is to be open for grace which takes a long time to recognize it. You come to understand that it is something above you, and if you are relaxed and just be, you will be fine. And that is the mystery of directing."
Nightmare Alley is set to be released in the U.S. on December 2, 2021.