Ron Perlman explains why "epic" Nightmare Alley remake was needed
Ron Perlman stars in the Guillermo del Toro adaptation of Nightmare Alley opposite Bradley Cooper and Rooney Mara.
Visionary director Guillermo del Toro certainly doesn't shy away from casting Hollywood star Ron Perlman in his films.
Perlman memorably worked on the Hellboy franchise with del Toro, along with his films Cronos (1993), Blade II (2002), and Pacific Rim (2013).
Now the Sons of Anarchy star has reunited with del Toro on his new Neo-noir film Nightmare Alley, the second adaptation of the 1946 novel by William Lindsay Gresham.
The film follows Machiavellian con artist Stanton “Stan” Carlisle (Bradley Cooper) who is keen to escape his dark past and find success by any means necessary and comes to work at a carnival.
Later, his schemes look set to unravel when he crosses paths with an equally cunning psychiatrist, Lilith Ritter (Cate Blanchett).
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Speaking to RadioTimes.com, Ron Perlman cheerfully and articulately discussed his role in the film as carnival performer Bruno and reuniting with del Toro.
Describing the carnival setting in the film, Perlman revealed: “Well, in the world of that there's kind of an emotionless spiritual theme that runs through people who end up as carnival performers, and in a world of people who are finding solace in as insulated an alternate reality as the carnival is, because it is a way of life.”
He describes this character, Bruno, as “probably among the more solid citizens, he's been doing it for a long time. He's been there done that... nothing impresses him. He's basically a guy who understands the perpetuation of the carnival is to everybody's best interests. We keep people in line, he makes sure that everybody's doing their fair share and he does what he can to hold it together. And he's there as a valued member of the community.”
Perlman describes Bruno’s care for the character of carnival performer Molly (Rooney Mara), who comes to the attention of Cooper’s Stan, as the character’s central purpose in the film.
“When things go astray, his main purpose in this iteration of our exploration of this carnival world is that he's made a promise to Molly's dad, who was I guess his best pal. A real phenomenal carnival performing himself. On his deathbed, 'I’m going to take care of your kid forever'. And so when Stan shows up, you know, the wolf enters into the henhouse hackles go up. And [Bruno] understands that he's going to have a kind of a battle on his hands and he falls short because Stan is that charming.”
Of Cooper’s scheming character, Perlman noted: “He's operating on a separate track, but the minute Bruno sees him he knows this guy's gonna be trouble. And sure enough, he's right.”
Having decided to collaborate with The Shape of Water director Guillermo del Toro once again on the film, Perlman said: “It's really a kind of beautiful thing because it spans now around 30 years, you know. We did his very first movie together in Mexico City, back in 1991 I believe, called Cronos, and I've watched him develop both as a man and as a filmmaker.
“You know, the friendship evolves. Kind of commensurate with our own life experiences and our own little adventures. And then we come together and get on that set again and have this wonderful appreciation for one another, this wonderful shorthand with one another. Just that comes from the amount of time we've spent doing this.”
The Hellboy legend also noted that he was pivotal in del Toro’s decision to do a new cinematic version of the novel, which was previously adapted in 1947 and starred Tyrone Power.
“I can't remember the very first time I saw the original Nightmare Alley but I was really young, maybe 15,16, 17 years old,” recalled Perlman. “I used to stay up really late at night and watch black and white movies. And the minute this thing came on, I just - having already been exposed to Tyrone Power as Zorro and a couple of his other sort of dashing, swashbuckling, very, very commercial films that he did during his tenure at 20th Century Fox - this was startling. The original - a little bit scary... stirred up a great deal inside of you watching this journey, this grifter with this incredible skill set, as played by a guy who you had never seen the darkness of before.
“And I was the one that mentioned to Guillermo that that would be the only film I would ever really, really want to remake. He hadn't seen the film, so we screened it at my house.”
But why was Perlman so keen to work on a new version of the film?
He explained: “I recommended it to del Toro because the studio didn't want Tyrone Power to make the movie in ’47 because he was a commercial commodity and this was a dark film, so they only gave him a few bucks to make it.
“And I always said, the story of Nightmare Alley is way bigger than the resources that Tyrone Power had at his disposal. This would be a great movie to revisit, and especially in the hands of somebody who thinks as epic in scope as del Toro does in what he lays down on film.”
That epic scope to del Toro’s version and its vivid depiction of the carnival setting, in particular, was something that continues to blow the actor away.
On the production design of del Toro’s films, Perlman exclaimed: “It’s like going to Disneyland. It's like you bring your camera, you take pictures of all of these little incredible details and you know that each one of them could be a movie in and of itself, but they're just sort of there to support the main frame.”
The actor also notes what a gift it was for him to act with the talented ensemble cast of the film and how it improved his own work.
Perlman commented: “Bradley Cooper, I just can't say enough about and then, of course, Cate Blanchett, Rooney Mara, and Toni Collette and Willem Dafoe and David Strathairn and Richard Jenkins and Paul Anderson. Clifton Collins. I know I'm leaving out some names I shouldn't...and Mark Povinnelli, who played my other half, the Major to my Bruno.
“You just realise you better take your game up a notch when you're in the company of people who have over the course of time repeatedly blown your mind as performers, you know that you're in a different kind of a game than normal.”
When discussing his upcoming projects, Perlman also teased his next collaboration with del Toro in his upcoming stop-motion animated musical fantasy adaptation of The Adventures of Pinocchio.
Perlman, who has an extensive career in voice acting, will voice the character Mangiafuoco, a theatre director and puppet-master better known to Walt Disney fans as Stromboli but goes by his name from the original 1883 story here.
The new adaptation will be set in 1930s Fascist Italy under the rule of dictator Benito Mussolini and is due to be released by Netflix later this year.
Hollywood star Perlman teased: “I’m pretty excited about how [del Toro] set the film, where he set the film, the socio-political implications of the use of this sort of made-up boy, make-believe boy.
“You know, well, once again, it's del Toro, the mind of del Toro working in ways that no one else would think of. “