In 2018, Bradley Cooper rocked the world with his directorial debut, the latest retelling of "A Star is Born." Instead of rushing forward with this momentum, Cooper gave himself a chance to relax. During 2019 and 2020, his only performance was voice acting as Rocket Raccoon in "Avengers: Endgame" (though he did help produce "Joker" that same year). His brief hiatus ended in 2021 with two of his best performances yet. In Paul Thomas Anderson's 1970s hangout flick "Licorice Pizza," Cooper had a hilarious cameo as the movie producer John Peters. Cooper plays Peters as aggressive, self-aggrandizing, and lecherous — he'd be despicable if he weren't so funny.
One character who doesn't have that saving grace of humor is Stanton Carlisle, Cooper's other 2021 performance. Stan is the lead of "Nightmare Alley," the 2nd adaptation of William Lindsay Grisham's novel. This one, directed by Guillermo del Toro, turned the story from a 1940s contemporary to a period piece. On the run after murdering his father, Stan takes refuge in a traveling carnival. There, he learns the trade's unsavory tricks, including how to work as a fortune-telling con artist.
Cooper has a darker edge to him; he's used it before in "The Place Beyond The Pines" and the aforementioned "A Star Is Born." Still, Stan is a big contrast with his usual at least semi-sympathetic roles. The actor had an answer for why he took on such a dark part.
In The Group
Stan wasn't always Bradley Cooper's part to play. In April 2019, Leonardo DiCaprio was reported as being in talks for the role. DiCaprio, who's played villains like Jordan Belfort and Calvin Candie and haunted men like Dom Cobb and Teddy Daniels, would be at home in Stan's skin. However, this wasn't meant to be. Del Toro told The Wrap that this was a matter of scheduling; he'd written supporting parts in the film for their actors, such as Lilith (Cate Blanchett) and Clem (Willem Dafoe). He wasn't willing to lose them, so this meant coordinating many busy schedules and DiCaprio's couldn't make his work.
That left a hole for Cooper to fill. Before del Toro approached Cooper, however, the actor hadn't been jumping at the chance to star in anyone else's movie. During a talk with Mahershala Ali hosted by Variety, Cooper revealed that part of why he directed "A Star Is Born" is that, "the directors [he] admired weren't hiring [him]." When he was approached about "Nightmare Alley," he suddenly felt a sense of vindication — a director he wanted to work with was coming to him. Cooper recalls:
"'Nightmare Alley' was an interesting example of how insecure I am. I was like, 'Oh, I guess I still am the guy that wants to be in the group,' because I had no intention of acting in anything other than [what] I've been writing. Leonardo DiCaprio fell out, and Guillermo del Toro came to me. I still remember thinking, 'Oh wow, the guys that don't hire me, they want to hire me?' And then it was like, 'Of course, I have to do it just because I've never been allowed into that group.' It was insecurity and ego. Thankfully, it wound up being an incredible experience."
What helped made "Nightmare Alley" an "incredible experience" for Bradley Cooper was how smoothly he worked with Guillermo del Toro. During a Tribeca Talks event (covered by IndieWire), del Toro recounted how he and Cooper hit it off in no time at all. The director said he, "never imagined [their relationship] would be as deep as it became." Del Toro continued by saying while he and Cooper were discussing the script the two realized their thoughts mirrored their feelings about life and how they viewed the world. "[Cooper and I] connected also as storytellers, bringing everything we have," del Toro said. "A director is an actor and an actor is a director. There is no separation of the craft."
Shooting on "Nightmare Alley" paused in March 2020 due to the pandemic before resuming in September. That meant the shoot was more chaotic than del Toro was used to. "I normally create and guide these little Fabergé eggs of movies, obsessively detailed. All of a sudden we were on an adventure," he said. Thankfully, Cooper was an eager creative partner for his director. Del Toro recalled, "When we have collaborators, the main reward is a point of view that you can literally bounce off, or get bounced off, and seek for the truth."
In the aforementioned Variety talk, Cooper talked about what drew him to Stan specifically:
"That was very interesting to me to play a character, Stanton Carlisle, who has clearly been traumatized as a kid, has no parental foundation, has no foundation for love, intimacy, real connection, and he just is surviving off of a gratification and a desperate need to find out who he is."
Hopefully, more directors will take note that Cooper is "in the group" now and offer him similarly rewarding parts. If not, he can always write them himself or ring up his new buddy Guillermo.
Read this next: The 10 Best Guillermo Del Toro Characters Ranked
The post 'Insecurity And Ego' Made Bradley Cooper Say Yes To Nightmare Alley appeared first on /Film.