Guillermo del Toro talks about ‘Nightmare Alley’ – The Hollywood Reporter

“No problem seemed big enough, but we pretty much got them all,” laughs filmmaker Guillermo del Toro, recalling the countless and significant uphill battles he faced every step of the way as a co-writer, producer and director of Searchlight’s Nightmare alley, his masterful tribute to – and tweaking of – the film noir genre. But he should not be deterred, even as the pandemic derailed production for several months.

“It’s a film that I felt – and everyone felt – was very necessary to make now, to talk about the blurred line between truth and lies, populism and the rise of liars in our midst,” he says. THR. And although the omicron variant put a damper on the box office’s box office fortunes, the film has remained top of mind thanks to a fast streaming strategy, a new black-and-white release and an abundance of price attention across many categories, including an Oscar nomination for Best Picture.

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Director, co-author and producer Guillermo del Toro
Charley Gallay / Getty Images

What challenges did you face in each phase of making this film?

It’s not the type of film that is being made that much longer: a film with great scope and ambition and a thematic adult film that aims to make a minute re-creation of a period, and in a genre or subgenre that has never been on fashion in the last few decades. Therefore, I chose to put all the chips away That Form of water and nearly 30 years of career in making this film. Logistically, it was just an incredibly small world building to be referred to period and make it feel alive – and not a costume drama, but a living, breathing period of time. And then perform it in a certain style, with a certain tone and mood and try to honor a tradition of movies in the 30s and 40s. Everything was complicated, and on top of that, we got COVID, and that just put a big pause in production for six months. … That was what made us realize how blessed we are by living off this.

What was the most exciting moment for you to discover, “I know how to push myself to get something even better than I originally imagined”?

It’s always been a curious thing to reveal yourself and what you want to do, through the movies you make. People try to attach you to a single thing: “Oh, he’s the one who makes fantasy, quirky movies like. Pans labyrinth. “” Oh, he’s the one who makes great action movies like Hell’s kid or Pacific Rim. “Or:” He’s the guy who does gothic romance, like Crimson Peak. “But each of them has a new layer of what I like to do and what I have read, seen and admired or have a relationship with when I was growing up. … Usually I like to create worlds , which is filled with whimsical, ingenious, beautiful images.In this it was: “Can I find the beauty in something that is grounded in reality?” The rhythms of the actors and the rhythms of the drama should be a little more conscious and take good time and not fit so much into an audience film, but a more adult series of rhythms that give it depth.

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Rooney Mara as Molly Cahill
Lent by Searchlight Pictures

Tell me about how you both honored and undermined the film noir genre.

The beauty of the story was that it came from a biography of William Lindsay Gresham, who wrote the book Nightmare alley, and we thought, “Let’s make it a darker portrait that we can make from a more humanistic, rather than moralistic, point of view.” If you do it more from a moral point of view, you end up making an almost warning, biblical narrative about what you can and cannot do. But if you approach it on a more existential level, on a more resonant, deeper level – which is what we tried to do – you end up with tragedy, and it has elements of greater drama rather than melodrama. That was one of the intentions: Can we not make it a cinematic artifact, but the portrait of a man who lies and lies until he has to face the truth? It started from the script because Kim [Morgan] and I had it very clear. We said, “Let’s construct the script, not as a series of adventures that go up and down and keep the audience entertained, but something more like a ramp that relentlessly leads to the last scene of the film.” And relentless is really the word, for my camera work, my design work, with all my department heads, lent itself to an atmosphere of doom and an atmosphere of fear. This is slowly gaining momentum, but when the battle finally comes, it lands in my opinion very strongly because we built it like a ramp.

Did anything about this process surprise you about yourself?

It’s a movie that’s been on my mind since the ’90s, but I would not have been able to do it as a 30’s. As a director, I learned to listen to the film in a quieter way. Each morning, the film presented problems that needed to be solved in order to keep it alive and coherent and not an artifact. To make my camera not be impatient but be elegant in looking [Bradley Cooper and Cate Blanchett] circles around each other. I make a structure, and in this case I made, to use an imperfect analogy, a mandala. I went into editing with an incredibly flexible piece of material because I learned to watch the actors instead of dictating, listening to what we could do every day with the film. … I started finding great solutions on the days, which is usually not the way I work.

After the cinemas, the movie was available on Hulu, HBO / HBO Max and other VOD services. How are you doing with its post-release life?

We are [still] in a pandemic, and the movies that suffer the most are the ones that are adult movies. The launch of the film at the time was about finding ways to make the film last long enough to be discovered. … The film provides the best argument for itself: just the level of love, craftsmanship, depth and attention to detail in the narrative and visual sense. It’s so beautiful to me to have been able to perform it as a filmmaker; you have to be happy that it exists. You are grateful when it is found, whether it is on the weekend it comes out or later.

Interview edited for length and clarity.

This story first appeared in a stand-alone issue of March by The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.

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