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The Real Reason Bradley Cooper Was 'Terrified' By His Nightmare Alley Role

Guillermo Del Toro's long-awaited psychological thriller "Nightmare Alley" is less than a month away, and we're finally starting to get sneak peaks and details about what to expect from the star-studded neo-noir film. Lead actor Bradley Cooper sat down with Deadline recently to give movie fans a quick tour down Del Toro's cinematic rabbit hole and introduce them to the character he plays — and why it left the longtime actor "terrified."

"All my characters tend to linger, but this one, I have to say, was an especially hard one," revealed Cooper, who plays Stanton "Stan" Carlisle, the same role made famous by Tyrone Power in Edmund Goulding's original "Nightmare Alley" in 1947. Cooper spoke to Deadline alongside Del Toro and producer J. Miles Dale, with each of them discussing the themes and underlying elements of their 2021 remake. 

"This is a case of a movie that spoke very loudly to all of us, and we said, 'It's through Stan that we get to know the world,'" Del Toro explained, noting how the production team wanted to focus on "the revelation of a character" — and how that person faces themselves — rather than "the downfall of a character." It was this exact theme, coupled with internal struggles that Cooper himself had dealt with, that petrified the 46-year-old. 

Cooper felt eerily close to the character he portrays

One of the most frighteningly compelling things for Bradley Cooper when it came to working with Guillermo Del Toro on "Nightmare Alley," was just how close the character of Stan really was to him. 

"The role terrified me, for many reasons," he told Deadline. "But as we started to delve into it—and we had the real benefit of time and prep to work on this — the idea of inhabiting somebody who doesn't know who they are, and who's in search of who they are through the whole film, right up until the last scene. I thought, Maybe that's where I am in my life as an actor and a human being. I remember Clint Eastwood in A Perfect World saying, 'I don't know nothing. Not one damn thing.' As you get older, the more questions one has, not the more answers." 

Cooper went on to say that at his current age, he felt he was "in a perfect place" to team up with Del Toro and Dale to tell the story of "Nightmare Alley" and answer some important questions. "What is that? What don't we know about each other? How lost are we? It was important to go there, unflinchingly and boldly, which I was able to do with Guillermo hand-in-hand," he continued.

While his performance in "Nightmare Alley" is one that truly resonated with him, Cooper admits that it came at a cost. He explained that it was "very risky" to explore the themes covered by the movie, noting that he felt "quite vulnerable" while doing so.