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Rooney Mara And Richard Jenkins Compare The New Nightmare Alley To The Originals - Exclusive

Filmmaker Guillermo del Toro has worked with pre-existing characters before, most notably in "Blade II" (based on the Marvel comics) and his two "Hellboy" movies (adapted from Mike Mignola's comics). His new film, "Nightmare Alley," is not only his first adaptation of a full-length novel, but also the second time that the book has been filmed.

"Nightmare Alley," the original novel, was written by William Lindsay Gresham and published in 1946. One year later, it was made into a movie by director Edmund Goulding, starring Tyrone Power, Helen Walker, Joan Blondell and Coleen Gray. Power portrayed carnival barker Stanton Carlisle, who romances both the sideshow's resident mentalist, Zeena (Blondell), and a younger carnie named Molly (Gray), whom he eventually marries.

After he and Molly set out on their own, having learned a mentalist act once performed to great success by Zeena and her alcoholic husband Pete, Stanton eventually crosses paths in Chicago with a psychiatrist named Lilith Ritter (Walker). Using the private information Ritter has on many of Chicago's elites, Stanton scams them into believing he can contact the spirit world — a grift that eventually leads Stanton on a descent into madness and personal destruction.

Considered a flop upon its release, the 1947 version of the story is now regarded as a classic of the noir film genre. When Looper recently spoke with two of the stars of the new version, Rooney Mara and Richard Jenkins, we asked if either had read the book or seen the original movie. "I did both," says Jenkins, who plays wealthy businessman and Stanton target Ezra Grindle. "I had seen the movie actually, but I went and I read the book. It was a good read."

Is going back to the source material a good idea?

Richard Jenkins told Looper that although he read the book "Nightmare Alley" and had seen the 1947 movie, they weren't that helpful in developing his character for the new film.

"It wasn't that useful to me," he explains. "You always hope it will be, but the truth is I don't really remember the book now. I think once I got hold of the script, all that other stuff fades in the background. There wasn't anything about Grindle that jumped out at me from the book that I used. No, the script for me is what matters."

As for Rooney Mara, who plays the increasingly disillusioned (no pun intended) Molly, she admits that she "did not familiarize myself with either" the novel or the 1947 adaptation.

"To be honest, I can't fully remember why I didn't choose to read the book, because I usually do love to do that," she adds. "I usually like to read source material. I didn't want to watch the film. I would like to go back and watch the film now. But I didn't want to watch the film before because it just felt like, what was the point? I knew Guillermo was doing his own thing, and had created a world of his own. So I just wanted to focus on that. But I can't remember why I didn't read the book, because that is unusual for me."

Whether they read the book or watched the first movie (both of which we understand are worth doing), Mara and Jenkins turn in excellent work in "Nightmare Alley," along with the rest of an all-star cast that includes Bradley Cooper, Toni Collette, David Strathairn, Willem Dafoe, and Ron Perlman. Nearly 75 years after it first hit theater screens, "Nightmare Alley" is here to haunt viewers' dreams again.

"Nightmare Alley" is now playing in theaters.