How Bradley Cooper had to be naked emotionally and physically in ‘Nightmare Alley’

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Bradley Cooper stars as carnival worker-turned-con man Stanton Carlisle in Guillermo del Toro’s “Nightmare Alley.” Cooper says, “I think it was the hardest role I’ve ever played.” Photo by Kerry Hayes/2021 20th Century Studios.

Bradley Cooper’s been nominated for an Oscar eight times — only four of those for acting. He had a Best Adapted screenplay nomination for “A Star is Born” and picked up a couple of Grammys for that one too. 

He’s been nominated for Best Pictures Oscars three times as a producer — for “A Star is Born,” “American Sniper” and “Joker.” 

Now Cooper is yet again in the awards race for roles in two films: “Licorice Pizza” and “Nightmare Alley.” 

Paul Thomas Anderson's “Licorice Pizza” is a coming-of-age movie set in 1970s Los Angeles. It follows cocky 15-year-old actor and entrepreneur Gary Valentine, played by Cooper Hoffman.

At one point, Gary starts selling waterbeds, and he makes a memorable delivery to Bradley Cooper in a brief but memorable turn as hairdresser-turned-producer Jon Peters. That role has landed him a SAG Award nomination for Best Supporting Actor. 

KCRW’s Kim Masters knows a thing or two about Peters. Along with Nancy Griffin, she wrote the 1996 book “Hit and Run.” It tells the story of how Peters, a seventh grade dropout, became a producer, made some hits, and eventually teamed up with a much slicker player, Peter Guber. The pair ended up in charge of Sony, where they got really rich, but their disastrous tenure ultimately led the studio to write down more than $3 billion. 

KCRW’s wide-ranging discussion with Cooper kicks off with talk of Jon Peters. Cooper was interested less in portraying the real man, and more in how he was a character who worked in service to the larger story being told. 

Cooper has another connection to Peters — he made the 2018 version of “A Star is Born,” a film Peters produced in 1976, that was a remake of a 1954 film. People told Cooper not to make a remake of a remake, but he explains why he was so committed to writing and directing his version of “A Star is Born.”

Cooper also discusses how he prepared to star in “Nightmare Alley,” the newest film from Guillermo del Toro, the filmmaker behind “Pan’s Labyrinth” and Best Picture winner “The Shape of Water.”

Set in the dark world of a 1940s carnival, “Nightmare Alley,” stars Cooper as Stanton Carlisle, a man on the run who finds refuge among a group of carnies who ask no questions about his past. 

A couple who run a mind-reading act teaches him the tricks of their trade, and Stan soon finds he’s got a gift for conning people. 

Cooper says he had no intention of starring in another movie before directing his next project, but then heard from Guillermo del Toro. 

Cooper took boxing lessons to prepare to play Stan, and Del Toro and Cooper formed a deep bond during “Nightmare Alley’s” production, which turned into a long and difficult shoot, partially because of the pandemic. 

Another challenge for Cooper? Baring all for del Toro’s dark drama. 

“It demanded that we be naked — emotionally and soulfully and even physically for me, which actually was a big deal,” Cooper says. “I still remember that day, just to be naked in front of the crew for six hours. … It was pretty heavy.”

This is the first of a two-part interview with Cooper. Next week, Cooper talks about his career as a producer on movies including “Joker,” how he found the voice of Marvel’s Rocket Raccoon, and his anxious thoughts on the future of the movies.




Kim Masters


Kaitlin Parker