Ron Perlman in Nightmare Alley looking imposing

INTERVIEW: Ron Perlman Gushes Over Willem Dafoe, His Relationship With Guillermo del Toro, and Nightmare Alley

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The recently released Nightmare Alley is easily in my top five Guillermo del Toro movies, and part of that is due to an amazing cast of actors that del Toro cast to bring the William Lindsay Gresham story to life. While it is far from the first time they’ve worked together, Ron Perlman plays Bruno in Nightmare Alley. He’s the “strong man” of the film’s carnival and a man who is dedicated to taking care of Molly (Rooney Mara) to honor her parents.

So when Stanton Carlisle (Bradley Cooper) tries to take her away, Bruno is obviously worried about Molly and her future, and it is a beautiful look into the way we see actors like Perlman and Dafoe and how that plays into our interpretations of their characters. Getting to talk with Perlman about his work with GDT and Nightmare Alley in particular, it is clear that he loves the worlds that GDT builds and is honored to be a part of his way of storytelling.

“Well, we really got off to a fast and very enthusiastic start, like 30 years ago, in his first feature, which was Cronos,” Perlman said. He became a household name for many when he starred as Hellboy in the Guillermo del Toro movie of the same name. “I was coming off of a, kind of a life changing event called midlife crisis. And the first person that welcomed me onto the other side was Guillermo del Toro who nobody in the world knew except for a couple of his friends, down in Mexico. And, so I was part of this kind of immersion of this new voice and not only was I delighted by his kind of persona his kind of quick wit, his combination of being one of the most well-read well versed kind of experts on almost everything literary and cinematically, but also his very pronounced self-deprecating Mexican kind of world view. ”

When it comes to playing Bruno, Perlman’s legacy of playing the brute man who you know can take you down with one punch plays a major part in how we see him as a character. “Well, the key that opens all the doors is his devotion to Molly,” Perlman said, and it is true. Played by Mara, Molly is a performer in the carnival who has a naivety about her that Stan seems to latch onto. “There’s a long speech that didn’t end up in the film, but it’s a speech about how Bruno was Molly’s dad’s best bud. And he passed too early, too soon, but he was a really talented Carney and, you know, a razzle dazzle kind of a guy. And as he was leaving this earthly plane Bruno made a promise ‘I’m always gonna take care of your little girl’ and that’s what he is there to do.”

The moment in our interview that I found fascinating was Perlman’s gushing about costar Willem Dafoe. What’s interesting about Nightmare Alley, to me, is that you can see how we, as the audience, would be predisposed to not trust Bruno or Dafoe’s Clem because of the characters that Perlman and Dafoe typically play. And we’re disillusioned by Stan (like much of the characters in the film). So I brought that up to Perlman, and he began talking about Dafoe and praising his work:

I’m glad you mentioned Willem. I mean he’s such a quintessentially beautiful actor in so far as he’s displayed in his many, many years on the screen, such an amazing range. I mean, and you know, like you go from watching The Lighthouse to Clem in Nightmare Alley to the FBI agent, he plays in American Psycho opposite Christian Bale. And you say to yourself, this is a dude that’s got tremendous range, but you never catch him acting. He just, he immerses himself in the psychology and the situation of the character he’s playing and then he disappears in it. And that’s what we’re there to do.

I turned that compliment back around to Perlman and his work, because not only is Ron Perlman incredible as Bruno, but he proves to us all that he’s a force to be reckoned with time and time again in the roles he takes on.

You can see Perlman as Bruno in Guillermo del Toro’s Nightmare Alley in theaters now!

(image: 20th Century Studios)

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Rachel Leishman
Rachel Leishman (She/Her) is an Assistant Editor at the Mary Sue. She's been a writer professionally since 2016 but was always obsessed with movies and television and writing about them growing up. A lover of Spider-Man and Wanda Maximoff's biggest defender, she has interests in all things nerdy and a cat named Benjamin Wyatt the cat. If you want to talk classic rock music or all things Harrison Ford, she's your girl but her interests span far and wide. Yes, she knows she looks like Florence Pugh. She has multiple podcasts, normally has opinions on any bit of pop culture, and can tell you can actors entire filmography off the top of her head. Her work at the Mary Sue often includes Star Wars, Marvel, DC, movie reviews, and interviews.