Press conference: Willem Dafoe talks about Nightmare Alley

Between the exit of Spider-Man: No Path Home and Alley of nightmares, Willem Dafoe is having a good month. While the last Spider Man the film is a throwback to one of Dafoe’s iconic characters, Alley of nightmares This is the first time that Dafoe has teamed up with Oscar-winning director Guillermo del Toro. The next film noir follows Stan Carlisle (Bradley Cooper), a con artist who joins a carnival full of complex characters, including the morally gray carnival barker Clem (Dafoe). As Dafoe pointed out in a press conference CBR attended, Clem isn’t limited to his questionable actions.


“You can’t judge the character. You can just give him opportunities,” Dafoe explained. “[Clem’s] pragmatic, and you appreciate him taking care of his own, but he’s also a guy who probably grew up, came of age, during the Depression. Probably maybe even been in jail. He’s a guy who pragmatically sees the world as winners and losers, prey and predators. So he has that kind of dark, fatalistic view of the world, but at the same time, he cares about the people around him. “

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“You also get the impression that he doesn’t like it,” Dafoe assured, regarding one of Clem’s more questionable acts. “He’s only progressing. That doesn’t justify it, but in his opinion, the responsibility rests on the nature of people, and human nature, and the nature of desire, and the nature of addiction, and the nature of fate. So he’s kind of in the mix. He’s a dark character, but he’s not. He’s not there to destroy people, and he’s not thoughtless. He’s compassionate towards some people. people. He’s human, he’s human, but he’s a very flawed character., if you judge him morally, but of course that’s not my job as an actor. My job as an actor is to try to imagine him as a whole person capable of many contradictory behaviors. “


To bring this complex character to life, Dafoe delved into his own memories of sideshow performances, as he had experienced a few as he grew up. For Dafoe, these performers were “dark, romantic characters; they were a little scary, but they were also kind of charming.” They also seemed worldly to Dafoe because they were travelers and storytellers, and from there he was able to create his own carnival barker, also with help from del Toro, script, design for the production and his cast mates. However, according to Dafoe, del Toro was relatively unresponsive to his process.

“Guillermo, he trusted me to find my way, not a lot of grip, but when we get there we really start to mix everything up,” Dafoe said. “And also a lot Bradley. Really strong script. But when we get there, there’s always going to be kind of open-ended settings here and there, so it’s fun, but I think what was really main was my memories. From when I was a kid I had a very specific idea of ​​carnivals and then the reality that was created by designing the beautifully production of this very complete, almost really functional halfway, with basically everything that worked. . It was a beautiful crowd to enter, even if it is a little dark. “


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In addition to his memories of these side shows, Dafoe brought some theatrical knowledge to Clem. Dafoe has a history as a stage actor in addition to his film work, so it’s no surprise to see this make its way into Alley of nightmares.

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“The idea of ​​barking, giving a speech, a sales pitch to people in a very presentational way, we certainly know that from the presentation of a theatrical performance, you usually don’t have the same kind of presentation than in movies, because the majority of movies tend to be somewhat anchored by naturalism. Not all the movies, but a lot of movies, ”Dafoe explained. “Let’s say the theatrical experience, more than anything, of getting up and selling a pitch and trying to be appealing and enticing them is similar to the experience of sometimes convincing an audience into a theatrical performance. “


Alley of nightmares, unlike some of del Toro’s most fantastical movies, is very much rooted in the real world, yet it still captures its haunting fantasy and usual strong moral. Even with these more stylistic or theatrical elements, Alley of nightmares is a “human story,” according to Dafoe. The public sees how far Stan is willing to go out of self-interest, which – as Dafoe pointed out – leads to an accusation of ambition, capitalism, and exploitation of others for your own happiness. Especially with Stan, Dafoe noticed how his suspicion and greed had won out, even though he had a chance to be genuinely happy.


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“[Stan’s] mistrustful. There is nothing in his experience that makes him think that [happiness] will last, ”Dafoe said. “If you run after desire, you can almost tell that the pleasure is in restraint. Because we know it in the simplest terms, in terms of food, sex, ambition, or whatever. The more you have, the more you want. It is something that is in us. We do not know how to stop, and I think that is also true with political ambition, with commercial ambition. We see it all the time. So in that regard, it’s a story we can relate to, and it’s about desire, and also in the case of my character, it’s also about understanding the nature of desire and addiction. , and the relationship we have to each other, that kind of dissatisfaction that as a human trait we are never satisfied with what we have. We want more; we want more; we want more. “


When it comes to choosing projects, Dafoe looks at the whole. It’s more than the role for him, because he also looks at the situations and the directors. “The truth is somewhere where you don’t know a role until you do, and generally if you know the role it probably means there is no room for adventure, discovery. or a surprise that I usually like. You are looking for a situation, a situation to learn something, a situation to transform, a situation to be useful, and a situation to fulfill maybe a fantasy or something that interests you. I think that’s what you’re looking for, “Dafoe shared.


“I don’t think in terms of roles,” he continued. “I’m thinking in terms of the whole story and the whole idea of ​​the movie, and I’m kind of like, ‘Would I like to see this movie.?’ I think a little: “Do I want to be with these people” and ultimately not so much to play a role, but you look at what happens in this story and you say: “Do I want to do these things? ? ”It’s largely intuitive, but it’s stupidly simple. You think,“ Do I want to do these things? Does this resonate with me? Does this challenge me? Does this interest me? Can I bring something? Is it good for me? Is it so far from me, it’s interesting. ? Is it so close to me, is it interesting? You weigh all of these things. “


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In the end, Dafoe took all of this into consideration and accepted the role of Clem to be part of the world of del Toro and co-writer Kim Morgan, based on the William Lindsay Gresham novel. Together, they’ve created a very human character who isn’t strictly good or bad, and Dafoe spoke about the complexity of portraying morally good characters and villains in the movie.

“Morally good [characters] can be a real pain in the ass. Let’s face it. Villains have at least some sort of delicious taboo, ”he reflected. “We are trained throughout life not to be a bad person. Well sometimes we get so trained not to be a bad person that you end up being a bad person so imagining if you can play a bad guy that is for some other kind of guidance that can set you free. of certain types of fears, so I think playing mean characters, ironically, turns you into an angel. “


“I don’t mean to say that flat villains are more fun, because you talk about function in a story, and sometimes the bad guys can be flat and they can be a device. That’s not what you want,” he added. “You want to play human beings. You want to play something with contradiction, with dimension. And whether it’s good or bad, it’s really so subjective … These labels help us tell stories, but for example , people sometimes say, “Oh, you play so bad guys.” If I looked through my filmography, I bet I would fight you – I play a lot more moral and good people than bad guys. It’s just the way you do. label things and how you identify certain characters. “


Enter Nightmare Alley this Friday in theaters.

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