Nightmare Alley Star Ron Perlman Reveals What He'll Never Forgive Guillermo del Toro For

Filmmaker Guillermo del Toro constantly surprises audiences with the inventive and imaginative stories that he delivers fans, though one consistency that viewers have noticed is that del Toro regularly enlists the help of previous collaborators to bring these stories to life. One such collaborator is Ron Perlman, who first worked with del Toro for Cronos, as the two would collaborate again on projects like Blade II and two Hellboy movies. For del Toro's latest film, Nightmare Alley, Perlman took on the role of a carnival strongman, though he offered a more complex look at a seemingly stereotypical figure. Nightmare Alley is in theaters now.

In the film, "When charismatic but down-on-his-luck Stanton Carlisle (Bradley Cooper) endears himself to clairvoyant Zeena (Toni Collette) and her has-been mentalist husband Pete (David Strathairn) at a traveling carnival, he crafts a golden ticket to success, using this newly acquired knowledge to grift the wealthy elite of 1940s New York society. With the virtuous Molly (Rooney Mara) loyally by his side, Stanton plots to con a dangerous tycoon (Richard Jenkins) with the aid of a mysterious psychiatrist (Cate Blanchett) who might be his most formidable opponent yet." caught up with Perlman to talk the new film, the scenes that were cut from the experience, and the role he'd like in the galaxy far, far away.

(Photo: Searchlight Pictures) Nightmare Alley is coming out in the holiday season and, while it's not a holiday film, it has these beautiful, snowy sequences, so it does feel like an unconventional holiday film. When you celebrate the holidays, do you have any unconventional traditions that, if you told other people about them, they'd think they were strange or bizarre?

Ron Perlman: I mean, if you take a lot of drugs and you anesthetize yourself to get through the holidays, then you already are relating to how I particularly go about it.

I'm just one of these guys that, I appreciate the spirit of the season, and I'm sure that there's a lot of joy and holiday cheer if you look for it and you can hold onto it and taste it and feel it. But to me, it's all an illusion. And I just wish we would spend more time the rest of the year, wishing for each other the things that we wish for each other in those last two weeks of the year, every year, you know? All the love, the love of thy neighbor and all that stuff. So, I don't know if that answers your question. I don't know if that makes me a bah humbug.

No, you sound very much like Bill Murray's monologue at the end of Scrooged, where he's talking about that holiday spirit isn't something that just needs to happen one day a year, it's something you can spread through the other 11 and a half months.

Yeah. I mean, pretty much all of our holidays are things that shouldn't be remembered once a year and then go back to your degenerate piece of sh-t lives. Anyway, I'm done pontificating until the next election day, I think.

Speaking a little bit more joyfully, of course, everyone loves seeing you collaborate with Guillermo. You've had so many different projects that you've worked on together over the years. With Nightmare Alley or with any project that he works on, is it the type of thing where when you find out he's working on it, you just know that eventually when he gets closer, he's going to give you the call of, "Hey, be on set this day, this time,"? Or did he tip you off early on, like, "There's a character I want you for, I'm developing this project and I have you in mind,"? 

No, in fact, the people who know me the best and are closest to me, know that I will never forgive him for not calling me for Pan's Labyrinth or The Shape of Water, because those are two masterpieces. And not that the pictures that I've done with him aren't worthy in their own way. But no, I know it's not an automatic slam dunk that I'm going to get a call. I'm very grateful when I do.

What is it about him that is so different from any other director that you might work with?

Well, he's a master. I'll never forget, in Mexico City, we were working on his first film, which is called "Cronos." And nobody knew who he was. I didn't know who he was. I was getting to know the man.

You really don't have a feel for the filmmaker because you're too busy in the foxholes along with him, just trying to get the movie in the can. And then this movie had so little money and was so f-cked financially, that it took two weeks for us to see our first set of dailies. The very first frame that came up on somebody's VCR, I guess, it was Guillermo's VCR, that I was sitting with him. He asked me to watch these dailies with him. The very first frame, I said to myself, I said out loud in front of everybody, "This guy is as good as they get. He's [François] Truffaut, he's [Akira] Kurosawa, he's William Wyler, he's Francis Ford Coppola."

There was just something about the way he frames an image, which is quintessentially the thing that separates cinema from every other art form, that you just know he's got it, that he's a filmmaker of the highest order. And it turned out I was right. That's odd in and of itself because I'm usually never right about anything. But now, all these years later, the world has found out what I was clumsily trying to just say at that moment. 

It's nice that the world has finally realized something you've known for decades. 

Well, they realized it pretty early on. For that film, he won a very important prize at the Cannes Film Festival, and he got the attention of all of the major players in Hollywood and then went on to start his body of work. So, I had that secret for a very short period of time, but I wasn't able to hold onto it very long.

What I love about Nightmare Alley is that it leans into these tropes and caricatures, but there's subtle twists to them, or they're through Guillermo's perspective. So they're not just the cheap, one-dimensional, cookie-cutter versions of the character. So when it came to your strongman character, did you collaborate much with him or was it the type of opportunity where you were like, "Oh, that is such a beloved figure throughout so many different carnivals or sideshow stories over time," that leaning into those tropes was what was exciting for you?

We really didn't (lean into tropes) with regard to the carnival version of Bruno. But what we did discuss a lot as he was developing the movie in the early going was Bruno's function in the film. The thing that was essential to see was Bruno's dogged determination to protect Molly from all of the sick, twisted sh-t in the world, Molly being played by Rooney Mara in our iteration of this tale.

And so, we agree that everything else that Bruno does is the window dressing. But the heart of Bruno is, he's there to make sure that he keeps his promise. There's a speech in the movie that I had that didn't make it into the final cut, that he was best friends with Molly's dad, who was also a quintessential carny. Fantastic sleight-of-hand guy, and he could take your underwear off, and you wouldn't know it for a week.

He made a promise to Molly's dad who passed too early, that he would take care of her for life. And so, that's how he sees his function, and he fails because he can't protect her from Stan Carlisle, who's just too formidable for anybody to prevent him from the road he's ultimately destined to walk down. But that's his function in the movie and that was more important than the outward trappings of Bruno, the carnival performer, the strongman.

We did have a discussion about the fact that I'm 70 years old and Bruno was probably written for a guy who was in his 30s or 40s, and how do we do that? So he put in a line like, "My knees are shot." And so, that explains that.

You mention you had a speech that was cut and I know Guillermo said his assembly cut was three and a half hours long, were there any other sequences that you were in that you particularly loved to shoot that you were a little disappointed didn't make it in?

That speech, in particular, was the only thing that disappointed me because in that one little ... I mean, it was maybe three lines, four lines. It couldn't have made the movie that much longer than it already was. But in that one little exchange, it's a warning to Bradley Cooper's character, Stan, like, "You better be careful around this girl because I'll f-ck you up if anything happens to her, and here's why."

He explains who Molly's dad was. And in so doing, he explains a lot about carny life and he explains a lot about the loyalty that takes place in the carnival life. He explains a lot about Molly's roots, and in so doing, reveals more about himself than at any other point in the film. It was the one speech that he had that I felt was like, "Okay, this is the reason why I took the part." So yeah, I was a little disappointed. 

Hey, they're doing the black-and-white cut of this movie to re-release. I'll put in a word with Guillermo and say, "Release the Ron Perlman cut where you get to give him more screen time." 

Would you do that?

Yeah, for you. I mean, you've been right about Guillermo since the beginning. So if he doesn't listen to you now about putting those lines back in, then I think this could be the end of his career.

Where do I send a check, bro?

It's Venmo. That's what the kids do now is Venmo. Get on the apps, and we'll get it taken care of.

It's true. 

I talked to you a couple years ago about franchises and you said you would love to be in a Star Wars project. With Star Wars, with the TV shows, Clancy Brown was in The Mandalorian TV show, I feel like that was type of role you could have been great in. And so, I wondered if you have ever thought about what kind of character in a Star Wars movie you would want to play, if you'd want to be a big hulking guy in makeup or if you'd be like an older, wise Jedi or a quirky bartender? 

I'm pretty much hoping that I never have to put on a whole lot of makeup again. When they put the concealer on to hide the tequila that I've had the night before for 20 seconds, that's become too much for me these days. So, done with the makeup thing, bro. I just want to be the guy who gets all the women.

That kind of sounds like a Jabba the Hutt type of character from what I remember of Star Wars, so that could require quite a bit of makeup.

So be it. In fact, I would prefer to be Pizza the Hutt in Mel Brooks' version.

Fair enough. And also, if people are tuning into Star Wars, it's to see Ron Perlman's face. It's for no other reason, no bounty hunters or Luke Skywalkers.

I think it's to see me get the girl.

That's what I'm saying, so there's no need for makeup. I'll talk to Guillermo. Maybe he can be in charge of this movie about Ron Perlman Skywalker, gallivanting around the world and meeting various types of women.

Or Luke Perlman. Think about that. Luke Perlman.

Well, I'm glad you still have this Nightmare Alley movie out or whatever, but I think we both know what your real passion project is now.

Oh, yes. The Force is strong with this conversation. We have beat that metaphor to death, haven't we?

I think we've beat it to the perfect amount, I would say.


Nightmare Alley is in theaters now.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity. You can contact Patrick Cavanaugh directly on Twitter.