In Guillermo del Toro’s neo-noir Nightmare Alley, Bradley Cooper stars as Stanton Carlisle, an ambitious and charismatic loner who takes the lessons learned working inside a traveling carnival to Manhattan where he masquerades as a mentalist only to get caught in a tangled web involving a love interest, a psychiatrist and one of her wealthy patients.
The role asks a lot of the Oscar-nominated actor and he was game to dive deep for del Toro. “It really is akin to putting on a miner’s kit, hat and flashlight, and looking at each other and then going down in the tunnel, knowing that you may be excavating a route that won’t ever get you to the end that day but you come back up and go down again the next day,” Cooper tells Kim Masters, who is also an editor-at-large for The Hollywood Reporter.
Cooper also added that his director is now a close friend and they talk on the daily: “Because the content of what the movie is, what we were exploring, in order to do it in a real way, it demanded that we’d be naked emotionally and soulfully.”
Physically, too. The script also called for Cooper to bare his body — full frontal and partial backside — during a scene that finds Stanton Carlisle in a bathtub and engaging in a sexual act with Toni Collette’s character. Deciding to completely disrobe on camera is a decision Cooper did not take lightly, calling it “a big deal,” mostly because he’s never done it.
“I remember reading in the script and thinking, he’s a pickled punk in that bathtub and it’s to story. You have to do it,” he tells Masters. “I can still remember that day just to be naked in front of the crew for six hours, and it was Toni Collette’s first day. It was just like, ‘Whoa.’ It was pretty heavy.”
He added that he never pushed back on it at all, “because there was nothing gratuitous about it. It was to story.”
Cooper isn’t the only one appearing au naturel on the big-screen lately. There are a number of stories that have called for full frontal nude scenes this awards season. Also appearing in the buff in high-profile films as of late are Benedict Cumberbatch in Jane Campion’s The Power of the Dog and Simon Rex in Sean Baker’s Red Rocket.
But there’s plenty more to chew on than flesh in Cooper’s chat with Masters on The Business. Friday’s episode is part one of a two-part conversation that also touches on his turn as Jon Peters in Paul Thomas Anderson’s Licorice Pizza, a role that snagged him a SAG Award nomination for best supporting actor. (His other tie to Peters is A Star is Born, the 2018 film which Cooper co-wrote, directed and starred in opposite Lady Gaga. Peters produced a remake of the film which starred former girlfriend Barbra Streisand in 1976. The original A Star is Born debuted in 1937 with another redo introduced in 1954.)
Listen to the full conversation here.