‘Nightmare Alley’ stars dish on differing approaches to role preparation

When they were asked if they read the original book and watched the original film, the two actors had very different answers.

Rooney Mara and Richard Jenkins, two of the stars in Guillermo del Toro’s new noir film Nightmare Alley, have decidedly different approaches when it comes to preparing for their respective roles.

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One of the immediate decisions actors have to make is whether or not to brush up on its source material. The tale about a morally corrupt carny is actually a remake of 1947 film noir of the same name. That movie is based on a novel of the same name that was released the year prior. So when it comes to preparing for a film role, the question arises, do the actors read the book and watch the original film to try and glean inspiration from it? — or do just the opposite so as not to taint a performer’s unique interpretation of a character? It’s an age-old question and it turns out Mara and Jenkins, who plays Molly Cahill and Ezra Grindle in the film, respectively, took two different approaches on the matter.

When the two actors were asked in an interview with Looper if they read the original book and watched the original film, Jenkins said he did, but Mara did not.

However, Jenkins said that despite being “a good read,” brushing up on the material “wasn’t useful” to him.

“I mean, you always hope it will be, but the truth is I don’t really remember the book now. I think once I got ahold of the script, all that other stuff fades in the background,” he explained.

As for Mara, it seems to have simply slipped her mind to read the original book, but when it came to the original movie, she intentionally side-stepped watching it.

“I usually like to read source material. I didn’t want to watch the film. I would like to go back and watch the film now,” Mara said.

In addition, del Toro is known to give his actors extensive biographies of their characters ahead of time, something Mara said she “really loved” and found “useful.”

On the other hand, Jenkins said he still gets teased by del Toro to this day for not “using” his character biography in The Shape of Water.

Catch Nightmare Alley in theaters now.


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Danny Peterson
Danny Peterson covers entertainment news for WGTC and has previously enjoyed writing about housing, homelessness, the coronavirus pandemic, historic 2020 Oregon wildfires, and racial justice protests. Originally from Juneau, Alaska, Danny received his Bachelor's degree in English Literature from the University of Alaska Southeast and a Master's in Multimedia Journalism from the University of Oregon. He has written for The Portland Observer, worked as a digital enterprise reporter at KOIN 6 News, and is the co-producer of the award-winning documentary 'Escape from Eagle Creek.'