Dan Laustsen interview: ‘Nightmare Alley’ cinematographer

As has seemingly become custom, Oscar-winning director Guillermo del Toro rounded up some of the top craftspeople in Hollywood for his latest film, “Nightmare Alley.” According to frequent cinematographer Dan Laustsen, there’s a reason the former Best Director winner is able to collaborate with people working at the top of their profession.

“He loves what he’s doing. He loves movies, he loves movie-making but he really loves the movie we are doing together right now,” Laustsen, an Oscar nominee for del Toro’s last film, “The Shape of Water,” tells Gold Derby (watch the exclusive video interview above). “For him, there’s only one way and that’s the right way. He’s like, ‘I want you to do this as good as it can go.’ We could be lighting a sequence and he would say it has to be perfect. You do it as well as you can but I really love that he’s working for the movie. There’s only one thing and let’s bring everyone up to the same level. When you have a director going for the absolute best, that’s a big challenge and a fantastic joy to be around people like that. We are working for Guillermo and Guillermo is working for the movie.”

Set in the late 1930s, as the threat of World War II looms in the background via radio broadcasts and newspaper headlines, the Searchlight film focuses on Stanton Carlisle (Bradley Cooper), a con man who forged his skills in roadside carnivals and later runs afoul of Buffalo’s high society — particularly a mysterious psychologist (Cate Blanchett) and a nefarious millionaire (Richard Jenkins). Del Toro’s film is based on the 1946 noir novel by William Lindsay Gresham which was quickly turned into a 1947 feature. Laustsen says del Toro had been obsessed with the project for years and discussed working on it during their time together on “The Shape of Water.”

“He’s always looking into the future,” Laustsen says. For this project, the cinematographer did as well: rather than watch the 1947 film prior to production, he simply viewed the film’s trailer instead.

“He has a very strong opinion about which way to go,” Laustsen says of the director. “Then the production designer, the costume designer, myself, are blending into his vision. So when we are coming aboard, the movie had been in his head for years sometimes. He’s so great to work with.”

In addition to capturing the lavish visuals that del Toro is known for creating, however, Laustsen and his camera team also had to make sure their work matched the performances — particularly Cooper, whose troubled character completes his descent in the final moments of the film with a haunting scene that ranks among the actor’s best yet.

“When you’re doing a powerful sequence with a fantastic actor like Bradley, you know you have to be perfect,” Laustsen says. “You know he’s going to come in and blow you away. The shot that’s in the movie is the first take. I’m not sure about it, but I think it is.”

“Nightmare Alley” is in theaters on December 17.

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UPLOADED Feb 8, 2022 7:00 am