For Stanton, success is measured in terms of pure greed and revenge — he spins his web of deceit around both the souls struggling at the bottom of the ladder and the power brokers gathered at society’s upper echelons. The money is part of it, but arguably the bigger factor is the satisfaction he derives from fooling one mark after another.
“I find the notion of success incredibly tortuous,” says del Toro about his own gauge for what it means to be accomplished in one’s chosen profession. “As an artist, I’ve come to the definition that success is f***ing up on your own terms. That’s basically it. It’s not about how people praise what you do, but how you feel that you’re expressing what you are. That took a while to figure out, and I find the American dream an incredible generator of nightmares.”
Del Toro also says there’s a key difference between the kind of storytelling he does and the false narratives that Stanton Carlisle weaves for his customers — an artist will always strive to include some sort of truth about themselves or the world around them in their work, in the hope that it touches a chord in the audience. Stanton doesn’t care about any of that.
“The movie reflects a character that is two steps away from losing everything the whole movie, because he’s absolutely made of lies,” he explains. “He’s not shielded by the truth about himself or others, so he is always in danger. He’s fraught. And I think you try to bring some form of truth to what you do, and not think of career, for example, but think about just staying loyal to what you want to tell.”
“Nightmare Alley” opens in theaters on December 17.