2020s

Know the Cast: ‘Nightmare Alley’

Nightmare Alley Cast - Every Performer and Character in the 2021 Movie

The Nightmare Alley cast features Bradley Cooper, Cate Blanchett and Toni Collette. This info article contains minor spoilers for Guillermo del Toro’s 2021 movie. Check out more streaming guides in Vague Visages’ Know the Cast section.

Nightmare Alley follows the rise and fall of a New York carny. Stan Carlisle learns about the industry after killing his father, and then plots against high society types while ignoring advice from a female colleague. After developing a romantic relationship with a psychologist, he’s forced to assess the larger picture. Here’s every main player in Nightmare Alley, an adaptation of William Lindsay Gresham’s 1946 novel.

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Nightmare Alley Cast: Bradley Cooper as Stanton Carlisle

Nightmare Alley Cast - Bradley Cooper as Stanton Carlisle

Character Profile: A carny who works with a clairvoyant couple. He learns the trade and begins a new act in Buffalo, New York while attracting the attention of a psychologist. Stan struggles with childhood issues while coming to grips with his life decisions.

Cooper’s Resume: Pat in Silver Linings Playbook (2012), Richie DiMaso in American Hustle (2013), Chris Kyle in American Sniper (2014), Jack in A Star Is Born (2018), Jon Peters in Licorice Pizza (2021)

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Nightmare Alley Cast: Cate Blanchett as Lilith Ritter

Nightmare Alley Cast - Cate Blanchett as Lilith Ritter

Character Profile: A psychologist who befriends Stan. She helps him open up about disturbing events from the past. Lilith uses Stan to seek revenge against a corrupt judge.

Blanchett’s Resume: Elizabeth I in Elizabeth (1998), Galadriel in The Lord of the Rings Movie Franchise (2001-14-), Jasmine in Blue Jasmine (2013), Carol Aird in Carol (2015), Brie Evantee in Don’t Look Up (2021)

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Nightmare Alley Cast: Toni Collette as Zeena Krumbein

Nightmare Alley Cast - Toni Collette as Zeena Krumbein

Character Profile: Stan’s carny colleague. She teaches him how to perfect a mind reading act. Zeena enjoys entertaining patrons for money but doesn’t like to manipulate people who lost loved ones.

Collette’s Resume: Lynn Sear in The Sixth Sense (1999), Fiona Brewer in About a Boy (2002), Sheryl in Little Miss Sunshine (2006), Annie in Hereditary (2018), Mother in I’m Thinking of Ending Things (2021)

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Nightmare Alley Cast: Willem Dafoe as Clement Hoately

Nightmare Alley Cast - Willem Dafoe as Clement Hoately

Character Profile: An egocentric carnival owner. He seeks out alcoholics and turns them into “geeks.” Clem’s methods influence Stan’s Buffalo act.

Dafoe’s Resume: Sergeant Elias in Platoon (1986), Green Goblin/Norman Osborn in Spider-Man (2002), Bobby in The Florida Project (2017), Vincent van Gogh in At Eternity’s Gate (2018), Thomas Wake in The Lighthouse (2019)

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Nightmare Alley Cast: Richard Jenkins as Ezra Grindle

Nightmare Alley Cast - Richard Jenkins as Ezra Grindle

Character Profile: Lilith’s former patient. His girlfriend died after having an abortion. Ezra gets manipulated by Stan, who ignores the advice that he received from Zeena.

Jenkins’ Resume: Walter in The Visitor (2007), Robert Doback in Step Brothers (2008), Steven Frost in Berlin Station (2016-19), Giles in The Shape of Water (2017), Erik Blake in The Humans (2021)

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Nightmare Alley Cast: Rooney Mara as Mary Elizabeth “Molly” Cahill

Nightmare Alley Cast - Rooney Mara as Mary Elizabeth "Molly" Cahill

Character Profile: Stan’s carny colleague and love interest. She becomes his assistant in Buffalo. Molly leaves Stan and later poses as Ezra’s dead girlfriend.

Mara’s Resume: Erica Albright in The Social Network (2010), Lisbeth Salander in The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2011), Emily Taylor in Side Effects (2013), Therese Belivet in Carol (2015), M in A Ghost Story (2017)

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Nightmare Alley Cast: Ron Perlman as Bruno

Nightmare Alley Cast - Ron Perlman as Bruno

Character Profile: A carny who performs in a “strongest man” act. He once worked with Molly’s grifter father. Bruno threatens Stan and warns him about manipulating colleagues.

Perlman’s Resume: Vincent in Beauty and the Beast (1987-90), Hellboy in Hellboy (2004), Clay Morrow in Sons of Anarchy (2008-13), Pernell Harris in Hand of God (2014-17), Benedict Drask in Don’t Look Up (2021)

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Nightmare Alley Cast: Mary Steenburgen as Felicia Kimball

Nightmare Alley Cast - Mary Steenburgen as Felicia Kimball

Character Profile: One of Stan’s targets. She’s the wife of a judge that Stan and Lilith target. Felicia makes a fateful decision in hopes of reuniting with her son, Julian.

Steenburgen’s Resume: Amy Robbins in Time After Time (1979), Clara Clayton in Back to the Future Part III (1990), Nancy Huff in Step Brothers (2008), Diana Boyle in Last Vegas (2013), Gail Klosterman in The Last Man on Earth (2015-18)

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The Nightmare Alley cast also includes David Strathairn (Good Night, and Good Luck., Lincoln), Mark Povinelli (Water for Elephants, Mirror Mirror), Peter MacNeill (Crash, Open Range), Holt McCallany (Fight Club, Mindhunter) and Paul Anderson (Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows, ’71).

Q.V. Hough (@QVHough) is Vague Visages’ founding editor.