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War on Information; Russia's Propaganda War; Interview with The Guardian and The Observer Journalist Carole Cadwalladr; Interview with "Nightmare Alley" Director Guillermo del Toro. Aired 1-2p ET
Aired March 11, 2022 - 13:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN INTERNATIONAL HOST: Hello, everyone, and welcome to AMANPOUR.
Here's what's coming up.
TIKHON DZYADKO, EDITOR IN CHIEF, TV RAIN: We have never understood how strong Russian propaganda was.
AMANPOUR (voice-over): The Kremlin propaganda machine working overtime to sell the invasion of Ukraine. How disinformation works in dictatorships
with the editor in chief of Russia's now banned news channel TV Rain and a journalist arrested by Myanmar's military junta.
Then to social media, and investigative journalist Carole Cadwalladr takes Hari Sreenivasan on a deeper dive into the war on information.
UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: Come on in and behold the mysteries of the universe.
AMANPOUR: Entering a world of carnivals and con men with Oscar winning director Guillermo del Toro. We discuss his latest film, "Nightmare Alley."
AMANPOUR: Welcome to the program, everyone. I'm Christiane Amanpour in London.
This week has seen Russia escalate its brutal war of attrition and shelling civilian infrastructure across Ukraine. Europe and the United States
announced another round of tough sanctions. And in what has become the expected Orwellian twist, at the United Nations, the United States is now
fighting off Russia's disinformation campaign about chemical weapons.
For the first time since starting this war, President Vladimir Putin said today there have been positive advances in diplomatic talks with Ukraine,
and the Ukrainian president has backed off wanting to join NATO now. Everyday Russians aren't seeing any of the atrocities being committed in
their name, though. The Kremlin is pumping out propaganda that no civilians are being hurt, the war is going according to plan, despite thousands of
Twisting narratives and silencing independent journalists is an age-old ploy. And I have been speaking to those on the information front lines,
Tikhon Dzyadko, editor in chief of the independent TV Rain channel in Russia, he's had to flee the country after it was banned, and American
journalist Danny Fenster, who was imprisoned for 176 days by Myanmar's military junta after their coup last year.
AMANPOUR: Tikhon Dzyadko and Danny Fenster, thank you both for joining me.
Tikhon, it is incredible that, barely a week ago, we were talking. I was interviewing you. You were still in Moscow, still at TV Rain, and really
considering your future and the future of your network. What has it been like since you then had to flee and the network closed down?
DZYADKO: Well, yes, that's correct.
First of all, thanks for having me. It's -- I'm really pleased to be here.
And, yes, things changed very fast. In two hours after -- in two hours after our interview, we received information there that police was planning
to come to our office and raid it. Unfortunately -- fortunately, this information was not confirmed. But still, to me, and to a lot of my
colleagues, it was the time when we decided that it's time to leave the country, because it's not safe to be there anymore.
And now, 10 days after it or a week after it, I think that it was the right decision. Now it's not safe to be there for us. There was adopted these new
law on so-called fake news about Russian army, about Russian soldiers, which is an act of military censorship, which means that we are not allowed
to say anything which is not approved by the Ministry of Defense, and which means that we are not allowed to work normally in our country anymore.
So now me and my colleagues, a lot of them are abroad, and we are trying to figure out how to live further, how to work, how to do things. And I hope
that, in a few days or in a few weeks, we will get used to it and we will start something new.
AMANPOUR: OK. Well, I'm going to come back to you on that, because the big question is, what alternative information from the state do Russians have?
So, Danny, you were working in Myanmar. Then there was the coup a year ago, and you spent six months, if I'm not mistaken, in the Insein jail. That's
inside Myanmar, Burma.
What was that like for you? Why did they jail you?
DANNY FENSTER, EDITOR AT LARGE, FRONTIER MYANMAR: Well, there was a similar crackdown, I think, on independent media.
A lot of newsrooms were getting raided. There were similar laws. I mean, it's almost like they're sharing a playbook, but similar laws started
coming down that certain words were being banned. You couldn't call what the military had just done a coup. It was obviously a coup. And it just
echoes what they're doing with the term war right now in Russia.
But I think it was part of a general crackdown on media. My name was on a document at a previous news outlet that I had been editing it. I think they
swept -- they raided that newsroom and found my name on the document.
And, frankly, I think it was a little bit of incompetence. I don't think they knew what they were looking for. They just wanted anybody at that
organization. And so they found me as I was boarding a plane and detained me.
AMANPOUR: Danny, let me ask you. You said that similar things happened. There was a crackdown on actual terminology, on how to talk about the coup,
not the coup, so to speak.
Do you think what happened to you is a sort of a bellwether of what's going to increasingly happen in Russia?
FENSTER: Yes, I mean, it looks like that's already happening.
I think it's not just Myanmar and Russia, but I think this happens in a lot of countries, where you have increasingly autocratic regimes limiting what
can be reported and what can be said. I think, certainly, certainly it's a bellwether.
AMANPOUR: And I want to ask you, Tikhon Dzyadko, what -- you say you want to start something new.
First, let me ask you. Given the fact that you have been closed down, even "Novaya Gazeta" can't fully report. And even Dmitry Muratov, who, as we all
know, won the Nobel Prize last year, is not able to do as much as he wanted to do. He's basically saying, we can cover all news, except the invasion of
So what are Russians getting, Tikhon, do you think?
DZYADKO: Well, the situation is getting worse and worse every day, since they are blocking all -- almost all independent media outlets.
They blocked TV Rain, my TV station. They blocked Ekho Moskvy, one of the most popular independent radio stations. They blocked tens of Web sites
such as Mediazona or Meduza was (INAUDIBLE) or Republic or (INAUDIBLE).
And this list is huge. And then they blocked Twitter. They blocked Facebook. And we are completely sure that, sooner or later, rather, sooner,
they will block YouTube.
But still, as long as I understand as long as I understand from my friends and who are still there in Russia, Russians are still getting information
from social media. They are getting information with VPN services, et cetera, et cetera.
But, of course, I think that technologists are always one step ahead of repressions and ahead of restrictions. But, of course, these actions by the
government, they leave some percent of people without information. And, unfortunately, these actions of the government, they work not 100 percent,
but, some percent, it works.
AMANPOUR: So, Danny, what do you think? Because we understand, like in many places, journalists who are under such restrictions will post online
on their social media, but the Burmese, Myanmar junta is coming up with their own laws to try to counter that.
What do we expect that law to do?
FENSTER: Well, I mean, it's basically forced every media organization the ground -- so anybody that's still reporting and still publishing is doing
it technically illegally. It's still getting done. But it's just -- it's made it very, very difficult.
Reporters that still stay there don't use their name. They don't publish with by lines. They move every night from house to house, different safe
houses. They're afraid to stay at home. And that's led to a whole lot of them deciding that it's just a lot easier and safer to flee the country.
And what that does for domestic civil society, for the local media landscape, for building these institutions of democracy, I mean, obviously,
that's devastating. This comes at the end of 10 years of just starting to build a democracy that was actually showing quite a bit of progress.
And, overnight. I mean, the media is I think the starkest example of how this just completely destroyed civil society.
AMANPOUR: Tikhon, in Russia, it was never that easy, because, even in emerging democracy in Russia over the last 20 years or so, journalists have
been heavily targeted by the Putin regime.
We have had journalists assassinated, silenced, now shut down under this war, which you're not allowed to call a war. Do you think there is a point
at which ordinary Russians will protest all of this and take matters into their own hand?
DZYADKO: You know, it's a very hard question. Everyone is asking this question.
But, first of all, I think that it's impossible now, to predict things. For example, two weeks ago, I was working in Moscow with all of my colleagues,
and I was completely sure that war was not going to happen. And -- but then situations -- situation change critically, and the war, all these deaths,
all these terrible shellings, all these refugees, all the sanctions, et cetera, et cetera.
So this situation is so unpredictable, that's it's just hard to imagine what will happen tomorrow. But there is a huge problem, that I think we
have never understood how strong Russian propaganda was. For example, there was a story now, I read it somewhere on a Web site, that a guy who was in
Ukraine in one of the cities which was bombed by Russian army, he called his relative somewhere in Russia.
And he told me -- and he told him, I am being bombed. And this relative tell him, no, this could not be true. I think you are a victim of Ukrainian
propaganda, which means that all these years of Russian propaganda, now it shows its result.
And a lot of people, even when they see pictures of the main square of town Kharkiv, one of the largest series in Ukraine, being bombed by Russian
artillery, a lot of people think that these videos or photos are fake, that these videos and photos are just not true, it is not happening.
And they believe what they hear from the Ministry of Defense. They are in denial. They don't want to believe. They don't want to believe that their
own governments could bomb civilians. They want to trust them, because they are used to trust what they see on the state television.
And I think that now they will be told by state TV and by the propaganda that all these sanctions are being imposed, not to punish Russian
government for the actions in Ukraine, but they are imposed to defeat Russia, that they are imposed, for example, to get Russian resources, that
these sanctions are imposed by the United States, and United States hates Russia, United States want to deter Russia, to destroy Russia.
And I'm afraid that a lot of people will believe it. And so I think this is our role, I mean, role of Russian journalists, to explain every day to a
lot of people that white is still white, black is still black, green is still green, and red is still red.
AMANPOUR: I mean, you make a hugely eloquent case there. And we know that Russians and, before that, Soviet Union, have been the masters, the world
masters of propaganda and disinformation. It's part of the way politics and their military objectives are achieved there.
And I just wondered what you thought about how -- who's winning the propaganda war, because everybody's pointing to Zelenskyy in Ukraine, a
master of television, a master of communications. He's clearly managed to get from his bunker in Ukraine the world behind him, whereas Putin, sitting
like an old Soviet leader alone in his Kremlin castle, is losing the propaganda war.
Do Russians understand that? Are they seeing any of that?
DZYADKO: Well, me personally, I think that Zelenskyy, now over last -- these 14, 15 days, he he's showing himself as a leader of the nation.
And if you look at the polls, you will see that, a few days before the war, he -- his rating was something like 30 percent. Now it is 91 percent,
because he's stayed in Kyiv. He is addressing nation five times a day, or six times a day. And he's showing himself as a strong leader, as a person
who is ready to die, but not to leave the country.
And, as long as I see, Ukrainians are being inspired by him, and they are ready to die for their land, for their families and for their country.
And then we see a different picture. We see Russian President Vladimir Putin, who is repeating over and over same fairy tales, which could be
funny, but in a different situation. There is several narratives in Russian official statements and in Vladimir Putin's statement.
The first is that Russia is defending itself by conducting special military operation in Ukraine. He's not using the word war. The second is that NATO
was threatened in Russia, and Russia was trying to negotiate, but Russia was rejected in this negotiation.
That's why Russia had to act to defend itself. Look at the first point. The third is that Russia is defending people in Donbass region. And that's why
they are not selling on Russian state TV that Russia is conducting its operation, the war, in other regions of Ukraine.
And the last thing is that Russian president and other officials, they are saying that Russia is only attacking objects of military infrastructure,
which is not true, which is just not true. And we have a lot of proofs on it.
AMANPOUR: And, Tikhon, bombing the maternity hospital in Mariupol, even the -- Sergey Lavrov, your foreign minister, said that they were neo there
hiding, and that's why it was attacked, or they say the Ukrainians are attacking themselves.
And, finally, to you, Danny, just give me an idea of what it was like being in prison. Were you interrogated? What were you asked? How were you
FENSTER: Yes, there was an interrogation early on. It didn't last that long. I think they quickly realized that they had made a mistake, honestly.
And they were just looking for a face-saving way to release me.
But, I mean, other than that, it's just incarceration. I mean, you're staring at a brick wall for a long time, thinking, reading, waiting for it
to end. I was given a certain -- I think I was given better treatment than most people there. I met plenty of people that had been detained. And their
interrogation included torture, physical beatings.
Another American journalist, Nathan Maung, has talked to the media about that. They knew that the world was watching once they had a Western
journalist detained. And I think they were conscious of that. And a big part of that is because there's independent media covering it and reporting
AMANPOUR: Again, the importance of independent voices.
And just finally, Tikhon, as you consider how you might keep reporting and keep somehow independent information getting to Russians, do you have any
thoughts of how you might do that from exile now?
I -- we are now trying to understand who we are and where we are with our team. But I think that, soon, we will get back together and discuss. And we
understand that it's really important to us, and we are responsible to our viewers. It's really important to continue, and we will do it definitely. I
know that a lot of our viewers are waiting for us to continue.
AMANPOUR: Tikhon Dzyadko and Danny Fenster, thank you so much, indeed, for joining us.
DZYADKO: Thank you.
FENSTER: Thank you.
AMANPOUR: And Ukraine's president has warned -- quote -- "Russian propagandists" that they will be held responsible for complicity with war
And, as Tikhon Dzyadko said there, Russia has restricted access to social media sites as well, Facebook and Twitter.
But our next guest says trying to ban that information is like trying to ban oxygen.
Carole Cadwalladr is a Pulitzer-nominated journalist for "The Guardian," and she's the one who expose the harvesting of personal Facebook data for
political campaigns in 2016, which was known as the Cambridge Analytica scandal.
And she's speaking to Hari Sreenivasan about Putin's information war on Ukraine and on the West.
HARI SREENIVASAN, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Christiane, thanks.
Carole Cadwalladr, thanks for joining us.
You wrote recently that Vladimir Putin has lost the social media war, so to speak. Explain.
CAROLE CADWALLADR, INVESTIGATIVE JOURNALIST: Well, I think he's been -- for years, we have thought of Putin, Vladimir Putin, as being the master of
the dark arts of disinformation.
And that's because, for years, he was able to operate in darkness inside the sort of social media platforms. And what's happened now is that there's
this sort of -- he's burst into the light. And we see him doing these extraordinary moves, which is something which Stalin might have done.
There's no nuance to this. There's no subtlety. He's shutting down Facebook. He's criminalized journalism. Today, we have learned that he's --
they're looking to make Instagram and WhatsApp -- they're calling them extremist organizations and looking to ban them.
I mean, these are just -- they are -- they're the actions of a totalitarian. And I think, in that way, we have seen him completely
outclassed by Zelenskyy. His mastery of social media has been amazing. He's just got this fluency, this lightness, this informality, and it's working.
He's bringing the people with him.
Now, that doesn't mean to say that Putin is winning in that sense, but I think he's really been shown up quite substantially in this way.
SREENIVASAN: What's interesting is, is, underlying these efforts is this notion that you could stop information from spreading in 2022.
Now, to be fair, there are millions of Russians who have a very different view of what's happening in Ukraine than you and I do. But is that even
CADWALLADR: I mean, I think what we're going to see increasingly is an intergenerational war in Russia.
We know that a lot of older people, they do get their news from the television, which is wholly pro-Kremlin propaganda. But I think young
people, they have been -- I think this thing of banning Instagram is going to have a huge impact, because that's how young people communicate.
WhatsApp and Instagram and, in Russia, some of their social media platforms, this is the air that they breathe. And I think the idea that you
can just cut off that flow of information overnight, and people are going to accept it, is -- I think they have got a whole other thing coming, I
have to say.
SREENIVASAN: One of the things that you also point out is that, while now Americans in the West are waking up to the fact that there was an actual
hot war going on for several years in Ukraine, that, really, a lot of this for Putin started back in 2014 even on the information front.
CADWALLADR: Yes. No, I think that's exactly it.
I think the idea that we're waking up to Russia invading Ukraine two weeks ago is an absolute myth. And I think to have any hope of, like,
understanding and addressing the situation, we have to acknowledge Russia invaded Ukraine in 2014.
And I think the bit of the puzzle that we're failing still to see is that Russia -- Russia's first act in Ukraine was to use information warfare.
Before it sent in the troops, it penetrated its social media, its information system, and it spread Russian propaganda to distort reality, to
change -- to confuse people.
And the amazing thing is, exactly the same time that Putin began that in Ukraine, he began that in America and the West. And that has been -- we
know that in detail because of the FBI's investigation. It catalogues that.
And I think we really have to understand this was a joint military assaults on Ukraine and on the West at the same time.
SREENIVASAN: Do you think Vladimir Putin learned and improved over time between what he figured out from the social media campaigns in Ukraine and
how it was used and weaponized in the West, say, before the 2016 election or for the Brexit campaign?
CADWALLADR: I mean, he had -- from 2014 to 2016, Vladimir Putin had carte blanche across our entire information system.
So, he set up -- we know that, in St. Petersburg, he set up the Internet Research Agency, and we know that thousands and thousands of trolls and
fake accounts flooded our information system. And I think that's the thing which has really confused and distracted people, this idea that it wasn't
that -- it wasn't that Putin set out to support Trump or had any political agenda.
In 2014, it was about simply spreading confusion, making us more divided, increasing polarization. Just it was divide and rule, if you think of it
like that. And from 2014 to 2016, he got away with that in complete darkness.
And that is because of the nature of our social media platforms. Because our social media, the Silicon Valley companies -- they're private
companies. And even until now, they are closed black boxes. So we had no idea what was going on inside them. And it was really only until -- 2016,
the FBI started telling us, and then after the U.S. election, journalists and academics slowly and steadily unpicked the truth of what was happening.
But we're in an extraordinary situation, where the social media platforms are the ways that Putin launched this information war against Ukraine and
against us. And those same social media companies, they're still that attack surface. They can still be used in that way.
SREENIVASAN: I wonder if we collectively don't see the potential harm because we don't see what we see today in Ukraine, literally rockets flying
through the air, bombs dropping?
Yet what you're describing in '14, '16, '20, '18 had huge societal impact.
CADWALLADR: It did, but it's just this -- it's this way that we look at things. It's the way that we frame things.
So we use words like election interference or meddling. Russia meddled in the vote. And these words, they minimize it, and they're not seeing it in
the correct context. And the correct context is that this was a military strategy. And it was carried out in many respects by actually military
It was -- the GRU, which is Russian military intelligence, they are the ones who carried out the hack and leak on Hillary's e-mails, for example.
And those GRU -- those military intelligence officers, they are -- now they're in the war playing this fundamental part in the role -- in the war
And they are -- it was GRU officers, for example, who poisoned Sergei Skripal in Britain. And there have been these warning signs. So the
poisoning of Sergei Skripal in Britain, I think it's been -- it was seen as a source of -- it was a botched assassination attempt.
But this was Putin using an unconventional chemical weapon on the streets of Britain, and getting away with it. He got away with it. And that is -- I
think that's one of the most frightening things of all, that we just -- we haven't even seen what he's been -- what Vladimir Putin has been doing.
SREENIVASAN: What's also fascinating is right now you see a lot more journalists, kind of armchair quarterbacks, so to speak, from all over the
world that are jumping into open source information and trying to figure out how to verify things in a way that I have never seen in any armed
No, so this is completely fascinating. And it's something which is new and unprecedented again in the war in Ukraine. So, I spoke last week to Eliot
Higgins, who's the founder of Bellingcat, which is one of the pioneers of this open source investigation.
And what Bellingcat do is, there's a combination of professionals, but also armchair investigators all over the world. And what they are doing is, they
are -- every single photograph and every bit of video footage which is being uploaded onto the Web, there is a battalion of people who are
gathering that. they're verifying it in real time. They're geolocating it, and then they're putting it into open source databases and under open
And that's helping not just journalists in covering the conflict or people on the ground who are trying to under -- Ukrainians who need to know what
road is safe or where they should go, but also even Ukrainian military intelligence is using this, because it's giving them this -- there's a
global force which is helping them understand the conflict and what the Russians are doing in real time.
SREENIVASAN: Along with investigations into the U.S. elections and Facebook and misinformation, you also had a tremendous amount of reporting
around what happened with the Brexit vote.
And is there a connection between Russian influence, not just on social media, but trying to influence the direction of that vote in the U.K.?
CADWALLADR: Hari, thank you so much for asking me this question. Because it's become -- it's such a contested issue in Britain that you can't even
have a discussion around this in public. It's -- you know, this is -- it became such a contested political issue that Brexit must be done at all
costs. And that made us blind to the bigger political -- geopolitical forces, which are going on.
And, you know, you're completely correct. I began investigating this subject in November 2016. And that investigation became -- you know, we
broke the Cambridge Analytica and Facebook scandal. But all the way through this reporting, we see this really clear line between Brexit, Trump, and
Russia. And there is a triangulation there. There is a straight and clear line through multiple individuals and organizations and via the tech
And we can't -- you know, it's -- in Britain, we -- you know, we see our politics through this very narrow lens of what's going on, you know, in
Westminster, in parliaments. And I think, you know, the same happens in America, too. You know, the Mueller Report was -- it got bogged down into
this question of, was -- you know, did Trump collude with Russia?
And, actually, you know, the big takeaway from the Mueller Report should have been Russia attacked America, it successfully attacked America. This
was a military attack, and it got away with it. And that same attack was across the systems, the information systems, which we all use. And that, in
that year, 2016, they were completely unprotected. And that is where, in Britain, we've been blind to waking up to that. We haven't even -- you have
this massive investigation by the FBI, and these congressional committees.
In Britain, we have had not one single investigation. There was one report, and Boris Johnson personally tried to suppress that, the so-called Russia
report. And in that, you know, the MP stood up and said, it -- you know, we -- they didn't even -- we didn't -- we don't know if there was any evidence
of Russian interference because nobody looked, the intelligence services were told not to look.
So, we are in a terrible, terrible position in this country in that these vital questions of national security have been interpreted as ones of
politics, and it's not about politics, it's about power, and it's about Putin.
SREENIVASAN: As a result of your reporting on Brexit, you have been sued by a British businessman. What can you say about the lawsuit?
CADWALLADR: Well, you know, I've been reporting on these issues on information warfare, on fake news, on the way that the social media
platforms have been manipulated and on the Brexit campaigns for six years now. And throughout that time, I have, you know, been very heavily attacked
in various ways, including on social media.
But, you know, I've also just been through a trial at the high courts in Britain by a businessman who funded the Brexit campaign. And he -- I'm
being sued over 23 words that I said in a TED Talk, and that was about Facebook and Cambridge Analytica and about Trump/Brexit/Russia. And I'm --
it's 23 words, which we previously published in "The Guardian" newspaper. And I've been targeted as an individual because you can do that in Britain.
We've got these libel laws where you can target people.
And so, instead of suing "The Guardian" and instead of suing TED, I've spent 2 1/2 years fending off this lawsuit. It's cost a million pounds.
I've had to crowdfund my entire defense. I've had 30,000 people help contribute towards it. But it has been -- you know, it's completely
destroyed my life in many ways, and it's -- the attempt is clearly to silence me. There's 19 freedom expression organizations who have said that
this is a slap suit. It's -- I'm being targeted for being an investigative journalist.
And so, it's just -- you know, it's just profoundly worrying not -- you know, least of all the personal consequences but just the fact that it's so
hard to report on these subjects. And I think people have just now -- they are waking up a little bit to why that is such an issue.
SREENIVASAN: So, you know, I brought that up, in part, because there are sort of different layers of power that we're talking about. On the one
hand, there's the power that a dictator has who has a standing army. And on the other hand, there are social platforms that have power to spread
misinformation. In the other hand, there are billionaires who can try to target individuals.
I mean, when you look at this giant ecosystem, I mean, what is -- are you optimistic about either the future of journalism or the ability of the
truth to actually beat out disinformation?
CADWALLADR: I think, you know, it's been such a dark time for all of us. I mean, you know, look at CNN, the way that you were targeted as a news
organization by Trump. This way that fake new was weaponized and used against journalists, you know, that terminology. So, it's been really,
really dark. It's been dystopian. The way that truth has become such a slippery subject. And the way that even when you expose a lie or you expose
somebody for being a liar, they get away with it. And, you know, this is the world that we've been living in.
But, you know, we are now at this moment of crisis in what's happening in Ukraine and what Russia is doing. But I think the only positive I take from
that is that it's brought a real clarity to it. You know, we can see now who's on the side of lies, and we can see who's on the side of truth. And,
you know, we really can see who's on the side of evil at the moment, and we can see who's on the side of good. But that, you know, I think is why we
really are at an inflexion point. This right now is an inflexion point.
SREENIVASAN: Carole Cadwalladr, thanks so much for joining us.
CADWALLADR: Thanks, Hari. Thank you so much for having me.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: You heard Carole say there that trying to ban information is like trying to ban oxygen. And according to reports from Russia, state TV
there has just recently gone off message on Monday and broadcast guests who called on Putin to stop the war. One of them saying, the invasion of
Ukraine is like Afghanistan but even worse. Remember, the Russians were bogged down from 1980 to 1989 in Afghanistan.
Finally, tonight, is there anything more dangerous than a conman with ambitions? We're finding out every day in the news, and now, also on the
big screen in the Oscar-nominated film "Nightmare Alley."
Bradley Cooper plays a grifter who reinvents himself as a mentalist in 1930s America. But he makes a tragic mistake, believing his own hype.
Here's a clip from the trailer.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: What is the object being held?
BRADLEY COOPER, ACTOR, "NIGHTMARE ALLEY": A pocket watch. Am I correct?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Master Stanton, can you kindly name them?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: May I? What's inside the bag?
COOPER: A small pistol.
You are not as hard to read as you think. You run a racket, same as me. If you help me, we can make quite a big dent in this town.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: Oscar-winner Guillermo del Toro directed and co-wrote the film. And when I spoke to him recently from home, we discussed why this story is
painfully relevant for these times.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: Guillermo del Torro, welcome to our program.
And listen, congratulations. I think you're an Oscar machine because you've got four nominations, including best picture for this one. You had two for
"The Shape of Water." how do you feel about the reception of "Nightmare Alley"?
GUILLERMO DEL TORO, DIRECTOR, "NIGHTMARE ALLEY": Look, I am very grateful that we were able to, A, finish the movie. And two, that were able to
launch it even in the middle of a new COVID variant, which was throwing everything upside down. Very happy that people are connecting with it. I
think we tried to make a movie about today and about the blurry line we're living between truth and lies and fiction and populous discourse and all
So, little by little, the movie has revealed itself to our audience in a very beautiful way.
AMANPOUR: Well, I'm going to dig down on that because it really is a movie for today in terms of how you just laid it out. And also, the idea of the
con artist, which is central to this film. And we do live in the era of Trump and Putin, and we can see how distorting truth and conning
populations can dramatically affect everyone's lives. So, it's really relevant.
DEL TORO: It is, it is. Even in more intimate spaces, you know, I think what is dangerous about where we are is that, at a very basic level, we
have this articulated truth and lies and parameters of reality, and we -- you know, at even personal, spiritual levels, we are breaking the dialogue
with reality, we are creating systems that confirm our bias. You know, we basically are in an echo chamber as human beings. And it's a very dangerous
thing to be in.
And to try to engulf that in a story that is engrossing and entertaining and that acts as a parable is beautiful because then through a story that
is not a political story, but has a spiritual dimension and a political dimension, people tend to digest these ideas more.
AMANPOUR: So, let's get into the actual film. Bradley Cooper is the star. He plays a man with a dark past who uses carnival as a way to reinvent
himself. He's Stan, and the movie opens with him dragging a dead body inside a house and later, we learn who that body belongs to. And then, he
sets the house on fire. So stan is basically making a dramatic break with his past and starting over.
And in the movie, Stan doesn't actually speak for the first 10 minutes. And then, he stumbles on a traveling carnival. And there he rises through its
ranks. And then, that's the movie. So, let me first start by asking you why carnival? How central to life were these traveling carnivals in the era
that you set this movie?
DEL TORO: In the 1930s, carnivals were waning, especially this type of carnival. But they were still very active in America. There's still
something carnivalesque in the center of the soul of the American entrepreneur, if you would. You know, that I think that never goes away,
and that represents one side of a possibility, a society that is founded on imperfection and sort of the honesty of being dishonest, and then, our
character will transit from that to very polished society that is even more savage than the carnival, in many ways.
AMANPOUR: And then, let's just talk about the mentalist then, because that is the central character and the central theme of the film. So, Bradley
Cooper playing Stan becomes a mentalist, and he runs into the character who's played by David Strathairn, who is a veteran mentalist, he's Pete.
And Pete sort of does this thing to prove his metal, I guess, or to Stan, Bradley Cooper, how good he is.
So, we're going to play a clip where Stan has thought of an object, and Pete guesses it. So, here we're going to play this clip.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DAVID STRATHAIRN, ACTOR, "NIGHTMARE ALLEY": Oh, it wasn't yours originally, was it? You took it. You stole it, didn't you? Oh, I see an
older man, the boy hates him. The boy would love to be loved, but he hates that man. Death. Death and the wisher's death (ph).
COOPER: You thought that was his pride, my father?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: And in that scene. So, he guesses that it's his father's watch, and I guess what's powerful about that scene is the expressions that
Bradley Cooper, Stan, demonstrates and goes through and acts out. Tell me about how important that scene is, because I've heard you talk about how
Bradley Cooper plays that scene.
DEL TORO: Yes. I think -- look, I think it's a career-best performance for Bradley. And he was very brave about approaching this, which is a very dark
subject and very difficult to tackle for an actor. And his -- to reveal Stan's vulnerabilities, little by little, we paint a portrait of a man that
is capable of great monstrosity, terrible acts, but he's still human, and he had to always be able to expose a vulnerability, the sadness of this
character, the loneliness, the fear of this character. And we open with him not talking, just looking and -- like a magpie, stealing little things from
everyone that he meets.
And little by little, the movie exposes, is a curious sort of structure. It exposes his frailty at the same time that he is getting to do more and more
monstrous acts. And Bradley had to give this character a reality. Basically, make him never an idea, never just a notion, he had to be a
living human being.
And this scene is important because the mystery of who was the body that he was dragging in the beginning, you know, you reveal little by little. And
at the end of the movie, you actually understand partially who was that body, how that person died, and you understand the importance of that
mystery, initial mystery in Stan's life.
And Bradley is the best partnership, the most deep partnership I can ask for as a director, because he is on screen 99 percent of the time, which is
a very difficult thing to execute for both director and actor. And the rest of the cast comes in and out and illuminates this character at the center.
So, the movie's a very beautiful act of balancing a world, textures, colors, shapes, and the humanity at the center, which is always incarnated
AMANPOUR: Given that, I just wanted to ask you personally, Guillermo del Toro, you've had experience, or at least your family has with the idea of
psychics and mentalists. I believe it was your father who was kidnapped in Mexico. Tell me about the story and about how these psychics came to prey
on your mom.
DEL TORO: Well, immediately after my father was kidnapped, I was talking to a negotiator, and the negotiator was on the phone and said, look, I'm on
my way, we're going to help you, my father was kidnapped for 72 days, but he said -- right away, it was the second day of the kidnapping, and he
said, beware of psychics, they're going to show up at your door any second now, you know?
And I hung up the phone, and like clockwork, I left that room and I went to see my mother, and my mother was already with two psychics that had shown
up that day to say they could help her find my father, that they knew where he was and it will be a matter of patience and time, but they would find
him, they could feel him, and they were already conning her with some of the tricks of mentalism that are, you know, terrible, but people apply them
for things that give people hope in a fake way.
And that's the theme of the movie, the idea of the movie is how we fool ourselves. And mentalism, like many realms of spirituality and politics and
this and that, are realms of where we want to be fooled, where we are sold what we want to hear, and that's the trick in mentalism. You read the
person and you read their needs, and the principle is we all transmit what we want to the mentalist. We all tell the mentalist what we want. And that
person, that figure, tells us what we want to hear.
AMANPOUR: So, charlatans. And presumably, you got there in time to break this introduction of the mentalist to your mother. But tell me, you know,
thank God your father was released. I mean, it was after 72 days, incredible length of time. Why had he been kidnapped?
DEL TORO: It was simply a ransom situation. It got -- you know, was a transactional kidnapping. And there was a ransom they wanted. We paid two
times. First payment, second payment, and they kept him, but we got him back alive, fortunately.
AMANPOUR: Thank God for that. Let me ask you, again, just go further into the film. One of the key attributes of film noir is the "Femme Fatale." But
you have said that you have three incredibly strong female characters in this film and a really strong homme fatale, that Stan, you know, the male
character in this fatale situation.
And I want to play a little clip in which the Dr. Lilith Ritter, she's the psychoanalyst played by Cate Blanchett, Stan offers her money after she
helped him pull off a con. Here is the clip.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER: You should keep this for me. I don't want anyone to know about it anybody. Why don't you keep it for a few days? If you change your mind,
we'll split it 50/50. And if not, I'll keep it.
CATE BLANCHETT, ACTRESS, "NIGHTMARE ALLEY: You barely know me.
COOPER: Oh, I know you well. I know you're no good, and I know that because neither am I.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: Tell me why it was important to flip the idea of the fam to the homme fatal.
DEL TORO: It was important with every character, female characters in noir are very codified. You know, the "Girl with the Heart of Gold," you know,
"The Sword of Femme Fatale," you know, and we wanted to take these archetypes and flip them a little on their head. Normally the femme fatal
usually gets punished at the end of the dark tale and all of that. And we wanted to show them dimensionally in a more interesting way.
And we knew that, obviously, the main event of the film was the dual between Bradley Cooper and Cate Blanchett both doing incredible
performances and doing parts that were difficult but they were born to play in, my opinion. And giving this figure a little more dimension, Molly, who
is played Rooney Mara, is -- yes, the center, the moral center of the movie. But she has carnival upbringing. She has a darkness to her, a past.
She's not just this nice innocent figure. And Lilith Ridder is -- has a story and a sadness and tragic past that is hinted at in the movie. And
they survive the guy, the survived Stan.
It was very important for me that the three female figures not only survived Stan, but they thrive after meeting him. You know, they were able
to leave him, or in the case of Lilith, take him head on. You know, those were important things for me because, ultimately, Stan is inside his head.
For me, the movie should be like a nightmare, in a way, where he is having a dialogue with figures that are representative of his mother, his father,
his own persona. And Lilith is the one sort of mother lover figure that he cannot take.
You know, and, to me, the entertainment of the movie, the fascinating fun thing of the movie is to see all these actors come in and have these scenes
with a central character that changes very little, because the whole movie is planned for a brutal, very impactful last few minutes. I think it's one
of the strongest endings I've ever shot. And the movie is more like a ramp where he meets all these characters, and then his downfall is extremely
heartbreaking and affecting.
AMANPOUR: Well, we're not going to do the spoiler of exactly how his downfall, but it does refer back to, you know, the beginning of the film,
and it is pretty devastating. Just to ask you a final question, you know, obviously "The Shape of Water" captured everybody's imagination. You know,
it was so fantastical, it was about supernatural. This is much more grit and grime of our time.
But you've also, you know, said, only those who know how to look will find magic in this world because there is none if you don't know where to look.
And you've said that movies saved your life and your sanity when you were a kid. Tell us how they did that.
DEL TORO: Well, I think that we are storytelling animals, all of us. And actually, we live in a moment in history where we story tell into
everything, we infuse storytelling into everything, you know. And, for me, the world made no sense as a kid growing up, I didn't understand really the
reconciliation between the -- what I saw, the adults were doing and what the adults were saying we should do.
And cinema and stories, little by little, articulated that world enough for me to understand it. And I think that you find magic and you find a cosmic
and spiritual dimension in all of us through stories, you know, is where we make the cosmos take the size and the fish a shape of a god or the goddess
or a demon or an angel. And to me it's a primary source of solace and also investigation of the world. Stories are not here to provide only comfort,
they're here to ask the tough questions. But we hope that they are, nevertheless, fascinating and entertaining.
AMANPOUR: They are indeed. And you are a master storyteller. Guillermo del Toro, thank you so much for joining us.
DEL TORO: And my pleasure. Have a good afternoon
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: And that's it for now. And if you ever miss our show, you can find the latest episode shortly after it airs on our podcast. On your
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Thanks for watching, and good-bye from London.