Guillermo del Toro has given cinema some of its greatest creatures. There were the fawn and the Thin Man in Pan’s Labyrinth, the kaiju and giant robots in Pacific Rim, even some unique twists on vampires in Blade II. He does it again in The Shape of Water.
The Shape of Water stars Sally Hawkins as a mute woman who cleans a laboratory. In the lab is an amphibian man (Doug Jones) being studied, and they fall in love. Del Toro spoke with reporters in Los Angeles about his latest creation and dreameGGs was there. The Shape of Water opens Friday in theaters everywhere.
Q: How did you get the creature so right?
GDT: Three years. The way you film it is the most important thing. You see a hand first. Then you see a silhouette with blood. Then the next time, which is the most critical moment in the whole movie, is coming out of the water and blinking. I knew that needed to be perfect. We couldn’t be this [from the chin to the forehead]. It had to be this [close to the nose] and just blink because then all you were seeing was the eyes. If we made the eyes real, you would know it’s a real creature.
Q: What was it like on the set the day Doug Jones first appeared as the amphibian?
GDT: The problem is I was so excited with this creature that weeks before we shot, if you go to my Twitter you will see the change. The main base of the color was a blue-gray. I put him in front of a camera and I realized it was the wrong color. When it was affected by the cyan colored light, it became muddled. Some people were going, “ooh ahh” and I was like, “Oh, f***.” I called everybody and I said, “We got to go to nicotine.” Everybody was in a panic because we had no money and we were shooting right away. I said, “We got to go to nicotine” and we went to nicotine. The day he comes out of the water, which was the second day we shot with him, that was a big moment because I told him, “Raise as if you were 20 stories high. Raise really slowly and then find your center on the hip.”
Q: What is nicotine?
GDT: Nicotine color. The shade, like sort of a dirty ivory.
Q: How much fun was it to do a Busby-Berkeley musical number?
GDT: A lot of fun, because the thing with that scene is, I knew when I made the two characters silent is because you can lie with words. You cannot lie with looks. You cannot talk about love. Anything you say about love is reductive. “I love you. You’re the love of my life. I adore you.” Of course you do, but I don’t get it. If you look at me, and I feel that you’re looking at me in my totality, that you know my good things, my bad things and you look at me with love, we don’t have to say anything. A great thing about that number is the only way to talk about love with words is to sing. I thought the way she feels for him is so big that she goes, “You’ll never know just how much…” I thought it needed to be a very celebratory moment for her that makes her emotion as big as the movies she loved. That was shot with a crane, everything is a crane. The crane swoops and goes because she’s completely telling him finally, in her head, how she feels about him.
Q: Is there something that will always be a part of every film you make?
GDT: I think if you see Cronos, my first movie, and you see this movie, the seeds of this movie are there. Loneliness. Loneliness and meeting. It’s the story of a granddaughter that speaks one word in the whole movie, and her grandfather who turns into a vampire and how all they have is each other.
Q: Why is loneliness a big theme for you?
GDT: Because I think the huge learning curve that I’ve had as a human being is to know how to be alone and at peace and not feel lonely. It’s the biggest learning curve I’ve ever experienced. I’m not afraid to be alone. I’m not lonely.
Q: Are you a better person to yourself since you have this mechanism to talk about these themes?
GDT: I don’t know. I think that self-reflection is incredibly important and not everybody takes the time. I think storytellers do take the time sometimes and the reason I wanted to make the movie is I didn’t want to indulge. I felt the urge of trying things that were different at 52. Nevertheless, I’m saying there’s a common thread from Cronos to this. You look at even something as big as Pacific Rim that says this lonely girl that lost her parents inhabits in the body of this woman who has trained herself to be a warrior that inhabits the body of a robot that is 25 stories high, and the survival of the robot depends on her trusting a guy that also doesn’t talk much. If they trust each other, they can survive. That’s that same thing. You can go to Hellboy. Abe Sapien telling Liz, “I don’t know how it’s going to end, but all I know is all we freaks have is each other.” It’s the same speech. The idea that all we have is each other and that we are imperfect and that’s good. When you simplify it and say, “This is bad, this is good, this group is good, this group is bad,” nobody is good all day. Nobody’s bad all day. It’s percentages. If you are with someone that is 70% good, then it’s good. But when that person behaves badly you go, “Oh, I hate this person so much.” No, you love that person. 30% of the time he’s an *sshole but you love that person. You say it’s the same person.
Q: Where do you get ideas? Do you wake up in the middle of the night?
GDT: No, they come slowly and then they come all at once. The image that made it all come to fruition was a very different image and it’s not in the movie. She was sitting in a chair with a phonograph next to her eating a sandwich and he was in the center. I thought okay, that’s a story.
Q: Is there a French influence in your movies?
GDT: Yes. I was saying it’s my French movie but people talk about Amelie and I talk about Jacques Demy. Very different, but I can see why they feel that. It’s not a movie I consult but Demy, yes. Donkey Skin or [Umbrellas of] Cherbourg, of course I love them. I always called it my French movie. When I write, I have Salesman, the documentary playing in the background. I have George Delerue playing in the background.
Q: Why are you taking a break from directing?
GDT: That is one year. I started in September. My sabbatical is I have three series with Netflix, one live-action series, two live-action movies and I’m co-writing a book with Chuck Hogan. That’s my year off. All I’m saying is I don’t want to direct for a while because producing is different. Writing is a joy to me. It’s very fun to write books because there’s no pressures on budget and logistics. I can say, “1000 vampires run down Madison Avenue.”
Q: Could you revise At the Mountains of Madness for a streaming service now that they’re investing in originals?
GDT: I don’t know. It could be possible. I would love to do Pinocchio stop-motion. I’ve been chasing it for many years but it hasn’t happened. That’s okay. One day it will happen but right now, honestly, what I want and what I thought was I want to spend more time this movie because it feels special to me. You don’t get many of these in your lifetime. I want to travel with it. I want to meet you guys, I want to be in the showings. I want to go to the festivals. I don’t want to be in a hurry.
Q: Does film or digital give you something better than the other?
GDT: You know, it’s different. First, it started as a wave that went to digital and I got so used to it with Pacific Rim, I can push the colors in a different way. I enjoyed it. Of course, I would go back to film if the economic numbers made sense for me and the logistics made sense. I don’t have to change magazines. That allows me to shoot a little faster. Cumulatively in the day you gain a couple of hours. This movie is a movie that looks like it had a budget of $70 million and it was done for $19.5. Actually less, because as of this week, we are more than $100,000 under budget. We ended under that number. We don’t know yet but it could be $150-200.
Photo Credits: Fox Searchlight Pictures