Guillermo del Toro is a hugger.
SEE MORE: From the August 29, 2017, issue of Variety
Not a facehugger, like those nasty creatures in Ridley Scotts Alien a film whose Lovecraftian monsters both scarred and inspired del Toro when he first saw it at age 14 but a good old-fashioned bear hugger.
The first thing that strikes you on visiting his Bleak House mansion in Thousand Oaks, which is packed with movie and monster memorabilia, is the terrifying, life-size demon that appears to be lunging down the hallway and toward any would-be intruder (a memento from the first Hellboy movie). But a close second would be the big, bearded Mexican who emerges, Bilbo Baggins-like, to hug the latest visitor to his domain.
Del Toros actual home is the building next door to Bleak House, but the monster manor is where he does his best work, preferring to write in a room where simulated rain falls on the windows.
A warm embrace is not the greeting one naturally expects from a man who surrounds himself with creatures although its typical, insists actress Sally Hawkins, who stars in del Toros latest movie, The Shape of Water, which debuts this week at the Venice Film Festival and opens in theaters Dec. 8. Hawkins wasalso greeted with an enthusiastic hug when she first met the director: He opened his arms and literally just picked me up in a huge embrace, she says. This was nearly four years ago, in the middle of a swanky awards-season cocktail party Hawkins had gate-crashed.
Id only just gotten a phone call from my agent like a month before, saying Guillermo was interested in me for the lead in this film that he hadnt written yet, Hawkins says. You dont really believe those things until youre in the room with a director or until youve got the script in your hands.
But del Toro was as good as his word. A few months later, he showed her the beginnings of a screenplay and was eager to get her feedback. From very early in that process, it felt like I was collaborating with him. Thats how he works, Hawkins says.
For del Toro, The Shape of Water represents the culmination of a lifelong dream: I always wanted to do an amphibian-man romance with a human, though he imagined something more in line with Universals classic Creature From the Black Lagoon. But for some reason, he could never crack it. I felt the genre got in the way, he says.
Then one December morning in 2011, while del Toro was meeting with Daniel Kraus, his co-author on the Trollhunters books, Kraus brought up an idea hed been kicking around for ages: a story where a janitor befriends an amphibian creature in a cylinder that reads, Found in the Amazon. It was the eureka moment del Toro had been waiting for. I said, Say no more. I am buying that idea. Thats my next movie! the director recalls.
Actually, he made Crimson Peak next, an extravagant Gothic romance released by Universal Pictures. But del Toro had the solution for his amphibian, switching gears from monster movie to what he describes as a fairy tale that is sort of Beauty and the Beast, but where the beast never turns into the prince.
For The Shape of Water, which he set in 1962 at the height of the Cold War, hed create a monster movie where the creature gets the girl. As a kid, watching Frankenstein or Creature or Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, I was always rooting for the monster. So I always wanted to see that movie, del Toro says. If we had made a normal movie, in the scene where the beast carries the beauty in his arms, the hero would be the square-jawed, beautifully tailored white-man savior [Strickland, the menacing government agent, played by Michael Shannon]. Here, its the fact that we see him from another point of view that makes him the villain. For me, stories are interesting if you change the point of view.
He tried a similar flip in the relatively big-budget robots-versus-monsters saga Pacific Rim, opening the film at a point where the humans are in downfall. It was not the typical beginning of a movie; it was like the end of a sequel, he says. But when it came to English-language projects, del Toro had never taken such a big risk.
After the relative disappointment of 2015 Halloween release Crimson Peak an uncompromising atmospheric period romance whose $50 million budget forced Universal to misrepresent the film as a horror movie, which it wasnt del Toro learned a valuable lesson.
I understood The Shape of Water needed to cost under $20 million, because that allows them to market it for what it is, he says in this case, a one-of-a-kind hybrid of monster movie, spy movie, comedy and musical, where the romantic leads are a gill-man and a mute janitor (technically, neither character can speak).
To help hit that budget, del Toro made an unconventional commitment from the beginning: I said, except for taxes and guild dues, my entire salary goes back into the movie to buy time, sets, whatever and it did.
Hed made the same deal on Pans Labyrinth a decade earlier and stresses that both projects took him years to develop. The only real money I made on Pans Labyrinth was when I sold the apartment I had bought in Madrid. Although [the studio] returned my salary just before the Oscar ceremony, he says. The way I see money at 52, my kids are adults basically, I dress like s, I drive a four-year-old car, I have all the rubber monsters that I need. You dont make these movies to buy a ranch in Santa Fe; you make these movies to tell a story. Its not that I came out flat on this movie; I invested. And I invested in a story that I think of as an antidote to the times were living in. Everything is so sordid and horrible right now, but this movie is not shy about talking about love and beauty and the good things in life.
To get The Shape of Water made, del Toro paid for pre-production out of his own pocket, spending hundreds of thousands of dollars to develop the creature. He hired Mike Hill to sculpt a clay model and artists Guy Davis and Vince Proce to design the sets, then invited Fox Searchlight president Nancy Utley to Bleak House to hear the pitch, which she and co-president Steve Gilula greenlit before the script had even been written.
We have a list in our heads of master filmmakers who were desperate to make films with, says Utley. Guillermo positioned it as a return to a smaller, more personal style of filmmaking.
After Crimson Peak, del Toro didnt want to be tied to a studio, and he chose his partner carefully, consulting with his friend and fellow Mexican filmmaker Alejandro G. Irritu, whose Birdman won best picture in 2015. I went to Searchlight for a reason. I think their marketing is impeccable, he says.
Just as del Toro wrote The Shape of Water for Hawkins, he had a specific actor in mind to play her amphibious co-star: longtime collaborator Doug Jones, a lanky, 63 performer he met 20 years ago when shooting pickups on his first English-language feature, Mimic.
This was a tough role for me physically. I had to exercise subtlety, says Jones, who also played the chilling Pale Man in Pans Labyrinth. Here he was being asked to embody both a romantic lead and a feral, unpredictable creature.
Also, there was the matter of the love scene.
The director did not want to shy away from sexuality in his film. It seemed hypocritical to tackle this movie and not talk about that dimension, del Toro says. To me, sexuality is political.
Hawkins says that whereas every other character views the gill-man as a monster, hers recognizes something very familiarin him; she almost recognizes herself in him.
At the time the film is set, their forbidden love is reflected in the racism and homophobia shown in other corners of the story.
I didnt want to do a movie about 1962; I wanted to do a movie about now, explains del Toro, who says hes going to do one or two more big movies. And then my pledge is to dedicate myself to the smaller movies, because frankly thats what I want to do.
When pressed, he says hes not through with the big canvas, despite that vow.
Ridley Scotts Alien prequels sidelined his plans to adapt Lovecrafts At the Mountains of Madness, and Universals Dark Universe strategy doesnt suit his Frankenstein dream project, a long-form telling that necessitates at least two parts.
I know what big movies I want to make, del Toro says. I have them targeted, and its no more than three. He maintains hes going to try not to do them consecutively. And for the rest, Im going to do the weird, smaller stuff that is at odds with any trend.
- 1980s horror movie poster logos and typography. - March 13th, 2019
- Aquaman Spinoff Horror Movie The Trench Is In Development - March 9th, 2019
- The Best Scary Horror Movies On Netflix Now In 2019 - February 26th, 2019
- The Ape Man - Wikipedia - January 29th, 2019
- Top 15 Horror Movies to See in 2019! | Arrow in the Head - January 10th, 2019
- The 10 Best Horror Movies of 2018 - vulture.com - December 26th, 2018
- Best horror movies: scary films to stream or buy in 2018 ... - August 24th, 2018
- Amazon.com Horror Movies & Films on DVD and Blu-Ray - July 26th, 2018
- Box Office: 'It' Is Now The Highest-Grossing R-Rated ... - July 22nd, 2018
- | Reviewing the Hell Out of Horror Movies. - July 16th, 2018
- Arachnophobia (film) - Wikipedia - June 24th, 2018
- The Last Horror Movie - Wikipedia - June 19th, 2018
- Horror Domain | Horror Movie News, Trailers, Reviews ... - June 18th, 2018
- 100 Best Horror Movies of All Time - September 20th, 2017
- Sorensen: Horror movies don't deserve bad reputation - The Daily Iowan - September 7th, 2017
- 'It' is a waking nightmare, curated from a catalogue of horror-movie tropes - Washington Post - September 7th, 2017
- 'It was like something you see in a horror movie': Irma survivors tell of devastation - The Guardian - September 7th, 2017
- Rough flight 'like a horror movie': Etihad Airways passenger - The West Australian - September 7th, 2017
- /Answers: Our Favorite Horror Movie Villains - /FILM - September 6th, 2017
- Review: 'It' doesn't clown around with horror-movie clichs - Seattle Times - September 6th, 2017
- Horror Movie Magic: The CGI that has made films even scarier - SYFY WIRE (blog) - September 6th, 2017
- Letter: Don't star in a (traffic) horror movie - Mountain Xpress - September 6th, 2017
- Thelma Trailer: Norway's Oscar Submission is a Horror Movie - /FILM - September 6th, 2017
- Stephen King's 'It' Arrives at a Terrifying Time for the Movie Business - Variety - September 6th, 2017
- Darren Aronofsky's 'mother!' Early Buzz: A Delirious, Divisive Horror Movie Designed to Attack Its Audience - /FILM - September 6th, 2017
- Can 'It' Reverse the Trend of Terrible September Horror Films? - Film School Rejects - September 6th, 2017
- Annabelle 2 Beats Get Out as 2017's Biggest Horror Movie - MovieWeb - September 5th, 2017
- Police warning over 'killer clown' craze set to return after horror movie IT released - Coventry Telegraph - September 5th, 2017
- Beautiful Diana, trapped in a horror movie: Mallick - Toronto Star - September 5th, 2017
- Sequels and Lies: What Hollywood's Disastrous Summer Really Means for the Future of Movies - The Ringer (blog) - September 5th, 2017
- 'Killer clown' craze set to return as remake of horror movie IT is released in UK - Metro - September 3rd, 2017
- It movie early reviews: This clown horror film is frighteningly good - The Indian Express - September 3rd, 2017
- 'The bedroom was like a scene from a horror movie' - Mum speaks about terrifying condition that almost killed her ... - Independent.ie - September 3rd, 2017
- Horror News Network's Fall 2017 Horror Movie Preview - Horror News Network - September 3rd, 2017
- 'Friend Request' Trailer: Witches and Social Media Team Up for a Horror Movie - /FILM - September 3rd, 2017
- 'The bedroom was like a scene from a horror movie' - Mum speaks about terrifying incident that almost killed her ... - Independent.ie - September 2nd, 2017
- Netflix's Little Evil puts a new comic spin on the evil-kid trope - The Verge - September 2nd, 2017
- Horror on Netflix: September 2017 Additions - 1428 Elm - September 2nd, 2017
- Horror Movies and Video Games Get the Goosebumps Cover Treatment - Dread Central - September 2nd, 2017
- How They Did It: Shooting a Flashlit Prison Horror Movie, Against the Night, on the Sony a7S - MovieMaker Magazine - September 1st, 2017
- Why Are Horror Movie Characters So Dumb? | Screen Rant - Screen Rant - September 1st, 2017
- Couple produces horror film for festival - Newnan Times-Herald - September 1st, 2017
- Reading Stephen King's It is an exhausting way to spend a summer - The Verge - September 1st, 2017
- Run-of-the-mill horror film 'Temple' delivers the same old evil spirits - Los Angeles Times - August 31st, 2017
- 'It' horror movie can't scare real-life clowns - Fox News - August 31st, 2017
- Brooklyn Horror Film Festival screening Kane Hodder documentary, Steven Yeun-starring Mayhem - EW.com - August 31st, 2017
- It's like something out of a horror movie - Crowborough Life - August 31st, 2017
- It took four years to restore horror classic Suspiria watch an exclusive clip - EW.com (blog) - August 31st, 2017
- Fall Movie Guide: 35 Superhero, Scifi, and Fantasy Movies to Look Out For - Gizmodo - August 31st, 2017
- The Serpent and the Rainbow (1988) - IMDb - August 30th, 2017
- 7 scary Irish horror movies - IrishCentral - August 30th, 2017
- 'mother!' TV Spots & Viral Site Offer New Clues to Darren Aronofsky's Mysterious Horror Movie - Collider.com - August 30th, 2017
- Stephen King 'Bans' Trump from Seeing His New Horror Flick - Fox News Insider - August 29th, 2017
- 10 Feminist Horror Movies That Will Make You Appreciate the Genre in a Whole New Way - MarieClaire.com - August 28th, 2017
- Hudson Valley Won't Be 'Quiet Place' During Horror Movie Production - Greenburgh Daily Voice - August 28th, 2017
- A Tribute to Tobe Hooper, Whose 'Texas Chain Saw Massacre' Was, and Is, the Horror Film of Its Time - Variety - August 28th, 2017
- Purga, the new Mexican Netflix for horror movie lovers - Vallarta Daily - August 28th, 2017
- It remake tipped to make 38million in biggest September opening weekend of all time after critics hail the horror ... - The Sun - August 28th, 2017
- All of the Clues that 'AHS: Cult' Features Your Favorite Horror Movie Villains - HarpersBAZAAR.com - August 28th, 2017
- Only Clowns Can Attend This Special Screening Of Horror Film 'It' - HuffPost - August 26th, 2017
- 'Red Christmas' Review: Australia's Latest Horror Export Isn't Much of a Present - IndieWire - August 26th, 2017
- This Is a Golden Age of Low-Budget Horror - WIRED - August 26th, 2017
- IT movie: BIG NEWS on Stephen King horror's box office - how many people will it terrify? - Express.co.uk - August 25th, 2017
- Mother!: everything we know about Jennifer Lawrence's insane, top secret horror movie - Telegraph.co.uk - August 24th, 2017
- Exclusive: Spooky 'Temple' Clip Teases a Paranormal Predicament - Collider.com - August 24th, 2017
- Thai-set horror film 'Ghost House' adroitly keeps the audience on edge - Los Angeles Times - August 24th, 2017
- Todd Tucker: The Terror of Hallow's Eve is a horror movie with a message - 1428 Elm - August 24th, 2017
- Horror movie fans connect at Peter Vullo's 'Thursday Night Terrors' - Buffalo News - August 24th, 2017
- Brutal Beauty: 10 Visually Stunning Horror Movies You Can't Unsee - Collider.com - August 24th, 2017
- 'One of the best horror films of recent years' is showing on TV on Wednesday night - JOE - August 24th, 2017
- How to Become a Horror Movie-Worthy Exorcist IRL - Inverse - August 22nd, 2017
- 10 sci-fi, fantasy and horror films featuring a total eclipse - SYFY WIRE (blog) - August 22nd, 2017
- 17 films to catch at Horror Channel FrightFest 2017 - Den of Geek UK - August 22nd, 2017
- FearFest are hosting FREE horror films at a spooky drive in - Gloucestershire Live - August 22nd, 2017
- The 'Stranger Things' Kids Meet Famous Horror Movie Villains In 'Slasher Things' - UPROXX - August 22nd, 2017
- Here's How Real the Exorcisms and Demons Are in Horror Movies ... - Inverse - August 22nd, 2017
- The truth behind horror movie Annabelle: Creation, a real-life tale of demonic doll's reign of terror ending in 'man ... - Birmingham Mail - August 22nd, 2017
- Stranger Things Meets 1980s Horror in the Excellent Mash-Up Slasher Things - Gizmodo - August 22nd, 2017
- This horror movie is 20 years old this week, and proves that sometimes film critics get it very wrong - JOE - August 20th, 2017
- Annabelle Creation Movie Released: Top 5 Upcoming Horror Movies of 2017 That You Need to Watch - India.com - August 19th, 2017
Reviewed and Recommended by Erik Baquero