Guillermo del Toro is a legend. His work is known for its connection to fairy tales and horror, with an infused beauty that draws the viewer in. He is most frequently associated with his film, Pan’s Labyrinth, but he is also the one responsible for bringing Mike Mignola’s Hellboy series to fantasmic life on the big screen as well as bringing us gothic horror films like Crimson Peak. Now he is diving deep into the romance genre, but adding his horror spin to it in his latest project – The Shape of Water.
Screen Rant got a chance to talk with Guillermo del Toro on press day, where we asked him where he got the inspiration for his film, how he came about writing the roles for the actors he had in mind, and why he thinks classic horror movie monsters aren’t received as well in today’s age of horror films.
One thing I had to ask right off the bat was that this takes place in the early 1960s, but there are so many relevant themes for today’s audience. It is a modern day fairytale. Tell me how long was this story in your head and what was the inspiration?
Guillermo del Toro: Many many years. Decades even, but I always wanted to make a version of Beauty and the Beast using an amphibian man much like The Creature from the Black Lagoon, but not exactly that. I went to Universal. I did the scientist, the moat, but very different. Very different and I didn’t know how to resolve it because the themes I wanted in the movie didn’t fit. And then having breakfast with Daniel Kraus in 2011, in December 2011, he tells me this idea about a janitor that falls in love, not fall in loves, but meets a creature in a super secret government facility and takes it home. It was not a love story. It was just that anecdote and I said to him, “I’m going to buy that idea from you right now and I’m going to make that my next movie.” And I started working on that in 2012. I designed and wrote what I could. I wrote a big sheet with everything. I wrote a few pages like I think 30, 40. I had all the designs of the rooms and the sets and a [sketch] of the creature rendered in color and everything and I showed all of that to Fox Searchlight and they said, “Let’s do it.” With that one single studio we pitched…
Amazing. You know, the characters in this are so rich and so great. I was thinking about this, but Michael Shannon’s character Strickland, had this been in the 1960s, he would have been the hero of the story.
Guillermo del Toro: Yeah. Exactly right. And the creature holding the girl would have been horror instead of love.
Right. And I heard you wrote this specifically for these actors. How did that come about? Why them specifically?
Guillermo del Toro: Well, Shannon I love that, in the middle of the movie he needs to have a moment of humanity and he can nail that humanity, but he can still be menacing as hell. Sally is, in my opinion, is the most authentic, powerful, luminous actress working in cinema and one of the most beautiful faces to grace the silver screen, but not in a perfume commercial model kind of way, but in her own way and, at the same time, she could be next to you on the bus stop. The movie is a combination of the extraordinary and the ordinary constantly. A river god, yes, but he lives in a bathtub. You juxtaposed these things, but I think her, Octavia Spencer has this incredibly humanity and forgiveness. And Doug Jones is Doug Jones. Only he could have played this river god.
I see your passion and love for classic horror movies, the fingerprint on this all the way. Why do you think classic horror movie characters haven’t worked out so well in the modern era of filmmaking?
Guillermo del Toro: I think that there is a postmodern attitude towards genre that tries to disarm or disassemble the genre in a postmodern way and I think that when you approach characters with earnest love, it’s a lot less safe because you’re not above the material. You are high on your own supply and it’s easier to be ironic, so I think that’s part of it. But then you have ambivalent things like Jordan Peele nailing it and making it not ironic, but reflexive.
He’s my doppelganger.
Guillermo del Toro: Yes, he is. And he’s a fusion of reverence and intelligence. It’s a good year for the genre for sure.
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