PK: I read
that you had shown The Devil’s Backbone
at the Toronto Film Festival on
September 9th 2001 and then
on September 11th of course that terrible thing happened and then
you realized that you’d have to do another film that somehow reflected that
occasion. Can you talk about that a little bit?
started noticing that the world was becoming a harder place for dissension, for
disobedience. I think that disobedience is key in acquiring responsibility and
consciousness. And becoming somebody.
PK: That’s one of
the parts of the movie that kind of bothered me. It’s when Ophelia decides to
eat the two grapes. They didn’t look that tantalizing to me and then I sort of
realized that it was her way of not being completely obedient.
GDT: Beyond that,
if you remember, the mother sends her the night before without supper, and
tells her “You’ll go to bed without supper” and she spends the next day by
dealing with the near miscarriage so that by the time she goes to bed she has
not eaten for 20 hours at least.
PK: Shame on me for
being a poor observer.
The fawn is a very ambivalent creation. It’s unclear whether
he’s a good guy or a bad guy.
GDT: He’s meant
to be the character that Joseph Campbell calls the Trickster. It’s a character
that’s essentially an untrustworthy guide.
PK: You don’t
ascribe the way that say George Lucas
does to the Campbellian…
GDT: I don’t. I
I read Bettelheim, I read Angela Carter and I’ve read most of the studies that
deal with myth and fairytale and lore, and frankly I think that a lot of them
become a little too systematic for me; they become a little bit formulaic, or
at least they are used that way now in the real world. There’s other studies
that have been more useful for me. One of the books I cherish is a book called The Science
of Fairy Tales, and it’s a very exhaustive, very scholarly, but at the same
time very amusing and free catalog of how fairy tale oral tradition was formed.
PK: Speaking of
constraining formulas, you have not had good experiences with Hollywood. In fact you’re quoted as saying
that your experience with Miramax was even more horrible than the experience of
having your father kidnapped.
GDT: Yes it’s
PK: But you are
making another movie in Hollywood:
Hellboy 2. How is that working out?
GDT: I think that
whenever you’re learning to operate a big machine, you lose a couple fingers.
It was learning to operate the machine and it was actually the only experience
– I’ve had three experiences working in Hollywood
and only one bad one. I’m going to chalk it up to particulars. I’m not going to
think of it like that in general. But I also learned a big lesson because with Mimic I was trying to do too much on the
first try. I was very ambitious and I was little by little finding my footing
there, and finding my footing there has helped me find a much more assured step
when I go independent like in Pans
Labyrinth or in Devil’s Backbone.
PK: So the two
feed off each other and you can make your independent films better by working
in studio films and vice versa?
PK: What is Hellboy 2 going to be like?
GDT: Well the
idea for me is to try and take Hellboy…through
essentially 3 steps. The first movie is the ideal almost childlike existence of
this guy where he falls in love and declares his love and learns who he is. The
second movie is about him finding out what the outside world is like, a little
bit, and the third movie is sort of the conclusion, and we think a very
heartbreaking little fable at the end. The second one is taking what can be or
could be a series of adventures and trying to reinvent what we got wrong in the
first one and trying to almost amplify and do again what we did right. It’s a
very sharp learning curve with these movies.
PK: Your tendency
to not exactly have happy endings- how does that work with your Hollywood connection?
GDT: It’s been only three experiences, and I think that out
of the three I would say that the first one, Mimic, was very difficult because
the original ending was completely shocking and a down ending.
PK: The insects won?
GDT: Yeah, the
insects won. And essentially not only did they win but they were amongst us and
no one noticed. They were taken to the next level of perfection. That of course
never lived to see the light of a projector. On the second one, Blade II, I came aboard when Goyer had
written the screenplay and part of what made me accept the movie was that
ending where the woman he loved crumbles in his hands. I really liked that.
With Hellboy it’s a very bittersweet
ending. I’m having more trouble with other movies that I’m trying to get off
the ground that do not have happy endings. Like I’m trying to adapt The Mountains of Madness by Lovecraft,
and that has an incredibly bleak and brutal ending but I think that people tend
to forget how it is sometimes the best horror movies, end up not with
salvation, but with an impending sense of doom and tragedy…I hope I can do it
Lovecraft wasn’t exactly a sunny guy.
exactly. It’s like when they ask “Is there a love interest?” I said you’re
talking about Lovecraft here.
PK: Is it true
that you were offered The Lion, the
Witch, and the Wardrobe but you said you would do it only if there was no
In so many words. I actually said “Look I’m not the guy because in my version I
don’t think the lion would resurrect.”
PK: Do you think
if they made that film without that ending…that’s the C.S. Lewis ending?
GDT: Yes of
PK: Do you think
it would have been as successful as it was.
GDT: No no.
That’s why I shouldn’t do it. I think that I try to be sincere with the
material I accept. People may be shocked that there is something on Blade II that attracts me, but there is.
I love the story of the vampire son and vampire father, and I love the vampire
lord and the biology that we invented for that movie. I don’t fully understand
Blade, frankly, but when I came on board, I knew that Wesley did. Wesley had a
very good sense of why Blade operated the way he operated. I concentrated
myself on creating these horrifyingly disgusting vampires which I love dearly.
PK: And you’re
quoted as saying you wouldn’t have killed them but you would have invited them
over for dinner.
GDT: Yeah. I
really like them so much. When I was a kid I was very interested in animals and
I was very interested in reading about how they functioned and reading about
their biology, and that was the aspect that I felt I could bring to Blade II; a sense of real anatomy and a
sense of real biology to these creatures. Other than that, I threw myself at
the mercy of Goyer and Wesley knowing what made Blade tick.
PK: What was the Outer Limits episode that changed your
GDT: It was
called “The Mutant” with Warren Oates.
PK: Which one was
that? I’ve seen a number of them.
GDT: It’s the one
where they go to a different planet and they start mutating because of the sun
and their eyes become huge. Warren
Oates is this bald guy that has these big goggles all the time, then he removes
the goggles and his eyes are the size of them. And I started screaming like a madman
when I saw that.
PK: So you have
sort of a love/hate relationship with horror?
GDT: I don’t. I
really like horror and I like roller coasters. I like the adrenaline and I like
the fear. Emotions, no matter which ones they are, if they make you feel alive,
they are welcome. I think the thing that makes you not feel alive is isolation.
PK: A lot of the
horror that you’ve experienced has not just been on the screen but you’ve seen
a lot in the streets growing up. Can you talk a little about that?
GDT: Mexico is a
wonderful, violent place. I know that sounds like a contradiction but it isn’t.
I think there is almost an upheaval of life in Mexico, and it’s anarchic and it’s
unstructured and it is brutal, but it is there, and life is out there on the
street. You can smell it, you can feel it, you can be there. And part of it is
violence. I’ve seen more corpses than the regular first-world kid would have. I
saw my first corpse at about age 4 in a highway accident, and I’ve seen people
stabbed, shot, burned to death, and so forth, accidentally, by walking down the
street you see these things. My personal experiences have somehow lead me to –
for example for Cronos, I interviewed
and befriended a few embalmers because I was doing research for the movie. And
I worked as a volunteer at a mental hospital for a little bit, and it was next
door to the morgue, and I would have lunch at the cemetery. So it’s not your
average formative years.
PK: So your
grandmother exorcised you twice?
GDT: Twice- once
in front of my sister and once when I was alone with her.
PK: It doesn’t
seem to have worked very well.
couldn’t believe that I was….She exorcised me once when I was 10 and once when
I was 12, and the second time she did it at age 12 I started laughing at how
absolutely ridiculous it was for her to think that any misbehaving from a 12
year old would be demonic. She started panicking because I was laughing and she
was throwing holy water at me, but I was laughing at the ridiculousness of the
situation…you have a 60-year-old woman trying to exorcize a 12 year old because
he’s not behaving well.
PK: So that’s
when you lapsed in your Catholicism?
GDT: I lapsed at
a very particular time in life. I lapsed in my early teens, but I lapsed more
out of the most important image in me lapsing was a pile of aborted fetuses in
a morgue, and when I saw that, it was about 5 feet tall. There was an impending
sense of mercilessness that I couldn’t explain. I don’t know what he’d exactly
told me to see that, but I saw it and it made me feel that if there was any
intelligence in the cosmos it was nevertheless a cold intelligence.
PK: An insect-like
GDT: In a sense
PK: You’ve said
that the future of movies is video games?
GDT: I think that
the future of movies includes that platform; I’m not saying that it’s the form
that they’re ultimately going to take. But the discipline of learning and the
interactiveness of it and the sort of multi-branching storytelling – that’s the
future, I believe it. I think that there is a point in which generations, one
or two generations behind us, comes a generation that will not accept passive
storytelling; they will only accept participation.
PK: I can see Pan’s Labyrinth becoming a really cool
GDT: It could be
a very creepy one. Ever since Mimic,
even Mimic has some influence from
video games. I believe that there is an incredibly strong aesthetic being
shaped in video games that high brow culture is not paying attention to, but
there is a sense of design and sound, immersive sound design, and visual
texturing and design that is incredibly bold and inventive. I can point you to
one video game that if you ever play it you will see how incredibly subtle and
beautiful the storytelling can get. It’s a Japanese game that is available in America called
“Shadow of the Colossus.” It’s almost like watching an incredibly beautiful
world in a movie that you can get lost in and wonder. It’s amazing.
PK: I’ll have to
check it out.
GDT: Check it
PK: One last
question. The beginning of the film is the ending of the film also. And you
zoom into the eye of Ophelia and then it seems like everything that follows
takes places inside of her eye or mind. Are we to assume then that it’s all a
dream or a hallucination?
GDT: No to me
it’s real, but it’s real in a spiritual sense. I do believe in a quote by
Kierkegaard that say the tyrants reign ends with his death and the martyrs
reign starts with it. I think that it is acceptable for people to hear about
faith in other realms, but not within. People can say “I feel the love of Jesus
in my heart and Jesus lives in me.”
And people will hear that and say “Well I can see how that happens.” Well I
think that fantasy is as powerful and as intimate and as spiritual as that, and
I do believe that everything that happens to the girl is real. I believe in the
dimension - not because… I don’t believe in practical magic, I don’t believe
that you can get to the eyes of a toad and the bone of a mummy and you create
something – but I do believe that
there is a very mysterious part of the universe. I’m an atheist or a lapse
Catholic but I’m not a materialist. I believe that there is a huge spiritual
dimension that is as real as the real material world, and I think she goes
there. I really do. The movie is actually in favor of that hope.
PK: So it’s kind
of a happy ending?
GDT: For me it
is. The movie is like a blotch test on the people seeing it. If you stick to
the fact that the girl was shot in the gut you’re right, but if you don’t see
what happens then – not only that she goes to a place in her heart but also
that the movie then ends with a voiceover and the epilogue that says
essentially that the right tree began to flower again and the insect is there…
that for me is the note of grace in the movie.
PK: Well I thank
you for your time and best of luck with the Golden Globes and I hope the
momentum continues over to the Oscars.
GDT: I tell you,
I’m perfectly satisfied having been nominated. And I will buy the tuxedo out of
faith but I’m not holding my breath.