Guillermo del Toro, Part II

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?

GDT: I 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 read Campbell, 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 true.

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?

GDT: Yes

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 some day.

PK: That Lovecraft wasn’t exactly a sunny guy.

GDT: Yeah 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 resurrection?

GDT: (chuckles). 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 course.

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 life?

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.

GDT:. She 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 one.

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 video game.

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 out.

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.




| More

 Friends' Activity   Popular 
All Blogs
Follow the Phoenix
  • newsletter
  • twitter
  • facebook
  • youtube
  • rss
Latest Comments
Search Blogs
Outside The Frame Archives