Interview : Guillermo del ToroSheila
We had a chance to catchup with Guillermo del Toro who has done some of the most kick ass films of the last 5 years, the latest of which is Pans Labyrinth. Award-winning filmmaker Guillermo del Toro delivers a unique, richly imagined epic with PAN’S LABYRINTH, a gothic fairy tale set against the postwar repression of Franco’s Spain. Del Toro’s sixth and most ambitious film, PAN’S LABYRINTH combines the historic and moral themes of his acclaimed Spanish Civil War ghost story THE DEVIL’S BACKBONE with the protean visual creativity and gripping dynamics of such previous films as HELLBOY and BLADE II.
Harnessing the formal characteristics of classic folklore to a 20th Century landscape, del Toro delivers a timeless tale of good and evil, bravery and sacrifice, love and loss. PAN’S LABYRINTH unfolds through the eyes of Ofelia, a dreamy little girl who is uprooted to a rural military outpost commanded by her new stepfather. Powerless and lonely in a place of unfathomable cruelty, Ofelia lives out her own dark fable as she confronts monsters both otherworldly and human. Here is what Del Toro had to say about Pans Labyrinth
Question: Is that a journal of stuff that you’re working on?
Guillermo del Toro: It’s "Pan’s Labyrinth” and the beginnings of "Hellboy.”
Q: "Hellboy 2,” right?
GDT: "Hellboy 2,” yeah.
Q: Don’t leave that in a cab. [Laughs]
GDT: I did. Two days ago, I was in a roundtable with David Lynch, and I had slept one hour. They came and picked me up, and I took my jacket off, put [my journal] on top of the car, went in, left it on the top of the car, drove away, this fell, I arrived to the office and I said, ‘Where is the diary?’ And, the guy that was driving said, ‘I’m gonna go back.’ He went back, and I was in a meeting. I had a meeting on "Hellboy 2” and I was like, ‘Well, this shot goes here.’ But, this guy always comes back. Like always, I said, ‘Okay, please give it back.’ I understand why I lost it. And, he called and said, ‘I got it,’ and it came back.
Q: You need to get a chain attached to it.
GDT: [Laughs] I know. I’m going to put a GPS chip on there.
Q: At Comic-Con last summer, you said that you felt like your balls dropped on this film.
GDT: Indeed, they did. I felt it.
Q: After all this time of promoting this film, do you still enjoy coming to these things? And, what has been your reaction with talking to everyone about it?
GDT: It’s always a surprise when you think, Okay, this is where it ends, and it continues and keeps going, which is great. I’m an ex-Catholic. I’ve lapsed completely, but I’m always expecting the other shoe to drop. [Laughs] We excel at guilt, like most every other religious group. Every time it has a good turn, I am amazed. I’m like, ‘Oh, wow, we won that? We got that? Oh, that’s great.’ But, I always think, That’s it, that’s the end of it, [laughs] and it keeps getting better.
When I did a movie like "The Devil’s Backbone,” which I adore, the movie essentially suffered a really tough fate. It came out around September 11th. It barely came out. I think it came out in 1,620 theaters. I think it made two of the top 10 lists. It didn’t win much. It won a few awards in Europe, and here and there, that were very meaningful. But, nevertheless, I loved that movie. I never try to marry outcome to what I do. It’s a troubled time for an ex-Catholic to be in. I’m enjoying it as much as I can allow myself to enjoy it. [Laughs]
Q: "Pan’s Labyrinth” is getting a lot of critical acclaim and awards, but you have two friends with movies that have also come out, at the same time.
GDT: That’s easier.
Q: How is that easier?
GDT: It’s easier because I love and openly enjoy them doing well. I saw "Children of Men” and I see the envelope of storytelling clearly being pushed. I have a clear sense of that huge movement forward. Or, I see "Babel,” and I see the Japanese episode in "Babel,” and I see him trying something completely new in his set of storytelling tools and concerns. So, it’s easier for me to enjoy that, than it is to enjoy my own stuff. I don’t know why. I’m fat and an ex-Catholic. It takes a lot for me to accept a compliment.
Q: Alfonso Cuaron talked about the fact that the three of you take your movies and give each other your scripts. He said that he credits you with the end of "Y Tu Mama Tambien.” So, for someone like Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu, who did "Babel” and "21 Grams,” you wouldn’t think he would be into something as fantastical as some of your movies are. Does that surprise you, when your friends are into something that you don’t think they’d be into?
GDT: [Laughs] I think that Alejandro, for example, loved "Hellboy,” but he hated "Blade 2.” He berated me for over two hours for making "Blade 2.” I had to pull off of the freeway and park in a parking lot, and I finally said, ‘Listen, man, I need to have lunch. I apologize for having made Blade. Can I now have lunch?’
He said, ‘No, you don’t understand. It appeals to the vilest of human emotions.’ I said, ‘Dude, it’s a Tom and Jerry cartoon.’ We’re sincere with each other. When Alfonso and I finished "Great Expectations” and "Mimic,” I called Alfonso and I said, ‘So, it looks like we both made giant insect movies,’ and we laughed about it. We really take it in stride. I didn’t like the screenplay for "21 Grams.” I said to Alfonso, ‘Thank God you disjointed the narrative because linearly it would be ridiculous.’ We fuck with each other. It’s good. It’s a good thing to have in your life.
Q: "Pan’s Labyrinth” has a lot of ideas in this country. There’s a game, there’s the Jim Henson movie. What ideas does it have in Spain?
GDT: The labyrinth is a very, very powerful sign. It’s a primordial, almost iconic symbol. It can mean so many things culturally depending on where you do it. But, the main thing for me is that unlike a maze, a labyrinth is actually a constant transit of finding, not getting lost. It’s about finding, not losing, your way. So that was very important for me. It is a place where you do sharp turns and you can have the illusion of being lost, but you are always doing a constant transit to an inevitable center. That’s the difference. A maze is full of dead ends, and a labyrinth may have the illusion of having a dead end, but it always continues. I can ascribe two concrete meanings of the labyrinth in the movie.
One is the transit of the girl towards her own center, and towards her own, inside reality, which is real. I think that Western cultures make a difference about inner and outer reality, with one having more weight than the other. I don’t. I come from an absolutely crazy upbringing. I had a fucked up childhood. And, I have found that [the inner] reality is as important as the one that I’m looking at right now. The other transit I can say is the transit that Spain goes through, from a princess that forgot who she was and where see came from, to a generation that will never know the name of the fascist. And, the other one is the Captain being dropped in his own historical labyrinth. Those are things I put in, but then, as I said, the labyrinth is something else. Each culture will ascribe a different weight to it.
Q: Did you ever consider not having Vidal not see Ofelia with the creatures? When he sees her with them, you see that they do not exist, and I almost wish that it was left more open to interpretation.
GDT: There are two or three moments of mystery in the film. I can give you my answer, but that doesn’t mean that it is the answer. My answer is that those who cannot see, will not see. It’s very simple. The girl asks Mercedes, ‘Do you believe in faeries?,’ while they’re milking the cow, and she says, ‘I used to when I was a girl, but I don’t believe in many things anymore.’ If the Captain saw the faun, what does that tell you about that fascist sociopath, and what does that tell you about the fable?
When she physically dies, but she spiritually is reborn, I am not in control of what you choose to believe in. I’m not in control of what you think is more important. I’m telling you the story. For me, the movie ends in on a note of absolute hope and beauty, with a tiny white flower blooming on a dead tree, and an insect watching it as it blooms. For me, that’s as heavy as the entire outcome of a war. But, that’s me. That’s the way I look at things. I can concentrate on this being great, and not minding the rest. I believe in those things.
Q: Did you grow up reading fairy tales and thinking they were frightening, or were you delighted by them?
GDT: In the time of spiritual formation, for me, both fairy tales and the Bible had the exact same weight. I was as enthralled by a parable in the Bible about the grain of mustard, as I could be about three brothers on their quest to marry a princess, and I found equal spiritual illumination in both. And, even when I was a kid, funny enough, I used to be able to find those fairy tales that felt preachy and pro-establishment, and I hated them. I hated the ones that were about, ‘Don’t go out at night.’
There are fairy tales that are created to instill fear in children, and there are fairy tales that are created to instill hope and magic in children. I like those. I like the anarchic ones. I like the crazy ones. And, I think that all of them have a huge quotient of darkness because the one thing that alchemy understands and fairy tale lore understands is that you need the vile matter for magic to flourish. You need lead to turn it into gold. You need the two things for the process. So, when people sanitize fairy tales and homogenize them, they become completely uninteresting for me.
Q: Was there a particular fairy tale that influenced you with "Pan’s Labyrinth?”
GDT: I have collected them since I was a kid, so it’s hard for me to tell you. There’s a whole streak of them. The movie and the notebook both say that we are doing homages to Lewis Carroll, to "The Wizard of Oz,” to Hans Christian Anderson with the little magical girl, to Oscar Wilde, and very specifically to David Copperfield and Charles Dickens.
These are things that I voluntarily do. But, the one book that I would say was a huge influence on making the movie is a book called "The Sands of Fairy Tales,” which is a recent catalog of all the primordial streaks of storytelling in fairy tale lore.
Q: What would you like an audience to take from this film?
GDT: As I said, it’s like a blotch test. If they are enraged by the bleak hopelessness, or they are enthralled by the beauty and the poetry and the hope in the film, it’s equal to me. I think that it’s a movie that is going to make people react emotionally, hopefully. What I would love is, ideally, if this movie connects with you, it should create an almost perfect simulation of what it is to be a kid again, both by the beauty and the fear, because both things are dialed up.
The brutality is dialed up, artificially, and the fantasy is dialed up, artificially. It’s like doing a deep tissue massage to the soul, to try and reach the point where you will react to the violence and say, ‘Oh, my God.’ It’s so over-the-top that it will affect you. And, the fantasy is also so over-the-top that it will affect you. It’s a simulation of a moment in childhood that you have. That’s why it’s a fairy tale for adults. Kids don’t need that extreme pushing.
Q: How different has it been to work on "Hellboy 2” at a different studio?
GDT: Right now, I can tell you that we may argue about budget, and we may argue about size versus cost, but creatively I have been in heaven, so far. It was, actually, creatively a great experience on the first one, but I think the difference is, going into it the first time, with a movie called "Hellboy,” with a guy that looks like he has two plastic cups on his forehead, and people chewing their nails to know what the character is, is a great difference. We’ll see, at the end of the ride. No ride is safe. There is no handlebar on these things. You ride the roller coaster without any protection.
Q: Are you going to wrap things up, in case this is the last one?
GDT: We always do that. We created the first one and said, ‘If there’s a second one, great. If there’s not a second one, great.’ We go into the second one the same way. It is my hope that we would be allowed to do the trilogy, but you don’t know.
Q: Have you thought any further about other things that you would really like to do?
GDT: If, all of a sudden, I bought a lotto ticket and I got $100 million, I would go about doing either "Mountains of Madness” or "Monte Cristo.” Those are the two films. "Monte Cristo” has been with me for 13 years. I wrote the first draft with Kit Carson in 1993, so I would love to do that movie. And, I would love to do Mountains. Either/or. Those are really very risky, very personal, very beautiful, very powerful things to do. But, as John Lennon said, ‘A career is what happens while you’re making other plans.’
Q: Would the Spanish language be an option for either of those?
GDT: "Monte Cristo” happens in the 1860's in Mexico, so you have people speaking French, English and Spanish. It’s a mixture. I want the Mexican dialogue to be in Spanish, I want the French guys to talk in French, and I want the Americans to speak in English. I think that it could, but I never know which way we’re going to go. We’re always looking for financing for it.
Q: Hopefully, the critical acclaim you’re getting for "Pan’s Labyrinth” can lead to more freedom on future projects?
GDT: I would love that. Every movie you do, it is like a roller coaster. The moment of hesitation is right at the moment after you’ve gone up and, right before taking the dive, you go, ‘Why the fuck did I jump on this one? I should have gone to the carousel.’ And then, [you go down], and you come out on the other end and you go, ‘How the fuck did that happen?’ Right now, the roller coaster of Pan is finishing, and all I know is, sooner than I have time to think, I’m going to [go back up again] on something.
Q: What was it about working on "Hellboy” that made you switch your idea about "Pan’s Labyrinth” and make it a fantasy?
GDT: It was always a fantasy. Originally, the idea was that it was a married couple and the wife was pregnant. She fell in love with the faun in the labyrinth, and the husband was so straight. The faun said to her, ‘If you give me your child and you trust me with killing your child, you will find him and I, both, on the other side, and the labyrinth will flourish again,’ and she made that leap of faith.
It was a shocking tale. And, it started changing. It was totally different than this one, but movies are like that, and stories are like that. They change on you. I don’t know exactly when it happened, but I know that, in post-production on "Hellboy,” over a chicken dinner at Alfonso’s house -- he was post-producing Harry Potter -- I said, ‘Well, after dinner, I’ll tell you the movie I want to make,’ and I told him this movie, start to finish, exactly as it was made. At that point, I had made the decision. And, I believe it happened over the course of a couple of days.
Q: When do you begin "Hellboy 2?”
Q: You said that you felt very liberated making "Pan’s Labyrinth” because you had more control. And, "Hellboy” will bring you back to a studio.
GDT: The thing is that you know, to a point, what you’re going to gain and what you’re going to not have. I just know that, if I want to paint these huge comic book panels, I need to go to a studio. I would never attempt to do "Hellboy 2” with European funding, and I would never attempt to have "Pan’s Labyrinth” done with a studio. Imagine them testing that movie.
"Pan’s Labyrinth” opens in theaters on December 29th. For those of you who live a sheltered life and have never heard of this film the trailer is below with a link to more clips and videos.