Guillermo del Toro Returns with Hellboy II
by Paul Fischer
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Mexican director Guillermo del Toro is nothing if not a visionary. From his luminous and original adult fairy tale, Pan’s Labyrinth, to Hellboy, del Toro lends his own inimitable visual style to a Hollywood franchise. Next, the director is set to combine his own style with that of Tolkien as he helms the two –part adaptation of The Hobbit. In this far reaching interview, del Toro talks Hellboy II, The Hobbit and beyond.
Paul Fischer: You are wearing a lot of black.
Guillermo del Toro: You know, Albert Einstein and Seth Brundle in The Fly both said the same thing, which is if you only wear the same thing over and over and over again—Woody Allen does the same—you don’t think about what you are going to be wearing, and you can be musing about something else. So I’m not thinking, will I combine? I always look like shit, but I look uniformly like shit, so it’s great.
PF: I read somewhere that this is the Hellboy you really wanted to make from the outset.
GDT: No, I wish I was that wise. I wish I was that fucking sleek, but I really thought—I think it is, but it was not planned that way. The first movie, I fully thought we were doing the exact version that would honor the comic and be faithful to the comic, but as time passed, I realized mistakes were made or shortcomings were evident because of—I was prudish, I think, on the first one a little bit, and I was completely unbridled on this one. I think it made a difference, because on the first one, I was there to try and satisfy a specific aesthetic I admire, which was Mike’s [Mignola], a specific character I admired which was Mike’s, and I made it my own only to a certain point. It was not conscious, it was not a process—it just happened, and I learned and I was desperate to make the second one to improve, expand, go a little wider.
PF: To find a balance between Mike and your own?
GDT: Yes, I believe so. I think that it is Mike’s creation. It will always be Mike’s creation, but I really allowed myself to disagree with more people on this one sometimes including Mike. I feel it was a riskier proposition, but I feel if you were going to do the second one and be equally timid you were going to come out with the exact timid approach.
PF: Are you a Jim Henson fan, because you used a lot of practical features?
GDT: Yes, I am a huge Jim Henson fan and actually, Solution Studios, who participated in many of the creatures, many of them used to be on the Henson shop. That’s why we went with them; they created some of the stuff I liked the most in Story Teller, or they worked in Little Shop of Horrors and Return to Oz, and so on and so forth. One idea I had in the movie is that, first and foremost, we wanted to make the movie feel handmade. We wanted the movie to have an artisan pride in craftsmanship, pride in the sets and the creatures. When they designed the Golden Army, I told them, “Make sure the gold is hammered, not flat. It is hammered, and a little rust or oil stains. Let’s make everything lived in,” because I wanted everything to be texturally palpable. So one of the approaches, which was in the first movie also, was let’s make the creatures as practical as we can.
PF: There is a nod to Star Wars and the Cantina scene in this. I don’t know if it was conscious or not—
GDT: Well, actually, that was Mike’s fear more than anything. Every time we came to the Troll market, Mike was [hums Stars Wars tune]. I said, “No,” and we shot it completely different from that. Instead of doing a close-up of creatures that we had, I treated them like extras in the background. Sometimes we spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on a creature that happens only in the first shot. If you look at the movie over again, you’ll see a creature called the Strider, which are three large, elephant-like creatures with long legs like the elephants from the knee and no head, walking past the archway. Only ones in the whole movie, and I said I will shoot it completely different from the Cantina scene. I will shoot it like we really wandered into a real place, and I will use creatures that cost thousands of dollars to pass by, and we did.
PF: Did you put in the “See You Next Wednesday” reference from John Landis?
GDT: Landis and Kubrick, yeah.
PF: Also, I noticed there were many references to Bride of Frankenstein, Creature from the Black Lagoon—
GDT: Wizard of Oz. Every movie that I referenced in the film, Harryhausen, Creature, Wizard of Oz, American Werewolf, whatever it is—those are movies I called my 12-year-old movies, because the idea of Hellboy II was, can I shoot a movie like a 12-year-old? I am 43, I’ve done X number of movies, but can I learn to just devolve emotionally into a guy who is so in love with these things that I shoot it with that much emotion. When you see the resurrecting of the fairy, there’s a wide angle with everybody around standing and the little fairy moving, which is exactly like a stop-motion set up of Harryhausen in Sinbad. Or the resurrection of the stone giant portal, I told Danny Elfman let’s listen to Bernard Herrmann on Jason and the Argonauts the [makes drum beat] and horns, and we referenced it because those are all 12-year-old movies and I wanted very much, very much for this movie to have that, I wouldn’t say innocence, but that wide eyed view of the creatures. When you have that love for monsters, that is unbridled and untempered by any adult concern in the emotional aspect.
PF: That childlike innocence that you talk about—is that what attracted you to The Hobbit?
GDT: I believe so, you know to a point, because The Hobbit, like this movie—every movie has to be balance between the two. Pan’s Labyrinth is the same thing. It had a lot of that awe, but at the same time it is a more adult theme and a more adult tone. The theme and the tone of The Hobbit are very different from this movie—just aesthetically, it can’t be as poppy as this movie, so the approach will be different. The Hobbit is an 11-year-old book, and I read it when I was 11 and it hit me right at that moment, so I tried to honor that feeling. It would be my most sincere hope that somewhere at some point on the Hellboy II exhibition, there is a 10-year-old or 11-year-old with his or her parents that fall in love with one of the creatures forever, like Wink or the Angel of Death or something, because we created those monsters—every guy that was involved every girl that was involved in creating those creatures, I ask them to come from a place of love. I did it like animation, which is not very customary in movies like this. I said to each of the guys, “Which is the character that enthralls you? Grab that character and run with it.” Instead of assembly-line monsters, we gave a guy one monster, and that guy created him from machete all the way to final realization, wardrobe, sculpting, painting, like you give a lead animator a character in an animated film, because I felt you needed that level of commitment in the creation of the creatures in the movie. There is one [inaudible] with one guy, who did only the octopus fish vendor—that was the only guy who did it. That was an entire shop that just did that creature. It is a very uncommon approach. I’m not sure that it is economically great, but it was creatively.
PF: What brought you to Seth MacFarlane as the voice of Johann?
GDT: When we came to the conclusion that Johann was going to essentially be a voice, and therefore I thought who would be the best performer, we talked about Seth early, early on, and Lloyd Levin brought him up, and I said, “Absolutely ideal.” Because I love Stewie, I love Brian, I think—I do think the guy is an incredibly gifted vocal actor, incredibly gifted, and he makes a killer crooner if you’ve ever heard him sing. But we thought we would never get him; the guy is essentially his own cottage industry. We thought, how can we—a guy that is worth whatever millions of dollars, why would he be interested in $10,000 bucks or whatever to do a voice in a movie? When we called him he said, “Absolutely. Send me the script.” He read it, he said, “I love it, let’s do it.” It was easy, but I never thought I would get him. At the end of the day, we went to him, and we were fortunate enough, and to this day, I can tell you the days he was in the booth, which was about three or four days only, were the happiest days of my geek life. I kept telling him, “In that episode where Peter gets the rectal exam, what was going through your mind?” And he told me fantastic stories. I have my living DVD extras right there. I was like the James Lipton of Family Guy. [in Lipton voice] “What is your favorite color?”
PF: If you decide to do a third Hellboy, how are you going to logistically do that if you are committed to the next several years on The Hobbit?
GDT: There was four years between the first Hellboy and the second one. There can legitimacy be four years between the second one and the third one. It would take at least two years—it took two years and a half to solve this script for me. I spent huge amounts of time just solving. I wanted to make the action set pieces relevant to the story. The Elemental, for example—making it a moment where [Prince Nuada] says, “Choose between him or them.” Things like that and with the third one the ante is up considerably in that it is a very complicated movie because I wanted to signal the end of at least this incarnation of Hellboy, not forever, but I would not be involved past that. It will be probably the last Hellboy Ron has physically in him. It is a very gruelling process, he is entering the silver years shall we say. He’s a guy that I cannot demand physical action from again and again and I think that we would love to make it a sort of a capper.
PF: Considering these are different studios, how are we going to get a DVD set?
GDT: I know, isn’t that a bitch to figure out. I don’t know. I have the same concern and I think the answer is we won’t unless someone strikes a deal that no one wants to make. I think that if at all possible I think the second and third movie would get a package, but the first one won’t be there.
PF: Will Ron be in The Hobbit?
GDT: I have no idea. I really think that there is, I have the greatest friendship and a lot of loyalty he has to me, and I believe that there is a commitment to continue enjoying each others’ work together, but it doesn’t come before screenplay. If the screenplay has a character he can fit and fulfill, he’ll be there. But if there isn’t, we will wait for the next one.
PF: How is the screenplay coming along?
GDT: We are starting. We started taking notes on the first novel, on the novel and on the first movie and making adaptations for the ideas for the second one. It is in its infancy right now.
PF: Are you staying faithful to the novel?
GDT: Look, somebody said, and I agree with that comment, the only faithful adaptation is to actually put the book in front of the camera and turn the pages one by one. That is the only way you are going to do it. Hitchcock used to make a joke; if you leave a goat in a garbage dump, and it eats the book and eats the film, the goat will turn and say, “I prefer the book.” It is just a commonality. We will be as faithful to what we believe has to be done. As I said, I found in my life with the Hellboy movies—the first one was slightly too slavish in some ways, so I think that we will try to honor it. If this is any indication, I find the differences—the changes Peter, Fran and Phillipe did to the trilogy in adapting it into a filming trilogy, I found them to be absolutely necessary. Many fans will be irate or have been irate; many other have agreed and I see the same thing is going to happen with this.
PF: Where do you see a middle point to break The Hobbit in two?
GDT: I don’t see a middle point. I think the book should be contained, if possible, in the first movie, but this is an exploration. The second one would be a movie that would [weave] through the gap of about half a century between The Hobbit and the first of the trilogy films and connect them. Ideally, we would have a creator overture and sort of a first movement to a symphony of five films. It is too early. When people ask me where I am with Hobbit, I say I’m in post with Hellboy, I’m in post on The Lovely Bones—that is where we are on The Hobbit. Three weeks from now, I will be more and more able to answer.
PF: Will you be relocating to New Zealand for a number of years?
GDT: You know, when people ask me about The Hobbit I say always, “Look, my life completely was going in another direction,” and when I got the call, I said, “Yeah ,let’s spend half a decade over there.” I was just finishing my house, and when I say my house, I mean my house. I’m doing a man-cave of epic proportions. My collection of crap was getting so big that my wife said, “Dude, you or us.” I said, “Let’s move the things out.” I bought a house five blocks away from my house, I put a secret bookshelf door, I put a haunted mansion room, I am moving all my stuff there and I was planning on having that as my office for the next five years, and then I got the call.
PF: Will you move the house?
GDT: I’m going to lend it to a friend, a like-minded friend, to live there for three years while I’m gone. He’s going to have 7,000 DVDs, 15,000 comic books, but the only thing he can’t touch is my toys. I have many iterations of Disney’s the Nautilus. I collect haunted mansion memorabilia; I collect any iteration of Chernabog, the demon from Fantasia. I own two of the original sketches that Kay Nielsen and the other artist pitched to Disney. I am an obsessive collector and I’ve said in the past, mercifully I do dress like shit, and I drive a really old car, so the only vice I have is collecting this stuff. When I used to come through customs in Mexico, I was really afraid that the customs would look and find my rubber spiders and my EC Comics and finally one day—when you press the button in Mexico the red light comes on and it means you are going to be inspected. I put my bag and I go, “My God, I’m going to pay a $1,000 fine for all my imports.” And they open it and pull the rubber spiders and the EC Comic Books and the guys goes, “This guy has all this shit!” and lets me go through.
Paul Fischer is originally from Australia. Now he is an interviewer and film critic living in Hollywood.
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