Guillermo Del Toro <i>Pan's Labyrinth</i> Interview

Prolific is certainly one of the many words you can use to describe Guillermo Del Toro.

When JustPressPlay met the Hellboy and Blade 2 director Thursday at the Ritz-Carlton hotel in San Francisco for a roundtable interview, the ecstatic filmmaker greeted us with the joy of someone who had just won an award. That's because he did. That very morning, the San Francisco Film Critics Circle b ...

Prolific is certainly one of the many words you can use to describe Guillermo Del Toro.

When JustPressPlay met the Hellboy and Blade 2 director Thursday at the Ritz-Carlton hotel in San Francisco for a roundtable interview, the ecstatic filmmaker greeted us with the joy of someone who had just won an award. That's because he did. That very morning, the San Francisco Film Critics Circle bestowed his latest film Pan's Labyrinth the Best Foreign Film award. It had been a good day for Guillermo, and he was very open and excited to talk about films - even others'.

With the delight of a detached fan, he asked us if we had seen Alfonso Cuaron's Children of Men and praised it endlessly; not unlike the way Cuaron himself talks about Guillermo's latest critically-acclaimed Spanish Civil War fantasy.

Joining the table are SF Critic Jeffrey Anderson and /Film 's Peter Sciretta. We thank them for their contributing queries!


[We interviewed Alfonso Cuaron yesterday and he said that his Children of Men is part of a trilogy], including Pan’s Labyrinth and Babel. I thought it was such an interesting comment. What do you think he meant by that?

GDT: Well, you know, it’s not a momentary trilogy. It’s not somebody coming out and saying “We’re gonna do this” and then phoning each other and saying, “What are you doing with your part of the trilogy?” It’s three guys that are essentially in a similar moment in their lives. [Alfonso and I], we both have a gift. We both are in our 40s. We both are in voluntary and involuntary exile. And we both have experienced two types of production, both the independent and the studio system, and we are looking for a footing in these things, and seem to be worried about similar stuff. Definitely I would say that the three movies deal somehow, somewhat, with hope. And the three movies deal somehow, somewhat, with “children and parents” stories. We do have a very intense contact. I call Alfonso more than I call my mother.

JA: He said he speaks to you every day.

GDT: Yeah, we talk. Essentially, it’s almost like a routine. I wake up, I have breakfast, I get in my car, I dial Alfonso. [Laughs] And I’m always dialing him at the same place, on the ramp as I get out of my house. I told him it’s like automatic, you know? Allejandro [Gonzales Innarirtu] and Alfonso speak every day. Allejandro and I speak every week, every two weeks. When we were shooting we spoke at least every three weeks. So it’s a very great friendship and moment.

JA: It’s almost like you guys are the Truffaut and Godard of the 21st Century.

GDT: I am the Godard.


JPP: Was it Alfonso’s suggestion to cast [Y Tu Mama Tambien star] Maribel Verdu as Mercedes [in Pan’s Labyrinth]?

GDT: It wasn’t! It was actually the opposite. You know, when you work with an actress that has worked with another director, you almost have to apologize for using her. I mean, I remember using Marisa Paredes when I was working with [director Pedro] Almodovar in The Devil’s Backbone -- he was producing – and I was very shy about using her, but Marisa and I were friends before I knew she was an Almodovar actress. When Pedro would visit the set, which happened I think two times, I would always be shooting with Marisa and it was unnerving. I would say, “Oh my god, he had to come in right as I…” and I would be really nervous. That happens to me, when somebody else works with Ron Perlman or Federico Luppi, it’s almost like an infidelity.


But it is like that. You feel shy about it. And Maribel… I actually called Alfonso and said “Listen, don’t freak out… I know you’re gonna think this is wrong casting, but I think it should be great for Maribel.” Originally, I wrote the part for a much older woman, to make her almost a full-fledged mother figure. But I had seen Maribel in movies like The Good Star in Spain, and another movie called Amantes/Lovers by Vicente Aranda. Fantastic. And she had these tragic parts in those movies so I felt she could do it.

JA: At what point did you decide to have a little girl as the hero? It reminded me a little bit of Wizard of Oz and Miyazaki films --

/FILM: Alice in Wonderland --

GDT: Well, there is actually such a huge tradition in fairy tales of the pre-pubescent heroine going through tasks and the rite of passage. There are even books written about it by feminists and by studious people that analyzed fairy tales. One of the examples that I think is most powerful is a Hans Christian Anderson tale called The Snow Queen, where the girl has to go on an ordeal that is ambiguous and scary and vaguely disturbing to rescue the boy she loves. And you can have all the other films that you quoted added to that pile. It’s really a tradition, and I think that The Devil’s Backbone was the Boys movie. Sort of a Tom Sawyer/Mario Bava/Sergio Leone production. And I think this was the sister movie, the Girls movie.

JPP: Speaking of those two films, after Devil’s Backbone and now Pan’s Labyrinth, and I understand that 3993 is going to be your next after Hellboy 2… What is it that keeps you coming back to the Spanish Civil War?

GDT: Well, I don’t know. For example, 3993, I would love to do. I read a first draft of it and I enjoyed it, I loved it, but I haven’t read the new draft. I know that I want to do the movie, but I don’t know if I want to just produce it, or producing/directing. But what attracts me is that each of those films is looking at an event from a very singular point-of-view. The three movies will be kind of tied together somewhat, but they will be very different. As similar as Pan’s Labyrinth is to Devil’s Backbone, is as different as they are really. They’re completely different films. They are bookends, if you want. What attracts me is the fact that it’s tragic little households where people kill each other. They essentially kill the people they live with.

JPP: Do you think you will continue to find more stories from that period?

GDT: Oh, there’s… You could make a hundred movies about the Civil War and it will never be over. The amount of oral testimonies that I’ve read, is like, enough to give you a pause and make you realize that there’s 20-30 incredibly heart-breaking movies to be told.

/FILM: You turned down the chance to direct Harry Potter 3, but convinced Alfonso to do the project. Is there any regret? Do you have any interest in directing one of the future [sequels]?

GDT: There is regret in the sense that I loved the books. By the time they asked me to do the third one, I was coming out of Blade 2. I didn’t want to start doing 2s and 3s and then 4. I really felt that the first two movies had a much lighter universe than the books. The books were very, very dark. And I frankly felt the kids were too… healthy for me. Not the type of kids that I’m interested in portraying. So I called the producer and said, “If you ever wanna kill those kids, I’d be your guy.”


In the mean time, if they escape their adventures unscathed, I’m not interested. Not because I don’t like the universe. I think the books are brilliantly written and very well researched. I really like that universe, but frankly, when I see Alfonso’s movie, I think he did a much better job that I would have ever done. Alfonso believes in youth much more than I do. I don’t believe in youth. I believe in the extremes: childhood and old age. Youth is always suspicious to me. I’m 41 and I never went through puberty, so I’m suspicious of that age range.

/FILM: As a tag to that question, I just have to ask you, there’s a lot of talk that Harry Potter might be killed off in the final book --

GDT: Oh my God!

/FILM: Do you think that J.K. Rowling would do it?

GDT: I don’t know if she will do it, and I’m almost sure as shit they wouldn’t offer it to me.


It was too glib on my part to say it, but I really don’t think that – It’s not exactly a want ad, you know? I’m reading the books as they come out, and I’m enjoying the hell out of them. I actually think it’s heading to a darker place, the entire saga, and I’m really happy about that. I’m really happy about that. I think it’s really coming to a place where they’re really gonna encounter darkness.

JA: Certainly Alfonso’s movie is the best one, and I think Mike Newell even copied his style a little bit. It’s so much darker in the fourth one.

GDT: Yeah. But I think that -- When I read the first book, before the movie was made, it was almost Dickensian… the situation of the orphan living with the cruel relatives, in absolute despair. Everything goes wrong, and he’s always faulted. I felt that this is such a great book, and I saw the movie and I thought it was charming and light and full of vivid colors. It almost looked like a great commercial for something, you know? And I felt that the book was much grimmer than that. But I think that’s why the movies made the money they made, ‘cause they were that way. If I had made it, there probably would only be one. I would have ended it right then and there.

JA: Alfonso yesterday was talking about how most movies today you can watch with your eyes closed. You can listen to them, and there’s no visual storytelling to them, which was what he was trying to do with Children of Men. Do you agree to that?

GDT: I don’t agree to that extreme, because I think there are a lot of movies that are being told visually in a very daring and interesting way, but I do agree with him fully that there is a tendency to judge and qualify a screenplay as only the anecdote, and the dialogue, and the sum of the structure. And I really think that a screenplay, a real screenwriting exercise, involves a lot of visuals and tone and light and dark and all that, but it’s always been like that. I think that [if you see] The French Connection or The Godfather, or Jaws… They are intrinsically, you know, visual exercises as much as they are dramaturgy pieces of writing. I think that what is being lost is that, the development of those things is getting so expository, where you have characters always having this big monologue about who they are, drinking coffee. It’s very hip and very post-modern to talk about yourself, and be shameless about it, and sort of take out all the mystery of those things. And I like that Alfonso… I mean Alfonso, Allejandro and I are trying something, which is writing half of the movie with visuals. [It’s what] I jokingly call “eye protein”. ‘Cause it’s not eye candy. It’s nurturing and nutritious.


It’s really about telling the story and the mood through pure film. I think the rest is suspect, especially in an era like this where you really have a medium that has great dialogue and great structure of writing in TV. Is there better writing of that type than what is going on on cable? I don’t think so. I think that anything like The Wire, Battlestar Galactica, Entourage, Curb Your Enthusiasm, Lost, all these things are so well written in that world, that then you really start questioning: okay, so what makes a movie a movie? What makes a movie not great television?

JPP: Is it jarring for you, production-wise, to go back and forth between your own personal projects and big budget Hollywood movies like Hellboy?

GDT: I actually enjoy it. If you’re always playing with the same set of restrictions, it would get boring. It almost gets funnier to go from creative restrictions to economic restrictions [and back to] creative restrictions. It lets you rest. It’s almost like being tortured on the left foot until you can’t take it, and they say, “Put up your right foot!”

JPP: So what’s your plan for [your adaptation for H.P. Lovecraft’s] At the Mountains of Madness?

GDT: I got an incredibly beautiful offer from Warner Brothers to finance a trailer. So they said, “We’ll finance a trailer so you can show us what you see the movie being like.” I’m gonna storyboard and script a little trailer, like a 3 minute trailer. And then we’ll shoot it early in the spring or after Hellboy or during production on a Saturday. I don’t know. We’ll find the time that doesn’t become obstructive, but that’s for me is the Titanic. My Lord of the Rings, that thing. Not in terms of how much business it’ll make. It’s just the quest, you know? The epic.

/FILM: Are you ever going to make a non-Hollywood American film?

GDT: I think I will. And I think as soon as possible. Because I really think that if you don’t need the budget of 65-70 million, you might as well go out and be entrepreneurial and try to raise it. Raising 20 million dollars, which is about 30.5 million Euros, which is what Pan’s Labyrinth cost, was already a big leap from raising 4.5 million dollars which was what The Devil’s Backbone [cost]. So the next leap for me is I’m gonna try to raise enough money to do an American movie independently. The problem is that the properties that exist that I love are all tied right now to studios.

JA: Scorsese called it “One for me, and one for them”. Is that how you see it?

GDT: I don’t see it like that because they’re all for me. If I saw it that way, by God, I would have taken Harry Potter when they offered it. Or I would have taken Fantastic Four when they offered it. Or I would have taken, I can tell you 2-3 names more that you would say, “Those are cash cows!” and I would have loved to be glib about it and just go and do it. But I think that shooting a movie is like shooting porn, you know? There’s a point where you cannot fake the boner. It shows when you’re not into it.

[Laughter] would like to congratulate Mr. Del Toro for the selection of Pan's Labyrinth as Mexico's official entry in the 2007 Academy Awards. Stay tuned for our review of the film!



  • No related articles


New Reviews