Guillermo del Toro from the Set of Hellboy II

Here at Superhero Hype!, we’ve interviewed Guillermo del Toro many times over the years, but rarely did we get as much time with him as we did while visiting Korda Studios where he was making his latest movie, Hellboy II: The Golden Army, the sequel to the 2005 film based on Mike Mignola’s comic book. Usually, when we visit a set, the director is kind of busy directing, but Guillermo wasn’t just going to leave us in the hands of the publicists and his production team, so he came over to talk to the visiting group of journalists whenever he had the chance.

Superhero Hype!: What has the pre-production on this film been like?

Guillermo del Toro: We did have a tight prep, so we had a lot of difficulties getting going so fast, and we are trying to make the movie look twice of what it is. It is like the first one…the fat man syndrome. If you have four donuts, you want them all and the glass of milk. You have a budget and you say, “How can I make this much bigger?” This one we didn’t have much money or any time, so it’s twice as stressful. I think everybody has aged 10 years. The thing is the movie had to be compressed in a time and a budget, it is a pressure cooker. Creatively, it has been very freeing and much freer than the fist one. Freer in the sense you don’t have to set up the rules of the world, so you are allowed to frankly have more fun, which I haven’t had. But in theory you should have more fun. (laughter)

SHH!: Was this always the story you wanted to tell in a second movie?

Del Toro: When we finished the first, we talked about it for a long time and I came up with an idea that was very different from this one. That is the one we pitched to Revolution. The character story was the same, but the anecdote wasn’t the Golden Army but the four Titans in the four corners of the Earth: Wind, Water, Fire and Earth, and a prince wanted to awaken the four titans of the Earth. However, this idea felt to me like a more magical idea. The title “Golden Army” sounded great and I thought, “What could the Golden Army be?” Then, when I thought about the princess’ father having constructed them eons before and him wanting them to conquer the world, it sounded immediately great and that is what we pitched.

SHH!: So this is an original story and it’s not based on any of the comics?

Del Toro: No, I was literally driving back from the Long Beach Aquarium with my family. I called Mike [Mignola] and said, “This is not working. I cannot find this and I cannot find that.” As we drove from Long Beach to Agoura Hills, which is frankly a long drive in Los Angeles, I said, “The only thing that could work is if it is a rebellious prince.” Literally, we started jiving in that lapse, and by the end of it we were like mental infants. We were both yelling, “Yeah, and the prince has a magic lamp and a sidekick!” We were happy!

SHH!: When does this film take place?

Del Toro: It is about a year later from the first one. The idea was that we had a happy ending with the first one, but now we see what has happened after all this epic stuff happens. What happens to Cassius after he conquers Rome and the next day he has to send his sandals to be shined?

SHH!: How did you and your team come up with the various creatures?

Del Toro: What we did was, I had a clear guideline on the creatures, which was I wanted the creatures not to look like movie creatures and not to go with any Celtic type of design. Not the Anglo-Saxon style of fantasy creature, which is the Brian Froud, Arthur Rackham, “Lord of the Rings” type of mold which determines that a troll looks a certain way and a dwarf looks a certain way. I said both the culture and the creatures had to be freer than that. Some of them I wanted to look like a medieval engraving that you find in a rare painting and for the culture we went for Eastern influences, from Japan and Arabian markets and from Muslim architecture. We went with completely different influences that didn’t come from the usual ‘troll in the leather strap with spikes and horns in the helmets’ type of thing. From that point on everybody started chipping in and what I did is that I asked the designers in the pre-production stage, I said, “Let’s design things that you want to see.” And each one brought one or two. With the creature guys, I said, “Forget what you usually do…bring the stuff you want to do that is crazy.” And then each designer brought three to four that they were completely passionate about and we then started working on one or two of those all the way. And the way you treat the creatures is the way you treat creatures or characters in nature. Each designer took a character from beginning to end. It was not an assembly line. For example, Chet Zar took a character called The Chamberlain that looks exactly like his paintings. He took it from the stage of design to wardrobe costumes, painting, and assembly, all the way much like an animated movie. Norman Cabrera designed the Angel of Death from the first concept to the last piece. He supervised that character all the way. So what I wanted was for the creatures to be fun to do, because that way they come out more alive…as opposed to the studio heads and the producers asking for a more Western look. This way the characters are a little more fun.

SHH!: You originally went to Universal Pictures for the first film and are now back at the studio after making the first movie with Sony/Revolution. What’s that been like?

Del Toro: It is great because when I got involved with the first “Hellboy,” I always wanted Hellboy to be part of the pantheon of monsters. You know, to be with Lon Chaney and Boris Karloff. As a fan, you always imagine something like that would be great. Then we went out of there, we went to Sony and to Revolution and did the first movie, so it is beautifully ironic that we came back to Universal with this one.

SHH!: Is there any temptation to use some of the classic Universal monsters in the third “Hellboy”?

Del Toro: What I would love to do is go in a different direction with the animated part of the Hellboy universe. I would like to combine Hellboy and the Universal monsters in an animated world, but keeping the expressionistic lighting and not necessarily being as slavishly faithful to the Mignola panels.

SHH!: Is Mike going to do his own comic book adaptation of the movie?

Del Toro: No, we are doing a little comic with the prologue of the movie that is the story of the Golden Army. It has been laid out by Mike and it is being drawn by Francisco Ruiz Velasco, and Dark Horse is going to put it out with the movie. The prologue is an example of how we went at it. We had a sprawling narrative that took place in five minutes in the prologue and it was like a five-minute movie. Then the budget had to go down. So there is a line where a director will say jokingly, “We’ll do it with puppets” and they laughed and said, “We’ll do it with puppets.” We are doing a beautifully designed, carefully animated puppet theater to explain the prologue, which is both better and cheaper, which is the way everything has been in the movie. It is more freestyle this way, but it is also more beautiful. You are not going to out the “Lord of the Rings” in scale, but you can make it be like a Japanese shadow theater that is a beautiful prologue.

SHH!: Which character do you think is going to be the big breakout?

Del Toro: I think the Prince is really nice. I love Mr. Wink, you will see Wink is a really cool guy. The thing with Wink, and this sounds like a double entendre, I was showing Mr. Wink to my wife and she asked if it is CG, and asked, “How can it not be CG?” What’s great is that it has such great movement that it looks real.

SHH!: Can you explain what Mr. Wink’s character is?

Del Toro: He is a cave troll that is a bodyguard of the Prince. He is the sidekick of the Prince. He is, I think, over 7 feet tall and it is all physical. He is played by Brian Steele, who plays four characters. Doug [Jones] plays three.

SHH!: You know you can hire more than two actors! (laughter)

Del Toro: There aren’t that many that are that good.

SHH!: What’s different about this movie from the first one?

Del Toro: One of the things I am changing is both the action and the fighting. I went for some things in the first one that I was not that happy with. I think this is a completely different type of fighting. I was lavish to a certain type of thing, trying to reproduce certain things the comic book did. I tried it on “Blade II” and immediately after, I tried it on “Hellboy,” and for whatever reason, it already felt old. So what we are doing are things that I think are more freeing or in a strange way more beautiful or spectacular. There is a spectacle in the action and the fighting; there is a beauty to it.

SHH!: So, the Prince will be using spears for weapons?

Del Toro: Yeah, because the fighting style of the Prince is a fusion of martial arts, so we are doing stuff that looks like wires, but not wires. We are doing all this stuff to make the characters move in a really exaggerated magical way, but it has the gravity of something real.

SHH!: Did you write the role of Prince Nuada specifically for Luke Goss?

Del Toro: Yeah, I try to write for people I know because it makes it easier for me. I am more familiar and I know how they are going to deliver the dialogue, and I had a good time with Luke the first time, so it is worth repeating.

SHH!: Why is Liz (Selma Blair) walking around with a gun when in theory she can just burn people?

Del Toro: The idea is that she has learned how to control the fire in this movie, but it is not that precise. So she will use it to blow up things, but she has not yet perfected it to light a cigar or to shoot a straight line, so, she is still a human grenade.

SHH!: Can you talk about Anna Walton’s audition for Princess Nuala when she was 8 1⁄2 months pregnant?

Del Toro: It was a lactating audition, and catering was crazy (laughter). When she walked in, though, she did the voice of a certain quality. I needed to believe that she was a princess and that is a tough call these days, she had an unearthly quality.

SHH!: Is she going to be pregnant with Abe Sapien’s baby?

Del Toro: I think that Abe Sapien releases his sperm in the water (laughter)…I don’t think he is fully functional.

SHH!: What is Jeffrey Tambor doing in this movie?

Del Toro: That is something I am tweaking. Originally the part was written for Larry Miller and Jeffrey came in the nick of time. I really felt that it would be cooler to have Jeffrey far more active because I am such a fan of his. The funny thing is that I am a fan of his from “The Larry Sanders Show,” but that is not recent stuff. He is far more involved than the day to day and he has a far larger role to play.

SHH!: Since you’re a fan of fairy tales, do you think that helps with your stories?

Del Toro: Yeah, I always knew that they were a component of the things I wanted to do. If you see interviews as early as “Cronos” or “Mimic,” I am quoting Rachaman and talking about the imaginary world. I always felt very comfortable with the aesthetics of horror, but not very interested in the mechanism of it, you know the startle and the scare. I am very comfortable making creepy, eerie atmospheric things, but I am more interested in the life of the creatures and the monsters than I am making a mechanical version of horror and I am more interested in the aesthetics. I am finding that it is the dark, horror monster realm that I am enjoying the most.

SHH!: As far as story…you like to use the structure of fairy tales as well.

Del Toro: Well, I try to. Both in “Pan’s Labyrinth” and here there are many references to other fairy tales. The whole realm of a fallen Prince coming back to reclaim a world that is fading, and there is some stuff that you will see that I try to give a more fantasy film feel, like “The Wizard of Oz.” We built worlds, as opposed to having creatures in our world. We tried to show other places of existence for the monsters. In the first one, we saw monsters living amongst us. The difference is that we go to the environment where the wild things are.

SHH!: We saw Hellboy Jr. back there, so what kind of backstory do you have for the character?

Del Toro: Well, the idea we have is that our favorite stories are when Hellboy is a kid. The idea is to show the New Mexico base life in the 1950s, show how he lived back then to see a little bit of the domestic life he had as father and son in vignette. So we have Broom’s kitchen and clothes drying in the background, and we see Broom’s home life, and how he became the father. It is a little vignette and I also wanted very much to have John Hurt as a part of the second film.

SHH!: You also mentioned the character of Johann. How does he play into the movie?

Del Toro: Mike and I spoke about it and we hope against hope that if there is a third movie, that as much as the second movie is about Abe, the third one would be about Johann. So here he plays a concrete function, as a new guy who wants to bring order to the B.P.R.D. that is in chaos because Hellboy came out of hiding. So we are throwing lines out for his story to take a lot more center, to set up for a third movie.

SHH!: And executing the character?

Del Toro: The original concept was to go for the old look when the budget was much higher, that empty light bulb look from the comics books. That meant replacing the entire head with a CG head for a thousand shots. That was prohibitive and gladly we went with a more Jules Verne containment suit look, so we used perspective and mirror tricks inside the helmet to keep the head disappeared. We are not using opticals or digital. We just angle the helmet and the reflections, and we created a magnifying glass bubble, so you feel there is more empty space in the helmet than there really is, and then we built the suit to show a fishbowl head and it looks very 19th century.

SHH!: What about references to the first movie?

Del Toro: That wasn’t very interesting to me. Maybe at the end of the process we will have a roller at the beginning, if the test screenings make it necessary. Until then, I am treating it like the sequels I love. For example, in “The Road Warrior” there is a recap of how the world collapses, but in terms of Max we learn he is a man who lost everything, and that is what you know about Max. The recap in this is embedded in the prologue, where we see a young Hellboy in the 1950s and there would be a very short recap saying in 1944 a secret project made this, and now we see where they’re living.

SHH!: Are there any limitations showing footage from the first movie because it’s a different studio?

Del Toro: I never looked into it because I never thought I would. I think the same was with Blade. Goyer made it clear that we were not recapping anything, and I went with that because that is how I like it.

SHH!: Does this film get back to the Liz and Hellboy relationship?

Del Toro: Yeah, what I like is that it is a reversal of the first movie. In the first movie, Hellboy had to make a choice about who he was and what he wanted and to save her and in a strange way, she is saving him. And their dilemma is what makes him race back at the end of the movie. However, it is threaded so hopefully the third one will have a very moving, perhaps heart-breaking conclusion to that relationship. I think if everything went well that the idea is to end up like most couples will end up the first year. And by the third movie, we will take it somewhere else. I think the banter and character relationship goes on beyond Liz and Hellboy. Abe and Hellboy have a far looser relationship, and Abe has his own story with the Princess. And I think it is more entertaining to have character interaction, rather than have 10 lines of explaining everything, which is what we had to do in the first movie. We had to explain the B.P.R.D., explain how Abe existed, how Hellboy existed, how Broom came to be. So this way is a lot more fun.

SHH!: What are you doing to reach a larger audience on this movie?

Del Toro: I am making a good movie. What we found with the DVD is that theatrical releases don’t do great, but we make up for it with the DVD release, and that was very big. Very recently, we had the first public airing [of the first “Hellboy”] on British TV. And of the movies that week, it was not only the top but uncommonly high for a movie that was relatively recent, but in theory more obscure.

SHH!: Were you happy with the first movie?

Del Toro: I am, but I learned a lot. There is a lot of things that I was very stubborn in keeping. That movie was written before the wave of comic book movies. I wrote it before “Matrix,” before “X-Men,” and I stubbornly held on to ideas that by the time the movie was made weren’t that new. I love it; it is the third favorite film that I have done. I love “Pan’s” [Labyrinth], I love “Devil’s Backbone,” and I love “Hellboy” in that order.

SHH!: What would you want to change from the first movie?

Del Toro: For example, the fact that you don’t have to explain that much. I also wanted to take certain elements of design a little further. The first film was still designed like a comic book movie, in terms of the visual. On “Pan’s Labyrinth,” I went for the visuals that I admired. I was able to design that movie in a freer way, and it is the same with this movie.

SHH!: So “Pan’s Labyrinth” fed into this one?

Del Toro: That is a difference I notice. Since “Pan’s,” I actually have taken the initiative to do things.

SHH!: You talked about a third Hellboy movie. Is that something you would do immediately?

Del Toro: I wouldn’t do it immediately. I like pacing things. If I can, I like to do a smaller movie in between the big movies. However, you never know.

SHH!: We heard that Neil Gaiman was on the set for a few days.

Del Toro: We had him for a couple of weeks. We discussed him directing the adaptation of “Death” as soon as possible. Again, I hope that the success from “Pan’s Labyrinth” helps me put those projects together. I think the most interesting thing in any genre is new directors coming in constantly.

SHH!: Have you taken Neil under your wing?

Del Toro: I think that if anyone knows that character it is him. If we have to build a support structure, we will. There is without a doubt no one more qualified to tell that story in mind.

I think Neil is a guy who thinks in terms of ideas and very concrete images. He is not a draftsman, but he is the creator of that universe. I think if you surround him with a very strong team, like what we did with “The Orphanage.” With that movie, we went at it with everybody being first time. First time DP, first time editor, and it worked. I think there is a great advantage to not knowing how things should be done because then you make things happen and you learn what is impossible. We made that movie in a short period of time for 4.5 million Euros and it looks pretty beautiful.

SHH!: But at the same time, you might get all the mistakes that a first-timer would make and that can be detrimental?

Del Toro: I prefer first time mistakes than 10th time mistakes. I think these guys are going to do things that no one else is going to do.

SHH!: Can you talk about your career since “Pan’s Labyrinth”?

Del Toro: This is it. However, I can now sponsor other filmmakers and one of the things we are trying to do with every company that I form is try to do first movies. Or find a guy who has done three movies who is not as noticed as much as we think he should be. That is the difference I notice the most; I am finding it easier to champion those films like “The Orphanage.” I am finding it easier to get the money and put them together faster. This movie is going so much against the grain of time, so I haven’t noticed that power on this movie. But I guess it is there. I don’t feel pampered, but I do as a producer — I do notice more influence.

SHH!: Are you going to work with Sergio G. Sánchez (writer of “The Orphanage”) on your next Spanish language movie?

Del Toro: He is writing “3993,” and that is a big baby.

SHH!: Are you still planning on doing something with Dracula and Frankenstein?

Del Toro: I would hope so, but certainly I would kill to do Frankenstein. But I want to do Frankenstein as the Miltonian tragedy that it is. I remember reading Frank Darabont’s screenplay, and I thought that was it. However, thanks to Kenneth Branagh, I can still do it.

SHH!: Do you think you’ll be making “At the Mountains of Madness” still?

Del Toro: I never know. I wish I was, but Universal has acquired the rights. That is great news for me because the rights have been in limbo and I have, together with Michael Elizalde, we have financed designs. But we will see because it is R rated, it is expensive, and it doesn’t have a happy ending. I think that big scale horror, which we used to have with “Alien,” “The Shining,” and “The Exorcist” before everybody thought horror needed to be re-conceptualized. I think movies like that should be back at some point. So I am patiently waiting my turn.

SHH!: Any idea what your next project might be?

Del Toro: I don’t know, and that makes my wife happy. She would like me to get reacquainted with my daughters and my dog.

SHH!: With so many projects, how do you decide what your next will be?

Del Toro: One at a time because I think the problem is if I had the freedom to choose to hold on and do my own things. What I learned between the years of “Cronos” and “Mimic” is that when I did that, it took me four years to get a movie off the ground. And I never got them made in the order I wanted. And I wrote several projects that haven’t happened yet, and what I learned is that if I keep four or five things I truly love in the fire, one of them becomes true.

SHH!: Are you going to use one of your new guys to do one of these movies?

Del Toro: We are going to do one. We haven’t announced it yet, but we are trying to do a movie that I wrote and never got to do with Miramax with a first-time director.

SHH!: Are the smaller movies like just two characters in a room talking?

Del Toro: I am writing two characters in a room, but they are killing each other, there may not be monsters, but they are definitely not talking.

SHH!: Do you have time to produce and be involved with these movies as well as your own directing projects?

Del Toro: I am involved enough in the sense that with the last one, we put together the film and the actors, but it was the director’s project. If he needs me, he calls me. So we talk about it and if they need me I am there; if they don’t, I won’t be there. And that is how a producer should be.

SHH!: Are you involved with the English remake of “The Orphanage” as well?

Del Toro: Yeah. I can’t say who the director and writer are, but if I get who I want it will be different. It won’t be the same movie with American names attached. It is like the second “Hellboy.” It’s an opportunity to tweak things that I didn’t like in the first one. It is almost relaunching the character.

SHH!: Is there any chance of you directing the last “Harry Potter” film?

Del Toro: They came to me to do it once. I have read them all and I read them before the movies. I feel them to very be Dickensian and I saw Harry Potter to be a lot like Pip in “Great Expectations.” I always saw the story a lot darker than the movies that were bright, happy and full of life. They seem to be getting more and more eerie; if they came back [to me] I would think about it.

Back to Part 2 of the Set Visit

Source: Edward Douglas