Scheduled to last a mere 15 minutes, the famously loquacious and erudite filmmaker spent 90 minutes at our roundtable discussion. In this, the final segment of our five-part series, we discuss The Hobbit, the "used-universe" aesthetic of Pacific Rim, and his still pending Haunted Mansion project.
Be sure to check out the previous four parts!
Since we've got the extra time, I do have to ask you what you thought of THE HOBBIT.
I haven't seen it. Between Mama, Rise of the Guardians and Pacific Rim, I'm seeing it in the next week.
Since it was broached, when I interviewed Richard Armitage and Peter Jackson when they were at Butt-Numb-A-Thon, I asked them specifically how much Guillermo is in the film. Armitage pointed out he felt that there are certain elements that definitely are left over. Are there elements that you would still like to see left in THE HOBBIT, as part of the unified "Guillermo Del Toro film"?
You know, I really think it's better for me to come to a conclusion retrospectively, rather than right now, because I haven't seen it.
I read the script, because when the guild goes to arbitration they send the screenplay to everyone, final script, so I know there's stuff that we did together that is there.
Tonally, I think that it'll be different, but the more important thing is it happened, finally! I think it's in the right hands so I'm happy for that, happy for Peter, happy for the success.
It's the moment you make the decision. You say, "I'm leaving the country, I'm going to do other stuff." You cannot spend your nights thinking what could have been, it's like gone.
Forgive me for pushing this, I'm not at all suggesting as a term of regret or anything like that, I'm just wondering, were there times during that development stage where you felt yourself trying to inject your sensibilities into the world of Tolkien.
Yeah, but not like that.
I identify with Bilbo, completely. I knew that there was something in Bilbo that Gandalf once saw that he used to have, a life, and it was not there anymore and this was going to make him find it again. The world was not in his maps and his books, it was out there, stuff like that.
It certainly is just the way I go at every character. I identify with Charlie in Pacific Rim. I identify with Hellboy 100%.
It's like what you do when you go and make a movie, is identify with a little bit of every character. I mean, I can be an asshole like the captain in Pan's Labyrinth - I'm not extreme like him, but I can recognize the worst traits of myself in the villains. I identify with Rasputin in Hellboy, I identify with [the character] Broom.
In order to puppeteer, you have to get your hand up the ass of the puppet, every puppet in the theatre. You cannot puppeteer from afar, so you go basically and write the characters from inside.
Rightly or wrongly, HELLBOY, for me, is yours. As a non-comic book guy, HELLBOY - the character, the aesthetic - all of it for me is Guillermo del Toro. Inevitably, your hand's in the puppet, as you said, but when you're against forces for PACIFIC RIM that are going to compare you to MACROSS, say, or pushing you to be (or not be) TRANSFORMERS, it must be a challenge.
Well, you don't think like that, I don't think like that, but let me put it this way. Aesthetically, I use Transformers in order to not be even remotely close to that aesthetic. That's taken, that's somebody else's house. I am not going to cook in somebody else's kitchen.
Not because it's bad or good.
No, it's not because I'm qualifying it. I'm just saying that parking space is taken, that's it. So the aesthetic from which Michael Bay evolves comes partially from the aesthetic of Tony Scott's maybe and partially from Cameron's perhaps- but it's now his. The "full monty"... There are things that can be traced, but by now Michael Bay has a strong aesthetic all of his own now and it's based on a very conscious design of glossy cool fluorescence, polished metals, this and that.
When I went to Pacific Rim, I went with a very romantic palette like windswept, rainstorms, saturated colours, a huge base of blacks. Everything is rusty, beaten, used, and dinged. It feels used. Everything is dripping or smoking or drenched in liquids. It's the thing I do with my stuff.
The juxtaposition of cyan with amber and all the stuff that I love to do, I saturate it, I make it feel like what I love about the Alexander Korda movies, which were saturated in colour. [I'm] consciously moving away from that, and in every aspect of the movie I move away from the things that people would codify. People will say with these kind of movies there's [hints] of Godzilla, Transformers ... those are their points of reference and that's OK. I tried to not quote at all in Pacific Rim, just my own take and that of my team. We all love anime, yes, love Kaiju films, yes, but we wanted to make a movie without direct quotes.
It's my take on the thing in the same way that when I did Blade II - I looked at the Norrington movie, which I admired and loved, and I said, "OK, I'm gonna do something else!"
With MAMA, what, if anything, were you consciously choosing to quote or not quote?
I'm the producer, I'm not quoting. I mean, I'm supporting a guy that may quote or not quote.
Along these lines, have you thought about your approach to [future project for Disney] THE HAUNTED MANSION, how you're going to take on that aesthetic?
Haunted Mansion [the theme park experience] was born out of the clash of two sensibilities. By the time the haunted mansion opened, Walt Disney was dead.
The Mansion was birthed out of Mark Davis' initial impulse of making it funny. And then you had a different sensibility [from Rollie Crump] that wanted to make it scary, and the clash of those two ended up. Normally what would happen is at the end of the day, Disney would intercede and balance the funny and the scary. Since Disney was not there to intercede, it's a clash, and it produces the unique thing that the Mansion is, which is [both] funny and scary. But it should be scary, but it should be beautiful. It's a world you want to belong to.
It's like a house, I want to live there. You really want to join the ghosts!
I'm writing and I'm certainly producing with them, but if I directed it would be a very close to [that balance]. We went back to the Disney archives. They opened the archives for us and I spent a day in the vault.
I'm sure you didn't enjoy that at all.
I literally went through all the concept art, used and unused, by all the concept guys at Disney. I saw a lot of stuff that was not used in the Mansion that was great. I also saw a little bit of the basic coding of the thing, the colour coding and all that. It was very precise. At this stage we are changing our writer, we're getting another writer to do a pass. It's still very active.
You're so busy, yet you make the time to help aspiring filmmakers and first time filmmakers. Why is it important to you and what do you like about it?
Because people did that for me when I was starting!
Bertha Navarro, who produced Chronos... People knew me as a person who did weird shorts and was a makeup effects guy. She believed in me, and she helped me in the best way. Pedro Almodóvar produced The Devil's Backbone in the way I like to be produced. They gave me the best producer experience I have had in Spanish - Bertha and Almodóvar together doing Devil's Backbone was amazing.
It was right after Mimic. I was suicidal. It was during the kidnapping of my father when Pedro came to Mexico. We met before, but he came to Mexico right in the middle of the kidnapping and it was an escape, literally. If you get that, you want to give it back.
In the 20 movies that I've done, I have good and bad experiences producing. There's movies that no one has seen. There's a movie I'm very, very proud of that I co-produced with Alfonso called Crónicas with John Leguizamo [2004, retitled as Chronicles and directed by Sebastián Cordero]. It's a great movie, nobody has seen it!
It's about a serial killer, but it's really, really a mean guy. It was a great experience, very beautiful.
There are other movies that have been terrible experiences where I kneel... I know that I'm right, and I kneel [to beg them to do something]l, and the [director] says "No!" I say, "OK, it's your last word," and then the movie doesn't come out good.
But still, every single time, I've been respectful. Even in the most extreme circumstances. As Brad Pitt says in Thelma and Louise, "if handled properly, armed robbery doesn't have to be an unpleasant experience."
I saw from the Criterion New Year's doodle that a certain diabolic backbone-themed film is coming out...
Yeah, I'm so happy because it's my favourite movie of the Spanish language.
I've never seen it!
Every time someone says to me "I love Pan's Labyrinth," I always say "have you seen The Devil's Backbone? It's not that it's a better or worse movie, for me. It's just I like it maybe because the experience of shooting Pan's was so difficult, and the experience of shooting Backbone was so nice.
It's a lot more subtle in many ways. Pan's is a lot more flashy, it has more things to display and all that, but The Devil's Backbone is so difficult, tonally and it requires a lot of work and is ambitious in a different way. I'm so so happy it's coming out on Criterion
I jealously watched your visit to their magic closet of wonder! Do you still spend time between producing all these films delving into classic films, even into the on-disc supplemental materials?
Two days ago I was watching They Drive By Night [1940, Raoul Walsh]. You can never bathe in the same river twice, and you never see the same movie twice. When you're older and you revisit a movie that you saw as a kid, you go, "Wow! I didn't remember it at all!"
The only movies I realize that I remember exactly as they are are Frankenstein  and Bride of Frankenstein . I took my daughters to The Academy [theatre in LA], and they showed brand new prints. I've never seen Frankenstein on a huge screen, I'd only seen it on TV, and I was like "Wow!" It's amazing! We saw Creature From The Black Lagoon in 3D - the girls fell in love with "Gill-man," which was great!
About a week ago I saw To Have and Have Not again, so, no, I have the time. Then again, on the way here, I saw The Dictator! [laughs]
No, it's great too! I see at least a movie every day, at least. Sometimes, if I'm revisiting something, I don't revisit it the whole way, but I would look at 30-40 minutes. And then there are movies that I call "one sock movies," because they're the kind of movies that you're putting on, you're going out, you put on one sock, and then you start watching and you stay and start watching with the sock you were supposed to put on.
Some of them I watch compulsively. The Big Lebowski, that's a one sock movie. No matter where you are, what part of the movie you are caught, you stop and you watch it.
[There's also Scorsese's] Casino. People say "Oh, Casino" [comparing it negatively to Goodfellas]. Casino for me is superior. Not just superior...Amazing! Some it's lesser, but it's great, and it's a one sock movie. You literally like, stop [and watch the film].
Sharon Stone is in such a state of grace.
I've always argued she deserved a Nobel Prize for giving even a fake blowjob to Pesci.
I love the fact that Pesci is narrating and then it just... stops! [Laughs] I don't think it's a spoiler at this point.
Thanks once again to Guillermo del Toro for being so extraordinarily generous with his time.