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Hellboy - Guillermo del Toro Q&A



Compiled by: Jack Foley

Q. Because the comics are not that well-known, did that give you more leway to sort of work with?
A.
Ah yes, without a doubt, I think that tackling a character like Batman or Spider-Man gives you smaller leway with the fans. The audience at large doesn't know Hellboy from a wall, you know, and the fact is the movie has to introduce them to the character and create a universe that they can be familiar with. But the fact is, at the same time, as a geek, I felt an equal burden, because I knew that we were very few Hellboy fans, but we were very passionate about it.
The fact is, the impulse to do the movie came from me, very crazily reading about it on the internet, reading they're making it, and I go, 'I got to do it', because I was fearing that I would go to the theatre to see the movie, and see the Hellmobile, or Helldog, and Hellboy with whatever - any manic thing you want to think about. So, it was my first movie that I was in a protection move. So from then on, I was very much in contact with the fans, and one of my first moves when I took the movie on, was to write to Aint It Cool, on the message boards, and I said, 'I'm Guillermo del Toro, this is my email address', and I opened a public email address on hotmail.

Q. They believed it was really you?
A.
Yeah, I confirmed it and they realised it was true, and through six or seven years, I answered hundreds of emails, and when we opened the website for the movie, I started posting on the website, sometimes daily, sometimes three time a day, sometimes weekly, depending on the load, but if you go to the website, you will find 117 posts by me, which amount to over 100 pages of keeping the fans informed.

Q. Did they throw up anything that you eventually incorporated?
A.
Yes, it's very weird, but it happened. It didn't go through the usual channels, but up to a point, there was a script review from somebody that got a hold of my draft on a website. They began the review saying they were hoping to hate it, but they loved it, and if I could only fix this, this and that. And one of the three points was absolutely dead-on, and another one, it was so accurate that I just said, 'screw it, let's do it', and I changed the draft.

Q. Can you give us a specific instance?
A.
Yeah, one of the points they made is, originally the movie was constructed around interviews. Very much like Warren Beattie's Reds, so you have a guy saying, like, 'I was there in '44', and then you went to '44, or a guy saying 'I saw him in the street', and then you went to the street. They said the device was distracting and kept popping you out of the story, and my producer felt the same, and I was 'no, no, no', and I listened more to the fan, and I re-read the script, and I said, 'they're right', so out it goes. It's not blind faith in what they're saying or not, but I think that a great opinion, many a time, comes from the fans. But this is an example, there are many of things they... I told them on the website, I told them from my email address, tell me almost like what you expect from the movie. And what they did is, they gave you sort of the Ten Commandments that you go, 'they're absolutely right, let's keep this in mind at all times'. It's a strange way of working, I think it's actually a unique way of working, but I felt it was needed, the same way I felt Mike Mignola was needed on the project.

Q. You've worked with Ron Perlman three times now... What's the secret of your success together?
A.
What it is is that I've tried very hard in the movies to work with people I love and respect, and Ron Perlman came into my life through a huge effort, because we were hiring him for my my first movie, a Mexican movie called Cronos, that, basically, he was taking 10-15% of the budget, in being hired. So it was a huge effort to hire an American actor for a first Mexican film, but I was hiring him because I admire him, so the secret is I'm just a really giggling fan of Ron Perlman, and I'm truly his biggest member of the fanclub. So it's easy when you work like that.

Q. At the end of the movie, it could be said that Christ is the only salvation and redeemer. Are you afraid of maybe alienating a great many of the other religions in the world?
A.
No.

Q. What's been the reaction? Has there been one?
A.
Only yours. Yeah, in reality what I think, when I started I wanted to establish an icon that would take you from 1944 to the moment of his decision, and I thought that iconically it was very important that they start talking below an eyeless Christ, at the beginning of the movie; the Christ with no eyes, that they're talking about. And he pulls out rosaries, and the character of the sergeant says 'you're a Catholic', and the guy says, 'amongst other things'. And I felt that this was, and when they say 'do you really, really believe in Hell', the guy says... he doesn't say anything remotely Catholic. He says, 'there is a dark place, a remote place, where evil slumbers and awaits to return', which is totally HB Lovecraft. So the idea was to say, the cosmology of the film is not a cosmology that is purely Christian.

Q. But he does have the stigmata of the cross?
A.
But what I'm saying is the symbol, the icon of the cross lands on his hand, and the moment he grabs this relic from his father, which he has been able to handle throughout the movie, all of a sudden burns him, and he has a moment where he says 'something has changed in me, why is it burning now?'
When I was not a lapsed Catholic, when I was a practising altar boy, I used to have very spirited discussions with my priest, and one of them, I said to the guy, 'how would you define the soul?' And we argued all afternoon, it was a Jesuit school, you had the space to argue with a Jesuit priest for a long time. And we both came to the conclusion over tea, we said, it's free will. If there is any definition of what the soul gives you, it's free will; it's the freedom to choose. And the movie is trying to say, it's not about you being good, or evil, but about being defined by the choices you make. But this is as much Catholic as it is Bertold Brecht, saying there are men who fight a little bit, and they're good good, there are men who fight a little more, and they're better, but the men that fight all the way, forever, those are the indispensible ones. It's the same thing; it's about being coherent with your choices, it's when people say, 'why did you choose Hellboy over Harry Potter 3 or Blade 3, when you have done Blade 2', and I say, 'because my screenplay teacher used to tell me one, very simple rule to choose your movies: He said, if you can, you should always choose the movie that needs you, and not the movie you need'. Very simple. If I didn't do Harry Potter 3, someone else came in and did a better job; if I didn't do Blade 3, someone else came in and did a great job.

Q. Another Mexican [for Harry Potter] though, isn't that strange?
A.
It was flattering, from a chauvinistic point of view [laughs]. But I think that, on the other hand, if I had not done Hellboy, no one would have. You know, so it's a very simple choice. I think the movie is full of Catholic symbolism, but it is a far more encompassing thing than that. Otherwise, I remember that when I came to know the term, profane, which is sort of a secular reflection of what a religious subject is, meaning it's not sanctioned by the church, but it is still a profane interpretation of what the religion's dogma is; I thought Hellboy using a demon as a central character was, without a doubt, not a Catholic-sanctioned way of going about things, but it's a great fable. And I am a lapsed Catholic so, you know, is it a Catholic movie? Probably so [laughs], but it is not a movie that wants to narrow it in that way.

Q. Taking the point about the Mexican directors we seem to be seeing more of, and on a wider point the whole Latin American film-making community; do you get the impression that things are possible there, much more perhaps now than they were, because we see more films and more variety of films.
A.
What's going is that we have an industry in Mexico very specifical that, for decades, was closed to new directors; the unions were closed, so you have a generation that had come from the golden age of cinema, to 20-25 years of no new directors coming out; so out of that, we were working in what was called independent Mexican cinema, which was actually almost illegal to make. A lot of people were prosecuted, chased and, in some cases, even tortured, for making movies that were not to the liking of the establishment back then. And we were working in it, we were in the 80s and early 90s, I was working as anything - PA, storyboard artist, we were always saying not how much were we going to make in this movie, but how much are we going to lose making it. I can afford to make this movie. So, my generation, the generation that you're referring to, comes out from that gap, with a huge love for a bigger audience, and a huge communication with an audience, and therefore is more genre orientated. So from Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu, Alfonso Curaon, and myself - I cannot speak for the other countries - we are very much genre-oriented.
I love to do horror, Alejandro loves to do like high-stakes drama, Alfonso Cuaron, ultimately, with Y Tu Mama Tambien, is doing a fantastic road movie, so the fact that we're a genre makes it more accessible to a bigger audience.

Q. What is it about the horror genre that appeals to you so much?
A.
What I love is that I think that, again being raised as a Catholic boy, the part that I loved the most were parables; you know, whenever you can talk about something that you care through a figure of speech, and horror is fear of speech incarnate; you know, you can really talk about absolutes without having it to be an essay, filmic essay of abstract film-making. You really come to grasp with abstract concepts through metaphor, or through metaphor made flesh, so it's a lot of fun for me and I try to do consciously and have fun with it, but it's a very liberating genre for me.

Q. Would you have liked to make Hellboy a more higher rated film, than 12A?
A.
No, from the very get-go, I wanted it to be a film I could watch with my daughters, and I wanted it to be sort of a Harryhausen movie. When I think of Harryhausen movies, I barely remember the blood, but I remember big things beating the crap out of each other and me loving it. I used to say, if I can do that... I remember seeing Sinbad and the Eye of the Tiger, and watching that movie and falling in love with the characters of the animated creatures, and when a creature of those died, which was the Troglodyte, I was weeping, and I was hoping to do a movie where you would weep or laugh with a creature that was there. So from the start, it's a very youthful heart in the movie.

Q. What a lot of people find refreshing about Hellboy is that it's not reliant on CGI, that a lot of the special effects are physical. I was wondering if the franchise goes ahead, would you resist more money being thrown at it by the studio to go with more CGI?
A.
I'll tell you my motto is extremely simple: I'll take as much money as freedom can take [laughs]. The moment they say, 'you're going to get this, but...' I will not go beyond that point. If I need to make the movie for $10 million, and it can hold it, and I get freedom, I'll do it $10m. If I need more, and it gets to the point where you have to compromise creatively, I'd rather not make it, because I've already gone through one experience that was not that satisfactory. So, I think that with Hellboy, I managed to make the movie I wanted, and the second one should be equally happy.
In Mimic, I really taxed the studio into spending enough money that they were very worried, and I therefore experienced what a very worried studio does, and I think that it's very important, for me, to keep it at a volume where we get freedom. But if they can throw a couple of quid more, I'll take it! [laughs]

Q. Who convinced David Hyde Pierce to play the voice of the man-fish character?
A.
You know, he said to me... I spoke to him on the phone and he said, well, send the screenplay my way, and I'll tell you if I like the lines, the dialogue. So I sent him the script, and I sent him the tape, and he said yes, immediately. I got to meet him and, once again, I actually think that I have a fan's life because I wanted to meet Davud Hyde Pierce. And Ron Perlman was there that day, and he said 'you're such a gushy little geek', because I was quivering with joy - 'Niles, Niles! And one of the things he said to me when we started working on the voice, he said, 'it's very important for me that it's not Niles; so if I sound very Niles-like, I'll ask you for a second, third, fourth take, and we sure enough went through all of the lines, and a couple of times he would say 'that's too Niles, can I do it again'?

Q. Whose voice was it on the tape that you sent him?
A.
It was the actor, Doug Jones, trying to impersonate David. And actually Doug did a fabulous job, but it was just that in my head, from the get-go, it was David Hyde Pierce.

Q. Was there any resistence from the studio to your objection to CGI?
A.
You know, the way to verbalise it is 'it will be cheaper', and they kind of get a boner when they hear that. If you can say that, they say 'you're my dream director'. [laughs]

Q. What do you, as a director, make of the effects that we have seen in films like Catwoman and Spider-Man?
A.
I haven't seen Catwoman - and I really haven't, I'm not trying to avoid the question - but the fact is that it's something that I learned on Blade 2, that whenever the effect had a base of reality, it was better, and some of the effects on Blade 2 that have full CG, in certain things, they don't work. I looked at them and said, 'no, that didn't work, did it?' And so it was a learning experience to do Blade 2 with that mentality. In Hellboy, a lot of the things that people assume are CG, are surprisingly enough physical, and vice-versa. So if you mix and match, the eye of the audience sort of says, it's real. However they're doing it, there's a monster and the bridge is being demolished, I'm fine.

Q. Is it hard sometimes, when you relax on the set, and you see all these people taking a break, and lighting up a cigarette, is it hard not to have a giggle to yourself and think, 'this is an extraordinary world I live in'?
A.
Oh no, it's hard not to. I go throught that. That's the thing I feel... I am incredibly conscious of how blessed a career it is to do films. I mean, some people say, when we're working, you're very down to earth. I'm very down to earth because when I was growing up, I was hoping I would reach 25 alive. I used to believe, when I was 15, I used to say that I'm going to die before I'm 30, you know. I was so much down on everything and I really feel it's a blessing to do films, and to see all these people, and to see a Nazi cyborg having a cigar with a red guy and a fish guy eating a cookie, it's a truly insane world.

Q. And yet you're a director that can give us a film of such magical eloquence as The Devil's Backbone, which is very different. Is that the sort of variety you relish, to go to something so different?
A.
I think that at the end of the day it's about having enough sides of yourself that you can entertain them all. Of course, the side that did Cronos or Devil's Backbone is truly part of me, but so is the side that did Hellboy or Blade 2 for that matter, or one hour of Mimic. The one hour I liked. So you have to be very.... not negate one because of the other's existence. And that is the best part of being able to work both industries.

Q. I believe that you're bringing out a special DVD, or two DVDs?
A.
No, we came out with the theatrical cut on DVD just a few weeks ago in America, and there's a director's cut coming out in December which has 15 more minutes than the cut you saw. It's more character-oriented. I knew there was a contractural need, where the movie had to be under two hours, so we barely made it under two hours on the theatrical cut (it was, I think, two hours and one with final titles), so once I was freed of contractural restrictions, I said, 'ok, that's my cut for theatrical, I'm going to do something that the hardcore fans, the guys that really loved the movie, or really loved the comic, may want to see more of it beyond deleted scenes, so I incorporated 15 more minutes into that cut, and it's my preferred telling of the story. It's not as audience-friendly, but it is a more nuanced telling of the story.

Q. How does it work when making a film that way. Do you go in thinking this is the director's cut that I'm doing; I'll then cut out bits and pieces...
A.
I wish I was that smart. You go through it and then the fact is that when you're cutting for theatrical, you are thinking of a version of the movie that you think an 11-year-old and a 40-year-old can live with. And the DVD version, the director's cut, is the 39-year-old version of the movie. The movie that is out is more thinking if you're liking the movie, it won't stop at all, but if you're not liking it enough, then you'll be out soon enough my friend. So the theatrical cut is done with that, and I would usually leave it there. Mimic, or Blade, would be that. But the studio said is there something you would like to change for a DVD release. They liked the movie that much. And when they said that, I said 'absolutely, can I do another cut', and they said, 'yes, you can'. We did a second cut. I have post-produced this movie more than any other movie. I did, I post-produced, and colour-timed and did the first release, the second release, for France and Japan, I timed the DVD and timed the director's cut DVD, and I've been working on this movie for a couple of years in a row...

Q. Do all the characters return in the second movie?
A.
Some of them, most of them will. Not the bad guys...

Q. Rasputin won't make a resurrection?
A.
Maybe he will resurrect if we do more than the next one. But certainly, there's a very little cameo, by Cronan, on the second one, but the rest will return. I am writing the second one just thinking that if the first one was the romance, and it ended up in the hot date, then the second one is the morning after. You know, what happens really when you wake up and go, ah, and you go on...

Q. Did the comic book actually have the start on a remote Scottish island?
A.
It started in two places, Bromwich, England, and the Scottish Island, and the reality is that in the comic, it started with dual rituals; one in bringing Hellboy, and the other one, Hellboy suddenly appears in another place. I never understood why, so I told Mignola let's fuse them together and have him appear by accident in the place where he was summoned. But the fact is, like any good paranoid, I like to document my conspiracy theory, so I started to read about where on earth would the Nazis be really in 1944, and there were a lot of documented passages of Nazi submarines near Scotland, so I thought that if they had to disembark anywhere, they would there. There's no documented occult rituals by Nazis in Scotland.

Q. You don't have, like Alfonso did, a Little Princess type project lurking in your sub-conscious?
A.
As Princess as I will get is Hellboy. That's as little a princess as I will create. In reality, that's my most children-friendly side; Hellboy would be. And it still has a self-mutilating clockwork Nazi, so I don't think I'll ever get that sensible, or sensitive.

Q. Were you a geek when it came to John Hurt?
A.
Yes. Well the first thing that comes to my mind is that The Elephant Man is Hellboy's father. That's really quite a treat. But what I like about John Hurt is that he really has an anarchistic side to him; he's not a safe, grand old laureate actor only; he also has a very odd, kooky side, that I think all his performances are very brave and very risky. Particularly a movie called Love and Death in Long Island, I saw that movie and I felt if he can fragility in that performance, if he can find such humanity in that performance, I thought I really wanted him for Hellboy.
And the only moment I regretted taking out of the theatrical, that is in the director's cut, there's a moment of him in the beginning where specifically, for that moment, I thought it had to be John Hurt. You know, along the lines, that was the only one that literally when we were mixing the movie, and I called the editor I said, 'I know, I know, I know the movie gets released in four days, but could we put that back in', and he said 'no, you can't'. But it's back in the director's cut.
When casting Selma Blair and John Hurt you have brave actors, because they have to really react to a red guy in rubber, and if they don't react with intelligence and sensibility, it doesn't work.

Q. What are you most proud of about Hellboy, what warms your heart the most?
A.
I still love the most, I mean I have three favourite things. I love the prologue in the 1940s; I would love to do a whole Hellboy movie in that style, in that semi sort of black and white/silver colour, pulp adventure, because it's straight out of Doc Savage or The Shadow; I love the romance angle of the movie and I particularly love the scene where he's having cookies and milk, and I love the ending; that final kiss to me, it still makes me teary-eyed, and I'm always moved by it. I think that those are things that make it uniquely mine, because these are things I was very concerned with.

Q. It's a very, very black movie, in that there's not one scene with light in it. Most of the time, it's pissing down with rain...
A.
Yes, I mean I hate daylight, that's a fact. I hate daylight. My wife knows it, my writing studios, where I write, I have a huge library and it has no windows. There's only books and a writing desk and a drawing desk. And then I have my place where I have only DVDs, and I have a window and it has a book shelf in front of it. I hate daylight. The only movie where I shot daylight - and Hellboy has one scene of daylight, Broom outside the doctor's office, and the arrival of Myers - but it's an overcast day.
The only movie where I had daylight, and I dealt with it in a Sergio Leone way, was Devil's Backbone, because I felt that the opening monlogue was something like, I wrote it in my notebook, 'the sun should be like God burning them all into purgatory'.
I spent most of my childhood bringing blueprints to my grandmother, showing her how to create a secret door in her house, and how we could do a cellar, and I could live in the cellar and go up through a secret door, and my grandmother kept saying, 'oh that's too expensive', so I would go away and re-draw it... I was a pretty fucked up child!

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