This second half picks up right where we left off...on the Angel of Death
set with the director talking about the forthcoming
HELLBOY II: THE GOLDEN ARMY, as well a potential third movie in the franchise. However, soon all the excitement was packed up and moved outside to the New York City backlot where Del Toro began prepping for one of the film’s major action set pieces.
It was here that we got the man to open up about the status of potential future projects (save for THE HOBBIT, since this was back in October), his post-PAN’S LABYRINTH career as producer extraordinaire, and the possible motility of Abe Sapien’s sperm. Enjoy!
When BOURNE IDENTITY came out, it made enough to make a sequel. But when the sequel came out even more people saw it because they had discovered it on video. Do you think HELLBOY is similar?
I think what we found is not only did we have the first rush and surge that we had with the DVD—which was very, very big and in a sense similar to the behavior of other movies that come out in theatrical, perform okay but on DVD become bigger—but also very recently a few weeks ago we had the first public airing on British TV and of the movies premiering that week it was top, but it was also inordinately high for a movie that was relatively recent but in theory more obscure. So everything is pointing to that direction. But my knowledge of marketing is just so deep, that I’d rather refrain.
Are you satisfied with the first film?
I am, but I learned a lot. There’s a lot of things that I was very stubborn in keeping. You know, we started writing and prepping that movie before there was the wave of comic book movies. And I wrote it before THE MATRIX, before X-MEN, before all those things and I frankly clinged on to a lot of things that I stubbornly preserved that perhaps were not that new when the movie came out. I said, “Eh I’ll keep ‘em.” But I love it. It’s my third favorite film that I’ve done. I love PAN’S, I love DEVIL’S BACKBONE, I love HELLBOY, in that order.
You talk about a third movie. Is that something you want to dive in to next or would you do another picture beforehand?
I would need to get in to a geriatric clinic for about three months. I wouldn’t do it immediately. I like pacing things.I try to do, if I can, a smaller movie in between the big movies. But you never know.
Are you ready to do the “two characters in a room” kinda thing, with no fantasy, nothing. Just two characters in a room talking.
I am writing a screenplay that is two characters in a room…but they’re killing each other. (laughter) There may be something without monsters but they’re still not gonna be talking.
Do you know what your next picture might be?
I don’t know. And that makes my wife happy that I don’t. She would like for me to be reacquainted with my daughters and the dog.
Would you put any of the classic Universal Monsters in to another Hellboy movie?
What I would love to do is go in to a different direction with the animated part of the Hellboy universe. I would love to find a way to combine Hellboy and Universal monsters in an animated world. But keeping the expressionistic lighting and not necessarily being slavishly faithful to the Mignola panels, but being closer than the lighter approach that was done in the animated movies.
It’s no secret they keep coming back to you for the Harry Potter movies. Do you think you’ll ever make one?
No, they came only once for the third one. I read the books before the movies were done and I always for whatever reason pictured Charles Dickens. They were very Dickensian, the books. The situation of Harry Potter reminded me a lot of Pip in Great Expectations. And I always saw them as darker, more creaky, more warm with corroded… (laughs) They were textured very differently. And when the first two movies came out and they were so bright and happy and full of light and so forth, I was not interested. They seem to be getting more and more eerie and darker. Hey, I’m up to be the one that kills twenty guys. (laughs)
There’s only a couple movies left…
You know if they come back I’ll think about it. I don’t know.
Talk about your career post-PAN’S LABYRINTH. Is it really that noticeable how people are taking you seriously now?
It is in the sense that I am now actively being able to sponsor other filmmakers. And one of the things we’ve been trying to do with every company I form—Tequila Gang or Cha Cha Cha [his production company with Alfonso Cuaron and Alejandro Inarritu]—is try to do first movies or second movies or find a guy that has done three movies and isn’t being noticed as he should be. That’s where I noticed it the most. I’m finding it easier to champion those films, like THE ORPHANAGE, where I can put them together faster, get the money. Because this movie has gone so much against the grain of the budget and the time, I’m not noticing it as much, but I guess it’s there. And it’s been difficult enough for me not to feel pampered. But as a producer, I do notice it.
Are you able to produce and be involved with those movies when you’re so busy here?
I’m involved enough in the sense that with [ORPHANAGE director Juan] Bayona, we put together the money and actors. There’s a couple scares in the movie I came up with and a couple new things there, but it’s his movie. And if he’s a competent director, he needs me, he calls me. I do the phone calls, punch somebody in the face, whatever’s needed. But if he doesn’t need me…to me directors visiting my set, I don’t care if they’re directors or producers, it’s like having a friend watch you screwing on Saturday. It’s like “Well, I’m not there yet, but I’ll get there really soon. And I will fondle that, but not right now.” You find yourself trying to explain. And then in post we talk about the audio mix, blah blah blah. And I help him promote. Pedro Almodóvar said something to me when I made DEVIL’S BACKBONE, “If you need me, I’ll be there. If you don’t need me, I won’t be there.” And I said “Thank you.” And that’s the type of producer you need. With CRONICAS it was the same thing.
Can you talk about BORN, the Jennifer Connelly-Paul Bettany thing? What’s all that about?
I was involved in that one briefly, but I’m not involved any more. I was interested in the idea, but in the course of me being involved, Cha Cha Cha came to be. And I know that cannot juggle so many projects at the same time as a producer, so I’m dropping out of some of them to concentrate on the ones I think are more urgent.
Are you still involved with THE ORPHANAGE English language remake?
Yeah. I cannot say yet who is the director and writer, but if I get who I want it would definitely, definitely make a difference. It won’t be the same movie just done by a guy who has an American name. It’s a new proposition like…to me, the second HELLBOY is a chance to tweak things from the first movie. It’s almost like relaunching the character for me.
What did you want to tweak on the first movie?
For example, the fact that you don’t have to explain that much, which I mentioned. But also, taking certain elements of design a little further. I think the first movie was still designed like a comic book movie in terms of the visuals. I was not as free. With PAN’S LABYRINTH I frankly let my hair loose and went for the pictorial influences I like or the painters I admire or the engravers I admire and went in to designing the movie, not like a movie but designing it in a freer way. And that’s one of the things I’m trying to tweak on this one. I’m designing it with the same level or freedom and the world and creatures and the look of things.
So how does PAN’S really fit in to this?
That I noticed the difference. It’s not that suddenly with PAN’S people are giving me the chance to do things; it’s that after PAN’S I am giving myself the chance to do things. And that is a noticeable difference. I am far freer. And I go at it differently.
This is a completely selfish question, but what does Jeffery Tambor do in this movie?
That’s one of the things I was tweaking. In the first movie the part was originally written for Larry… the guy from the Christopher Guest movies. [Note: Larry Miller] It was written for another actor. And when Jeffery came in he came in at the nick of time. And knowing Jeffery is becoming a fan. And with his part in the first one, we came up with different ideas, we came up with the little cigar scene at the end, but I really felt “Wouldn’t it be cool to have Jeffery far more active?” And in the second one he is far more active. Because I’m such a fan.
And he’s much more recognizable now after Arrested Development.
The funny thing is that new series of his I never saw. I’m a fan of his for Larry Sanders. That’s what hooked me in to him.
So is his character going to be out in the field again?
Yeah, he is. But he’s far more involved in the day to day. And again if the third one happens he has a very different role to play.
The publicist pulls us kicking and screaming from the set to conduct some other interviews. The next time we see Del Toro is a couple hours later on the full-scale New York City block that’s been built on the studio backlot, as everyone prepares for a big action sequence. The street is littered with all manners of smashed cars, broken glass and crumpled street sign—the aftermath of a fight between Hellboy and a giant monster called the Elemental. This is where the man was in his element…preparing mayhem on an epic scale.
Can you tell us about the sequence they’re setting up for right now?
This right now, we’re doing a wire gag where that car becomes a catapult. And it’s a little bit of a Rube-Goldberg because Hellboy needs to get to high ground to shoot a big gun that’s called the Big Baby. And he doesn’t know how to get to high ground, so he goes from the car to a wire, to the bottom of the hotel sign to the roof. So it’s a bit of a Bam, Bam, Boom…like a pinball gag. And he ends up in high ground.
So Hellboy has a new gun in this one?
He has one that he loves very much that is called the Big Baby. But it’s actually…let me see…
[yelling in Spanish]
Do you have the Big Baby? Can I have the Big Baby?
Is the action more complicated in this one?
Not complicated. [In the first one] I was slavish to a certain type of thing that was comic book…reproducing certain things that comic books did. I tried it on BLADE and then immediately after I tried it on HELLBOY and for whatever reason, by the second movie it already to me felt old. So what we’re doing is things I think that are more free; more, in a strange way, beautiful or spectacular. We’re going for almost balletic stuff and it’s part of that. It’s spectacle and action and fighting. There’s a beauty to it.
Luke said he was using spears and stuff; so is there more weaponry this time around?
It’s weapon oriented, because the fighting style of the Prince is a fusion of martial arts—all of them, all sorts of influences—and we’re doing stuff that looks like wires, but it’s not wires. We are doing some wire stuff but minimal. We’re using other things to make the characters move in a really magical way or exaggerated way, but it looks…it has the gravity of something real.
Talking about weapons, why is Liz walking around with a gun? Wouldn’t she just be zapping people with her fire?
No, no, no. The idea with the fire is that she has learnt to control it in this movie, but it’s not that precise still. So, you know, she would use it like a concussive thing that blows up but she hasn’t yet perfected it to light a cigar or shoot a straight line.
So still more of a last resort.
Yes, she’s still the human grenade.
So out of all the other new characters, who do you think is gonna be the big breakout?
I don’t know. I love Mr. Wink. That sounds iffy, but you’ll see that Mr. Wink is a really cool guy. I was showing—this sounds completely like a double entendre—I was showing Mr. Wink to my wife… (laughter) Saturday night… No, I was showing it to her and she said, “Is it CG?” And I said, “How can it be CG, I showed it to you yesterday.” What’s great is that it’s such a great movement that it looks real.
In the third movie is Anna gonna be pregnant with Abe Sapien’s baby? Is that even possible?
I think that Abe Sapien releases his sperm on the water. I don’t think it’s fully functional. If they swim together, maybe.
Are you getting any closer to making MOUNTAINS OF MADNESS?
I never know. I wish I was. Universal has acquired the rights, which is a great piece of news for me because they were kind of in limbo. And I have, together with Michael Elizade [of Spectral Motion]…we have self financed designs and maquettes and everything, but we’ll see. It’s R-rated, it’s expensive, and it doesn’t have a happy ending. It’s tough. But I think big scale horror, big tentpole horror that you used to have with ALIEN, THE SHINING, EXORCIST, you know, before everybody thought horror needs to be this or that and be pre-conceptualized…I think big tentpoles like that should be back at some point. So I’m patiently waiting my turn.
I know you had Neil Gaiman on the set for a couple weeks. Did you guys talk about DEATH?
And life, and…. (laughs) We talked about it a lot. We talked about that, we talked about him directing as soon as possible, but again, I hope that PAN’S LABYRINTH—any advantages translate in being able to put those projects together. Because I think the most interesting thing in the genre, in any genre, is the new directors. Old farts like me continuing, but new guys coming in constantly. Be it Neil Gaiman or be it Juan Antonio Bayona, it’s really interesting things…first movies, second movies.
But did you have to take Neil under your wing as a director?
I think if anyone knows that character it’s him. And then if we need to create a support structure we will. And there is without a doubt, no one more qualified to tell that story than Neil Gaiman, in my mind.
It’d be the same thing as Frank Miller basically.
Yeah, I think so. I think Neil is a guy who thinks in terms of ideas and very concrete images. He’s not an artist in the sense that he’s not a draftsman, but he is the creator of that universe. And I think if you can surround him with a really strong team… What we did with ORPHANAGE was really interesting. We went at it with everybody first time. First time DP, first time editor, first time director and it worked. Because I think there is a great advantage to not knowing how things should be done because people just go and make them happen, because they don’t know they are impossible. We did that movie in a very small time and for 4.5 million euros. And it looks pretty beautiful.
On the other hand, you don’t want a lot of mistakes that a first timer would make. That could be detrimental.
I prefer first time mistakes than tenth time mistakes. I think these guys are gonna have, like “first time” things that no one else is gonna do. Hopefully it will happen.
Are you working with Sergio [Sanchez] on your next Spanish language movie?
I hope so, yeah. He’s writing 3993, which is…
[one of the PAs brings over an enormous multi-barreled gun.]
That’s the Big Baby.
[Guillermo cocks it and opens the chamber to show us the fist-sized bullets, and in the process points the gun in my direction. I soil myself.]
Does it shoot different types of things or explosives like the gun in the first movie?
No. This one has, as they say, “highly concussive rounds.”
What about CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON? Are you still attached to that?
No, I am not. The take I had was a Victorian exploration type of…Jules Verne type of adventure. But Abe Sapien is sort of my Creature from the Black Lagoon, so I’m pretty happy with him.
You spoke about wanting to bring back the Universal icons, like Dracula and Frankenstein, is that still in your plans?
I hope so, I would love to. Certainly, the movie I would kill to do is and I know it’s been done and I’m very conscious of that, is to do FRANKENSTEIN. To do FRANKENSTEIN as the Miltonian tragedy that it is. Every time obviously…I remember reading the Frank Darabount screenplay that was illustrated with Bernie Wrightson artwork and saying “That’s it! I’m screwed and I’m never gonna do it.” But thanks to Kenneth Branagh I can still do it, that version. (laughs)
With so many scripts you want to do and pictures you want to make, how do you go about deciding which one will be your next one?
One at a time. Because I think the problem is—if I had the freedom to choose and the chance to just hold them til it’s done, I would do MOUNTAINS right away—but what I learned in the horrible years between CRONOS and MIMIC, and MIMIC and DEVIL’S BACKBONE, is that if I did that, it takes me four years to get a movie off the ground. And it never happened in the order. You know, I wrote SPANKY: MEPHISTO'S BRIDGE right after CRONOS and it was a beautiful script. Then I wrote MONTE CRISTO, then I wrote LIST OF SEVEN. None of them happened; they haven't happened yet, so what I understand now is that if I keep four or five things that I truly love in the fire, one of them becomes true.
Would you get one of these new guys that you discovered to do one of those movies?
Yeah, we’re gonna do one. I can’t announce it yet, but I may get to do a movie that I wrote but never got to do with Miramax, for a new first time director. The new Miramax.