Guillermo Del Toro Interviewed – ‘Pan’s Labyrinth’

     January 3, 2007

I hatewhen people ask me what was your favorite film of the year. How can you rateone piece of great art over another one? I love when people just list their tenfavorites in no particular order, just acknowledging that the ones on the listare the ones that really moved you.

And whileI hate saying anything was my favorite, if I had to chooseone, Pan’s Labyrinth would be at thetop of my list. No other film hit me like Pan’sdid. Guillermo Del Toro has done what I always thought was impossible, make a believablefairy tale for adults. I bought into Pans from frame one, and as the movieended, I sat there in stunned silence at the unbelievable accomplishment thatwas put on screen.

Pan’s Labyrinth is without question worth yourtime and money, and while it might be hard to find as it’s a “foreign” film,when it gets nominated for a Best Foreign Film Oscar in late January, you canexpect it to be playing in more cinemas.

Seek outthis film, it is without question one of the best of 2006.

And nowthe reason we are here. Here is the Guillermo Del Toro interview. It was donevia roundtable a few weeks back and I hope you enjoy it.

Question:Is that a journal of stuff that you’re working on?

Guillermo Del Toro: It’s ‘Pan’sLabyrinth’ and the beginnings of ‘Hellboy.’

‘Hellboy2,’ right?

‘Hellboy 2,’ yeah.

Don’tleave that in a cab. [Laughs]

I did. Two days ago, I was in aroundtable with David Lynch, and I had slept one hour. They came andpicked me up, and I took my jacket off, put [my journal] on top of the car,went in, left it on the top of the car, drove away, this fell, I arrived to theoffice and I said, “Where is the diary?” And, the guy that was drivingsaid, “I’m gonna go back.” He went back, and I was in a meeting. Ihad a meeting on ‘Hellboy 2,’ and I was like, “Well, this shot goes here.” But, this guy always comes back. Like always, I said, “Okay, please giveit back. I understand why I lost it.” And, he called and said, “Igot it,” and it came back.

You needto get a chain attached to it.

[Laughs]I know. I’m going to put a GPS chip on there.

AtComic-Con last summer, you said that you felt like your balls dropped on thisfilm.

Indeed, they did. I felt it.

After allthis time of promoting this film, do you still enjoy coming to thesethings? And, what has been your reaction with talking to everyone aboutit?

It’s always a surprise when you think,“Okay, this is where it ends,” and it continues and keeps going, which isgreat. I’m an ex-Catholic. I’ve lapsed completely, but I’m alwaysexpecting the other shoe to drop. [Laughs]We excel at guilt, like most every other religious group. Every time ithas a good turn, I am amazed. I’m like, “Oh, wow, we won that? Wegot that? Oh, that’s great.” But, I always think, “That’s it,that’s the end of it,” [laughs] and it keeps getting better. When I did amovie like ‘The Devil’s Backbone,’ which I adore, the movie essentiallysuffered a really tough fate. It came out around September 11th. Itbarely came out. I think it came out in 1,620 theaters. I think itmade two of the top 10 lists. It didn’t win much. It won a fewawards in Europe, and here and there, thatwere very meaningful. But, nevertheless, I loved that movie. Inever try to marry outcome to what I do. It’s a troubled time for anex-Catholic to be in. I’m enjoying it as much as I can allow myself toenjoy it. [Laughs]

‘Pan’sLabyrinth’ is getting a lot of critical acclaim and awards, but you have twofriends with movies that have also come out, at the same time.

That’s easier.

How isthat easier

It’s easier ‘cause I love, and openlyenjoy, them doing well. I saw ‘Children of Men’ and I see the envelope ofstorytelling clearly being pushed. I have a clear sense of that hugemovement forward. Or, I see ‘Babel,’ and Isee the Japanese episode in ‘Babel,’and I see him trying something completely new in his set of storytelling toolsand concerns. So, it’s easier for me to enjoy that, than it is to enjoymy own stuff. I don’t know why. I’m fat and an ex-Catholic. It takes a lot for me to accept a compliment.

AlfonsoCuaron talked about the fact that the three of you take your movies and giveeach other your scripts. He said that he credits you with the end of ‘YTu Mama Tambien.’ So, for someone like Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu, whodid ‘Babel’ and‘21 Grams,’ you wouldn’t think he would be into something as fantastical assome of your movies are. Does that surprise you, when your friends areinto something that you don’t think they’d be into?

[Laughs]I think that Alejandro, for example, loved ‘Hellboy,’ but he hated ‘Blade2.’ He berated me for over two hours for making ‘Blade 2.’ I had topull off of the freeway and park in a parking lot, and I finally said, “Listen,man, I need to have lunch. I apologize for having made ‘Blade.’ CanI now have lunch?” He said, “No, you don’t understand. It appealsto the vilest of human emotions.” I said, “Dude, it’s a ‘Tom and Jerry’cartoon.” We’re sincere with each other. When Alfonso and I finished‘Great Expectations’ and ‘Mimic,’ I called Alfonso and I said, “So, it lookslike we both made giant insect movies,” and we laughed about it. Wereally take it in stride. I didn’t like the screenplay for ‘21Grams.’ I said to Alfonso, “Thank God you disjointed the narrativebecause linearly it would be ridiculous. We fuck with each other. It’s good. It’s a good thing to have in your life.

Labyrinthhas a lot of ideas in this country. There’s a game, there’s the JimHenson movie. What ideas does it have in Spain?

The labyrinth is a very, very powerfulsign. It’s a primordial, almost iconic symbol. It can mean so manythings, culturally, depending on where you do it. But, the main thing,for me, is that, unlike a maze, a labyrinth is actually a constant transit offinding, not getting lost. It’s about finding, not losing, yourway. So, that was very important, for me. It is a place where youdo sharp turns and you can have the illusion of being lost, but you are alwaysdoing a constant transit to an inevitable center. That’s the difference. A maze is full of dead ends, and a labyrinth may have the illusion of having adead end, but it always continues. I can ascribe two concrete meanings ofthe labyrinth, in the movie. One is the transit of the girl towards herown center, and towards her own, inside reality, which is real. I thinkthat Western cultures make a difference about inner and outer reality, with onehaving more weight than the other. I don’t. I come from anabsolutely crazy upbringing. I had a fucked up childhood. And, Ihave found that [the inner] reality is as important as the one that I’m lookingat right now. The other transit I can say is the transit that Spain goesthrough, from a princess that forgot who she was and where see came from, to ageneration that will never know the name of the fascist. And, the otherone is the Captain being dropped in his own historical labyrinth. Thoseare things I put in, but then, as I said, the labyrinth is somethingelse. Each culture will ascribe a different weight to it.

Did youever consider not having Vidal not see Ofelia with the creatures? When hesees her with them, you see that they do not exist, and I almost wish that itwas left more open to interpretation.

There are two or three moments ofmystery, in the film. I can give you my answer, but that doesn’t meanthat it is the answer. My answer is that those who cannot see, will notsee. It’s very simple. The girl asks Mercedes, “Do you believe infaeries?” while they’re milking the cow, and she says, “I used to, when I was agirl, but I don’t believe in many things anymore.” If the Captain saw thefaun, what does that tell you about that fascist sociopath and what does thattell you about the fable? When she physically dies, but she spirituallyis reborn, I am not in control of what you choose to believe in. I’m notin control of what you think is more important. I’m telling you thestory. For me, the movie ends in on a note of absolute hope and beauty,with a tiny white flower blooming on a dead tree, and an insect watching it asit blooms. For me, that’s as heavy as the entire outcome of a war. But, that’s me. That’s the way I look at things. I can concentrateon this being great, and not minding the rest. I believe in those things.

Did yougrow up reading fairy tales and thinking they were frightening, or were youdelighted by them?

In the time of spiritual formation, forme, both fairy tales and the Bible had the exact same weight. I was asenthralled by a parable in the Bible about the grain of mustard, as I could beabout three brothers on their quest to marry a princess, and I found equalspiritual illumination in both. And, even when I was a kid, funny enough,I used to be able to find those fairy tales that felt preachy andpro-establishment, and I hated them. I hated the ones that were about,“Don’t go out at night.” There are fairy tales that are created to instill fearin children, and there are fairy tales that are created to instill hope andmagic in children. I like those. I like the anarchic ones. Ilike the crazy ones. And, I think that all of them have a huge quotientof darkness ‘cause the one thing that alchemy understands and fairy tale loreunderstands is that you need the vile matter for magic to flourish. Youneed lead to turn it into gold. You need the two things for theprocess. So, when people sanitize fairy tales and homogenize them, theybecome completely uninteresting for me.

Was therea particular fairy tale that influenced you with ‘Pan’s’?

I have collected them since I was a kid,so it’s hard for me to tell you. There’s a whole streak of them. The movie and the notebook both say that we are doing homage’s to LewisCarroll, to ‘The Wizard of Oz,’ to Hans Christian Anderson with the littlemagical girl, to Oscar Wilde, and very specifically to David Copperfield and Charles Dickens. These are things that Ivoluntarily do. But, the one book that I would say was a huge influenceon making the movie is a book called ‘The Sands of Fairy Tales’, which is arecent catalog of all the primordial streaks of storytelling in fairy talelore.

Whatwould you like an audience to take from this film?

As I said, it’s like a blotchtest. If they are enraged by the bleak hopelessness, or they areenthralled by the beauty and the poetry and the hope in the film, it’s equal tome. I think that it’s a movie that is going to make people reactemotionally, hopefully. What I would love is, ideally, if this movieconnects with you, it should create an almost perfect simulation of what it isto be a kid again, both by the beauty and the fear, because both things aredialed up. The brutality is dialed up, artificially, and the fantasy isdialed up, artificially. It’s like doing a deep tissue massage to thesoul, to try and reach the point where you will react to the violence and say,“Oh, my God.” It’s so over-the-top that it will affect you. And,the fantasy is also so over-the-top that it will affect you. It’s asimulation of a moment in childhood that you have. That’s why it’s afairy tale for adults. Kids don’t need that extreme pushing.

Howdifferent has it been to work on ‘Hellboy 2′ at a different studio?

Right now, I can tell you that we mayargue about budget, and we may argue about size versus cost, but creatively Ihave been in heaven, so far. It was, actually, creatively a greatexperience on the first one, but I think the difference is, going into it thefirst time, with a movie called ‘Hellboy,’ with a guy that looks like he hastwo plastic cups on his forehead, and people chewing their nails to know whatthe character is, is a great difference. We’ll see, at the end of theride. No ride is safe. There is no handlebar on these things. You ride the roller coaster without any protection.

Are yougoing to wrap things up, in case this is the last one?

We always do that. We created thefirst one and said, “If there’s a second one, great. If there’s not asecond one, great.” We go into the second one the same way. It ismy hope that we would be allowed to do the trilogy, but you don’t know.

Have youthought any further about other things that you would really like to do?

If, all of a sudden, I bought a lottoticket and I got $100 million, I would go about doing either ‘Mountains ofMadness’ or ‘Monte Cristo.’ Those are the two films. ‘Monte Cristo’has been with me for 13 years. I wrote the first draft with Kit Carson in1993, so I would love to do that movie. And, I would love to do‘Mountains.’ Either/or. Those are really very risky, very personal,very beautiful, very powerful things to do. But, as John Lennon said, “Acareer is what happens while you’re making other plans.”

Would theSpanish language be an option for either of those?

‘Monte Cristo’ happens in the 1860’s in Mexico, so youhave people speaking French, English and Spanish. It’s a mixture. Iwant the Mexican dialogue to be in Spanish, I want the French guys to talk inFrench, and I want the Americans to speak in English. I think that itcould, but I never know which way we’re going to go. We’re always lookingfor financing for it.

Hopefully,the critical acclaim you’re getting for ‘Pan’s Labyrinth’ can lead to morefreedom on future projects?

I would love that. Every movie youdo, it is like a roller coaster. The moment of hesitation is right at themoment after you’ve gone up and, right before taking the dive, you go, “Why didthe fuck did I jump on this one? I should have gone to the carousel.” Andthen, [you go down], and you come out on the other end and you go, “How thefuck did that happen?” Right now, the roller coaster of ‘Pan’ isfinishing, and all I know is, sooner than I have time to think, I’m going to[go back up again] on something.

What wasit about working on ‘Hellboy’ that made you switch your idea about ‘Pan’s Labyrinth’and make it a fantasy?

It was always a fantasy. Originally, the idea was that it was a marriedcouple and the wife was pregnant. She fell in love with the faun in thelabyrinth, and the husband was so straight. The faun said to her, “If yougive me your child and you trust me with killing your child, you will find himand I, both, on the other side, and the labyrinth will flourish again,” and shemade that leap of faith. It was a shocking tale. And, it startedchanging. It was totally different than this one, but movies are likethat, and stories are like that. They change on you. I don’t knowexactly when it happened, but I know that, in post-production on ‘Hellboy,’over a chicken dinner at Alfonso’s house — he was post-producing ‘HarryPotter’ — I said, “Well, after dinner, I’ll tell you the movie I want tomake,” and I told him this movie, start to finish, exactly as it wasmade. At that point, I had made the decision. And, I believe ithappened over the course of a couple of days.

When doyou begin ‘Hellboy 2′?


You saidthat you felt very liberated making ‘Pan’s Labyrinth’ because you had morecontrol. And, ‘Hellboy’ will bring you back to a studio.

The thing is that you know, to a point,what you’re going to gain and what you’re going to not have. I just knowthat, if I want to paint these huge comic book panels, I need to go to astudio. I would never attempt to do ‘Hellboy 2′ with European funding,and I would never attempt to have ‘Pan’s Labyrinth’ done with a studio. Imagine them testing that movie.

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