Posted on Wednesday, June 19th, 2013 by Peter Sciretta
In March 2012, I visited the Toronto set of Pacific Rim — you can read my full report here. While on set we talked with director Guillermo del Toro and various members of the cast. We’ll be posting those interviews over the next week.
Today we post the most interesting of the bunch, an extensive chat with Guillermo del Toro. If you’ve ever heard Guillermo talk or read any of his previous interviews, you know that he’s a filmmaker who has a lot of funny, interesting things to say and usually doesn’t bullshit. Whenever I see an interview of his online, I’ll watch or read it, there are not many other filmmakers I can make that claim with 100% of the time. So trust me, this interview is worth your time. Enjoy.
Question: It’s been a while since you’ve been in the director’s chair.
GUILLERMO DEL TORO: Four years, yeah.
As fans we’re so excited, but for you, can you talk about finally being on a set of this huge, monster, awesome looking movie?
DEL TORO: It was really going from 0 to 100 miles in no time, but the good thing is in the space between movies I prepped some huge movies. Working on [At the Mountains of Madness], Hobbit – were great sort of gyms, training grounds, for prepping this movie. We prepped this movie really quick. This is a huge movie and we had the feeling, Legendary and I, we had a timeline, not that there was anything in the horizon, but we felt if we don’t get going somebody’s going to do something like this. As soon as Mountains was out on a Friday, on a Monday I was onboard the movie. I was onboard the movie earlier as a producer, I started with the movie from the get-go, from the inception, but I was a producer because I was doing Mountains. So we started developing the visual bible, writing the screenplay, all of that, and the more the process went on the more envious I got. It was like, “Who’s going to inherit this beauty?” Then the moment Mountains didn’t happen, didn’t work out, it took two days to get on board.
I heard that Tom Cruise was originally going to be in this movie.
DEL TORO: Yeah, well we were going to do Mountains together so the idea was if the schedule works, everything works, we’ll do this one together. We talked about it and he read earlier drafts of the screenplay, but he went on to do Mission: Impossible and we then cast the movie. We went in a completely different direction, going with actors that I felt were going to be new for an audience, rather than stars, that were going to be the character without any prior history. But I still hope to work with him and having prepped Mountains with him, he has an amazing mind. I would love to work with him.
I’m curious how much this story and the script changed from when you first saw it to what you’re shooting now.
DEL TORO: A lot, we went through over – what was it fifteen drafts? Fourteen drafts? About fourteen drafts. When I first came on board I came on board on the premise of a pitch and I heard the pitch and immediately started changing it in that area. I think that what captured me from the get-go is I thought, “Has anybody done a live-action giant monsters versus giant robots movie?” And I was like “I’m sure somebody has” then I went “Nobody has?” Oh my god, it was on. As a kid I grew up with Kaiju movies, anime, Japanese programs, and all that so it was all completely enmeshed.
Something we’ve been talking about is everything feels real, all these practical sets with green screen amplification. Can you talk about the motivation of doing so much practical? And when you said to the studio “I want to build everything”, what was their reaction?
DEL TORO: What I wanted to do was, I wanted the world to textually feel very real. Have you guys seen the pilot cabin?
DEL TORO: I wanted to bring the language of WWII bombers and tanks, the language things that you- of huge oil tankers. There are airplanes and ships that exist now that are not quite as big as a Jaeger, but almost as big as Jaeger. There are oil tankers that are the size of a Jaeger. We tried to integrate all that language to create something that doesn’t exist. The way that we took the world and wore it down a little bit, the machines have dents and scratches and repairs. They’re not super shiny acrylic looking stainless steel. And for the world I wanted to be able to have the sets be a huge set driven movie, because I felt the actors need as much reality as we can give them, and the audience, and texturally we can then marry the robots and the monsters to that world. But that meant overtaking the entirety of Pinewood Studios and partial overtaking of another two studios. At the end of the day we were occupying every available foot of construction.
When you pitched this to the studio did they understand what you were going for or was there a little debate?
DEL TORO: No, I was very clear why and they understood why, the only thing that I was told was, “You need to fit it into the budget you have, you can build as much.” So we were very clever about it. Like this street, this layout, we used as four different streets. At first it was a complete street and we narrowed it down with tents and stuff, then we cleared the tents and rearranged the neon signs and it became another street, then we covered the facades that were old with modern facades and it became another street, and then we destroyed it. So at the end of the day we were able to show an area of Hong Kong and circulate through a second story, third story, bottom floors, because Hong Kong is very steep, hilly, we would build 3 or 4 stories high, 6 stories high on one single set. So we were very clever about reusing certain sets in a way that allowed us to give the size, but not feel repetitious.
I know that you’re filming digitally, but did 3D or IMAX ever really enter conversation?
DEL TORO: They did, IMAX is still in the conversation. We’re probably going with one sequence in IMAX, one of the final ones. 3D entered the conversation, but the thing with 3D is when you have a creature the size of the ones we have, you really have no palate. You have no depth. If you see a building fighting another building at 200 feet you don’t get the exciting depth that you’re going to get – and if you force it then they look like miniatures or they look like guys in suits, they don’t look big. So part of the language of the movie was to not include the 3D. When Jim [Cameron] was doing Avatar I remember seeing him talk about the depth of field when he saw the wide shots of Pandora, and to say, “Let’s not try to create that depth of field,” because then Pandora, the aerial shots, will look like a miniature. The language when you are dealing with things that big, the 3D is almost no, so we didn’t go with that. But the digital, it is the first digital movie I’ve made.
How much does the film’s rating affect you creatively?
DEL TORO: In terms of an adventure movie like this it’s like doing a Hellboy movie, I really know were going to go for a fun tone, but very intense battles, very intense battles. I want it to be very visceral, like you are inside the cockpit of the robot. You really feel he hits and that you don’t feel that it’s an easy victory, you know? That it feels like a tough fight. I just think we don’t have any gore in terms of human gore, we have monster on robot action for sure.
If I’m not mistaken the MPAA doesn’t like red blood, but if you’re using alien blood like blue blood, you can do pretty much whatever you want.
DEL TORO: I’m not sure, when we did Don’t be Afraid of the Dark we miscalculated so thoroughly that I don’t want to anticipate. All I want is intensity. I really want the battles to be intense, because the Kaiju need to feel like a force of nature. So they need to be always on attack, relentless, they need to feel powerful, like a ramming – like a charging force of nature. So I want the intensity. I tell you Don’t be Afraid of the Dark, we made a great movie to scare kids and we had to go out into the world of adults, so I don’t want to predict anything.
You’re obviously a monster guy, you love monsters, this movie is loaded with monsters. I’m just going to throw it out there, do you have a favorite?
DEL TORO: Of the ones we’re doing?
DEL TORO: No, I love them all. The great thing with the Kaiju genre is that you have your crustacean Kaiju, you have your reptilian Kaiju, you have your insectoid Kaiju. I mean there’s room for so much and the idea behind the movie, the idea of how the kaijus were created and why, and how specific they are, makes each monster be completely different. Kaiju, a lot of their character comes defined by the way they look. The Kaiju are almost living weapons, so when you see a Kaiju you know what it does, Hedorah, or if you see Baragon, its echoing a specific type of function, dragon like, or Hedorah looks exactly like what it is, like a giant trash amoeba from outer space [laughs]. It’s really fun, each of the Kaijus is great. It depends on the sequence. I love them all.
All this massiveness is awesome, but it seems like at the core there is the story of two people who don’t necessarily understand each other who have to work together.
DEL TORO: Yeah, what I didn’t want was- I didn’t want to do the mismatched partner story. I didn’t want the Nick Nolte thing, “I’m not your friend, I’m not your partner.” I didn’t want to go that route. I just wanted to show small stories of people trying to come together to survive, because I didn’t want to make a war movie. I wanted to make an adventure movie about people who come from all over the world. We have an African American leader, we have a Japanese girl, we have Korean-Chinese guy, we have an Australian team. I wanted to show all the world coming together. It’s not just two characters; among them all they don’t understand each other. All of them have great differences. And the thing is as the movie resolves you see these characters be above all those differences. I wanted that. I didn’t want to make it just, “Oh if these two guys only got along.” Everybody, everybody, which is like a movie set. On a movie set if you don’t come together, we are all very different, but it works. I really love the idea of coming together without a certain jingoist or, you know, this or this side saved the work. Everybody did.
I would hate for you to put yourself in box, but obviously this movie has sci-fi elements, action elements, you mentioned adventure. I’m curious how you would qualify this film in genre fashion? And would you say that there are horror elements as well?
DEL TORO: I don’t know, I think I’m attracted to the stuff – like I’m normally not a sci-fi guy but I love Sturgeon, Ellison, Bradbury. I’m not a fantasy guy normally but I like Fritz Leiber with Swords of Lankhmar, I love George RR Martin. I think that this would be science-fiction adventure primarily, but the monsters are so heavy that it’s actually very much a monster movie in many ways. There’s a moment where the character says, “in order to fight monsters we’ve created monsters of our own”, the jaegers. I don’t know, I would say science-fiction adventure probably. I haven’t thought about it that much.
I know you’re in the middle of this one, but is this a world you could see yourself revisiting in more movies or is it more self-contained?
DEL TORO: I really don’t know because every time I try to guess what I’m doing next I get hit in the head with a 4×4. Like, “Oh I’m going to do this.” “No.” “I’m going to go and do that.” “Oh, guess what? No.” So I don’t know if we’re coming back or not. I’ll gladly revisit it. I love the characters and I love the world, but I don’t know what we’re doing.