On Set Interview: Guillermo Del Toro Talks 'Pacific Rim'

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?Yes.

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.

ZZ3591A54EI 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 4x4. 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.

ZZ744F4A97At some point in the film you're going to go to the antiverse, we saw some production artwork with the antiverse. Sometimes movies feel the need to reveal everything, "this is the bad guys plan, this is why this happened," a lot of exposition if you will. How much of the motivation of why things are happening are you going to delve into?

DEL TORO: In my mind that's the part that is horrible, the part where you reveal what they do in the antiverse. This is a movie where I have had to deal with more dialogue than ever, and the way I cast the movie was – who do I want to hear say these things? Who do I want Charlie Hunnam to go against? Who can really tell Charlie Hunnam "sit down and listen"? I go, "Idris Elba" Now who do I want Idris Elba to be irritated by? And that's how we cast it. So a lot of the information – there's a particular scene where we have a two page monologue and it's so compelling, because the motive is so compelling, but it's not a spoiler and it really feels dramatic. The moment you know the plan about the antiverse is the moment that you want to know more and we don't give you more.

The other half of that is with the villains side, what's coming through.

DEL TORO: What's horrible is when you are told to explain the steps. When the studio says we need to know the bad guys plan and then we need to thwart it beat by beat. That is exposition, but if somebody tells you, "They don't want them for their blood they want them for their souls," I'm giving you a big twist. When you reveal the real plan and there's a big twist and you go, "Man I didn't see that coming," and it ups the ante automatically. It cancels itself as exposition, it becomes drama. If the exposition is simply the layout of a plan, it becomes a schematic. But if it ups the ante, if it reveals a new thing, a new layer of the drama it actually nullifies itself as exposition and it becomes drama. That's what we're trying to do. Every time somebody says something you go, "I want to know more about it." And I try not to tell you everything about it. Sometimes I feel revealing enough but not – if you know everything the mystery goes away.

I don't think I phrased my last question properly, because you gave a great answer about the exposition of characters in our universe, but I was wondering more about the characters in the antiverse.

DEL TORO: Yeah, yeah, yeah.

Are we going to learn their motivations?

DEL TORO: Oh, yeah. That's what I think makes it terrifying.

When we learn what happens to them, or why they're doing it?

DEL TORO: Why they're doing it, but what I think is great is that when you learn why their doing it, instead of closing the mystery it opens a new one. You know what I'm saying? When you learn, you think you know why – let me put it this way, monsters are coming to earth, what do they want? They want to take over earth or whatever, but when you learn the origin of what they do and all that, I think it adds to the mystery. And the antiverse is only glimpsed in the movie. You get a few, very few minutes of the antiverse and you're finished. You don't see it that much.

I'm curious about the visual style that you're going for in this film, would it compare to the other films you've done? Are you going for a whole new look?

DEL TORO: I think it's very much consistent with what I do, meaning I still do my blue steel with amber [laughs]. You can see the set is a steely blue color and then amber fires and amber tents. I still do the same contrasting, but it's unique to the movie in the sense the surfaces are very different from what I've done. The suits, the robots, the cockpits, all of that; it has its own look. What I'm trying to do is make a place that you can do with concrete and metal, this and that, but then light with very vivid colors so you have a very saturated look, but tis not because you are using saturated surfaces. I'm not going for the super-shiny, new car, stainless steel, sexy line kind of surface and then lighting it with a super-polished cool fluorescent, for example, which would give it a new car ad type of feel. I'm going for really grungy, beautifully grungy, surface with very saturated colors. So it creates a very different dynamic. There are moments in the movie where I truly think they look living, like a living comic. I like it. I sais this yesterday, but I really think that of all the movies I've done, this is the one that very consciously I have spoken about the least because I don't think people expect what they're going to get. I think the scale of the movie is much more different than anything I've ever done and the tone of the movie is different, but still I feel at home. I want people to be surprised.

This is the first time you worked with the digital camera, does that change anything?

DEL TORO: A lot. This is a movie that is perfectly suited for it, I could not have done, for example, in my mind I could not have done Devil's Backbone like that. These are saturated colors. The camera exacerbates some of the colors, crunches others. So I can have very vivid blues, very vivid reds, very vivid this and this and it is perfect sort of for the movie, But other movies I still romantically, and stupidly perhaps, I still want to think you can go back to film.

Some filmmakers have moved into 48 frames per second, was that ever a consideration for you on this?

DEL TORO: Not really for me, no. I am not attracted to it so far. I know that Jim [Cameron] loves it and Peter [Jackson] loves it, and there's a lot of proponents of it. I just like my movies without the frames. I like for them to have blurs and all the stuff that comes with a movie experience. I am much more attracted to that. I think it's very helpful, really beautiful for 3D. If you're doing 3D I think you should definitely approach it, because you get more of a feeling of being in a real space, but if you're not shooting 3D so far I'm not into that.

ZZ2A5C5B47You mentioned you might be filming one of the climactic scenes on IMAX, a lot of us have been entranced by what Brad Bird did on Mission Impossible 4, what Nolan's done onThe Dark Knight series. Was there ever any consideration of shooting more of the film in IMAX, or was it always "I have this one sequence that I really am looking to"?

DEL TORO: It is a very contained sequence. I think that we planned the movie, like the cockpits of the robots are so confined that we were really very hard pressed to be able to even maneuver inside them. We consider the one sequence in IMAX in the middle of an action sequence because I am very interested in seeing the opening like that. I also love what they did, but it is a very contained sequence.

Earlier you were talking about casting, how you were going for kind of smaller names, I'm curious how you chose Charlie Hunnam, obviously he works with Ron Perlman onSons of Anarchy, but I'm curious how you chose him.

DEL TORO: I actually wanted to work with Charlie before Sons of Anarchy and before he met Ron. I wanted to cast him as the prince in Hellboy 2 because I like him very much in Nicholas Nickleby. I saw him and I thought he had an earnest, really honest nature. And he was the kind of guy that I can relate, as a male audience member I go, "I like that guy. I would like to have a few beers with that guy," rather than "I don't find him relatable". he has an earthy quality. So I thought it would be interesting to cast the "bad guy" on Hellboy 2 with somebody sympathetic. Luke [Goss] and him were my two choices and we did some quick studies on the two faces and Charlie's bones were too broad. Charlie has too strong, too broad bone structure. Luke has a very fine, sort of Terence Stamp type of bone structure. But we met, he read for the camera, I said to him, "I'm going to cast you as soon as I can." Then the great thing is when Legendary and I met with me as director, we said the first name was Charlie, we said well there's this guy Charlie Hunnam and Thomas said, "I love him. I love him." And it was great, instantly happy.

One of the many things that is cool about the film is that it takes place all around the world and we know that some of it takes place in Hong Kong, in Alaska, we've heard that there's going to be meteor reports that you see some of the other things going on.


Can you talk about what areas of the planet we will see in this movie dealing with what's going on?

DEL TORO: Well I wanted very much to make it a global thing so we show San Francisco, we show Sydney, we show a little bit of Vladivostok in Russia. We have the body of the movie in Hong Kong, you see Tokyo, you see Alaska, that's about it.

If you show Tokyo monsters, this is like the moment- everyone over there is going to freak out. Did you choose something extra special for whatever is going on in Tokyo?

DEL TORO: Well, I didn't want to marry the monsters with the landmarks, which is what normally people do. Like if the monster goes to Paris it destroys the Eiffel Tower [laughs]. I didn't want to do that, the scene in Tokyo is seen from the point of view of someone on the street. So you don't get a super complete view of the monster in that sense. I didn't want to do the big aerial shots. I wanted it to be experienced with the character on the street. So we actually go to any street in any neighborhood in Tokyo, rather than going for the landmarks. The only place where we marry the landmark and the background was Sydney, because the Opera House happens to be in the harbor [laughs], and the monsters come from the sea so...and in San Francisco we do violence to the Golden Gate. But I didn't want to continue the check marks, you know, "Now, let's go to Hong Kong and destroy the Bank of China."

You didn't want to make a Roland Emmerich film.

DEL TORO: I didn't want to make it like post cards, post cards from monster-land.

The movie takes place in 2013 and then we forward to 2025 at some point. Obviously the invasion takes place in 2013, technology obviously pushes forward to develop these robots, what other futuristic kind of things are you working in? Or have all the resources of the planet been put into the robot program?

DEL TORO: That's exactly right. One of the first things we did is say, "Well what happens to the world?" Because let's say the first Kaiju makes land in 2013, huge commotion, right? Everybody goes into mourning, memorializing, this thing was so hard to stop it took so many days, so many people were lost. It becomes almost like a landmark of grief, and then seven months later another guy comes in. It becomes a second Kaiju, we memorialize it, we grieve, we go "oh my god" and then the third Kaiju shows up seven months later and you go alright, we go, "alright, what are we going to do about it?" And then all the worlds technology and resources pull into creating the Jeagers, and what happens then is you don't have – one of the things I knew I didn't want, I didn't want flying cars, I didn't want everybody has a floating screen in their hand. I wanted to make it very discreet, like certain consoles have a 3d super deep aspect and others are normal. A lot of the stuff is patched up, a lot of the stuff – 12 years later, if the Jeagers haven't stopped something in 10 years, what do people think about the Jeagers? They haven't been able to stop it, what are we going to do? So they go into building walls; huge, gigantic, obscenely big walls. So a lot of the technology goes there. What happens when beach front property is the worst property you can buy? What happens when 100 miles from the coast you cannot live, then you lose automatically a third of the country.

Then we started projecting that saying we are going into a ration driven economy, food skyrockets because if you close the pacific ocean, there are 3 ports open after 2020. It's Vera Cruz, Hong Kong and Vladivostok, those are the 3 ports that are still open, the rest are closed to ship traffic. So there's a little bit of fishing in Alaska the first few years, but then fishing stops. So imagine the impact that that does to – so we wanted to do that, not verbal, not have people say, "Yes, because it's 2015." But you have people say, "This is the beauty of an open port, we can get bread, we can get rice." We make it a world. So we planned all that. That is all sort of part of the world we created for the movie. What happens with Kaijus when they fall? If removing a whale from a beach is difficult, what happens when – okay, you've killed a monster, it's 25 stories high [laughs], what are you going to do? What happens when Kaijus take a dump?

Is that answered?

DEL TORO: It's spoken about, yeah.

Talking to everybody it seems like you have your hand in everything and you're very involved in every step of the process. When do you sleep? Can you go through your day? What time do you wake up and what do you do throughout the day?

DEL TORO: In almost every movie, but this especially, I think I sleep very little. I'm sleeping about four hours a day. The last 50 days we give inserts to Splinter Studios, but I start my day with Splinter. I go to Splinter in the morning, I say, "you're going to put a hand pushing a button." I approve it during the day, I'm in contact next door, I start two hours early a lot of the time and I go to bed 3 hours later than everybody. I arrive here and everybody has a question. I come here and everybody hears what they need to do, I'm the one telling them what to do. So you arrive they say, "Where's the camera? Where does it go? What color? Is he bleeding? Is he not bleeding? Is his shoe broken?" And you have to prepare all that the night before. And then I edit, I edit every day. We are cut to the day. This movie, if you come to the editing room, yesterday's thing is are cut, the movie is cut to the day. I need to manage the movie. We have about 2,000 CGI shots so if I'm not going to use a shot, I have turn over, I've been turning over sequences to ILM for the last three months.

In that respect how much has switching from film to digital-

DEL TORO: It helps a lot, it helps a lot. The instant I go to the editing room the next day and everything is there, we cut very quick then Saturdays I devote the complete day to Splinter, all the day Saturday I am shooting hands pressing buttons, a big stunt or whatever, and then Sundays I edit. Then Monday I know exactly, "Okay, we cannot do this, we can do that." I don't have a life.

I'm curious about the music and score, what are you thinking about for this one? Are you thinking about any people, bands writing songs?

DEL TORO: I don't know about that, that would be cool if they want to go in that direction, I would love for the world to be populated by music from then, from 2023 but right now it's just Ramin Djawadi, writing the score. I'm a huge fan of Game of Thrones and Prison Break and his work on Iron Man was fantastic, so I met with him and we hit it off. He is starting about four weeks from now.

It seems like you've created this huge world with so many possibilities, are you already meeting with video game companies?

DEL TORO: I would have loved for that to be the case; the fact is we needed to concentrate on prepping the movie. So far we met with toy companies, collectible companies, for the statues and collectibles and all that. But video games, I know what video game I want out of it, but I think the video game will come out after the movie.

I want to have a Sideshow Collectible version of a maquette.

DEL TORO: So do I. [Laughs] One of the things I do is every time we do a maquette I pay for a separate maquette out of my own pocket. I keep a duplicate of them for Bleak House [Laughs]

One thing we got to see on our tour around the different sets is we got to see the Russian Com pad and we got to see the gimbal and what's interesting about it is the fact that the way the gimbal is operated is very similar to the pilots.

DEL TORO: We wanted to base the sort of machinery of the pilots on existing technology. There's footage on the internet of a Japanese scientists moving a giant arm of a robot with his own arm. Snd Mark Setrakian, who is one of the great mechanical designers, has worked with me on Hellboy and Hellboy 2, creates robots for disarming bombs, military operation robots, and he has a robot that can tie a tennis shoe, it's that refined. And he has 3D goggle vision that he puts in the robots, so you literally can se. What we did is we layered the suits so that could happen. I always called it bullshit-tanium, they're all made of bullshit-tanium, solid core bullshit-tanium. So what we did is we said, "Okay they will have a neural link on the spine, then they will have neural links to this blah blah blah, and then they will connect." There's one sequence in the opening of the movie where you see them blend with the machine, get tied to the machine, the neural cortex and how they connect with each other, one handles the left hemisphere, the other one handles the right hemisphere. In order to move that size of a machine the neural influx is too much for one single pilot but if you put two they can control it. It's based on the idea that it could be, but not at that size [laughs].