Guillermo del Toro

You must be pleased with the reception to Hellboy II.
Yeah, yeah — it has done really well. I’m still in love with it in a way that normally, at this stage, I’m not with other movies.  Usually by the time I’m done with a film in post I don’t wanna see it again in many ways [laughs].  With this one, I still love it.

Do you enjoy watching it yourself?
I do, yeah, now and then. I’ve watched it with my two daughters and they, especially the youngest one, turned out to be big fans of the film.

How old is she?
The little one is seven years old. She’s absolutely, utterly, madly in love with Hellboy, Abe Sapien and the Prince [laughs]. She’s having a big love affair with all those characters.

What about poor Johann — he doesn’t get any love?
You know, he has no sex appeal for the 7-year-old.

He is just vapour.
[Laughs] But people seem to dig that guy.

He was great — imposing and funny.
Thank you. The fact was, the Mignola universe in the comics—for example with Johann and Abe Sapien, and to some degree with Hellboy — it is quite different from the incarnations in the film. So I was very nervous because Johann in the comic books is very different — he’s a little bit like the Abe Sapien in the film, you know sort of a prissy, meek, very gentle soul. I was very nervous — but the design and the voice work that Seth McFarlane did just made me feel much more at ease.

What did Mike think of Johann beating up Hellboy in the locker room?
[Laughs] You know, I haven’t asked him specifically… I don’t know, I don’t think we talked about that one. He liked that people liked it I would imagine, but we haven’t discussed it. I know that in pre-production he was really worried about the Troll market. He didn’t want the movie much to go there, and I kept telling him it’s going to be different. Because he was very afraid it would be exactly like the Mos Eisley cantina, you know, and I kept telling him, “We’re gonna shoot it very differently, the Mos Eisley cantina is a very narrow, specific sliver — this is gonna be more like an opening into another world, into a whole universe under the city.” So I know his opinion about several things because we talked at length during the process of the film.

The story of the Golden Army was your idea, wasn’t it?
Yes, it was. Originally we had agreed on something else. Mike and I had agreed upon maybe waking up the Titans of the four corners of the Earth. And then I went away and when I came back with the screenplay, the Golden Army had taken the place of the four Titans. I thought it would be nice to create an army of mindless weapons: soldiers that didn’t care who they obeyed — they just wanted to follow the guy who had the crown.

And they eventually do.
They do, yeah. They don’t care if they are killing elves or killing humans — they don’t care what they are killing; they just care about obeying. They are just machines, and I though they were very good representations of what I think war is.

What was it that appealed to you about the idea of a fairy world in revolt?
Well, I was doing Pan’s Labyrinth at the time [of writing] and I was very much in love with that universe. Since I was a kid I’d been collecting texts about fairy tales, and it was not until Pan’s Labyrinth that I could put it in a movie. I keep referencing them. I referenced them even in Cronos or Mimic as sources of inspiration but I had never been able to flesh it out into a full storyline until Pan’s Labyrinth. I’m fascinated by it because it is a world that is almost totemic, in that it symbolizes things that are beyond human in scope, in spirituality, in possibility; in almost every way the fairy world represents something grander than us, you know, or something at least on a scale larger than life.

In Pan’s Labyrinth, Ofelia creates the fantasy world to deal with her problems. Is the fantasy world in Hellboy II a real place?
Oh, I think yes. That’s the form of that universe that Mike Mignola has created. The reason why I fell in love with it is because Mike Mignola essentially says, “This is this guy’s everyday job — this is routinely true”.  The extraordinary is the ordinary in Hellboy’s life. I mean, he goes about essentially beating the crap out of impossible creatures — which I found very, very attractive, because it’s not a precious approach to the supernatural. It’s not tiptoeing around “is it real?”, “Is it not?” — it’s “Yes, it’s real: how do I kill it?” Which is the very blue collar, charmingly simplistic approach that Hellboy has. That’s why it was important for me in the second movie for Hellboy to appreciate the degree to which his destruction actually causes damage. There is a moment where he doesn’t know if he’s gonna kill or not an elemental creature, and I thought it was a very interesting sort of “To be or not to be” moment for Hellboy. But the fact that these creatures are real — that they are not imaginary — is what I owe completely to Mike Mignola.

This plays like a more personal Hellboy film for you. Did you have to balance your style with Mike’s?
You know, I thought I did but it turns out I didn’t. When you look at the first film, I thought it was going to be 100 per cent faithful to Mike Mignola’s comic, and it turns out it wasn’t quite a s faithful as I thought. It turns out that it took a lot more liberties — almost subliminally, without me realising [laughs].

So, in this one, I didn’t even try to keep the balance; I just knew that Mike was going to be an incredibly important part of the process. I invited him to participate in every which way he wanted — critiquing the dialogue, critiquing the storyline; he was there in the conceptual design stage — and I knew that was it. It was not about tiptoeing around what he did in the comic, it was about keeping him involved.

What inspires your designs for creatures?
Mainly we are blessed with a fantastic group of designers and I have a unique ability to torture them. [Laughs]

I also beg them to not source their creatures and designs from the usual stuff. I beg them not to reference other movies, for example. I tell them, “Don’t come back to me with 50 monsters that I already have seen somewhere else. Come back with references from medieval engravings. Come back with references from surrealist painters; symbolist painters; National Geographic. But don’t come back and show me a creature that looks like any other creature.” I try for them to go more for the arts: fine sculpture, fine painting, Victorian illustration, Renaissance painters, Middle-Age engravings, Gothic sculpting. The off-kilter references.

Do you go back to your mythology texts a lot?
I do. I am actually sitting in the room where I have them right now. I love them. I think they are uniquely inspirational for finding simple stories that hopefully have mythical values. I think that there is an almost shameless uncomplicatedness to the narrative line in Hellboy II, which was not true of the first one. The first one was very hard to follow, and yet the story was very simplistic. This time, the story is very simple, very terse; and I think that gives us the chance to have a looser tone — a more enjoyable, almost fairy tale aspect to it. Fairy tales are by definition very linear, very easy to follow. The magic occurs within.

The end of Hellboy II sets up something potentially very interesting. Will there be a third film, and do you have any ideas for it yet?
We certainly worked out some ideas of where we want to go. I think I am more sure of where I would love to go than anyone else.

Where would you go?
I would love to make it a very heartbreaking third part. Because the first part was very pulpish, the second part was almost comedy-melodrama, and I always expected the third one to be almost like a tragedy.

Will Hellboy confront his fate, the Angel of Death, again?
I think that Hellboy would come face to face with what allowed him to live in the second one and Liz would have to face a choice, and so on and so forth. But at this stage it’s hard to know. The movie seems to be on the way to doing exceptionally well internationally and they expect it to do really well on DVD. Domestically we did okay but we were savaged by a certain juggernaut called The Dark Knight — and we all knew going in that it would be like that, but I think the degree to which The Dark Knight became more and more an almost social phenomenon was very hard to predict. That said, it’s a studio decision if they wanna finance a third one. I certainly would love to come back if the circumstances are right. When we did the first one and the second one I always said, “Even if there is no other movie after this, I’ll be at peace.” And I would be. I would be at peace if this is the only other movie of Hellboy that happens.

Will you have time, with The Hobbit coming up?
Well I have to — and I will — concentrate on The Hobbit.

What’s happening with it at the moment?
I’m working on it with Peter [Jackson], Philippa [Boyens] and Fran [Walsh] and we’re on the screenplay-writing phase right now. We are all writing. It’s a four-hand screenplay writing assignment. We’re all doing part of the task.

Is it hard to adapt The Hobbit to a screenplay?
To me, The Hobbit is a pleasure because I imagined it as early as I was 11. That one is a very seminal book in my life. The second movie is very attractive and we are wading our way through creating it — but it’s far more complicated.

Will any part of The Hobbit spill over into the second film, or will that act solely as a bridge to The Lord of the Rings?
You know, it would be silly of me to continue saying things until the screenplays are done. I think the more I set parameters the more I’m gonna break them. We’re keeping it fluid right now, to the point where we are finding out what works.

October  2008

Originally published on Empire online

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