The visionary director of Pan’s Labyrinth talks misfits and monsters as he returns to his beloved Hellboy franchise.
Rising from relatively obscurity in mid-90s, Guillermo Del Toro is the hottest Mexican name in Hollywood today. Having directed vampires in ‘Cronos’, ghosts in ‘The Devil’s Backbone’, and Fauns in the Oscar winning ‘Pan’s Labyrinth’, the visionary director returns to his long cherished superhero this weekend – the cigar-chewing, kitten loving superhero: Hellboy.
Here the ‘Hobbit’ helmer chats to us about his personal hero – the somewhat autobiographical – Hellboy.
Q: Hellboy is a flawed superhero with many personal issues. Is that what you like about him and why film audiences can relate to him?
Yes. He’s the ideal version of what I’d love to be. He’s a noble brute. When I was a kid I wanted to grow up to be Spider-Man or Superman. Now I want to grow up to be Hellboy. He’s my hero.
Q: Is there any of you in Hellboy?
Yes there is. He is completely autobiographical. Everything that has happened to Hellboy has happened to me. Well, not everything. I think his relationship with Liz is similar to the relationship I have with my wife. I do believe I’d much rather die for my wife than wash the dishes. It is a conclusion you come to – I’ve been married 25 or so years – and you do know it’s easier to die for someone than to live for someone. Everyday life, taking out the trash, looking after the kids, that’s everyday work. Heroism is easy. Hellboy knows that. It’s easy for him to go after the four storey tall giant, but what is difficult is when his wife is angry with him. He’s nervous.
Q: How does Mike Mignola feel about the movie?
I’m sure Mike has some ambivalence, but I’m sure he appreciates it too. He has a big hand as a creator and a big opinion. He is essentially the only guy who I listen too. Everyone else can pretty much go to hell (laughs).
Q: We read a quote from you that you have a fetish for insects, clockwork monsters, dark places and unborn things. Is that true?
That’s true. I think you become what you are in your first 11 or 12 years of your life. The rest of your life is about handling it. The first 11 or 12 years define who you are. I think it is possible to change, but the primary colors you are handed remain with you for the rest of your life. I was exposed to all of those things – clockwork monsters, insects, unborn things…
Q: Unborn things?
Yeah. It is not a pleasant anecdote, but I was (laughs).
Q: When you were young did you want to be a director?
No. It was quite the opposite. I was already directing when I found out what directors did. What people were telling me when I made my little crappy super 8mm films was: “Why are you wasting your time on fantasy and horror? There are no Mexican directors doing big movies in those genres”. There were a few exceptions, but they were on the art house circuit. I started thinking, ‘Why isn’t there anyone doing the big movies?’ I thought the only way to face the impossible is by not acknowledging it. If you go to slay a dragon with only one sword and think, ‘But the dragon is so big and my sword is so small’ it’s a pretty bad way to start a fight. I was stubborn. I had a terrible decade, between Cronos and The Devil’s Backbone. That was a terrible decade. Now, it looks like I’ve done some damage on the dragon. I haven’t won yet, but I’m stabbing the dragon.
Q: You sound like you’re pretty hard on yourself, is that right?
Yes. I’m terrible. I’m the worst guy to live with.
Q: But, are you proud of yourself when you see Pan’s Labyrinth or the Hellboy films?
Yes I am. You know what I think when I look at Hellboy II? I think about how I insisted and fought for the ‘II’ to be in the title. I’m proud there is a second one. Ten years ago, nobody would have believed you if you said Ron Perlman would be the star of two big studio summer movies. Ron Perlman wouldn’t have even thought it.
Q: What did you see in Ron Perlman that others didn’t because you worked with him before the first Hellboy?
Yes, ‘Cronos’. I think in this time in film, apart from Ron Perlman and Clive Owen, that the leading men are actually leading boys. There’s no Lee Marvins, no Steve McQueens, no Charles Bronsons, no James Coburns. There’s none of these guys. Everybody is a pretty, nice, GQ type of boy. There are no movies about men. I don’t believe most of these guys had a real life. When I watch action films, and I think Harrison Ford and curiously enough Will Smith are exceptions, they can have blood and sweat make-up, but I imagine clearly their assistant is waiting just off camera with an Evian water and a cell phone. I think Ron has that tough, gruff, blue collar, everyday man persona. He represents the noble two fisted male. Ron is not a classically handsome man, but I think he is a leading man. It’s different.
Q: Will there be a Hellboy III?
God- willing. I would like to do it.
Q: What was the most difficult scene to shoot in Hellboy II. Does one stand out?
The fight between Hellboy and the Prince and the guards in The Golden Army chamber in the end. That fight was pretty rough because it took about nine days of shooting. We used trampolines. We didn’t use wires. People thought we used wires, but they are people actually flying through the air.
Q: Why no wires?
I’m tired of the look of the wires. I though it would look better. Very few people noticed. It’s like the monsters. A lot of people think they are done CGI (computer generated), but that’s fine.
Q: How long did it take to make the monsters?
About seven months hands on and then the fabrication took a few months more.
Q: Why did you want Doug Jones to play the three roles – Abe Sapien, Angel of Death and Chamberlain?
Because he’s one of the few guys who can pull it off. I know he will do a great job. I can trust him. I don’t trust every actor to get into a suit and do it.
Q: So what is it like when you have to work with an actor you have never worked with before?
I hate them. When they first come in, I hate them (laughs). I hate them until they prove they are the right guy or girl. From that moment on I never distrust them. They can be pains in the butt, but I put up with that.
Hellboy II : The Golden Army is at Irish cinemas this week!