Directing Red: Del Toro talks "Hellboy II"

It was more than four years ago that Mike Mignola's "Hellboy" was first ported over to the big screen, but the cast and crew behind the film have gotten the band back together to produce the highly anticipated sequel, "Hellboy II: The Golden Army." Rising star Guillermo del Toro, who directed both films, helped save the franchise from fading away into obscurity after the first movie's distributor ceased operations by finding it a new home at Universal Studios.

A Mexican expatriate who now lives in Southern California with his wife and two daughters, English is del Toro's second language, but you wouldn't know it from the way he spins yarns in the U.S. film market. Del Toro, who also directed the second installment of the "Blade" film franchise, worked closely with "Hellboy" creator Mike Mignola to make both Hellboy films as faithful to the source material as they possibly could. That said, del Toro has allowed himself to make both movies his own to some extent, showcasing his distinctive directorial style, seen most recently in "Pan's Labyrinth."

Del Toro says he has one more "Hellboy" film in him, but when and if the third installment in the trilogy will come to pass is in question, due in no small part to the director's commitment to two "The Hobbit" films, for which del Toro will be relocating to New Zealand to direct for the better part of the next five years.

CBR News, along with other members of the press, spoke to Guillermo del Toro at a press event earlier this week.

You've said that "Hellboy II" is the Hellboy film you originally wanted to make from the outset. Is this the proper version of the Hellboy story you wanted to tell?

I wish I was that wise, and I was that fucking slick. I think it is, but it was not planned that way. The first movie, I fully thought we were doing the exact version that would honor the comic, and that would be faithful to the comic, but as time went along, as time passed, I realized mistakes were made, or shortcomings were evident. I was prudish, I think, on the first one a little bit. And I was completely unbridled on this one. And I really think it made a difference. In the first one, I was there to try to satisfy a specific aesthetic that I admire, which is Mike [Mignola's], and a specific character that I admire, which was Mike's, and I made it my own only to a certain point, it was not conscious, it was not a process, it just happened. And I learned, and I was desperate to make the second one to improve, expand, go a little wider.

Have you found the balance between Mignola's and your own vision?

Yes, I believe so. It will always be Mike's creation, but I really allowed myself to disagree with more people on this one, sometimes including Mike. And I feel it was a riskier proposition, but I feel, if you were going to do the second one and be equally timid, you were going to come out with the exact same film.

Mignola said he disagreed with you about Lobster Johnson, saying you wanted him and he didn't want him.

Well, that was fine, because as a director and a writer, I'm exactly the same way. I'm very quick on my feet. So when Mike said no to Lobster Johnson, "Then let me have Johann," I said. Because I thought the perfect guy for that job actually was Johann, who has no face. He's nobody. He comes to represent order and by-the-book rules, and there's nobody there, and I like that very much. And I thought Johann can be a voice, an idea, and a personality, even more than a character that is already outlandish. So I was happy to do the trade.

Are you a Jim Henson fan?

I am a huge Jim Henson fan, and Solution Studios, who participated in many of the creatures, many of them used to be on the Henson shop, that's why we went with them. They created some of the stuff I like the most, in "Storyteller," or they worked on "Little Shop of Horrors," and "Return to Oz." One idea I had in the movie, first and foremost we wanted to make the movie feel handmade. We wanted the movie to have an artisan pride, craftsmanship pride in the sets and the creatures. When we designed the Golden Army, I told them, "Make sure the gold is hammered, not flat. A little rust or oil stains. Let's make everything lived-in." Because I wanted everything to be texturally palpable. One of the approaches which was in the first movie also, was let's make the creatures as practical as we can.

There was a nod to "Star Wars" in this, the cantina scene.

Actually, that was Mike's fear, more than anything. Every time we came to Troll Market, Mike goes [hums Cantina music]. And I said, "No, no," we shot it completely differently. Instead of doing a close-up of every creature that we had, I treated them like extras in the background. Sometimes we spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on a creature that happens only in the first shot. If you look at the movie ever again, you'll see a creature called a Strider, which are three large Elephant-like creatures with long legs walking past an archway, only once in the whole movie. And I said, "I'll shoot it completely different from the Cantina scene, I'll shoot it like we really wandered into a real place, and I'll use creatures that cost thousands of dollars just to pass by." And we did.

Did you put in the "See you next Wednesday" reference for John Landis?

Yes. Landis and Kubrick.

There were many references to "Bride of Frankenstein," "Creature from the Black Lagoon," etc. Can you talk about the impact of those Universal monster movies?

Every movie that I referenced in the film, Harryhausen, "Creature," "Wizard of Oz," "American Werewolf," whatever it is, those were movies I call my 12-year-old movies. The idea of "Hellboy II" was, "Can I shoot a movie like a 12-year-old?" I am 43, I've done X numbers of movies, but can I learn to just devolve emotionally to a guy that's so in love with this thing. And when you see the resurrection of the Fairy, there's a wide angle with everybody around standing, and the little Fairy moving, exactly like a stop-motion setup of Harryhausen, of Sinbad and the guys listening to the little Homunculus. Or the resurrection of the Stone Giant portal, I told Danny Elfman, "Let's listen to the Talos cue from Bernard Hermann from 'Jason and the Argonauts.'" And we referenced it. Because those are all 12-year-old movies, and I wanted very much for this movie to have that wide-eyed kid of view of the creatures, you know, when you have that love for monsters that is unbridled and untampered by any adult concern, in the emotional aspect.

Was that childlike innocence that you talked about something that attracted you to "The Hobbit?"

I believe so. Every movie has to be a balance between the two. "Pan's Labyrinth" is the same thing, it had a lot of that awe, but at the same time, it's a more adult theme, and a more adult tone. The theme and the tone of "The Hobbit" I think are very different from this movie, and just aesthetically, it cannot be as poppy as this movie. They of course will be different. "The Hobbit" is an 11-year-old book, and I read it when I was 11, and it hit me right at that moment, so I'll try to honor that feeling.

But my most sincere hope would be that somewhere at some point on the "Hellboy II" exhibition, there's a 10-year-old with his parents or her parents that falls in love with one of the creatures forever. Like Wink, or the Angel of Death, because we created those monsters, every guy that was involved, every girl that was involved in creating these creatures, I asked them to come from a place of awe. I did it like animation, which is not very customary in movies like this, I said to each of the guys, "Which is the character that enthralls you, and grab that character and run with it." So instead of assembly line, we gave a guy one monster, and that guy created him from maquette all the way to final realization, wardrobe, sculpting, painting, like you give a lead animator on a character in an animated film. I felt you needed that level of commitment in the creation of the creatures in the movie. So there's one entire effects house did only the Octopus Fish vender. That was the only guy they did, that was an entire shop just did that creature. It was a very uncommon approach. I'm not sure that it's economically great, but it was creatively.

Frankenstein and the Wolfman tend to be more tragic characters as opposed to evil or malevolent characters. That's very true for "Hellboy II." The Elemental, at first he's a black and white evil, "Oh, you have to kill him," then you realize...

He's the last of the race. There were two things that concerned me when I saw a Godzilla movie. I always said, "My God, where does he poop?" I really thought about parking lots full of Godzilla poop. And second of all, I always said, "He's just destroying a few buildings, why do you kill him? He's extraordinary." I didn't see it in its human tragedy proportion. And I thought the Elemental had that possibility, the Elemental had the possibility of, at some point you're going to kill it, people are not anymore in danger, are you going to kill him because he's destroying a city block? The Hellboy movies, not unlike "Pan's Labyrinth," are about choice.

If you want to create a third Hellboy film, how are you going to be able to do that if you're committed for the next several years on "The Hobbit"?

There were four years between the first Hellboy and the second one, there can legitimately be four years between the second one and the third one. It took two years and a half to solve this script for me, I spent huge amounts of time making the action set pieces relevant to the story. The Elemental, for example, making it a moment where he says, "Choose, between him or them." And then the third one, the ante is upped considerably in that it's a very complicated movie because I want it to signal the end of this incarnation of Hellboy. I'm not saying forever, but I would not be involved past that, and it will be probably the last Hellboy that [actor Ron Perlman] has physically on him. You know, it's a very grueling process, and he's entering the silver years, shall we say, I cannot demand physical action again and again. And I think that we would have to make it sort of a capper.

Because they're at different studios, how are we going to get a DVD set of both Hellboy films?

I know! Isn't that a bitch to figure out? I don't know. I had the same concern, and I think the answer is we won't, unless somebody strikes a deal that nobody wants to make. I think that if at all possible, I think the second and third movies would get their own packaging.

Will Ron Perlman be in "The Hobbit"?

I have no idea. I really think that I have demonstrated in our friendship a lot of loyalty, and he has to me, and I believe that there is a commitment to continuing to work together, but it doesn't come before screenplay. If the screenplay has a character that he can fit, fulfill, he'll be there. But if there isn't, we'll wait for the next one.

How is the "Hobbit" script coming?

We're starting. We've started taking notes on the first movie, and making annotations for the ideas for the second one. It's in the infancy.

Will it be a faithful adaptation?

Look, somebody said, and I agree with that comment, the only faithful adaptation is to actually put the book in front of the camera and turn the pages one by one. And Hitchcock used to make the joke, he said, "If you leave a goat in a garbage dump, it eats the book and it eats the film can, the goat will say, 'I prefer the book.'" It's a common thing. I think we will be faithful to what we believe has to be fun. I've found in my life with the "Hellboy" movies, the first one was slightly too slavish in some ways. We'll try to honor it. I find the differences, the changes Peter [Jackson], Fran [Walsh] and Philippa [Boyens] did for the ["Lord of the Rings"] trilogy in adapting it into a filmic trilogy, I found them to be absolutely necessary. Many fans have been irate, many others have agreed, and I think that the same is going to happen with this.

Where do you see a middle point to break "The Hobbit" in two?

I don't see a middle point. I think that the book should be contained if possible in the first movie. The second one would be a movie that would fill the gap of half a century between "The Hobbit" and the first of the trilogy films and connect them. Ideally we would create an overture and sort of a first movement to a symphony of five films, this is the ideal. It's too early, when people ask me, "Where are you in 'The Hobbit,'" I say, "I'm in post on 'Hellboy,' and Peter is in post on 'The Lovely Bones,' that's where we are in 'The Hobbit.'" Then, three weeks from now, I'll be more able to answer.

Why did you choose "Family Guy" creator and voice actor Seth MacFarlane for the voice of Johann?

When we came to the conclusion that Johann was going to be essentially a voice, I thought, "Who would be the best performer?" We talked on the set, early, early on, and he was brought up, and I said, "Absolutely, ideal." I love Stewie, I love Brian. I do think the guy is an incredibly gifted vocal actor, incredibly gifted, and he makes a killer crooner if you've ever heard him sing. But we thought we would never get him, the guy is essentially his own cottage industry. How can a guy that is worth whatever millions and millions of dollars, why would be interested in $10,000 bucks or whatever to do a voice in movie? And we called him, he said, "Absolutely, send me the script." He read it, he said, "I love it. Let's do it." It was easy. But I never thought I would get him. At the end of the day, we went to him, and we were fortunate enough. And to this day I tell you, the day he was in the booth, which was about three or four days, happiest days of my geek like. I kept saying, "In that episode, what was going through your mind?" And he told me fantastic stories, I had my living DVD extras right there with me. I was like the James Lipton of "Family Guy." "What is your favorite color?"

Are you going to relocate to New Zealand?

Yeah. When people ask me about "The Hobbit," I always say, "My life completely was going in another direction," and when I got the call, I said, "Well, let's spend half a decade over there." I was just finishing my house, and when I say my house I mean my house. I'm doing a man cave of epic proportions. My collection of crap became so big that my wife said, "Dude, you or us." I said, "Let's move the things out." And I bought a house five blocks away from my house, I put a secret bookshelf door, I put a haunted mansion room, and I'm moving all my stuff there. And I was planning that that would be my office for the next five years, and then I got the call.

Are you going to move this house?

No, I'm going to lend it to a like-minded friend to live there for three years while I'm gone. He's going to have 7,000 DVDs, 15,000 comic books, but the only thing he can't touch is my toys.

What particular toys?

I have many iterations of Disney's "The Nautilus," I collect "Haunted Mansion" memorabilia, I collect any iteration of Chernabog, the demon from "Fantasia." I have two of the original sketches that Kay Nielson and the other artist pitched to Disney. I'm an obsessive collector, and as I've said in the past, mercifully, I do dress like shit, I drive really old car, so the only vice I have is collecting this stuff. When I used to come through customs in Mexico, I was really afraid that Customs would look and find my rubber spiders and my EC Comics, and one day in Mexico the red lights comes on, so you're going to be inspected. And I go, "Oh, my God, I'm going to pay a thousand dollar fine for all my imports." And they open it and they pull the rubber spiders and the EC Comics, and they say, "This man has only shit!"

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