The man wears a mischievous smile from ear to ear and isn't short of humour. His films, however, explore our dark side, sinking into the shadows where monsters are kings. Nine years after his selection In Competition with Pan's Labyrinth (El laberinto del fauno), Guillermo Del Toro settles into the ranks of the Jury chaired by the Coen brothers. Meet the master of fantasy.
Guillermo Del Toro © AFP / L. Venance
You are part of the Jury this year. How do you approach appreciating a film? What are you sensitive to?
I try to distinguish the different effects a film can have on you. It can have an emotional effect. That’s ideal. It can have an artistic or formal effect, where you're moved by the art or the directing. Or it can have a purely intellectual effect, where you recognise great ideas. The best films do all three things.
You are a master of fantasy cinema, and your creatures never cease to amaze. What inspires you to create them?
I like to think of my creatures as characters rather than monsters. The best monsters are, above all, characters. For example, the creature of Frankenstein, created by Jack Pierce and Boris Karloff, is such a beautiful character. Some monsters are funny, some are evil; others are powerful, weak…
There are often Christian symbols in your films. What is your artistic connection to spirituality?
I was a practicing Catholic as a child, but I abandoned religion in my teenage years. But I think once you are Catholic, you are always a Catholic. You still have the moral structure of Catholicism hovering over you, like a sort of mythology or cosmology of the Catholic faith. You can reinterpret it but it is there. It is a part of who you are.
Ron Perlman is one of your favourite actors. You had to fight for years to get him to play Hellboy. What fascinates you about him?
Ron represents a sort of enduring and infallible masculinity. He is simultaneously stable, infallible, and strong.
You direct, but you have previously produced films, particularly in South America. What do you think about the new generation of directors in those countries?
When I was producing films, I felt it was a way to initiate a new generation of voices, like Juan Antonio Bayona, Andres Muschietti, Jorge Gutierrez, Sebastián Cordero… All these guys who I admire for their youth and passion, I protected them and helped them to make their first film properly. I am extremely proud of having been able to help create films. In cinema, we need to keep diversity of voices and discourse. I think, for example, Juan Antonio developed a unique viewpoint on horror films with The Orphanage (El orfanato), unlike English speaking filmmakers. Sebastián Cordero has a very Latin-American viewpoint on thrillers and morality with Chronicle (Crónicas), for example, which was a great film. It is much more sceptical and tragic than a North American filmmaker would look at it.
Your next film, Crimson Peak, will be released in cinemas soon. What cinematographic challenge did you set yourself on this project?
It's the first time since Mimic that I've attempted an American-sized production with a European flavour. It is not exactly like Pan’s Labyrinth (El laberinto del fauno) but it is not as pop as Hellboy. It is a film that tries to reconcile two aspects of my life, in a way. I have been obsessed with gothic romance since I was a child, and it's a genre which hasn't been explored in film for a long time. You either get horror or you get pure romance. Gothic romance combines the supernatural aspect of horror, without concentrating on fear, and the romantic aspect of a love story in a much darker way.
So you will continue to explore dark themes in this film, and others in the future...
I think I’m interested in films that have a darker side. I only deal with fantasy or the supernatural to deal with people. Because, for me, the scariest things in films are people. Not monsters.
Interview by Tarik Khaldi