Interview: Del Toro talks Hellboy

Ben got together for a round-table chat with Hellboy director Guillermo Del Toro some weeks back to discuss our unlikely hero...

How do you feel now that you’re almost at the end of the process for Hellboy II?

I am very tired! Originally the movie was going to come out in August 4th, and then in a beautiful vote of confidence they moved us to become a sandwich between Will Smith and The Dark Knight, which was great because we’re right in the middle of it, a great vote of confidence, but my nights and weekends were instantly eliminated! So we’re working 24 hours, 7 days a week, and it’s taking a toll – I’m becoming fatter and paler than I’ve ever been!

How do you feel when the film is compared to the other big summer comic book movies like Hulk and Iron Man? How do you think it stands out?

I think it’s very, very different from those. I hope that it proves to be for the good, but frankly I made it to be its own creature. You know, I tried not to craft it for an audience, I tried to craft it to be happy myself. So the movie is very quirky and much more insane and beautiful than perhaps a summer movie has the right to be. But I think that, you know, the world lended itself to so much experimentation, to creating crazy creatures, crazy worlds, much more beautiful and intimate character dynamics than the first one. So we went for it.

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Because it’s an unusual summer movie, do you think that will be one of its strengths, because it will offer something slightly different than the usual summer fare?

You know I really don’t know. Movies and audiences are like blind dates, you have no idea how it’s gonna go! You know, all you can do is spray some mint spray in your mouth and go out and God bless…and order dessert, always order dessert, it’s the least you can do.

Can you talk a bit about the process of making the crazy creatures?

Like in the first movie we favoured the physical approach so there’s a lot of creatures that are created that are animatronics. I think that the ones that are too big, too small can be either animatronic enhanced or repeated, or fully CG, but there are many more creatures – the first movie had five creatures in all, and this movie has thirty-two designs. And in some instances hundreds if not thousands of those creatures at the same time. We have been struggling a lot and allowing a lot for those creatures to have a personality individually. For example when there are thousands in Mad magazine, there was an artist called Will Elder, and Will Elder used to cram every corner of the panel with something busy. If you look in some of the instances when we have thousands of creatures, you catch them doing something different every time. There’s an obscene one, a lewd one, a funny one, a dirty one, you know, a prudish one. We tried to really create character in the animation with little details, so it’s been about making quirky use of the resources we have, but a lot of physical ones, a lot.

And what kind of team do you work with?

Well I work with the guys I worked with in the first one that I think are some of the best. DDT effects that worked with me on Pan’s Labyrinth. Spectral Motion that worked with me on the first Hellboy. In the UK I worked with two or three effects houses, different houses…in Hungary I worked with a Hungarian company, Nigel Booth in the UK, you know just a lot of people, people that came from the Henson shop, from the creature shop, that founded their own company, and they are highly, highly successful technically, and they came in and created real wonders for us.

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Talking about personalities of monsters, we’re not going to get to see it this time around, but I bet you’ve got something in mind for the baby?

For baby? You see Hellboy at age 11…

No, Hellboy’s baby.

Oh, Hellboy’s baby! Well, not this time, but I do have something in mind…

I know the romance came more from you than it did from Mignola, so have the two of you collaborated on what you think the baby might be?

I know what I want, and if I told you the right answer I would spoil the entire movie, but I think… because it doesn’t get resolved, but it kind of gets resolved at the end so I won’t spoil it for you, but I have a definite, definite plan, that is a sketch… In the last third of the movie you’ll get an inkling of what, if it happens, the third movie could be in some way.

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How involved was Mike this time around? When it was first announced he said he wasn’t going to be quite as involved because he wanted to get on with stuff…

I think in a strange way he was more involved, but in a different way. You know he was there on the beginning, we fleshed out the pitch for the film, Will Hunting for used paperbacks, you know, he got hold of Dennis Weekly novels and tried to punch him on the face…but I got all the Doc Savage soft covers and, you know, we spent three days driving around into used book stores and then a week or two passed, he spent a couple of afternoons in my backyard drinking lemonade and just chatting and then we went and pitched to the studio. Then a month passed, I called him up, we spent two to three hours on the phone in my car, and then I came back with a crazy screenplay (laughs). When I was shooting Pan’s Labyrinth I was writing Hellboy…

When I finally returned the screenplay there were many surprises for him, he came involved with more notes, I think he has been very involved. He designed a bunch of puppets for an opening scene that I wanted him to design the look of the puppets and so forth … and he was very, very, very involved in the design, as he was in the first one.

And at the end we had quite a blast by him being here in the final stages, and recording the music at Abbey Road with Danny Elfman, seeing effects with me every day, giving his opinion… You know, I think he has as much involvement, if not more.

You’ve said that Hellboy II is going to be based more on fairytales and folklore than the first one, which was more pulp. How much of it is drawn from the comics as opposed to your own personal creativity would you say? I think this one is definitely more what we created than based on the comic books. You know I think that the main difference between the two Hellboys is that I think the Hellboy in the comic is beautifully stoic, you know, really nothing phases him. Whereas the Hellboy in the movie, nothing phases him but for very different reasons, he’s not a stoic at all. So the interaction with the fantasy in the comic and the folklore elements and so forth, it has less of a fairytale feel, it has more of a hardcore almost prophetic strength to it. And the movie is more fun, is more slightly insane, you know it’s more trippy than in the comic. And I think that Mike and I now accept something that I didn’t believe on the beginning when we did the first movie – I thought I’m doing the comic book and then I realised I was doing sort of, my variation on the character.

So in the second movie I kind of, assume it, get out of the closet and say, yeah, this is the Hellboy movie Hellboy, you know. But it has more to do with the things that Mike, curiously enough, assures me, is where the comic book is going. He said it’s very funny, what you’re doing here anticipates where I’m taking the comic in the future in terms of the fairy universe.

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And we didn’t talk about it in those terms. He said, you came up with it, I was coming up with it, the comic will go off towards certain parts that you’ve already explored. So we’ll have to wait and see if he really does that! (laughs)

Pan’s Labyrinth obviously is a fairytale world as well. How do you think Hellboy would have dealt with Pan?

He either would have had him work making cappuccinos for everyone… or he could have punched him in the head, a pile-driver! The Pale Man wouldn’t have lasted long! What do you think of Duncan Fegredo’s art on the Darkness Calls series? I am a big fan of seeing most every variation. I think that as the issues progress he becomes more and more at ease with the character. I think that in the last few issues, which I saw he is really…you know the hardest thing to absorb as a comic book artist is either embrace or reject Mike’s use of the black, you know, his masses of black, and I think in the first issue I still felt the line work was a little too busy for the blacks that he was proposing. Mike has a way of being streamlined on the lines, and strong on the blacks. But as the issues progress, I’m more and more…I’m blown away by the last few pages that Duncan is turning out, fantastic stuff. And I love the other guys’ own variations, you know, every variation I love.

I noticed in the footage that there was a cool moment where Hellboy shoots at the camera and the tooth fairy blood goes on the camera. How much of that is in your head before you make the film or is that something that comes up in post-production?

No, I’ve been doing that since Mimic. You know if you watch Mimic carefully there are a couple of moments where we have drops of water on the lens. And we were, if not the first, we were exploring it very early, doing mistakes with the camerawork, you know, splattering the lens, having the camera shake at an opportune moment. Now it’s pretty much more common, but I wanted very much to give it a sense of down and dirty, more dirty than down (laughs), you know like things are going to the camera, give it a sense of immediacy, so we planned the shots like that.

What was the biggest technical challenge that you faced during production?

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We had many – one of them…for example I tell you, this may sound completely geeky but the rigging, the creation rigging and construction of the Golden Army was so massively difficult because you have, essentially, hard core and hard shelled creatures, there is no flexible part. So we spent… three designers, three different designers spent in total about eight months, eight months, just solving, mechanically, the Golden Army… And when they move we created every articulation. Every nut, every bolt makes sense. That was a pain in the ass to rig! It was a pain in the ass to construct, it was a pain in the ass to rig. You know because we wanted them to have a very clean silhouette. You know as we were doing the movie, Transformers came out in the middle of the shoot, and I was very happy that all creatures which evolved from an egg into an open soldier, they have a very clean silhouette, they have a very beautiful, clean silhouette, but you have a sense of how they move and how they work. I always thought of them as the golden – the golden goldens – that move very slowly but they are very precise, they are not in a hurry.

I remember in Goodfellas they say, “Paulie moves for no one”… and I thought these guys are like that, they’re like Paulie. You can come kick ’em, shoot them, destroy them, and they’re gonna get you, yeah, eventually if you keep going at it, thirty minutes, one hour, two days, they’re gonna kill you, they are not in a hurry. So that was a challenge, and technically we developed a control system for one of the facial controls in the monsters, the physical monsters, that was quite revolutionary.

We have a monster that is almost seven and a half feet tall operated by one guy on radio control that is physical, that looks CG, but is not CG, it’s really a guy in a suit.

You’ve said before that you make one film for the studios and then one for yourself. Since Pan’s Labyrinth was, obviously, a massive critical success, have you been able with Hellboy II to combine the two?

Well, what is funny is, I’ve never said that. I always say I try to make a big one and a small one, but I’ve never done one for a studio. Even Blade, which was, you know, I loved the first one. I thought that…it is my belief that Norrington planted a flag on the way comic book movies should be made when he did that movie. It kind of popped the cherry of many, many things.

And I wanted to play in that universe, you know, I did not understand Blade that much, but I sure understood the Reapers, and I wanted to create the Reapers you know! So I’ve never done, and God willing I never will, do a movie where, you know, I wake up and there’s no boner. You have to go there and do your fucking job every day and destroy your life – you have no personal life – you have to do it for something you love so this one, definitely, is a guy I love. I love Hellboy. I love the Hellboy in the comics, I love the Hellboy in the movies, and I love Ron Perlman. So it’s three in one.

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Paul Prischman is the biggest Hellboy fan I’ve ever heard of, and I think you’ve got a platform here to bring attention to his situation at the moment. Is there anything you’d like to say so we can report on it, and maybe help him.

Yeah, the last time I saw Paul, I saw him…he was still at the hospital in L.A. I was there for two days and I went to visit him and it was then that, you know, Chris Drake, his wife and I, you know, we started talking about what to do. And the idea is in the ensuing months, we are all going to find really, really prized props and memorabilia from our movies and create an auction, of stuff that is really important to us, stuff that we think is significant for us and the fans, to go to the Paul Brain Trust.

That is incoming, it will probably be through eBay. Right now we are planning – as soon as I land in L.A. – we are going to continue a series of, what we will try to be very special screenings for Paul, and in favour of Paul, so we’re gonna try to do sort of the Blade Runner screening again and again with different filmmakers. It is my hope to recruit Frank Darabont, you know, so we’re gonna do either a Pan’s Labyrinth screening or a Hellboy II screening with a Q&A and make it an event. I’m not sure how much he can travel but we will try to organise it in any way.

One of the reasons we are doing the auctions is because everybody from anywhere can participate on those and obviously there will be other items like DVDs and posters and all that, but there will be a few real crown jewels in those auctions from everyone involved.

It is a worthy cause for a truly great guy. The biggest testament of who he is is that he’s loved by geeks all over the world that are also his friends. We all became friends back in the glory days of Dave’s Laser, which was a temple of joy to cinema, and he was one of the high priests.

Our review of Hellboy II The Den of Geek interview: Guillermo del ToroHellboy: The Science Of Evil XBox 360 review

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