If Guillermo del Toro knows one thing, it's monsters. The Mexican filmmaker has parlayed a childhood fascination with things that go bump in the night into a series of influential and highly regarded cinematic wonders, from the fairy tale creatures of "Pan's Labyrinth" to the Lovecraftian beasts of "Hellboy."
This week, del Toro unleashes a new pack of monsters on the world in "Pacific Rim." The movie concerns evil Godzilla-like creatures that emerge from the depths of the Pacific Ocean (dubbed "kaiju"), as humanity looks to fight back in the form of gigantic robots (dubbed "jaegers").
We got to talk to del Toro about the design process for the jaegers and kaijus of "Pacific Rim," whether or not this was a "rebound" movie after he left "The Hobbit," and what's going on with his upcoming movies, "Haunted Mansion" and the adaptation for Dan Simmons's "Drood." Oh, we also talk about "Pacific Rim 2."
Moviefone: Before "Pacific Rim," you broke up with "The Hobbit" and then "In the Mountains of Madness" was held up. Do you feel like this is a rebound movie for you?
Guillermo del Toro: Anecdotally it may have happened after two movies faltered but I was developing "Pacific Rim" way before "In the Mountains of Madness" fell. I was developing "Pacific Rim" for nine months in parallel with "In the Mountains of Madness" on the agreement that I would direct it if "In the Mountains of Madness" didn't happen. So sadly your theory is wrong. That said, the movie came at the perfect time for me, as a way to save my sanity and save my life. I was really affected by "The Hobbit" and "In the Mountains of Madness" not happening.
What about this story made you grab on to it?
The movie comes from the most absolute genuine place. I was born in '64 and I was basically a kid when the biggest invasion of Japanese culture overtook Mexico. We were getting the anime series and sci-fi on TV that any Japanese kid in Tokyo would be getting at the same time. And at that particular period you were able to go see kaiju movies opening day. They were not just a thing of the past. So I would go to the theater to see "War of the Gargantuans." I would go to see the newest "Godzilla' film as an event, not something to look back at with nostalgia.
What were your guiding principles in terms of designing the jaegers and the kaiju?
Well, in the instance of the kaiju we first and foremost have to reference real animals, because that's key in designing a kaiju. They can get outlandish at the end of a project but a lot of them have identifiable forms -- they are crustaceans or reptilian; they have a very strong base on a real animal. Even though we're using super-sophisticated visual effects techniques, I still wanted to keep the basic man-in-a-suit proportions, so that if we were making this movie in 1968, you could still make it in 1968. It would look very different, but still...
In the same principle of using real animals when designing the kaiju, we wanted to design the robots without referencing any other robots in film or anime but basing them on, for example, weapons that exist. We reference very heavily from World War II. For Gipsy Danger [the main robot in the film], the shapes of Gipsy are sort of the Empire State Building and the Chrysler Building fused with John Wayne; we gave him the walk of a gunslinger. And the Russian robot is a mixture of Russian tanks and a walking nuclear reactor. So we were trying to make the robots really dusty and dirty and rusty and dinged, scraped, paint peeling. We wanted to make all of the technology to feel really used.
The movie is set pretty far into the "Pacific Rim" universe, after earth has first been attacked and things are really starting to get bad. Why did you decide to start there?'
One of the first things I said was, "Look, I don't want to make the movie an origin. I don't want to make a movie where we are gloriously fighting the kaiju. I want to make the movie where we're down on our luck. I wanted to make the movie where the odds are against us, where we're deep, deep into the mythology." I feel more attracted to talking about the resistance than I am to a winning arc. I also wanted the universe to not feel glorious or feel like a new car commercial, with super sexy technology. That's not my thing. I wanted rusty, damaged machines.
Let's talk a little bit about what you've got coming up.
Well, in September I start shooting the pilot for "The Strain" for FX. And then I shoot "Crimson Peak" for Legendary. We're a go on both -- we've started designs for both. On "Crimson Peak" we have already scouted locations, we've got a full production team on board, and we start shooting in January.
Is there anything going on with "Haunted Mansion?"
We are still waiting on the writer that Disney wants. I ask every couple of weeks what's going on.
One thing that you picked up are the rights to Dan Simmons's novel "Drood." What is going on with that?
We did a great screenplay with Brian Helgeland. Brian wrote two drafts of the screenplay. But it still hasn't quite nailed it. We're going to do one more pass down the line, and Universal will support another draft.
Are you working on a sequel to "Pacific Rim?"'
Yes we are working away but right now we are paying attention to promoting the movie.
But it's still something that you're actively developing?
To a point. Travis and I had so many ideas for this movie and a lot of them went into the comic books but a lot of them didn't. We want to go again, to places we weren't able to go in this one. All I'll say is that you're going to see Gipsy Danger 2.0