A view inside the mind of Guillermo del Toro
Guillermo del Toro is one of the most imaginative directors working in movies today. His movies, like Hellboy and Hellboy II, are full of creative creatures and unique stories. When you watch a movie directed by del Toro, you immediately know it.
But del Toro is also a producer. He has produced numerous movies, including Megamind, Puss in Boots and Kung Fu Panda 2, as well as the soon-to-be-released The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey. Like the movies he directs, most of del Toro’s projects are infused with his love for comic books and the comic book imagination.
His latest producing credit is Rise of the Guardians, which hits theaters on November 21. At a recent press event for the movie in New York, I had the opportunity to interview del Toro about Rise of the Guardians, making movies, and what comic books he recommends for kids like me!
Kid Reporter: What was it that interested you about Rise of the Guardians?
Guillermo del Toro: It was the fact that it was a movie that looked like an illustrated book. It was very beautiful to look at, but also that it felt like a timeless tale. It didn’t feel hip, super-modern. It felt classic, and I felt it was important to make it. When you watch the classic movies, like Pinocchio or Sleeping Beauty, you get a nostalgia for a movie that is actually earnest and romantic about what it’s doing, and this movie has that spirit.
You’ve become more involved as a producer of family films, films more aimed at children. How is working on these films different from the films you direct?
First of all, it’s a different part of my brain that works. I really like working on these films because they can tell beautiful stories in a beautiful way. Visually, Kung Fu Panda, Puss in Boots, [Rise of the] Guardians, Megamind – they’re very beautiful movies, but you can create crazy creatures, crazy adventures, crazy action moments. They give you a lot of freedom.
How is this movie different from the all the other animated films you have worked on?
What is similar between Kung Fu Panda, Puss in Boots, and this one is the three of them were not ironic, they were not post-modern. Puss in Boots really wanted to be a spaghetti western. Kung Fu Panda wanted to be a great martial arts movie. And this one wanted to be a classic tale of timeless appeal. So that is what is similar. What is very different is the visual style and the quiet moments. This movie has quiet moments that are very beautiful, like the kid talking to his stuffed rabbit, Jack emerging from the frozen waters, Jack in Antarctica. Moments that are a lot more dark, but a lot more beautiful, too.
In this one there’s a lot of relationship. Because what’s great about the comic books of Marvel is when you have Ben Grimm, The Thing [from Fantastic Four] he doesn’t like the Human Torch. They don’t get along. Or in X-Men, Wolverine can be at odds with Cyclops. This type of team dynamics is in Guardians. Jack doesn’t get along with Bunny, and Bunny doesn’t get along that well with North. There’s good dynamics of characters, and that comes from the superhero comics of the past.
What’s the difference of being a director and a producer?
The producer is a guy who gives his best ideas, and the director takes those that he likes. But you are there to support the director, you are in his corner. He gets beaten – you get him back in form and say, “Go get them.” But the guy getting the punches is the director. Sometimes you are also there to demand that he gets better, that he gives you the best. You are a cross between a coach, a trainer, a teacher, a crazy, shouting father – you are a lot of things, but you keep the director alive and working.
How do you switch gears from your other films, that are sometimes darker, to something that has dark moments but is still a children’s film?
What is funny is for me - Hellboy and Hellboy II are children’s movies. If a 10-year-old kid came to me and said, “Can I watch Hellboy,” I would say, “Absolutely.”
I saw them when I was eight or nine.
That’s what I mean. For me they are not that different from this. They are different visually, like this is very different from [R-rated movies like] Blade II, or Pan’s Labyrinth and stuff like that. You know, when you’re a football player you go to different places to play. Some of them have Astroturf, some of them are muddy. Same with the director. You just adapt to the environment and do what’s best for that project. If I tried to do what’s good for Blade II on Guardians, I would be insane. And if I tried to say, “This would be great in a Guardians way to Blade II,” it wouldn’t work. It’s the same as how you would behave when you go visit your grandma. You’re a much nicer guy than when you’re with your friends, right? Exactly the same.
Would you like to talk to about your new film, Pacific Rim?
It’s a movie where giant monsters, 250 feet tall, fight 250-foot tall robots. And it’s a movie about the humans that ride these robots, what they are, what they do, how the universe has changed since these monsters came in. And, believe it or not, we tried to make it feel real. It’s a movie that’s going to lead you to experience what it is to become the pilot of a 250-foot tall robot. And, I tell you, it’s a lot of fun.
You work on a lot of things at once. Do they ever combine? Do you see similarities between them?
What you do is you compartmentalize. You create a space for each movie. For example, I’ll go to DreamWorks, let’s say, Tuesdays and Thursdays. I arrive at DreamWorks, I work from 9 to 3. Then at 3 I go and work on another movie until 7 or 8. When I’m in one place I’m not thinking about anything else. So you make sure that you’re “there and now” when you’re working. It’s the same way that if you are effective you can do your homework and not be thinking about playing football, and be playing football and not thinking about doing homework. You know what I’m saying? You give each thing its time. And you can do a lot of things. My day is super long. I start at 5:30, 6:00 in the morning, earlier. And I finish at midnight or 1 o’clock. I sleep very little.
What advice would you have for kids who want to be directors?
There are two things you need to do. Of course, watch a lot of movies, read a lot of books, and enjoy books, enjoy storytelling. But also go out there and be alive. Get into the wilderness, go and explore the woods, go out with your friends, have a life that you can then talk about in your movies. Observe the world. Observe people, observe situations, and make stories in your imagination. Like, I can never be bored. I’m waiting in a restaurant and I imagine stories about the people around me, and when I’m waiting with my daughters outside the supermarket, we see people and I make the voices of the people. And they laugh, so those are good exercises to do.
What books or comic books would you recommend for kids right now? Or what stuff did you like, and what stuff do you think kids would like now?
I love Hellboy. Those are great comics. BPRD [Bureau for Paranormal Research and Defense]. Great comics. There’s a new series of DC Comics that is called Rotworld that has Swamp Thing and Animal Man - those are great. Believe it or not, you’re going to laugh, and think I’m condescending but I’m not: Read the original Little Lulu. They are amazing. I think there is one comic book that a lot of people think is a square, but is really, really engrossing is called Dick Tracy. People think, “Oh so square,” but he isn’t. And Carl Barks’ Donald Duck adventures. Amazing. They are very much like Indiana Jones movies, but with ducks. Carl Barks was a genius.
Be sure to check out my interviews with the stars and director of Rise of the Guardians on the Scholastic News Kids Press Corps website!
—Kid Reporter Fred Hechinger
Photo: Kid Reporter Fred Hechinger with director/producer Guillermo del Toro after their interview in New York on November 9. (Dante A. Ciampaglia/Scholastic)