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Mr. Beaks Presents A Lively Little Chat With SPLICE Producer, Guillermo Del Toro!

Here's the almost-full transcript of the conference call interview I participated in last Thursday (May 27th) with Guillermo del Toro. If you're looking for news on THE HOBBIT, I already posted those remarks, and they're already irrelevant, seeing as how it was announced two days later that del Toro was exiting the project. The bulk of our discussion centered on del Toro's role as the executive producer of Vincenzo Natali's sci-fi/horror hybrid, SPLICE - which Harry's raved about, and which you should absolutely see this weekend. For del Toro, this was an opportunity to give a talented filmmaker a shot at working on a slightly larger scale than he's used to, while also being creatively involved in a movie that strays into some... dangerous areas he'd rather stay away from in his own writing (seriously, avoid all reviews until you see this thing). Del Toro is justifiably proud of - and disturbed by - the nightmare Natali has concocted (he's been a director to watch since 1997's CUBE), and he's excited to share the film with horror fans the world over. Del Toro was careful to avoid any significant spoilers, so feel free to read the whole interview. He did talk a little bit about his long-planned adaptation of H.P. Lovecraft's AT THE MOUNTAINS OF MADNESS - a movie that many of us hoped he would make following the huge box office success of THE HOBBIT. If getting worked up over the mere prospect of that seemingly-far-off film causes you as much anguish as it does me, you might want to skip that chunk of the transcript. Otherwise, dig in!

Q: Your name obviously means a lot attached to a science fiction or horror film. What would you tell your fans are reasons they have to go see Splice?

Guillermo del Toro: My fans are people that should know Vincenzo. I was very, very impressed by CYPHER, which was sadly a movie that became sort of invisible, you know. It didn't reach much of an audience, but it's a really great movie that people should see - as well as his other, smaller ventures. I think that they should go see [SPLICE] because there is always a line in the whole structure of the creator/monster myth... that never gets crossed. From the earliest myth of Frankenstein or the Golem, there is always a familiar relationship, that can be father and son or neglected son and father, and there's always family dynamics at the center. And with SPLICE, Vincenzo has made a really sick family dynamic within the characters of the piece. So if they do want to see a couple of those lines crossed - fully crossed - by the filmmakers, they should go see SPLICE. It takes you places where normally movies in genre want to play it safe. And it's not very often that a major release gets to also tamper with sort of moral borders that we dare not to cross.

Q: I was curious if you had the opportunity to direct the script yourself, would you have?

Del Toro: No. You know, I wouldn't have. It was a big difference for me in producing and presenting for me. When I present a movie, I try to present a movie that I would have gladly tackled myself and so forth. When I produce, I try to produce movies that take you to places that are different than I would. I try to allow for the voice of the filmmaker to impress me. And when I was reading SPLICE, there is a particular scene towards the end, towards the last third that shocked the hell out of me; it shocked the hell out of me and challenged me. And I would have never been as brave or as crazy as Vincenzo was in doing that scene. But reading it, I felt if it's jolting me, that means it has enormous power. But I don't know how he's going to solve it, and I was intrigued. I think as a producer, you don't want to have all the answers. You want to be sort of being the bodyguard for a guy that you believe has all the answers. And I was really intrigued in seeing this absolutely insane scene come to life. But, no, I would have been too prudish and too timid to do that scene.

Q: This film is sort of a modern variation on FRANKENSTEIN in a lot of ways. And since you wanted to do your own FRANKENSTEIN for a while, but you have your schedules kind of caught up for the next couple of years, is this sort of your way of living vicariously through Vincenzo and getting as close to a FRANKENSTEIN picture as you can for the moment?

Del Toro: Well, you know, in a way, it may be. But the beauty of this for me is that... Vincenzo is essentially not talking about the future, he's talking about now. It's not a futuristic tale. Everything in the movie is really sort of low tech and kind of banged-up equipment. And, ultimately, the lab in the movie is not a super-designed fantastic movie lab. He's talking about the here and the now. He's asking moral questions and ethical questions with the movie that frankly should be asked right now. But, also, the beauty of this... that takes it to a terrain different than FRANKENSTEIN, is FRANKENSTEIN is essentially the embodiment of man's plight, you know, to be left behind in an uncaring world by an uncaring father that abandons you. That's the essence of the myth in FRANKENSTEIN. What is great in this one is that it actually kind of condenses... almost the rotting, the putrefaction of a family structure that would normally happen during a generation; it condenses it in a few weeks because the creature evolves so fast. The father-daughter, mother-daughter dynamics are incredibly sick, and they are incredibly accelerated by the growth rate of the creature. So it’s sort of a fable about responsibility, but it's also a fable about family, and the sickness that can bind a family or destroy it. It's really quite different in a way.

Q: How hands-on were you as a producer? Did you get involved at all in giving notes on the screenplay, and in the editing as well?

Del Toro: Well you know, I find that the best producers are the ones that trust their director and then just support him. The best description of a producer's role came to me from Pedro Almodovar when he produced THE DEVIL'S BACKBONE. He said to me, "Look, I'll be there any time you need me, but I will never be there if you don't need me." So with Vincenzo, I think that we were instrumental in mounting the production and finding the funding and this and that. Obviously, I have my opinions about the screenplay. I gave my opinions, but I didn't believe they were right or wrong. I would just tell them to him, and he could do any way he pleased. And I gave my opinion of the design of the creature, blah, blah, blah. But, you know, it is Vincenzo’s movie in the same way that I think THE ORPHANAGE is Bayona’s movie. But when the time came for post-production, I did something that very few producers do, which is instead of telling him to cut the movie and make it shorter, I kept telling him, "Make it longer." Because I had seen some footage in dailies that I thought was really good for him to reconsider not taking out, and I gave him a few ideas.

Q: How did you feel when Joel Silver picked the film up for distribution from Sundance for Dark Castle and Warner Brothers?

Del Toro: I was really, really blown away because when we made the movie, we made the movie with no intentions to compromise anything, and, thus, expecting that a fable like SPLICE, such a strange, unique fable and take on sci-fi, would find some form of independent distribution as (multimedia) release, this and that. But we never expected that a producer of the caliber of Joel, or a studio of the caliber of Warner, would react to the movie with the enthusiasm and mad joy that they did. But Joel is a maverick, and Warner has reacted to the movie very strongly. And we are now blessed with a very strong release, and a very sincere support from the studio. Again, when the movie became such a mainstream release, my main concern was I hope they don't want to change what's edgy about it. And in fact, they didn't change anything in that regard. They allowed us to reinsert a couple of lines of dialogue and add a little bit of footage. But the movie essentially remained exactly as Vincenzo wanted it.

Q: You talk about the fact that you didn't think you could go when you read the script to that point in the movie that SPLICE goes to. Having now been through the process and seen the movie, it must have been at least over a year, a year and a half since you read that scene. Growing as a film maker, do you feel you can be brave enough to maybe, at some point, go in that direction, or is it such a huge jump for you?

Del Toro: There are certain areas that I'm very timid about exploring. Almodovar used to joke in DEVIL'S BACKBONE saying, "You can kill fifty people, but you cannot show a normal lovemaking scene." I don't know if I will ever be inclined to go into a really daring direction in that sense. I try crazy stuff in the movies. God knows I can go and push the limits in certain things. But, you know, it's just not my inclination to do that. But when I'm curious about something like that, I do try to get involved as producer. I try to get involved as a producer in the sense of I like the voice of this director. I believe in the voice of this director. I should be able to support him into getting his movie made one way or another. I hope I can become braver and braver from the things I do. But what Vincenzo does is what he does. He's much more perverse in that sense than I am. So much for the myth of the mild Canadians, you know?

Q: How important was it that you have a tangible actress play Dren?

Del Toro: That was a big question mark. I think Vincenzo and I very fast agreed on the casting. I remember one of the earliest conversations I had with Vincenzo, he said, "Well, we have a list of twenty people that we have as approved casting. But you know, the guys I really want are not in the top priority for this or this." And he described the roles. And I said, "Who would you like to have in those roles?" And he described his ideal casting and we went after it. We said, "You want Sarah Polley as the main character, let's go after her. You want Adrien Brody for the other part? Let's go for him," and so on and so forth. But for the role of Dren, I think it took a very, very strenuous decision for Vincenzo to know this is it, she's Dren. And it came completely from him. It came fully formed. He was already doing the Photoshop test, the digital test on the film, and he knew what he wanted from the get-go.

Q: Do you plan on collaborating with Vincenzo in the future?

Del Toro: Anytime he wants. I've offered him a couple of movies that I have in production here or there, and he reacts to them or not. But it would be my privilege to do that, absolutely. The reason why I wanted to produce for him is because I'm a fan. I'm a fan of him. And I would always love to find anything to do with him. I think he has a very unique mind, and a guy that is a pleasure fiscally to produce, a guy that is creatively a real joy to produce. I think that this movie, with a little bit of luck, will make him better known to audiences, [who] can then look for his other movies.

Q: You're saying that you know you need to get a little braver, you're trying to work up your bravery. That's something that strikes me that will be very necessary to mount AT THE MOUNTAINS OF MADNESS. Is this something that you're kind of working on?

Del Toro: No, no, no. I have exactly the set of tools that I need to be brave on MOUNTAINS. It's just that when you see something that somebody else is doing that you would never do, you admire it, you know? But, no, MOUNTAINS is exactly the movie I would like to do; it would push buttons, and it's extreme in many areas. It's a hard R-rated, big production tentpole in the genre of horror. What I love about tentpole horror - which is not done much anymore, if at all - is that there was a time when you could see something like ALIEN or THE SHINING or THE THING. Movies that came not as a B-movie product of a studio, but as an A, tentpole, big release, high-end production like THE EXORCIST, and so on and so forth. And what I would love with MOUNTAINS is for it to have all the luster and the scope of a tentpole horror movie, but be R-rated. Not because I want to do gore for gore's sake, but because it is a very adult movie, and the consequences of things are really deep and disturbing. Hopefully, one day, I will have the clout to do it. But no, I am equipped with the exact bravery to go crazy on all the movies I make.

Q: What kind of satisfaction or what do you get out of mentoring the directors that you've sort of taken under your wing, whether it's Bayona or Vincenzo? You were working with Larry Fessenden for awhile. What's the thrill for you of overseeing these guys? And just as a second part to that, what is actually happening with THE ORPHANAGE? I know Larry is not involved anymore.

Del Toro: One of the life-changing things in my life was when, after MIMIC, I met with Pedro Almodovar, and he allowed me to operate in complete freedom and reinvent my life by doing THE DEVIL'S BACKBONE. I always say that DEVIL'S BACKBONE was my first movie. It's a movie that I like as much... at the very least as much as PAN'S LABYRINTH. And it's not as well known, but I really was given, in the most generous, most absolutely uncompromising way... he said to me, "Run with it.". And I guess it's about... paying it back and saying, "I think the biggest thrill as a producer is to support your director." The hardest role a producer can take is to be the hard-ass or to be the tough guy. I have been that in some instances, but it's not pleasurable. The greatest thrill as a producer comes from being able to tell Juan Antonio Bayona, "How many weeks do you want? Tell me your ideal number of weeks, let's go for them.” Or tell Vincenzo “Who do you want to cast? Let's go for it. Where can we get the resources? What do we need? How can I support you?" It's really, really great. And finding people to do new things that haven't been tried before is great. So that's the reward. The reward is to hopefully being able to either do classic pieces like THE ORPHANAGE or pieces that I think push some envelopes in some way like SPLICE. I think that the other thing that was really attractive to SPLICE was "How is he going to pull off the creature?" Vincenzo had such a daring design in mind. When we first met, he showed me his own sketches for Dren and... he's a very good artist. He already had that idea fully formed. And I was telling him, "This is going to be a really hard creature to solve technically." I was very curious. And the reward is how much I learned in seeing Vincenzo do it - and do it the right way and do it amazingly for a number. I mean, you learn. When I used to teach film language in the university in Mexico, somebody said to me that famous saying, which is, "If you want to learn, teach." And I think that you learn a lot about directing by producing people that have a different voice than you.

Q: While you're waiting for THE HOBBIT, are you finding time to write anything else?

Del Toro: I always have what I call my "early morning" and my "late night". I need very little sleep, and I'm able to multitask because of that. I've been developing the properties I have at Universal. There will be some interesting announcements on those coming soon. I've been helping other properties at other studios. Again, there will probably be a few announcements before or during Comic Con. And I've been gleefully co-writing the second book of THE STRAIN trilogy with Chuck Hogan - which is, frankly, almost my escape pod from reality. Anytime I get stuck on anything, I know that early in the morning I'm going to have THE FALL, the second book. I'm going to be able to do whatever I want, there will be no budget constraints, there will be no budget constraints, there will be no logistical constraints, I can stage a riot and burn half of Manhattan without having to worry about budget or any technicality. That has been a great escape. The second book is coming out in September, and we are now almost halfway in on the third book in the trilogy. And I've been writing short stories for an upcoming anthology that I'm going to publish solo. So I keep busy. I keep writing, and I keep developing stuff. And I'm going to get a couple of rights on properties that I think are going to be really strong. I keep moving on all fronts. Because the wait on THE HOBBIT has been so long, it allows me to compartmentalize my time.

Guillermo concluded the interview by asking us to pester Natali to get a DVD release for his 2003 film NOTHING. I've never seen it, but if Guillermo's a fan, I'm sure it's worth checking out. SPLICE opens this Friday, June 4th, in theaters everywhere. See it. Faithfully submitted, Mr. Beaks

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