Mexican director talks actors, monsters and comedy
Time Out Dubai staff
With the release of Pacific Rim Guillermo Del Toro is set to deliver a big budget cinematic crash, bang and wallop the likes of which has never been seen before. Time Out caught up with the man himself to find out more about one of this summer’s box office heavy hitters.
With his CV bulging with some of Hollywood’s most engaging, grotesque and breath-taking inventions, Guillermo Del Toro is often regarded as one of the brightest hopes within the realm of fantasy and sci-fi film making – not forgetting his uncanny knack for delivering spine jolting shudders quite like no other. Just ask anybody who saw his most recent release Mama. Time Out Dubai staff still have to sleep with the lights on all these months later. His latest project sees him veer away from the creepy and venture into the big robots versus bigger monsters from the deep territory – think Transformers meets Godzilla. We caught up with the Mexican filmmaker to find out more about his latest blockbuster.
Can you talk about casting Charlie Hunnam (British star of Sons Of Anarchy) in the lead role of Raleigh Becket? I met Charlie when we were casting Hellboy 2 and I knew him from his work on Children of Men and the Dickens adaptations of Nicholas Nickleby and I liked him very much. I thought he was an actor with a lot of freshness and good nature and a pure heart and when I met him, he was like a big kid. We didn’t cast him on Hellboy 2 and I said, ‘We’ll work together one day.’ When the time came to cast Pacific Rim, my conversation with the film company was very short. They said, ‘Who do you see as Raleigh Becket?’ I said, ‘Charlie Hunnam.’ And Thomas [Tull] said, ‘Charlie’s cool.’ That was it. That was the extent of our conversation. He’s effortlessly good. And I think that’s why I wanted him.
Charlie has said that you allowed the actors to improvise on this film? In what different ways did this happen? I did. If you see Pan’s Labyrinth or you see The Devil’s Backbone or any of the other movies, when I shoot, I’m really constraining the actors with the camera. I make it almost like a ballet, and I knew [fellow actor] Charlie Day was not going to be that way. I knew Idris Elba [who starred in Prometheus] was not going to be that way because when we met he said, ‘Look, I come in, I learn the dialogue as I say it and I’m not going to say it the way it’s written. I’m going to riff on it until I get to a place where I feel comfortable.’ I said, ‘That’s cool.’
Idris Elba uses his natural English accent on screen. Was that your choice or his? My choice. He said, ‘What accent do you want from me? You want to hear the neutral American?’ I said, ‘I’ll write your biography so that you can be from north London.’ And I wrote his biography and sent it to him and it justified that perfectly for [his character] Pentecost. I’ve seen Idris in The Wire and I admire him in that but then I saw him on [BBC television series] Luther and I was blown away. I said, ‘Look, I don’t want you thinking about anything else. I don’t want you thinking did I get my accent right or not.’
Were you drawn to making a monster movie or were you more interested in this idea of the drift, the mind link between pilots of the huge machines (Jaegers)? The idea of the drift is the first thing I pitched. The danger with that idea is that you can make a more adult use of that idea or a more profound use of that idea and then it upsets the tone of what you need for a giant monster and a giant robot to live in the same terrarium with that idea. And I wanted to keep the tone balanced so that you have a certain hybrid-ness to the movie, but if we make a second movie, I would love to explore the drift a little more.
What was it like going back to directing after a fairly long break? Well, I think I prepared for it to be difficult and it was easy. That’s the answer. I mean, I prepared so much and as a result, I guess, it was easy. It’s one of the most pleasant shoots I’ve ever had. It’s creatively the best experience I’ve ever had. I was supported and left alone, so it was joyful for me. And I loved the movie because of that.
Who did you get your sense of humour from? I think my father. My mother too, but my father is like that. He’s the toughest guy I know, but he’s the funniest guy I know. He’s super deadpan about it and he always succeeds. He gives amazing punchlines.
What’s your favourite movie of all time? It depends on the day of the week and my biorhythm I think. It changes. I can say City Lights, I can say Frankenstein, I can say Von Stroheim’s Greed, or I can go and say Mad Max or Blade Runner. Pacific Rim is in cinemas August 8.
A quick word with Idris Elba
Following his huge success in TV show The Wire, London born Idris Elba’s career has gone from strength to strength including roles in Thor and 28 Weeks Later. Now he’s gracing our screens as Stacker Pentecost in Pacific Rim When did you first realise that acting could be a legitimate career option for you? It happened at a time when I wasn’t making any money from it. I was doing a night shift at the Ford factory with my dad and I knew that if I stayed any longer I’d be there the rest of my life. I took the moment to say: ‘Stop, go for it.’ The next morning I took a flight to New York. Backpack, YMCA. I didn’t get a job. I tried to get into the Lee Strasberg school but there was all sorts of red tape. But it gave me the energy to come back and do it. When I got back to London, the first thing I did was get a play.
You recently enjoyed huge success with the television series Luther so how does that differ to something like Pacific Rim? It’s a completely different animal to working on something like Luther. With that series we run with the raw emotion so much more. With something like Pacific Rim it’s a bit more manufactured.
The promotion and preparation must be different, too. When you’re in a movie like this the gear-up for the release is completely different to what I’m used to.
Do you still DJ as well as act? When I go off and DJ, it’s my reset button. It’s ppffooom! It’s how I find myself. When I’m out spinning in a little club in Hoxton, London, that’s nothing to do with film. It gets me back to who I am. I have so many different strings to my bow and I want to play with them all. I don’t want to just be an actor, I want to do other things.
Is there anything in your career that you haven’t tried yet but would like to? I’ve got the philosophy that I want to do everything at least once. I haven’t had the opportunity to do a kung fu film yet, but trust me, I will get one at some point. What’s the point in being an actor if you play the same role over and over again?