Guillermo del Toro talks Tooth Fairies, remakes, Hobbits and Hulks.
Like the little monsters that populate the fireplace in both the 1973 TV movie Don't be Afraid of the Dark and his modern update, Guillermo del Toro often seems like a creature of shadows just waiting to grab all promising prospects that come his way. Unlike those little wall-dwelling uglies, Guillermo's friendliness isn't a ruse. Always willing to discuss his myriad movie attachments with unusual candor, the fan-favorite filmmaker was happy to dish on the Dark - which he had produced for director Troy Nixey - as well as some other things we've been anxiously awaiting updates on.
GeekChicDaily: So after both Hellboy II and Don't be Afraid of the Dark, we have to ask - what do you have against Tooth Fairies?
Guillermo del Toro: You know, in Mexico, the myth is that a mouse takes the teeth. But when I was a little older I heard the myth of the Tooth Fairy and the thought of a humanoid figure taking the teeth really creeped me out and I always found it strange. Why would they want the teeth? When you're a kid, you eat a lot of candy so they're in pretty bad shape. I thought it was kind of revolting, in a way. And I've never had a positive image of Tooth Fairies since.
GCD: You've said that the original Don't Be Afraid of the Dark is the scariest made-for-TV movie ever made. How do you approach trying to one-up something like that?
GDT: Well, the whole thing is trying to give it its own identity. It's more like a retelling than a remake: we are inventing entirely new characters, new situations, a new origin for the creatures. What you try is to honor what you thought were the high points of the original and you try not to do it to a property that is incredibly, widely well-known and widely acknowledged as still being relevant and having aged perfectly. Don't Be Afraid of the Dark is a movie that is cherished by people of my generation, but even those like me who worship it can acknowledge that it has aged and it looks pretty much of its time. So it's not only about updating it, it's about bringing a different sensibility to it.
GCD: When you went back and watched it again, did you find it was cheesier than you remembered?
GDT: I've watched it repeatedly over the years and it's still dear to my heart. But I watch it with new generations and while I think it was incredibly effective for me at ten years old, I don't think it's that effective with kids of that age now.
GCD: Were you the one who really got the ball rolling on this project?
GDT: I got the rights on my own originally in the '90s - I've been with this project probably 13 years and chasing the rights around 15 years.
GCD: Did you know right away how you were going to re-conceive the creatures?
GDT: No, it was a process and I really let Troy (Nixey) give them his own take. The only thing I agreed upfront with Troy was that I said, "Look, we need to respect how quirky the original design was, that had the creatures furry, then completely hairless on top." The head was like a prune and the body was all furry and weird. We tried to draw on that quirkiness in realizing the new design.
GCD: Is it harder to scare people with computer-generated monsters? A lot of people seem to resist that in favor of more practical creations.
GDT: A lot of people resist horror, period. I think comedy and horror are the only two genres that have an antagonistic relationship with the audience, because a lot of the audience that normally doesn't watch comedies or horrors sits down and says, "Make me laugh. Okay, smart guy, scare me." They come in trying to prove you wrong. And when it was makeup effects in the '80s, they were going, "Oh, this movie depends on makeup effects." When it was opticals and stop-motion? "Oh, it's too full of tricks." Now that it's CG, everybody blames CG. I think CG has gotten to a point where it's good if it's used properly and bad if it's used lazily. It makes it hard if you're doing it wrong, but I think the way it was used in Don't be Afraid of the Dark was properly.
GCD: Did you do any motion-capture for the creatures, a la Andy Serkis in The Lord of the Rings?
GDT: No, we carefully avoided it, because they're very tiny, they needed to be very nimble. We didn't want to weigh them down with the 100 pounds or so that a human being weighs, you know? And we wanted to push it with the facial expressions, make them really extreme.
GCD: A lot of people talk about how older horror movies were scarier because they never showed the monster as much. What's your feeling about showing it versus keeping it hidden, in terms of scaring people?
GDT: I think that is not true. If you go back to movies like King Kong, Creature from the Black Lagoon, James Whale's Frankenstein, the original Don't be Afraid of the Dark, it's a fallacy. There is a style of horror movie where you hide the horror, but people try to create a standard for that in the same way that they try to create a standard for eroticism, "Oh, when you suggest sex, it's better." No. I'm sorry, but I like The Postman Always Rings Twice, you know? It's a matter of taste. I don't think that's a rule, certainly not in a monster movie. The star is, to some degree, the monster. However, in Don't Be Afraid of the Dark, we don't show them clearly for about half of the movie.
GCD: How did you find the little girl, Bailee Madison? Her reactions to the creatures are amazing.
GDT: I've been lucky to find really good actors in that age range for The Devil's Backbone, Cronos and Pan's Labyrinth, but Bailee's really an anomaly. She was recommended to us by Natalie Portman (who worked with her in Brothers) and she was so smart, incredibly smart. She has a very protective but very normal, beautiful family to watch in a non-Hollywood way. All quite endearing.
GCD: It has to be challenging to take a child actor to such dark places for a movie like this. What kind of approach do you and Troy use?
GDT: An actor who happens to be a child is one thing. A child actor is another. Child actors, I always think of those preternaturally smiling [expletive deleted] kids in yogurt commercials, super-chirpy with very eager showbiz parents telling them how to act and how to look cool. But when you have an actor who happens to be a child, like Bailee, you treat them essentially like any other actor. You discuss the character intelligently, you give them the intention in the scene, the motivation and so forth and you let them act.
GCD: How is the Haunted Mansion movie coming along?
GDT: We are on the second draft of the screenplay, Matthew Robbins and I. Disney will be getting it in a couple of weeks and we'll see their reaction; hopefully we will move further than that.
GCD: Your name is attached to so many projects: do you find it hard to multitask, or is it easier because you can take a break from one and go back to the other all the time?
GDT: To be perfectly honest, a lot of them are fake attachments. People report it, but it's not true. People link me to The Ring 3D; I've never talked to them. People link me to Dr. Strange; that never happened. It was Neil Gaiman and I having a cup of coffee. Some of them are really puzzling and others are things I've been trying to make for ten years or so. A lot of announcements that don't even become deals hit the Internet way prematurely. Part of it is that I don't give up. I carry it around. Pinocchio was real; we found half of the financing, finished the screenplay, storyboarded the film, designed the whole thing and the puppets...and are waiting to find the other half of the financing! I think at some point people just think you can will the financing of movies away, but I'm 46 and I still can't.
GCD: Do you think Hellboy III will ever get financed?
GDT: I don't know. Financing the first two was so difficult. I would love to finish the trilogy, but there are no studios knocking down my door to make it.
GCD: Is it true you're doing an Incredible Hulk TV show?
GDT: We're developing. We've been writing for the last year, but it's not approved yet.
GCD: Do you know if any of the stuff you worked on for The Hobbit will survive into Peter Jackson's version? Do you talk to him about that at all?
GDT: I had a great time doing that movie and I'm very happy it's in the right hands now. I'm really curious to see it, but I don't wanna seem like I'm interfering. We are in contact; we've been emailing each other, but I don't want to be nosy.
The new Don't Be Afraid of the Dark scares its way into theaters today.