Guillermo Del Toro is the kind of sincere, authentic person who comes off as “real” in a way that many filmmakers do not. As he approached me on the red carpet, he glanced down at his shoe and said, “Oh oh. My shoelace is untied. Fat man with an untied shoelace. This is not good. I’m going to need a bathroom to retie that.” He was smiling pleasantly as he imparted this information, and he remained pleasant and sincere and authentic during the conversation I had with him then and, later, onstage with old friend and collaborator Ron Perlman (“Sons of Anarchy”), with whom Guillermo made the “Hellboy” films.
I presented Guillermo with an Advanced Reader Copy of my book of 70s reviews entitled “It Came from the ’70s.” He seemed genuinely pleased to receive it, since it contains reviews of many of the seminal horror films of the era (“Halloween,” “Alien”). He promised to read it and thumbed through it on the carpet as we spoke.
Del Toro’s subject matter is often “what scares Americans most.” He talked about wanting Andre Braugher for a part, but not being able to use him because “the studios were overbearingly protective.” During the evening’s discussion, he said that work in Hollywood on “Mimic” was “really quite damaging” to him, and he reiterated, “Whatever career I have, I want to have on my own terms, my own instincts and by my own rules.”
Ron Perlman, in chatting with Guillermo onstage later, related the story of how he received a complimentary letter from the director 21 years ago, accompanied by a script. He liked the letter and he liked the script, so he went to Mexico to make a movie with the then-new director.
Perlman: “I was greeted by a delegation so vast! Then, I asked, ‘Who is the co-star on the film?’ Guillermo said, ‘Federico de Luppi.’ I said, ‘I never heard of him.’ I asked, ‘What language will the film be shot in?’ Guillermo said, ‘Spanish, my friend.’ I said, ‘I don’t speak Spanish. What are we gonna’ do?’ And Guillermo said, ‘Let’s go eat!'” (Laughter)
Perlman went on to say that he does not speak Spanish well (“I have an unbelievable ear for dialect and languages” he said, facetiously, adding that he sounds like “Cheech and Chong.”). Guillermo chimed in, of Perlman’s Spanish, “It’s really bad. No, really. Really, really bad.”
So, again, Perlman asked, “What are we gonna’ do?”
And, again, Guillermo responded, “Let’s go eat!”
Eventually, said Perlman, “I suggested to Guillermo that I play him like an American coming to visit his Uncle. I’d only have to do 20% of the film in bad Spanish.” And that was what they did. Added Perlman, laughing, “We’ve now eaten our way through 21 years and 4 films.” Del Toro acknowledged that he’d like to use Perlman in all his films, save for his deficiencies in speaking fluent Spanish.
Del Toro also commented that the two had, in reality, met earlier in Los Angeles. He had a very limited budget for their joint film project then and Perlman had some questions about the script, things that puzzled him.
“What do they make in the factory (in the script)?” Perlman asked Del Toro.
“Del Toro’s response, “Nobody knows. They’ve been running for so long that nobody remembers or knows.”
Guillermo pronounced Ron Perlman (who said, “We were hamming it up,” in that particular film) to be “the largest larger-than-life man I know. I want to grow up to be like Ron Perlman.”
Said Guillermo Del Toro of his alliance with Perlman: “Other directors choose alter egos for themselves. But I wrote ‘Hellboy’ for Ron and ‘Hellboy’ is me. I know now his (Perlman’s) speech patterns and what works best for him.”
Perlman came to Chicago to present his friend Guillermo an award because the director was there for him, fighting to use him on his movie “Hellboy” over studio objections, for many loyal years.
Perlman: “It really took 7 or 8 years of battling with the studio on Guillermo’s part to win me the role. I don’t know of that sort of self-sacrifice in Hollywood. Hollywood is not a town that generates that sort of loyalty.” Both acknowledged that the film could have been made at the 5-year-point if Del Toro had been willing to accept an actor other than Perlman, someone better known, in the part. Guillermo was not willing to accept a big-name star. He told the studio that without Perlman, it was not his movie and walked away.
Guillermo, in commenting on Perlman’s other roles, which included his role as the Beast in the television series “Beauty and the Beast” said that Perlman was “a perfect beast. Unbelievable physicality. Naive and innocent as well.” Del Toro knew that he wanted to use Perlman in his movie after seeing all his other work in various costume/make-up roles.
Guillermo Del Toro: “In the middle of ‘Cronos’ we ran out of money every week. I was 28 and $250,000 in debt after that movie. Ron’s agent, his lawyer are telling him ‘Get out of there!’ because we had quit paying Ron. Ron had the only trailer on the set. Everybody else had to attend to nature’s needs out in the desert. I went to Ron’s trailer and said, ‘We will pay you. We are honorable people. I give you my word as a man. In Mexico, this is a very important thing: to give one’s word. And friendship is one of the most important things in my life. I felt that no one else could play ‘Hellboy.’ I met with a big Hollywood producer who told me that everything I had presented to them was acceptable, the budget, the script, ‘but not Ron Perlman.’ I told him, ‘Whatever the f*** movie you’re doing is not mine. You cannot be a little bit of a m*****f*****. You are a full-blown m*****f*****.”
And so Guillermo waited for Perlman for at least 2 more years so that he could make the movie he wanted to make, the movie he envisioned.
Said Guillermo: “Whatever semblance of a career we have, we have on our own terms. We are really weird freaks. I don’t know how we end up in a festival with any awards.” (Guillermo was presented with the Chicago Film Festival’s Cinema of the Americas Tribute on October 15th).
At that point, Perlman interjected, “Well, I haven’t been honored. I just want to put that out there for 2011.” (Laughter)
Perlman talked about his first 10 years of struggle in the business as an actor, years when, he said, he probably made $1200. “But I always was impressed with Charles Laughton in ‘The Hunchback of Notre Dame’ and Brando transforming himself for ‘The Godfather.’ I’ve worked in costume and heavy make-up most of the time.”
In his current television series “Sons of Anarchy,” however, playing a motorcycle gang member, he rides Harleys, when he really isn’t fond of riding motorcycles at all, although he likes smoking cigars. He told me on the red carpet, “I took a fall and skidded about 25 feet on a motorcycle during filming this last season. I don’t know how that is going to affect my confidence in Season 4.”
Guillermo Del Toro started out doing short TV shows with monsters and trained with Rick Baker to learn various make-up techniques. After 8 years of training in film special effects and make-up, he even formed his own company, Necropia. As Del Toro explained, in Mexico, ghosts are very much a part of the culture. “People don’t question. It just is.” In his studies, Del Toro immersed himself in the films where Ron Perlman had always done transformative roles. “There is something amazingly cosmic about them. That was the beginning of a very good friendship.”
Del Toro said, “You have two families in life: the family that you are born into and the family you put together. If I ever killed anyone, the first person I would call is Ron. There is true horror in family and true salvation in family.” The director talked about how he likes to “go into places that are absolutely unsafe,” as with “Pan’s Labyrinth” or “The Devil’s Backbone,” which was screened this night. “It is the Mexican way,” said Guillermo: “magic and reality exist next to one another.”
In 1997, when he was 33, Guillermo was given a $30 million budget by Miramax studios to shoot his second film, “Mimic.” During that time, his father, automotive entrepreneur Federico del Toro was kidnapped in Guadalajara, Mexico and held for ransom. The family had to pay twice the amount originally asked to secure the safe release of Guillermo’s father; that event prompted Del Toro and his parents and siblings to move abroad. Said Del Toro of that period, “The people who work around you will be touched. This is so. In fairy tale logic, things just are. If you wanna’ argue, so f*** yourself.”
Del Toro is close friends with two other critically praised and prominent Mexican filmmakers, Alfonso Cuaron and Alejandro Gonzelaz Inarritu. [Cuaron was one of the producers of “Pan’s Labyrinth.”] Del Toro turned down directing jobs for “The Chronicles of Narnia: the Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe to do “Pan’s Laybrinth.” He also turned down directing offers for “I Am Legend,” “One Missed Call,” “Halo” and “Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince,” so that he could, instead, helm “Hellboy II: The Golden Army.” (www.wikipedia.com) His name has also come up in discussions of possibility of another “Lord of the Rings” movie.
Guillermo Del Toro’s latest project was to have been the horror film “Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark,” to be released on January 21st, 2011. There already is a trailer out promoting it. Del Toro said he was devastated by the news that was announced in Hollywood (“Company Town” in the L.A. Times) on October 11th that “Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark” may not be released as planned. Producer Mark Johnson, who was informed of Disney’s decision by the studio’s production President Sean Bailey said, “We were primed to come out. It’s pretty disastrous.”
Walt Disney Studios has told the producers of its Miramax movies “The Debt” and “Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark” that it won’t be releasing the films because of the pending sale of its specialty division to the newly-created Filmyard Holdings, as part of a $660 million acquisition of Miramax Films scheduled to be completed by year’s end.
The closing film of the Chicago Film Festival, in fact, is “The Debt,” which is a thriller about a Nazi war criminal, directed by “Shakespeare in Love’s John Madden. The film was set to come out on December 29th. Disney took “The Debt”, starring “Avatar’s” Sam Worthington and “The Queen’s” Helen Mirren to the Toronto International Film Festival in September, and it is going to be shown in Chicago on Thursday, October 21st, as the Festival’s closing film. (After that, who knows?)
“Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark,” a horror film produced by “Pan’s Labyrinth” director Guillermo del Toro, was to come out on Jan. 21. The studio had already started early advertising for the picture.
“It’s been 13 years trying to make this movie, and we finally make it,” Del Toro said of “Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark” about an estate whose basement is inhabited by devilish creatures. “It’s quite shocking. I am trying to see the silver lining in this.”
(Sources: The Chicago Film Festival Red Carpet conversation with Guillermo Del Toro and Ron Perlman and the following Cinema of the Americas tribute on Friday, October 15, 2010; www.wikipedia.com for Guillermo Del Toro; the Los Angeles Times October 11, 2010 “Company Town” column.)