Guillermo del Toro: ‘Crimson Peak’ is ‘the most carefully designed movie I’ve done’
Film director Guillermo del Toro talks with Hero Complex editor Meredith Woerner about his latest drama, a gothic romance titled “Crimson Peak.”
Monster movie maker Guillermo del Toro went to wildly elaborate extremes to bring his version of a gothic romance to life in “Crimson Peak.” That meant constructing a three-and-a-half-story haunted house in the middle of a studio set, casting two classic monsters from his past movies and creating various sizes of props and furniture to mess with the audience’s perception of the characters. Step inside the “kinky” haunted house the GDT built in our exclusive interview.
Guillermo del Toro: I’ve been finishing [“Crimson Peak”] for the last six months. I do this, I redo that. But finally in about two, three weeks, I will finish the film.
Are you fiddling, or are you fixing?
Yeah, I’m fiddling. We had a couple of screenings of a radically different cut; it was 20 minutes longer. I was not happy with it, and little by little, over the course of six months. ... [I’ve been] fiddling with the color, I’ve mixed the movie three times, complete mixes. And I think it’s finally in shape. I love it. It’s one of my favorite three films that I’ve done. And now I’m ready for the world to see it.
Favorite three films? Will it be a part of that trilogy?
I don’t know if it belongs completely, but it has a lot of echoes with “Devil’s Backbone,” for example. Visually it’s very close to “Pan’s [Labyrinth].” I think “Crimson” is the most carefully designed movie I’ve done. But it’s very different. It has fairy tale overtones in some instances, but is a gothic romance.
It’s sexy. This is your first very sexual film. What’s that like making that?
It was strange. My daughter asked me questions about how are you gonna shoot that. I go, “I don’t know!” She was like, “Dad, DAD, how are you going to shoot that?” I go, “Ehh.”
It’s really a movie that is traditionally gothic romance, but it has two or three violent moments that are very violent. And one or two little sexual things that are more overt than gothic romance normally is.
Little sexual things?
It’s not fully, it’s not….
Because on set you said it was kinky?
Oh, it’s kinky. But it’s not necessarily explicit.
A lot fans of your work have been waiting for you to do this genre. Why did it take you so long to explore gothic romance?
I think that there is a part of it that I find very attractive. And it took me awhile to, at least, put it in terms that I wanted. The gender in gothic romance it’s normally a desperate heroine that has to be pure with a dark, brooding man that ends up being innocent of the charges he was accused of. And I wanted to have a more proactive, really strong central female character. And I wanted a guy who was not necessarily innocent of the things he is thought of having done. That took awhile. I’d been fiddling with the movie for the last eight years. That took awhile solving.
And then you built a three story on set?
Three and a half.
A three-and-a-half-story home. It’s not fake, the walls don’t come out. How did you convince [the studio] to let you do that? And what was it like when you finally got into it?
We had the discussion. Legendary loved the screenplay, and they said, “We want to do it, but this is one budget if it’s PG-13 (a bigger budget if it’s PG-13), and this is the budget if it’s R.” And I wanted the luxurious part of the movie, but I wanted the R. So I was tiptoeing into balancing that it stayed an R, but it was luxurious enough to be an old-fashioned production. It feels like a throwback to the big productions of Hollywood, in a way.
It has that Cinemascope feel, which was intentional?
The American part is all in golds and tobaccos, so it has a beautiful, rich, noble type of color palette. And then it goes to almost Technicolor, Mario Bava, Hammer films into the old world, into the house of Allerdale Hall, a.k.a. Crimson Peak.
What you’re talking about is also reflected in the costumes and in the characters (in their arc). The costumes change over the period of the movie and what they’re channeling, the insects that they’re kind of channeling.
I always say the difference between eye protein and eye candy is eye protein gives you part of the story. In “Crimson Peak,” we designed every color to be a part of the story. Every stitch in the wardrobe is deliberately planned. We imported lace that was created in the 1800s for real. Everything [within] the movie is telling you something.
We built the furniture in two sizes, so that when the character is weak, they would look smaller in a bigger piece of furniture. The same furniture [was made] smaller so the character looks stronger in another scene. [As for] props, we built the entire house, and hidden [inside the house] is the theme butterflies versus moths. The idea is, one of the characters feels that she is a moth that is a carnivorous night insect. And the other is seen as a butterfly that should be cute, cuddly and colorful. I wanted to show two sides of femininity and have them, sort of, confront each other.
Are we going to see someone rip the wings off the butterfly, or moth? But you do see some butterfly killing, yes?
No, not quite [re ripping off wings], but you do see some butterfly killing. There’s butterfly gore in the movie.
And you’re working with Doug Jones [“Hellboy,’ “Pan’s Labyrinth”] and [Javier Botet the monster from “Mama”] again on set. What was it like to have both of them together on set?
I think that I’ve never looked fatter because Doug Jones and Javier are the two thinnest men on Earth. It was like 110 -- “one” was Doug, “one” was Javier, and I was the “zero.”
From the start we wanted the ghosts to be real. But I wanted the ghosts to have transparency. So we devised a way of shooting the actors without many green screen pieces. Have them there for the other actors as the ghosts. And then in post, create the translucency. They are really gorgeous-looking ghosts.
You never make an ugly monster.
No. I think monsters need to be powerfully beautiful. And these ghosts are no exception. Much like “Devil’s Backbone,” the movie tells you that the living are scarier than the dead in a way.
It’s very hard to hate your monsters, even the ones we’re not supposed to like. You always manage to find a way of putting charm in them. Are we going to hate these ghosts, or will we fall in love with them?
Answering that would spoil the movie. But I think the movie is about the journey about how you see ghosts, in a way.
And where are you on Disney’s “Haunted Mansion”?
We’ve delivered the screenplay, and it’s up to Disney to say that they want to do it [or] they don’t. “Dark Universe,” for example, they loved the screenplay, but they wanted to go at the same time that I’m shooting “Pacific Rim 2.” So I’m shooting “Pacific Rim 2,” and they’ll find someone for “Dark Universe.” You never know what’s going to happen; you’re not the mastermind and controller of your own destiny. You’re just a leaf in the wind. A large leaf.
“Crimson Peak” will hit theaters on Oct. 16.
It's a date
Get our L.A. Goes Out newsletter, with the week's best events, to help you explore and experience our city.
You may occasionally receive promotional content from the Los Angeles Times.