With­out a sound, Sally Hawkins swims toward Os­car

Per­for­mance in The Shape of Wa­ter will likely have her go up against Meryl Streep and Frances McDor­mand

The Hamilton Spectator - - A&E - AN­DREA MANDELL USA To­day

BEV­ERLY HILLS — With­out mak­ing a sound, Sally Hawkins has swum away with crit­ics’ hearts.

The ac­tress stars in “The Shape of Wa­ter,” the noir fairy tale from di­rec­tor Guillermo del Toro (“Pan’s Labyrinth”). The am­phibi­ous 1960s-set love story charts the tale of a voice­less custodian who dis­cov­ers a scaly “fish­man” trapped in­side the dank, se­cret gov­ern­ment lab­o­ra­tory in which she works.

Elisa, whose iso­la­tion is bol­stered by com­pan­ion­ship from her kind, clos­eted neigh­bour (Richard Jenkins) and pro­tec­tive work wife (Oc­tavia Spencer), doesn’t merely be­friend the chained and tor­tured crea­ture, or try to com­mu­ni­cate with it. She falls head over heels in love with it.

“Elisa is oth­er­worldly,” says Hawkins, 41. “She doesn’t judge. She just rec­og­nizes some­thing in there and feels the con­nec­tion. And that’s all that she’s wor­ried about.”

Del Toro wrote the role for Hawkins, who earned an Os­car nom­i­na­tion play­ing Cate Blanchett’s sta­ble sis­ter in 2013’s “Blue Jas­mine.”

Un­like his last big-bud­get gothic ro­mance, 2015’s “Crim­son Peak,” del Toro kept this roll­out in line with his vi­sion this time by cut­ting costs and mak­ing the vis­ually rich Shape of Wa­ter for just $19 mil­lion.

His fish-man was brought to life by ac­tor Doug Jones, wear­ing a scaly cos­tume. Only small ef­fects, like the crea­ture’s eyes, were added in postpro­duc­tion.

This fairy tale goes full tilt. A hu­man/mer­man love scene was “the most nat­u­ral thing in the world!” Hawkins swears, laugh­ing.

The di­rec­tor says he wanted to flip the story of Beauty and the Beast “to make the beauty of the tale not a perfect princess but a more real woman in ev­ery sense,” he says. “She doesn’t get kid­napped or con­di­tioned to love the char­ac­ter that is keep­ing her pris­oner. She is the en­gine of lib­er­a­tion.”

In person, Hawkins emits a quick-to-smile fragility, and speaks in a hushed tone. “She is very shy in real life, ex­tremely shy. She keeps her­self to her­self. And then when she is in front of the cam­era, she is in­cred­i­bly brave,” says del Toro.

The Bri­tish star lives in Lon­don, but says she’s con­tem­plat­ing a move out­side the city. “I’m des­per­ate to get a gar­den, which un­less you’re a multi, mul­ti­mil­lion­aire, you can’t af­ford,” she says.

The ac­tress knows that as sex­ual harassment al­le­ga­tions arise in Hol­ly­wood, ques­tions about Woody Allen will come up, hav­ing worked with him on “Blue Jas­mine” and 2007’s “Cas­san­dra’s Dream.”

“You take peo­ple as they are,” she says, choos­ing her words care­fully. “I just saw some­one who is in love with his writ­ing, noth­ing but gen­tle. A gen­tle soul, so smart, funny, witty.”

Ex­perts pre­dict Hawkins will go up against Meryl Streep (“The Post”) and Frances McDor­mand (“Three Bill­boards Out­side Eb­bing, Mis­souri”) for best lead ac­tress.

Hawkins, an in­die-film su­per­star, “is way over­due for ma­jor awards recog­ni­tion,” says Tom O’Neil, founder of Os­car prog­nos­ti­ca­tion site GoldDerby.com. And in “The Shape of Wa­ter” — a solid best pic­ture con­tender — “her per­for­mance is brazenly sex­ual and dives boldly into fan­tasy.”

Re­gard­less of Os­car gold, the ac­tress says this is the fan­tasy we need right now.

“There’s so much cyn­i­cism in the world,” says Hawkins.

“Fairy tales are so im­por­tant for us as hu­mans. They teach us so much.”


Sally Hawkins, left, and Doug Jones in a scene from the film "The Shape of Wa­ter."

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