It’s time to get your
The extraordinary imagination of fantasy maestro Guillermo del Toro bursts back on to the big screen next week with the return of his manic monster-hero Hellboy. But after monsters, what makes him most passionate, he tells Donald Clarke, is the freedom to
NO OTHER film-maker has done as good a job of bringing the arthouse and the grindhouse together as Guillermo del Toro. When I first met the great man, some four years ago, I suggested that he might be the foremost director of horror films in the world today.
At that stage del Toro had just finished his dazzling, spooky, hilarious adaptation of Mike Mignola’s comic-book Hellboy. In the interim, he directed Pan’s Labyrinth, an unclassifiable fantasy set in the aftermath of the Spanish Civil war, and received some of the most ecstatic reviews of the decade. That film picked up three technical Oscars and, had it not been for a late surge by Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck’s The Lives of Others, it would have walked away with the gong for Best Foreign Language Film.
“I tell people about the Oscars and they don’t believe me when I say I was absolutely happy for that guy,” he says of von Donnersmarck. “You know, I really loved his film. Life gives you what you need, and maybe he needed it a bit more.”
I suppose he has a point. Born 43 years ago in Mexico, Guillermo del Toro first attracted attention with his creepily beautiful vampire movie Cronos (1993). That film revealed a number of the tendencies he was to exercise further in subsequent classics such as The Devil’s Backbone and Hellboy: a fascination with intricate, spidery creatures; a need to find humour in catastrophe; an inclination towards exploring shadier corners. By the time Pan’s Labyrinth left cinemas, del Toro had officially escaped the horror niche and become one of the world’s most universally respected directors.
He could, one imagines, have directed anything he wanted. Other film-makers might have unearthed some big, fat “longcherished project” that they had hitherto found impossible to finance. Del Toro chose to make Hellboy II. The brilliant new film, which sends the paranormal detective to creepier parts of Brooklyn and Co Antrim (really), revisits many of del Toro’s favourite themes, but it’s hard to escape the assumption that this is a less personal project than Pan’s Labyrinth.
“Up to a point,” he says. “I am not an ingenue. I know that with the Hollywood films come long memos. Freedom is not total freedom in Hollywood. I know I have less freedom than I would when making Pan’s Labyrinth or The Devil’s Backbone. I have no illusions about that. But what is important is that I approach the filmmaking with the same attitude. I do it out of love.”
From another director, this could be interpreted as so much flannel. But talk to del Toro for five minutes and you will come to appreciate his determination to realise unique visions. A large man with a chuckling voice, he is perhaps the friendliest film director I have ever met, but there is no mistaking the steel that lurks behind the flab.
“There are some compromises I have made in this film. It’s true. But they were compromises that came from financial problems, and they were compromises I agreed to. That’s an important distinction.
“Look, the producer and I deferred some of our payments on this film, so that we could