Empire (Australasia) - - Review Of The Year 2018 - CHRIS HE­WITT

Dou­ble Os­car-win­ner Guillermo del Toro on how his mer-man film The Shape Of Wa­ter made­the ul­ti­mate splash

OS­CAR DOESN’T DO genre. It’s the Acad­emy Of Mo­tion Picture Arts And Sciences, not the Acad­emy Of Mo­tion Picture Arts And Fan­tasy. Guillermo del Toro changed all that with his achingly ro­man­tic The Shape Of Wa­ter. It en­tranced the Acad­emy, and made it the most un­likely Best Picture win­ner in years. Af­ter all, it’s about a mute clean­ing lady who falls in love with a fish-man. Del Toro, who won Best Director too, talked to us, ex­clu­sively and mov­ingly, about what that night meant.

The suc­cess of The Shape Of Wa­ter was as­tound­ing, be­cause it’s the kind of movie we keep be­ing told the Acad­emy doesn’t recog­nise. What, in your opin­ion, changed their minds?

Well, it was a love let­ter to love and a love let­ter to films — Dou­glas Sirk, Stan­ley Do­nen, Min­nelli, Wyler. Or at least, that’s the way I saw it. There was no post­mod­ern cyn­i­cism. I was not “above” the ma­te­rial. I was promis­cu­ously in it.

And strangely, as I trav­elled the dif­fer­ent cir­cuits pro­mot­ing the film, the people over 50 re­acted so strong to this. They felt the gen­uine pas­sion and the rev­er­ence for the clas­sics and for cin­ema as a force. Some of the strong­est re­ac­tions came from people like, say, Eva Marie­saint, who had worked with Kazan and Hitch­cock, or Billy Fried­kin, a mod­ern mas­ter, or Bar­bra Streisand. Screen­ing af­ter screen­ing, the Acad­emy mem­bers — sup­pos­edly tra­di­tional — gave the film many an ova­tion and much, much love.

Were you con­fi­dent from the start that it was go­ing to be a con­tender? You’ve said sev­eral times that this movie saved your life, and that it was your most ma­ture work.

Not at all. Many a movie I have made has been made think­ing: “This is the last one I make,” and giv­ing it my all. But this movie was the op­po­site of a safe bet. It was a folly. [Fox] Search­light agreed to fi­nance it, but we were given a third of the bud­get that even sounded pos­si­ble to meet the am­bi­tions of the film. But Miles Dale [pro­ducer] and I were de­ter­mined to de­liver a movie with scope and beauty for $19.5 mil­lion. We ended up de­liv­er­ing it for $19.3 mil­lion and change. But that was be­cause I had, amongst other things, put in all my salary mi­nus Guild min­i­mums.

But the movie, I thought, was go­ing to be an art­house movie that would fit and make sense of many if not all the themes and char­ac­ters in my movies. In a way it would bridge Hell­boy or Pan’s Labyrinth or Devil’s Back­bone. And it came from a place of great hurt. I was at a very, very dif­fi­cult emo­tional mo­ment when I made it. The shoot was also the sec­ond-hard­est ever — only sec­ond to Mimic with Mi­ra­max. No-one was imag­in­ing it would make al­most $200 mil­lion world­wide. I thought I was in­vest­ing in do­ing some­thing the way I liked it. I used my own money from the very start, when I bought the ba­sic premise from Daniel Krause in 2011. I didn’t want to have the money be tied with any stu­dio. I thought I needed the free­dom to walk away.

Go­ing in, did you think you had a good chance of win­ning both Best Director and Best Picture?

I learned with Pan’s Labyrinth that it can go ei­ther way, no mat­ter what the odds are. And the last 60 days of cam­paign­ing, some tac­tics get real hard and dirty or sup­port­ers get bored. You never know. But the DGA [win] had hap­pened al­ready so I had hopes for that, be­cause my peers had ap­pre­ci­ated my craft. The di­rec­to­rial work is alchemy and at the risk of sound­ing silly, it can only be truly fath­omed by other direc­tors. That’s why the best in­ter­view ever is the Truf­faut/hitch­cock book. Then, when the Best Director

Os­car went my way, the ex­plo­sion of love in the room was like a heal­ing wave.

What was go­ing through your mind when the film won Best Picture?

Well, the per­spec­tive no-one can imag­ine is when you climb the steps. Be­fore that you are see­ing what the au­di­ence is see­ing, but then you turn around as you reach the stage and boooooom! Spiel­berg is there and Michael Mann and Chris Nolan and Tom Hanks, and they were all ap­plaud­ing. The love for the film was also there in a mo­ment that was not tele­vised: when I re-en­tered the room with the first Os­car there was a spon­ta­neous ova­tion again. Many of the aches of my life were healed that night. It’s a cu­ri­ous thing

— I never thought I would be so over­whelmed with that emo­tion.

You dou­ble-checked the en­ve­lope, just to make sure…

Well, you know, what with the La La Land of it all! Now time has passed, what do th­ese Os­car wins mean to you?

Be­fore the film was fin­ished,

I de­cided I was go­ing to take a year off from di­rect­ing. And I have done it. I de­cided to do that be­cause my fa­ther was dy­ing and I wanted to be by his side as much as he needed me. Sev­eral times dur­ing the cam­paign trail I trav­elled to my fa­ther’s side and spent nights holding his hand, help­ing him pull through. Un­til he didn’t. But I was there when he needed me. I stayed by his side, without it be­ing a thing done while my mind was on a film or a fic­tion. I am grate­ful that he saw the Oscars and that I was able to men­tion him and my mother, both there and at the Globes. My fa­ther was a busi­ness­man all of his life — he had worked hard since he was seven and he raised us very tough re­gard­ing money and dis­ci­pline. And he thought film was a folly un­til Pan’s Labyrinth and then The Shape Of Wa­ter. He held the Oscars and smiled. He had oxy­gen be­ing fed to him by tubes, he was full of pain med­i­ca­tions, but he smiled and said, “God, they are heavy.” That alone does it.

Now, I have used the time im­me­di­ate to the Oscars to ac­ti­vate two schol­ar­ships for young Mex­i­can film­mak­ers and ac­ti­vated an an­i­ma­tion cen­tre that will open next year and helped with the lo­cal cine­math­eque in my home town. I thought that the mo­men­tum needed to be used in that way.

Where are the stat­ues right now?

They are in my bed­room, on the man­tle, by the side of a stack of books — Mark Twain, Bierce, Saki — and all my note­books and sto­ry­boards and un­der a picture painted by Basil Go­gos, which is a por­trait of Forry Ack­er­man [founder of Fa­mous Mon­sters Of Film­land]. I see them ev­ery night as

I go to bed. And I smile.

Clock­wise Guillermo pho­tographed del from Toro, left: ex­clu­sively for Em­pire in LA on 20 Novem­ber 2017; Elisa Es­pos­ito (Sally Hawkins) gets close to an am­phib­ian man (Doug Jones); Del Toro at the Acad­emy Awards; Eisa day­dreams about her mer-man.

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