Since the last time Guillermo del Toro directed a film (2008's "Hellboy 2: The Golden Army") he's been attached to a lot of projects that never came to fruition -- at least with del Toro involved. Let's see, there was "The Hobbit," "At the Mountain of Madness," "Haunted Mansion," "Slaughterhouse Five" ... you get the point. This is why it was so exciting that footage of next summer's robot-versus-monster movie, "Pacific Rim," debuted at Comic Con in July: It meant there was now undeniable proof that del Toro was actually directing a movie.
I met with an upbeat del Toro at his Upper West Side hotel room to discuss the last four years of frustration -- though, as del Toro points out, it's not like he hasn't been busy: He has produced numerous movies, including next weekend's new animated adventure, "Rise of the Guardians," an "Avengers"-style film about Santa Claus (voiced by Alec Baldwin), the Easter Bunny (Hugh Jackman), the Tooth Ferry (Isla Fisher), Jack Frost (Chris Pine) and Sandman (who is more the silent type) coming together to protect the hopes and dreams of children.
Here, del Toro talks about this how-has-this-never-been-tried-before project, returning to the directors chair for "Pacific Rim," and how close we came to seeing a Charlie Kaufman-written version of "Slaughterhouse Five."
I was thinking about this even before I saw "Rise of the Guardians": How has this not been done before? It seems like a no-brainer, plus there aren't any rights issues.
I wondered the same. And I have no good answer. Some stuff is so obvious that is a good idea or is a fun idea -- an then you realize that no one has done it before. It's a miracle, really. And what I love about the movie is that I suppose that it's hard to attempt a movie like this because a lot of people are daunted by the nature of the characters. People are very afraid of being believers, because they think that they may look silly. In other words: if you are earnest, usually you are taken for a simpleton. If you are a professional skeptic, you appear to be more intelligent.
I feel when you say that, you're not talking specifically about the Easter Bunny.
About everything! If I say, "I believe in whatever," I sound more disingenuous than if I say, "I don't believe in anything." You sound more experienced; more debonaire; more, you know, cool if you don't believe than if you say, "I believe." So, we're going to get together the Easter Bunny, Santa and Sandman.
If the Easter Bunny from this movie existed, I'd like to believe in that one. He has a boomerang.
Well, that was part of what we wanted to do. What he wanted to do was, "Let's create these characters in a way that is romantic, earnest -- not postmodern and not pop culture -- but allow kids to say, 'I believe in them and not feel silly.'"
Speaking of the Easter Bunny, was he Australian before Hugh Jackman was attached or did that happen after he signed on?
It happened simultaneously, because he was not attached when voices were being tested. And the moment the test came back with his voice and the drawing, it was instantly evident that was him. But the design kept changing -- we kept redesigning the bunny until you see what we see. We did three or four incarnations of the bunny before he looked that way.
It is interesting that it's set at Easter, not Christmas, even though Santa Claus is a character and it's coming out as a holiday movie.
Jeffrey [Katzenberg] never said, "Oh, we have to make it Christmas." It really almost happened naturally -- we coincided the timing of production early.
With the title, I thought it would be about the team coming together. But when the film begins, the Guardians are in place. Was there any thought to doing an origin story?
Well, everybody now refers to "The Avengers," because it's so recent. When we started the movie, there was no "Avengers" on the horizon, as a movie. And Peter [Ramsey] was really, really adamant about making it a superhero film. He said, "Look, we have to allow kids to believe in these heroes and make them larger than life and identifiable," and so-forth. I think that's what made the difference for me. I though that's a very intelligent and unique take.
The movie takes a secular approach to religious holidays. Was there a fine line on how far to go with that?
We wanted to go to the most primordial origins of the characters. Like, St. Nicholas, or "North," the original myths are based in pre-Catholic or pre-Christian mythology. And we wanted to assign each of them a real function in the world the way we become human. So, one of the ideas that was developed when I came in was, "It's not about the teeth -- it's about the memories." Because, literally, when you go from child to man, it's the only piece of your body that actually completely falls off and transforms from a kid to an adult. And I think we said, "Let's make it not about Easter, but hope and renewal." Let's make each of the characters represent ... I don't want to say "a value," but something grander than themselves.
I was at Comic Con when the "Pacific Rim" footage premiered.
And I remember thinking, when I first heard about you directing "Pacific Rim," Well, I'll believe it when I see it. Because you have been attached to a lot of things that you don't wind up directing.
Yeah, but it's funny: a lot of the attachments that are announced are not real. A lot of them are -- I'm not denying it. But a lot of them happen -- like, I was attached to Dreamworks three years ago and I've worked on four movies .
But you haven't directed. It's been since 2008.
No. As a director, true. But, I gave two years of those four years to "The Hobbit" and one year to "At the Mountains of Madness." And I thought, in both cases, that they were going to be the next movie. You don't control this.
Do you change your mind on projects, too? Like, maybe you're excited at first, then realize it can't be done, for whatever reason?
No, not in that manner. I am pretty linear about those things.
And I'm not insinuating that you're not busy...
No, no, no ...
I was just happy to find out that you're finally directing another movie.
Oh, me too. And I don't want to ever go another four more years without directing if I can help it. But, it may happen. I like very much taking those movies serially -- and putting a year of pre-production and design and put all the love that is needed. And a thing like "Pacific Rim" is a huge design.
When you got back in the director's chair, did it feel like it had been a long time?
You know, it's funny. The first two days of shoots, I prepared those two days more than ever except maybe my first movie. Because I wanted to not have any hitch. So, the first two days of shoots, I was half a day ahead of schedule. I was not rusty, you know? At the end of the movie, we were four days under schedule. And we were severely under budget -- we were able to allocate that budget into more of the effects. So it was very important for me to have that movie be a fiscal exercise on my craft as much as an artistic endeavor. I wanted to prove to myself that you don't get rusty -- that you can go right back to the bike and ride it.
When I spoke to Charlie Day in San Diego, he stated that there were times he was legitimately scared on set because there's a lot less CGI than we would think there would be.
Oh yeah, yeah. We did a lot of stuff -- look, a lot of the stuff is CG. But a lot of the stuff you think is CG is going to be real.
"Pacific Rim" is how I feel about "Guardians" -- how has a big budget robot-versus-monsters movie not been attempted before?
I literally -- that was was my first conversation when I accepted "Pacific Rim." I said, "Well, somebody must have done it already." Then I really quickly went though my head -- and I've seen most everything -- and nobody had done it quite like that.
Speaking of things you're attached to, you've been talking about "Justice League Dark." Is that a real probability?
It is a probability. But, see, the problem is that a lot of people get a hold of things before they are a reality. Like, for a while, people were talking about the "Dr. Strange" movie. I said, "I'm not involved. At all." And then they were talking about another movie and two or three times I had to say, "I'm not involved." In this case, I hope it happens.
You know, the one I'm most disappointed that it looks like it won't happen is your version of "Slaughterhouse-Five."
I will tell you, my idea was to get Charlie Kaufman to write it. And I spoke to Charlie Kaufman about it and we came up with an idea on how to approach it, which I thought was very, very interesting. But, it was right at the time I went and started "Pacific Rim." So the studio, they didn't want to invest in that project if it was not going to be my next movie. So, you know, it gradually cooled a little bit. But the exact take I proposed to Charlie Kaufman is the exact take I would do with the material.
I have to admit, I would have loved to have seen that combination with that material. It doesn't seem like an easy book to adapt.
No, but, then again, Charlie Kaufman is the guy doing it. How can I put it? The first "Slaughterhouse-Five" movie that was done was a really good movie, but it's about flashbacks and flash-forwards. And what is gorgeous about the book is that he becomes detached from time.
Right, time is all happening at a once.
The Tralfamadoians say, "Like we can see a mountain range. We can see the alive, we can see the dead, we can see ourselves at age five and we can see ourselves ancient. It makes no difference." It makes no difference. And that was the idea that we were talking about. We were talking about how it was going to be very experimental. But, you know, if I had the money to pay for any of these movies, I would do it. I would do it in a second.
So is that 100 percent dead?
No, no, no. It may still happen. But, I don't control the material. Let me put it this way: when I control the material, I never give up on a movie. I mean, "The Count of Monte Cristo" was 15 years. "Devil's Backbone" took me a decade or more. But, if I don't control the material, I have no say. It's a property of Universal.
Mike Ryan is senior writer for Huffington Post Entertainment. You can contact him directly on Twitter.