“It’s a miracle that they’ve always allowed me to get away with it,” Guillermo del Toro repeats at the end of the interview. Few other phrases could better sum up the personality of the Mexican filmmaker, who throughout his career has never lost his identity as a fan, a lover of genre film and a child in an adult’s body, who has spent three decades doing exactly what he wants.
Del Toro first grabbed attention back in his home country with Cronos (1993), a sharp twist on the vampire tale, before responding to the siren calls of Hollywood to make the disappointing Mimic (1997), about giant insects. Now, five films later, he’s returned to Tinseltown by the main door with Pacific Rim — a megabucks blockbuster, out in Spain on August 9, about colossal human-piloted machines defending the Earth from huge ocean monsters. It’s true his two Hellboy films could be seen as a previous return, but his latest effort marks the first time he has been given free rein and a gigantic budget to turn his fantasies into reality.
Question. What is your relationship with science fiction?
Answer. I like watching it a lot, but I like horror — which I have always read — more. And I like humanist science fiction, steampunk. I like the cogs, the mechanics, the screws; how those mechanics all fit together... robots have always turned me on.
If I wasn’t working in Hollywood, I’d make videogames, animations or TV”
Q. Where does Pacific Rim come from?
A. From the depths of a 12-year-old’s brain. Rarely have I made a film with so much love, I tell you truthfully. It is a completely childish film, like Hellboy. If I had a time machine and invited my 12-year-old self to see what I am doing, he would be wildly happy to see my 48-year-old version. He’d be proud.
Q. How would you describe the story of the film?
A. It is not complex, it’s nice. The story of Charlie [Hunnam], of all the pilots, is a story of adventures. Simple, but exciting ones.
Q. After five years without directing, some might have started to think about throwing in the towel...
A. Yes, it’s true. Five years without directing. But, look, do you know what happened? With The Hobbit, I blinked and suddenly two years had passed. With At the Mountains of Madness, exactly the same thing happened. So to stop this kind of thing happening, I’ve stopped blinking [smiles].
Q. Do you ever fancy getting away from Hollywood?
A. The issue, my constant obsession, is about not depending on just one kind of industry. If I wasn’t working in Hollywood, I’d make a living somewhere else: I’d try to find financing in Asia, or in Europe. Or I would make videogames, animations or TV. I wouldn’t stop working if Hollywood didn’t exist.
On ‘Pan’s Labyrinth’ almost everything that could go wrong, did go wrong”
Q. You once said you wouldn’t work in Spain again. Do you still hold to that?
A. I would work in Spain again, but I didn’t have a good experience making Pan’s Labyrinth.
Q. What happened?
A. Almost everything that could go wrong, did go wrong. We hadn’t even started to shoot and we were already over-budget, then when we started, we started badly. Afterwards we had the problem that we were talking about a war film and just as shooting started there was that horrible [2005 forest] fire in Guadalajara where there were several victims. As a consequence of that, they withdrew our permits to use explosives of any kind, blank cartridges and even smoke machines. We had people who were against the film, some of the producers didn’t like it. There was a hostile atmosphere. Anyway, it was very difficult.
Q. But did you think the end product was passable?
A. I loved the movie! I met superb people, but many in the industry thought that it was a crazy project and, in hindsight, perhaps they were right.
Q. With a new film about to come out, what is going through your head?
A. Well, knowing that you have now done the work is a good thing, a good start. What comes afterwards now, I can’t control. The studio tells me that people love it and we have had great results in the test screenings. Regrettably, that all counts for nothing if it doesn’t work, so I hope it finds its audience, that it connects with them and that they have as much fun watching it as I did making it, or even a bit more. I feel lucky to have been able to make it — the rest is out of my hands.