Guillermo Del Toro’s fantasy romance The Shape Of Water has been nominated for 13 Oscars. He spoke to Laura Harding.
Apparently there is a downside to being an Oscar front runner.
Just ask Guillermo Del Toro, the Mexican auteur whose fantasy romance film The Shape Of Water is leading the nominations with 13 nods, including best picture.
The visionary behind films such as Pan’s Labyrinth, Hellboy and Pacific Rim, is now the one to beat to bag the best director statue but he’s a little bit concerned about his portly frame.
“I hope it happens,” he says. “There is one negative aspect to it, though. I would need to lose weight because they don’t make tuxedos in my size.
“It’s either I get an Oscar or a nomination or I get Twinkies, either way it’s a win-win situation.”
He’s referring to a golden sponge cake filled with a cream centre which is popular in America and was a favourite snack when he was growing up in Mexico.
So what would he rather have? A golden cake or a golden statue? “It depends on the time of the day, sometimes my blood sugar is low and I go for a Twinkie.”
We are chatting before The Shape Of Water’s sweep at the Oscar nominations so he might have changed his mind now that statue is within reach.
And maybe Twinkies aren’t all that anyway. “They are not as good as they once were,” he opines. “When I was a kid they were so full of filling, now it’s just bread.”
It was Del Toro’s childhood, growing up in Guadalajara when the Twinkies were so full of cream, that was so instrumental in the creation of The Shape Of Water, which he co-wrote with screenwriter Vanessa Taylor, who has worked on Game Of Thrones.
The film stars Sally Hawkins as a mute cleaning lady at a secret government facility during the Cold War, who falls in love with a mysterious sea creature being held there.
“The first thing happened when I was six,” he recalls. “I was watching Sunday TV in my hometown and I saw Creature From The Black Lagoon.
“Every Sunday, they had monster movies and I saw something unique.
“I had seen King Kong, I had seen Frankenstein but this was pure poetry – it was this creature swimming underneath Julie Adams with a white bathing suit and I was absolutely transfixed.
“I was hoping they would end up together and they didn’t, so I wanted to remedy that.”
When casting The Shape Of Water, Del Toro saw Hawkins – who has been nominated for a best actress Oscar for the role – as a natural fit for the part of Elisa Esposito.
“I kind of fell in love with her range and the fact that she had the most beautiful, luminous face in movies today, for me.
“At the same time she is someone that you could find on the street, sitting on a bus going to work, she has a unique blending of everyday and magical in her.”
It was a challenging role for the British star, who didn’t believe she was right for it at first.
It was also an exposing role, both physically and emotionally and Del Toro worked hard to create a safe environment. “I trust my actors and I hope they trust me. Sally always knew she was being protected and taken care of and looked after by me.
“I think as an actor you cannot go those places if you don’t trust the director. She was nervous. I think Sally is seriously unique as an actress, she makes everything real. Everyone thinks actors need to be looking a certain way or saying things but it’s not that, a really great actor listens and looks.
“Sally looks in a way that is magical and beautiful. She fell in love with the creature and you could see it in her eyes. She really loved it, as if it was a flesh-and-bone creature and that is a gift.”
Hawkins stars opposite Michael Shannon, Doug Jones and fellow Oscar nominees Richard Jenkins and Octavia Spencer in parts penned specially for them.
“I wrote the movie for many of them because I love them,” Del Toro says. “I told Sally many times on the shoot, ‘I’m a songwriter and I wrote this song for you, for your voice. Sing it, any way you want’.”
But creating a film around an almost entirely mute performance was a completely new obstacle and one that was crucial for the story.
“One of the things I wanted to make clear in the movie is that you cannot talk about love because it’s very insufficient,” he stresses.
“Words are insufficient. You can sing about love and there is a scene in the movie in which she recuperates her voice and magically sings but it’s all in her head. I think you know love by the eyes of the person looking at you, that’s the only way.”
It’s a romantic view of the world for a man obsessed with monsters, tracing all the way back to his first full-length feature Cronos in 1993.
But Del Toro see the whole film as a love letter to the cinema, blending multiple genres – and his direction is as a love letter to old Hollywood. “The whole movie is shot like a classical movie,” he says. “It’s like a classical movie from Hollywood and I wanted the camera to be always moving and the craftsmanship of the film to be as polished and as exquisite and as magical as it can because that is what makes you feel [as if you are] in a fairy tale. The visuals and the rhythm tells you it’s an ancient story, even if it happened in 1962.”
The hard work and the love he put into The Shape Of Water has paid off. He’s already bagged a Golden Globe for Best Director and a Critics’ Choice Award as well as the top prize from the Directors Guild Of America and and is nominated for a Bafta as well as the Oscar. Time to start shopping for that tuxedo.
The Shape Of Water (15) is released in UK cinemas on February 14.
Director, producer screen-writer, and novelist Guillermo del Toro was born in Mexico in 1964.
His has directed a wide range of films – some in English and some in Spanish – including comic book to horror and historical fantasy.
His most well known – and acclaimed – films are The Devil’s Backbone (2001) and Pan’s Labyrinth (2006) and his big American blockbusters Pacific Rim (2013) and Crimson Peak (2015).
His latest film The Shape of Water has been nominated for numerous Academy Awards including best director, best lead actress and best picture.