Guillermo del Toro, Sally Hawkins talk about their enchanting ‘Shape of Water’ (conclusion)
In this part two of my column on director Guillermo del Toro and actress Sally Hawkins, who collaborated on “The Shape of Water,” they talk about making their entrancing interspecies love story, which is being hailed by critics as one of the best films of 2017. Sally is considered to be one of the best actress contenders in this awards season.
Guillermo del Toro
Did you really write the script with certain actors in mind? Yeah. Vanessa Taylor and I teamed up to write the screenplay. When I wrote the character for Michael Shannon, I did it because if you watch “The Devil’s Backbone” or “Pan’s Labyrinth,” what I like to do is start with the villain at its worst. But, as the movie progresses, you show that he has moments of vulnerability. Shannon has it with the General (Strickland). You understand that he’s also vulnerable.
In this movie, we worked with some of the best actors in American cinema today. Richard Jenkins is a blessing. Octavia Spencer is a natural treasure. I hope Sally Hawkins is a revelation for a lot of people in the audience, because she’s magical. She has a luminous face. And Michael Stuhlbarg. All of them can be strong and vulnerable at the same time.
Can you talk some more about why you chose Sally Hawkins over other actresses? No matter what scale I work on, I think of myself as an independent filmmaker, because I’m independent from reality (laughs), not just by nationality. I exist in my own world, where Sally Hawkins is a huge star. I don’t respond to the biz. I respond to what I see in people.
I wrote the part because of the first time I saw her in a BBC murder mystery series called “Fingersmith,” in which she falls in love with a woman in Victorian times. The way she fell in love was absolutely natural. There was no titillation, erotic fixation and glamorization. She just happened to fall in love with a woman in the most complete and beautiful way.
Even back then, this movie was latent in my mind. I thought, that is the way I want to address the crucial moments in “The Shape of Water.” Then, I saw Sally in “Happy-Go-Lucky,” where she was extraordinary. I also saw her in “Submarine,” and I noted the way that she looked.
The misconception we have is—we sometimes think of great actors as people who deliver lines greatly. But, great actors listen. Great actors look. I knew the part was going to be silent because from the beginning, I thought the first thing love does is render you speechless.
I didn’t want it to be a movie that spoke about love. I did that with “Crimson Peak.” I wanted it to be the act that cinema and love share—seeing. That’s why the monologue she has is so important. “When he looks at me, he doesn’t know how I am incomplete.” That’s love.
Some actors have craft, while some actors have energy. Sally is energy. She’s so shy in real life. She doesn’t participate in events and seldom talks to people. You know why? Because she comes alive in front of the camera. And I love that.
How did you cast the actor for the fishman? He and I have been friends and have worked together for 20 years. We were together in six of the 10 movies that I’ve made. His name is Doug Jones. He’s unique because he can suffer the torture of makeup and effects. And that’s a physical suit. It’s not a digital creature.
What brings it to life is Sally Hawkins, when she looks at him. Because I can make the greatest suit and have the greatest performer, but if the actress isn’t in love with it, it doesn’t work.
How did you arrive at what you were going to do with the character? It was various things. I didn’t get the complete script until later on. But I heard about the premise of the film, and I instantly said yes. Of course, it’s Guillermo del Toro. And the premise that was put to me by an agent, saying this is a love story set in the Cold War era and about a woman who falls in love with a fishman. I thought, I’ve never seen it before—and yes, yes, yes, please.
It’s all feeling. The film vibrates with passion, and she does, too. As the film progresses, passion overtakes her and breaks her heart and soul open. She awakens.
It’s Guillermo on the screen, his romanticism, incredible heart and brain. When you have that combination, it’s pure magic. I can’t say enough about it. And I got to work with all my heroes (laughs).
You created one of the most memorable characters in recent cinema.
That’s Guillermo. He wrote for everyone in the film. So, it was not just me. Guillermo taps into your soul. I just happened to be writing this tiny piece about a mermaid at the same time. So when I heard that it was a “fishy” tale and a love story, I had goose bumps.
It’s lovely to be thought of (by Guillermo). Then, I happened to be “gatecrashing” this (Golden Globes) party I wasn’t supposed to be at. I didn’t get an invite (laughs). But, a very influential friend took me.
I was on my way out, just thinking, it’s hot in here. Del Toro was also on his way out, but he was very drunk. He doesn’t drink, apparently. He just embraced me and said, “Do you know about my film? Will you do it?” Of course I was just hoping that it would actually be a reality, and it wasn’t at all a weird Golden Globes dream (laughs).
If a fishman existed, what are the chances of you actually falling in love with him? I’d say, 10 in 10. There has to be chemistry there. Who are his parents? Whether he reads a lot. And whether he can make me laugh like Richard (Jenkins) (laughs).
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