Last year at Comic-Con, fanboy favorite Guillermo del Toro used the Hall H stage as a pulpit to ask 6,500 adoring fans if they wanted a third Hellboy movie.
“Hellboy 3?” he polled the standing-room only crowd, prompting a roaring reply from the Comic-Con masses as Legendary Pictures head Thomas Tull stood by. “They’re listening!”
Unfortunately, the Hall H roar wasn’t quite enough to bring del Toro’s long-gestating cult threequel to life. Returning to San Diego on Saturday with his more marketable, big-budget Gothic horror Crimson Peak, the Oscar-nominated filmmaker was still hopeful for more Hellboy. But even the king of geek Hollywood has to play the game.
“The hard fact is that the movie’s going to need about $120 million and there’s nobody knocking down our doors to give it to us,” he told The Daily Beast ahead of his Hall H return, where a new Crimson Peak trailer earned an enthusiastic reception. “It’s a little beyond Kickstarter,” he laughed.
“It would be great to complete the trilogy,” he said, “But in a way I don’t see the world—the industry—supporting that idea.”
Legendary told Del Toro they might throw down for Hellboy 3 if he makes his next film, the mech-kaiju sequel Pacific Rim 2, a hit. Star Ron Perlman is also onboard but had to apologize for hyping up the rumor mill a little too eagerly.
“But you know, Ron is no spring chicken, so we’d better get to it before Hellboy has to do everything from a Barcalounger,” del Toro said, pausing. “I would watch that.”
Del Toro’s dance card is a perennial source of speculation, confusion, hope, delight, and disappointment for his fans, since he tends to sign on for some of Hollywood’s most high-profile genre projects only to see them perish in development hell. Among his still-gestating studio films are a Frankenstein pic for Universal, a stop-motion Pinocchio with the Jim Henson Company, and a 3D Haunted Mansion for Disney.
Fans are still in denial that del Toro’s H.P. Lovecraft adaptation At The Mountains Of Madness is unlikely to come to fruition, and they suffered another loss on the eve of Comic-Con when it came to light that del Toro had split with the DC superhero team-up Justice League Dark.
According to del Toro, that decision came down to a scheduling conflict with Pacific Rim 2, which he’s in pre-production on ahead of a 2017 release.
“Warners liked the script, they were very enthusiastic and wanted to green-light it but they wanted it to coincide with the shoot of Pacific Rim 2,” he said. “I was put in a very difficult place facing a difficult choice, and I chose to do Pacific Rim 2.”
Some of del Toro’s biggest fights with the studios are over ratings. The Mexican director who launched his career with R-rated horror flicks like Cronos, Blade 2, and Pan’s Labyrinth says he put his own salary on the line to save Crimson Peak from a PG-13 fate despite Legendary’s hesitations.
“You have to make a movie because you want to see it,” he said. “And the fight that comes with that, the fight for the right rating, is part of that. You don’t want the right movie with the wrong rating. I gave up about 30 percent of my salary and my entire back-end in order to keep Crimson Peak R-rated. And it was very clear, from a business perspective. Legendary told me, ‘Look, these are the numbers on PG-13. These are the numbers on the R.’ And I chose R.”
Scripted by del Toro and his At The Mountains of Madness and Mimic collaborator Matthew Robbins, the 19th century-set tale follows young Edith Cushing (Mia Wasikowska) as she’s swept into a whirlwind marriage to Sir Thomas Sharpe (Tom Hiddleston), only to suspect all is not right when she moves into his sprawling mansion with his slinky sister (Jessica Chastain).
The difference between del Toro’s version and the toned-down Crimson Peak the studio wanted? “A PG-13 Crimson Peak should not exist,” he said, vociferously. “Everything about the movie for me is adult. The theme, the tone, there’s some pretty brutal scenes in the movie and some reasonably sexy scenes in the movie…I think they are all necessary for the tale.”
He describes it as a classical Gothic romance in the vein of Jane Eyre, Wuthering Heights, and Rebecca and waxes ecstatic about the lush design he infused the film with, colors popping off the screen.
“I designed it, in a way, like a fairytale,” he said. “We color-coded it in certain moments to feel like Technicolor—it’s saturated in color and drenched in luxuriant textures. America is in gold and tobaccos, and the Old World is in cyans and blues and rust. There’s a scene that I call the Beauty and the Beast moment, which is the first morning Mia [Wasikowska] puts her robe on and goes down the steps. It’s Beauty waking up in the castle of the Beast. It’s completely gorgeous.”
Del Toro’s early work, particularly his Spanish-language films, carried overt anti-establishment themes. Track his move into Hollywood in the last decade and that aggressive artistic bent has dissipated into social themes conveyed through the onscreen representation of gender and ethnicity.
“I feel that every decision you make has some political or social position,” he said, pointing to his Pacific Rim heroine Mako Mori, played by Rinko Kikuchi—a lead character who battles alongside men and doesn’t share an onscreen romance with her male counterpart, even if some fans ‘ship it anyway. “It’s incredibly important to me to have a female protagonist in Pacific Rim that doesn’t come out in skimpy shorts and a wet T-shirt and is a sex object, that really holds her own in battles.”
“The reason I made the movie was Mako,” del Toro continued. “And I made the decision that the central male and the female characters are going to get the least amount of lines, because they’re closed-in characters who don’t want to talk to anyone—except they want to talk to each other. As friends, as colleagues.”
“The political decision about making a movie about giant robots and monsters is that there’s no single country saving the world. It is the world saving the world, and you end up with an African-American guy, a Japanese girl, everybody saving the world. Those are political decisions for me. When you get jingoistic and ‘hip hip hooray’ sort of militaristic action, that’s a different political decision.”
Comic-Con fans this year heard Avengers helmer Joss Whedon preach about his own self-described feminism in Hall H, months after giving Scarlett Johansson’s Black Widow a decidedly anti-feminist storyline in Age of Ultron. Del Toro, the father of two girls, used his Legendary panel to decry Hollywood’s “secret gender war” to the legions of fans in attendance.
“To me, gender is politics,” he told me. “There’s a secret war against gender in the world, and it’s important for me to write substantial parts for female actors that they don’t get that often. Gothic romance is perfect for that. It was important to me to make a damsel-in-distress movie where the damsel ultimately kicks ass. Most of these tales end up in marriage and the marriage is the end to the horrors. In Crimson Peak, the horrors start with the marriage.”
Del Toro, a Guadalajara native who moved away from Mexico after his father’s kidnapping in 1997, tends to speak more often about superheroes, monsters, haunted houses, and sequels in the press than the issues racking his home country. While he’s sticking to directing in America, where he’s earning dual citizenship in a few months, the prolific producer tells me he’s chosen to continue producing movies in Mexico, including a documentary “about the current climate of corruption.”
“I think that we hold very seriously the responsibility to keep talking about the situation in Mexico, not only when we go there but when we are here,” he said, his usually jovial tone turning serious. “It is urgent because of the social decomposition of our country by the drug trade. The tragedy of that is that a leisure drug trickles down, and it destroys a country.”
“In order to sustain an addiction, you’re killing people all the way from South America to North America. Every time somebody uses drugs, it’s like having a gun. They’re killing someone, period.”