Interview: Guillermo Del Toro Talks Ghosts, Anime, Godzilla and Mexican Wrestling

His new gothic horror movie 'Crimson Peak' is as atmospheric AF.

Guillermo del Toro on the set of Crimson Peak. Image via Universal.

Mexican director Guillermo del Toro is one of the greatest fantasy filmmakers working today. With Pan’s Labyrinth he mixed up a spellbinding fairy tale with the real-life horror of the Spanish Civil War, to create something both beautiful and horrific. But he’s also been to Hollywood and made the Hellboy movies, Blade II and most recently had Idris Elba commanding giant robots against kaiju monsters in Pacific Rim.

He’s back with Crimson Peak, a Victorian-set ghost story starring Mia Wasikowska as an heiress seduced by Tom Hiddleston to come to his big creepy old mansion and live with his equally creepy sister (Jessica Chastain). Of course, he’s not all that he seems, and it quickly goes into full-on gothic-mode, with atmosphere literally dripping off the screen, and some surprisingly brutal violence. We caught up with del Toro when he was in London, to basically chat all the nerd shit that has influenced his films—horror movies, anime, Godzilla, Mexican wrestling—and tell us about whether he really believes in ghosts. 

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Crimson Peak is a ghost story, but without spoiling it, it’s a story that you could tell without the ghosts—what’s the thinking behind that?

It’s the same thing that Mia Wasikowska’s character says in the film: It’s not a ghost story; it’s a story with a ghost in it. It’s not a horror film, and I’m not using the ghosts in the way you would in a horror film. I’m treating them more like characters, and it's impossible for me to imagine the film without the ghosts. {Famed gothic novelist} Henry James said “Ghosts represent the past”, and I’ve tried to do that.

The lead character that Mia plays is a writer—is that autobiographical, is it meant to be you?

Very much so! And if you watch it attentively you realise that the film you’ve been watching is the book she’s been writing.

I am Mexican, there is a pre-approved belief in the supernatural in my culture. Ghosts are part of life.

So do you believe in ghost yourself?

It works both ways with me. My main concern is using the supernatural as a metaphor. But on the other hand, I have had weird stuff happen in my life. I am Mexican, there is a pre-approved belief in the supernatural in my culture. Ghosts are part of life. That’s very different to the English healthy scepticism!

Do you ever think you’d ever make a ‘realistic’ movie, ie something without anything supernatural, or science fiction in it?

I think I may do. I’m fascinated by noir, by World War II, by other things, but they just haven’t happened yet.

You are known as a ‘horror’ director though—does that make it harder to get films made that don’t at least have some sort of genre stuff in them?

No. I’ve been able to make movies as varied as Hellboy and Pacific Rim, to Pan’s Labyrinth and Devil’s Backbone, which are completely different. And yet there are strands between them that make them all parts of a piece. 

I’ve seen people suggest that you have a "One for them, one for me" approach to making films—that you alternate between big studio films like Hellboy and Pacific Rim, and smaller, artier things like Pan’s Labyrinth

Actually all of them are for me. That’s the funny thing. I try to alternate between big ones and small ones. I’m doing an even smaller one next.  A career is what happens when you’re making other plans.

So do you think you’ll ever make another Spanish-language film again?

It really depends on me finding a story that needs to be in Spanish. I couldn’t have done Pan’s Labyrinth in English, because then it wouldn’t have made sense. I sort of travel where the story take me.

I wanted to Idris Elba as the leader of the world!

That’s interesting, because you’ve made films in America, Spain, Mexico, Crimson Peak is set in England, and Pacific Rim had a cast of all different races and nationalities—are you trying to be an international filmmaker?

I never think on those terms. We started prepping Pacific Rim before China became an important market. I wanted to Idris Elba as the leader of the world! And I wanted Rinko Kikuchi as the female protagonist. But it’s because wanted to show the whole world, saving the world.

Talking about Pacific Rim… Legendary Picture, who produced that film, also have the rights to King Kong and Godzilla, and are rumoured to be pitting them against each other—would you like to see Pacific Rim crossover with them as well?

I count myself fortunate to do just Pacific Rim! There haven’t been any talks, and they exist in different universes. I can see King Kong vs Godzilla, but you put robots into that and I don’t see it!

One thing I wanted to know is if you’ve ever read this one Hellboy comic called Hellboy In Mexico, where he ends up fighting Mexican wresters—it’s seems like something you’d love…

I would have loved to have a cameo in that! I’ve got to ask {Hellboy creator} Mike Mignola why he didn’t put me in there as a bartender or something! I love luchadors, I grew up with them. There’s a luchador on The Strain. I love the iconography, I collect the memorabilia.

Silent Hill was going to be full-on horror, and disturbing. We were planning things on the new generation consoles that would have created real horror.

Finally, you were meant to be collaborating on a Silent Hill game that’s now apparently not happening—is it definitely dead in the water?

Sadly, I think. There were so many plans. There were really beautiful things we were hoping to do. Some of it was going to aggressively scary. Unlike Crimson Peak where it is not really horror, Silent Hill was going to be full-on horror, and disturbing. We were planning things on the new generation consoles that would have created real horror.

Do you think you’ll ever give video games another go?

No, not again. The two times I’ve tried it, the first company went bankrupt and the second time {Metal Gear Solid creator} Hideo Kojima leaves the company!

Crimson Peak is in UK cinemas on Friday.

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