Guillermo del Toro Steps Into Pan's Labyrinth

The writer/director talks about his new fantasy film

Guillermo del Toro has made the comics a staple at the movies, from Blade to Hellboy; his latest is the fantasy drama, Pan's Labyrinth (El Laberinto del Fauno in Spanish).

It takes place in a small town during the Spanish Civil War; the troops have taken over that town and put a ration on the amount of food the people can have. With a little magic and bravery, a young girl, Ophelia (Ivana Baquero) tries to save her mom and the town. She enters a world filled with creatures of all kinds, including the head of the labyrinth, the Faun, played by Doug Jones.

Guillermo took his actors on that ride, switching between reality and fantasy; he says that's always his goal is to move through the story. "You expect that luxury, because ultimately as a director, it's always about promise. It's easy for me to do it than to explain it; in designing a set or a frame, it's easier for me to do a doodle than explain it to the set designer in verbal. The same thing happens with the actor; I coach them, like a silent film coacher."

One thing the Mexican director is also looking to do is to go darker, especially in a film like this. What he does is actually make the worst scenes in the 'real' world compared to the fantasy aspect. "Sometimes you tame it a little bit, but it's not compromise; when you restrain yourself, you are essentially censoring yourself. It's beyond children in the chronological sense; we're killing a lot of the innocent. I have seen the world grow older in the last six years to a point that a lot of us are questioning what was achieved. All that was achieved - in the sense of the daughter - whether it was played one way or another, is gone. There is a lot of innocence lost in children - like in The Simpsons with the reverend's wife saying, 'Think of the children!' No, it's think of us, as us destroying the children."

Guillermo and Alfonso Cuaron are very good friends, and have produced a number of projects together; Del Toro says he looks at this film and Cuaron's film as parallels. "We have a particular Mexican sensibility as Mexicans have a natural distrust for structure and institutions. For a kid in America, a police man represents order in the school books; in Mexico, a police man represents imminent danger from the beginning. That's the sense of hurt hope, and I know Alfonso believes, that the best thing that has happened to the world is the human race; there is a beauty and a hope and an opportunity that any of us have. I look at Children of Men because it's not the anecdotal children being born, it's about hope dying. I think this is a moment in which, a very intimate moment, where we need to concern ourselves with these spiritual questions.

Doug Jones has also stuck by Guillermo and has a trust for him, that has possibly even had Doug taking a crap on film. "I think when you find an actor who can trust you, that's the biggest gift you can get; I think Sergi Lopez to invite to have a play date at your home and him fully sharing that gift, that's the best gift a director can have. Doug and I have that and he is not only physically, but also spiritually diametrically opposed to me; he's very much a structured believer, he's a very thin guy, he's measured and polite and nice. I am fat and loud and unstructured, and sort of an anarchist in a way; but we have a fundamental understanding that's based on trust."

The world of the labyrinth in this film is extremely imaginative, and one that Guillermo believes in. "I think it exists, I think it's real - but that's me, and it doesn't need to be the official playbook for the film. I believe Ophelia does not escape to it, because I believe it's as comfortable a place as reality almost. If I made it a happy, singing chipmunk, blue bird singing kind of place, then you could say she's escaping to that. But she's actually finding a place where she can escape the realities happening outside herself. I happened to describe as much weight to the inner reality as I do to the outer reality; I believe her world is as real, if not more real than the other world. So if you're a materialist, you'll be concerned about her body dying; if you are not a materialist, you'll be celebrating her spirit being reborn and her living the right way. The movie is one thing for those of us who know where to look and another for those who are paying attention to the wrong things."

According to Doug, the negotiations are still going on for him to appear in Hellboy 2; as much as Guillermo wants Doug back to play Abe Sapien, he's stepping back from the discussions. "It could be money, but only if it comes to the point that someone isn't prudent to bring me in - someone will come in and say, 'Hey, you have to talk to him.' It hasn't happened in six movies I've done, and I hope it doesn't happen on this one. I never get involved in the negotiations with an actor because I want to keep it pure; you don't want to get into the deal making, you don't want to get into the resent or celebrate an actor getting a per diem package or transportation clause. You don't want to be the producer in that sense."

As far as Hellboy 2, Guillermo shared some insight into what we might find out about in the sequel. "I think the first movie was a construction up until the birth of the first kid, which is where most movies end with that glorious orchestra swelling, the big kiss. The second movie is the first year of marriage, that time when things are starting to fall into place or not. I'm more interested in that aspect of Hellboy as much as the mythical aspect in the comics. I think the movie created its own reality, and the comics created its own reality, and the ripple between the two. I was done writing it a year and a half ago; the delay is budget and studios changing. Revolution Studios has slowed down and has six to go, but Hellboy wasn't on that list."

You can check out Pan's Labyrinth in limited release starting December 29th; it opens wider in the following weeks.