Fantastic Fest 2015: “Crimson Peak” Q&A with Guillermo del Toro

Photo: Arnold Wells

Guillermo del Toro and Tim League. Photo: Arnold Wells

There had been plenty of speculation leading up to the first secret screening of Fantastic Fest. There were lots of whispers about things that seemed highly unlikely (the new “Star Wars” movie and Tarantino showing up with “The Hateful Eight” were the titles repeated most often), especially given that last year the festival plucked Austrian thriller “Goodnight Mommy” straight off the TIFF lineup and into the secret slot. With Tuesday’s secret screening slot already being promoted by the festival as a repertory discovery, anything seemed possible last night.

Tim League tried to throw off the audience, that was split into three theaters, right up until the very end. He talked about how we were about to watch a film that had just been completed and was supposed to be part of the Fantastic Market industry slate for possible acquisition. He told us it was a “discovery” screening and that he knew we were going to enjoy the work of an “emerging Latin American filmmaker,” which was right when Guillermo del Toro stepped into the theater to thunderous applause to introduce his latest film.

Starring Mia Wasikowska, Tom Hiddleston and Jessica Chastain, “Crimson Peak” is a sweeping old-fashioned Gothic romance, with a few ghosts in it (Del Toro does not want you to call it a horror movie). Reviews are embargoed, but here are some spoiler-free highlights from the nearly 45-minute Q&A.

On the stylized look of the film – 

Guilermo del Toro: “I think it’s a four-legged table: cinematography, direction, production design and wardrobe. If any of those four legs fail, the table wobbles. I always say wardrobe is a set. It’s production design for the actor. We went at it importing fabrics…and embroidery from the 1800s. The costumes of Lucille and Thomas are handmade and the American costumes are machine-made. We researched every architectural detail…it took about seven months of design and then many, many months of construction.”

On Jessica Chastain as villain – 

GDT: “Gothic romance lives or dies on the villains. Normally, what you do in a film like this is make the villains more and more horrible and the movie advances until you are waiting, salivating for them to die. We went the other way. I actually made them more and more human, in a way…The gender strength of the movie is completely female, for example…Jessica understood all of these things…She read a lot about sociopaths and psychopaths and she got into really, quite a dark place actually.”

‘How do you engage young people in the pursuit of Gothic romance?’ – 

GDT: “I was a young guy when I read my first Gothic romance. I am not responsible for, ultimately, the movie connecting with 10 or a million people. All I can do is make movies for me. I know this sounds completely horrible, but that’s how I can be responsible. If nobody explained to me Gothic romance when I was a kid and I connected at a molecular level with it, somebody will. Whether it’s 10 people or a million people. At the end of the day, for me it’s about how passionate that people connect. It’s a movie that goes counter to basically everything that is out. It’s completely counter to the idea of horror being self-reflective, post-modern…it really tries to not do horror by situations that you can recognize or activate.”

On the lengthy development process – 

GDT: “The movie was written in ’06 and immediately went to Universal. They got it, but they wanted to do it for much less, about $12 million less than I needed. It’s not exactly a killer pitch when you say ‘female-centric, R-rated, Gothic romance.’ You know, which one is the quadrant for that? It takes time…and there are so many things that go counter to what the audience expects, so it takes a long, long process of resisting notes and trying to make it what you think it should be…and then fighting for the scale. I want the movie to look like a $90 million, $100 million movie, but fighting for the right budget, which would be half of that to give it that scale, so it’s never fast.”

‘Do you personally believe in ghosts and, if so, do you have personal experience?’ – 

GDT: “I do and I have. The thing is, I am extremely Mexican about these things. When I shoot monsters, I shoot them like they’re there. I don’t have this Anglo-Saxon sort-of hangup of ‘are they real?’. [Expletive] this, they’re real. And monsters are real for me. I don’t mean I fear Godzilla, but I think it’s as real as my Uncle.”

On the favorite films of his career – 

GDT: “My three favorite movies that I’ve done are “The Devil’s Backbone,” “Pan’s Labyrinth,” and ‘Crimson’. I do relate them one to the other in different ways. To me, ‘Crimson’ is more a fairy-tale in many ways. I tried to create some of that haunted castle sort of atmosphere…like a dark fairy tale. It relates very much to ‘Devil’s Backbone’ to the point where when I used to describe ‘Devil’s Backbone’ I used to say, ‘It’s not a ghost story, it’s a story with a ghost in it.’ I feel the same and there’s many, many correlations between the two. If you revisit ‘Devil’s Backbone’ you will see it more clearly.”

“Crimson Peak” opens in theaters on October 16. 

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