TORONTO - On movie set visits, occasionally journalists won't get the chance to talk to directors at all.
Sometimes the directors are artistes, too far down the cinematic rabbit hole to engage in casual chit-chat with the fourth estate. Sometimes the directors merely glorified puppets, but the producers are happy to put themselves forward instead. And sometimes the directors are friendly, smart and well-adjusted, but making movies is such complicated work that they can't spare more than two minutes for a smile-and-wave, lest the production between to teeter like an ill-formed game of Mouse Trap.
Guillermo del Toro plays by his own rules.
It's mid-March on the Toronto set of Legendary/Universal’s "Crimson Peak" and del Toro is literally lifting the roof off of his production to let a small group of reporters see the inner-workings of his Victorian haunted house drama.
Actually, over the course of a lengthy day on set, del Toro will both literally and figuratively lift the roof, as the "Hellboy" and "Pacific Rim" director dedicates his full lunch hour to taking us through the multi-level, free-standing house that has been constructed on a stage at Toronto Pinewood, leading us from room to room, pointing out the absurdly specific details in a set he says he wanted to feel like "a living organism."
And the Sharpe Mansion is a glorious set, a worthy companion to Manderlay and Dragonwyck and other enigmatic Gothic destinations, residences that are are much characters as their residents.
With del Toro, of course, it's no coincidence. The guy knows his references and when I ask how much "Rebecca" is in the DNA of "Crimson Peak," he's excited.
"You know 'Rebecca,' 'Jane Eyre,' I mean they're all cousins. 'Rebecca' is 'Jane Eyre.' 'Jane Eyre' is 'Dragonwyck' is 'Jane Eyre.' You can mix and match gothic romance, and you're always going to find the innocent heroine going to a crumbling mansion where a dark, brooding, mysterious guy turns or not turns out to be the holder of a secret, blah, blah, blah," de Toro says.
He continues, "When I tackle things like 'Pac Rim' or Mecha or when I tackle a vampire movie, I'm very, very aware of the tenets of the genre. And then it's up to me to both hit them and try to do them in a way that is not the normal way. But it is related to all that gothic romance du Maurier, Bronte, all those... That lineage that extends pretty, pretty deep, all the way to at the end of the 1700s. You know? So, it's a pretty deep lineage. Ann Radcliffe, 'The Castle of Otranto,' you can keep going really well into... 'Uncle Silas,' by Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu. That's my favorite gothic romance."
I'll be saving del Toro's tour of Sharpe Manor for a later story timed closer to the October 2015 release of "Crimson Peak." That is, after all, a figurative raising of the roof.
Before that tour, as I said, del Toro is literally raising the roof on an intricately carved reproduction of the mansion, a model that was constructed with Oscar-nominated production designer Thomas E. Sanders and designed to showcase all of the malleability of the set. It's full of removable pieces (include the roof) that let del Toro demonstrate the flexible positionings for camera placements and lighting tricks, designed to show how an already mammoth set can be manipulated to appear even larger. It's the best dollhouse in the world and del Toro is, as ever, a big kid playing with his toys.
"It's a huge set," del Toro says. "But I wanted it to feel even bigger than it is. You know I want it feel more like a $50-something million movie. I want to make it feel even more gigantic."
"Crimson Peak" was a project del Toro wrote a while back with Matthew Robbins and, over the years, the production went through many permutations, something that often happens with the busy ""Hellboy" auteur.
""[T]his thing was written in '06. So, when we wrote it in '06... there was the intention of doing it as a smaller movie on a found building. You know?
And I really wanted for the house to be a character," del Toro recalls "And I said 'I'll produce that one, but if I direct it, I need to build a house.' The idea of the house was what was in the script, but the evolution of the design was really six months into it. And it's very different from what the screenplay described. You need to negotiate. We have an operating elevator in the house that goes through the three stories for real. There's no green screen"
He continues, "The house is physically all complete. For me it always feels a little digital when you have an extension if you're not careful. And I wanted the movie to feel handmade, like, you could love the dresses, love the props, to make it handmade film -- not the Monty Python -- and that influenced the decision to have everything preplanned and carved. And everything in the house is made for the house. We didn't salvage anything from existing buildings."
Before you start thinking that "Crimson Peak" is a film driven by sets and production logistics, del Toro has a description that I'm pretty sure will excite more than a few fans.
"It's the first adult movie I do in English. You know? Because even with the R-rating, I can hardly call 'Blade' an adult film," he laughs. "It's the first time that I tried to marry the sort of 'Pan's Labyrinth,' 'Devil's Backbone' sensibilities with a larger cast, larger budget."
More on Page 2...