Guillermo del Toro, the Mexican director behind Hellboy and Pan’s Labyrinth, returns with The Shape of Water. The story of a mute cleaner (Sally Hawkins) who falls for an amphibious humanoid (Doug Jones) held in captivity in the government facility where she works, it’s been nominated for 13 Oscars, including Best Picture and Best Director for del Toro.
ASFF: Was it difficult to get The Shape of Water funded? On the surface, it seems like a very out-there idea…
GDT: It took six years. I wanted to do it originally as a straight monster movie in which an expedition went to the Amazon and found a creature there. And the woman fell in love because she realized the creature was more special than the two morons that were with her. But the idea didn’t work. So I shelved it. Then in 2011, I was having breakfast with Daniel Krauss to work on [the animated Netflix show] Trollhunters and he said, “I have this idea of a janitor that falls in love with a creature kept in a cylinder.” And I thought, “That’s the way!” It answered everything I needed. Then out of my own pocket, I funded the first stages of design. We designed the creature, the lab, the look of the movie. And then in 2014 I pitched it.
ASFF: What was the inspiration for the creature?
GDT: There is a beautiful tradition of the amphibian and B-movies. I happen to love them all. I’m compulsive about all of them. Also there are these Japanese engravings – a famous Japanese fish called the “Big carp”, which is a black fish with scales. I wanted the creature to be black.
ASFF: Had you seen Creature from the Black Lagoon?
GDT: I mean of course, it’s inevitable. It would be like making a gorilla movie without seeing King Kong!
ASFF: How do you view the film in the context of your body of work?
GDT: At this point in my life, after 25 years of making movies, you know what you’re going to find. I’m a tree that gives a certain type of fruit, and that’s the fruit I give. If somebody that doesn’t know what I do buys a ticket casually, then I hope the movie will move them.
ASFF: With Trump getting in the White House, do you feel this film is even more resonant than perhaps when you first started?
GDT: No, because it’s been alive all this time. I mean I’m a Mexican. I go through immigration. It’s not easy. During the Obama administration, the forces opposing any progressive thing were as alive as they are now. The problem is now they have something that can invoke them. It’s a country that comes from civil war, between north and south. That civil war never heals, unless it’s fully and frankly spoken about openly. I think that those things were evident before Trump. But I very conscientiously said I didn’t want to make it about 1962. I want to make it about now.
The Shape of Water opens in cinemas from 14 February. For more details, click here.
1. Still from Guillermo del Toro’s The Shape of Water.