Guillermo Del Toro The Orphanage Interview, by Tim Nasson
“The Orphanage,” undoubtedly what will become this year’s “Pan’s Labyrinth,” (in a critical, Oscar and box office sense), isn’t in theaters until Christmas 2007. But today we bring you Behind The Scenes of “The Orphanage” and an interview with the film’s producer, Oscar nominated Guillermo Del Toro (“Pan’s Labyrinth”).
Q. You produced other films before “The Orphanage.” But this is the only film you’ve chosen to present, correct?
Guillermo Del Toro: The one and only. I think that producing is like dating – but presenting is like marriage. When you present a movie you really believe in it, to a degree that you are saying, “Allow me to introduce you to this film.” I read the screenplay and when we met and talked about casting, I said to Juan Antonio, “I’m gonna go out and present it, because I really think it’s gonna be that spectacular.” And I didn’t make my presentational credit conditional; contractually, I could never withdraw it. I felt that sure about the project from the start.
Q. Talk about some of the themes “The Orphanage” and the resonance they held for you. Certainly, there is a link between “The Orphanage” and many of your own films, in terms of dealing with childhood, loss and the supernatural…
Guillermo Del Toro: The idea of an internal reality being so strong that it affects the external is pretty much verbatim the same motif that exists in PAN’S LABYRINTH. And the idea of childhood being full of pain and being associated with loss and disease and all these things is something that I often go back to. But the thing that I was struck by with “The Orphanage” is the fact that all these themes were in the service of emotion. I think that is one of the things I share with Juan Antonio, an incredible interest in using the Gothic themes to explore very simple human emotions. There is an aspect of “The Orphanage” that is, in so many ways, a fairy tale; in so many ways, it is PETER PAN; in so many ways, it is a children’s narrative that goes hand-in-hand with the horror trappings and the horror aesthetic. That sensibility is something that I share fully with Juan Antonio.
Q. One of the things that is so gripping is the film’s presentation of Laura; we see her as an adult, and also as the child that she was when journeys back into that world with Simón.
Guillermo Del Toro: I think that one of the tricks with that character was to show that essentially she has a sort of survivor’s guilt. Laura goes back to the orphanage she belonged to, an experience that many of her childhood friends did not survive. She enters into this regression into her own world and the things that she feels she has to do to balance her life and make justice for this guilt that she has. I really loved that in the character; I really love that she has that drive regardless of her husband, regardless of society, regardless of any semblance of sanity or rationality. A character that is that passionate about something is a journey that I’m interested in going on.
Q. How would you describe your day-to-day role as a producer? Was this different than your work on other productions?
Guillermo Del Toro: I always get involved in the same way, which is first: do I like the story? Yes. Second, do I trust the director? Yes. So then, what I do is I try to put together the funding and the conditions for that director to be happy. And then I apply a lesson that Pedro Almodóvar taught me when he co-produced THE DEVIL’S BACKBONE with me. He said, “The best producer is the one that is not there if you don’t need him, but is always there when you need him.” So I try to not be there if Juan Antonio doesn’t need me. I watch the dailies, I give my comments on the screenplay, which I did on this movie. But once the movie is growing, if I don’t see any problem with the dailies, I try to keep my distance. And then I came back to give my opinion on the editing and the mixing of the movie.
But then again, I must say I was impressed and flabbergasted by how perfect the movie came out from Juan Antonio. It does not feel like a first film at all.
Q. “The Orphanage” is not only the first feature credit for Bayona and Sánchez, but also for many of their creative collaborators. Can you talk about what that meant to you, and if it brought up any memories of your own early days making films?
Guillermo Del Toro: Well, I can only say that I wish my first film was as good as this one! I don’t think it is. It’s been a privilege to be involved with this one. But it was a very different experience than my first film. I believe the funding and the number of shooting days and the level of sophistication in the construction and the set design – it was a far richer, and a far more well-funded experience than I had doing my first film.
Q. There must have been a sense of excitement and camaraderie on the set. I understand Bayona had worked with many of these people in his short films and commercials, correct?
Guillermo Del Toro: Yes. Normally what you do with a first-time filmmaker is you surround him with very experienced people, people who have done several features already. And in this case, Juan Antonio was adamant that we needed to have first-time heads of department. So we surrounded him with guys that have worked with him on the shorts, or on the music videos or the commercials. But for a lot of people — the director of photography, the editor, and so on and so forth — it was their first feature. And I think Juan Antonio was right, because obviously that gave a lot of freshness to the way of doing the movie. They were approaching the movie with the same freedom that they did the shorts.
Q. Can you talk about the qualities that set Bayona apart as a filmmaker, that establish his sensibility?
Guillermo Del Toro: I think Juan Antonio is a really rare mixture. He has an incredibly American sense of storytelling; he admires people like Zemeckis and Spielberg and so forth. But without a doubt, he is a guy that has a European sensibility to reinterpret that narrative drive. This is a really rare fusion and I have never encountered, frankly, someone as absolutely unique and well-prepared and mature as a filmmaker so early in his life and obviously at this stage in his career, at the very beginning, as Bayona. I think the guy is a freak of nature!