Guillermo del Toro Talks Frankenstein And Playing Chess With The MPAA On The Set Of Mama
How do you balance the impact that the short had with telling a longer story in a feature?
Horror is always better when nothing is explained and frankly if you can do features, which you can in Europe and you can do in other countries, but an American horror movie there will always be the moment where you reveal the origin of this or the origin of that and that inevitably diminishes it. We inevitably reveal the origin, but I think what we tried to do… I always imagined the sort of tagline for the concept, which was “A mother’s love is forever.” Because it’s absolutely immediately, for me made it something relatable, like “All mothers turn into horrible things at some point” and then you reconcile and it can be great or not. I thought the idea of that surpasses any origin. It’s such a strong thing that ultimately what this creature has is possessive love you know? A mother’s jealousy is really, really strong.
Can you talk about the casting of Jessica Chastain?
Well you know her movies hadn't been released, any of the movies that have made her now so famous you know? We were having many casting suggestions with big names and big stars and this and that and then I saw The Debt with probably an illegal copy. I was blown away by the fact that all of her choices as actress were so smart, you know like scenes that played counter point to the way they would normally be played. The way she seemed to absorb Helen Mirren’s sort of mannerisms and then I talked to her and she said, “Actually Helen Mirren did some stuff I did, because we met after I finished my performance.” I said, “Well how did you get all of her…” “I watch a lot of her movies.” I thought she was so smart and we went and said back then “We want this actress that has no movies released, because she is the perfect actress.” We went and fortunately we got the actress we wanted.
Is it important when you're working with a first-time director like Andy that he come with an idea already in place?
Yeah, it helps a lot. The more hours they have under their belt the better, like Andy has shot hundreds of commercials and literally has shot so much stuff. He’s been in every situation. The fact that he has used every trick, every technical piece of equipment, that’s very comforting and yet the main thing is for them to be prepared. Nothing prepares you for a feature, nothing. I mean you could have shot fifty shorts and then you go and do the feature and it’s a completely different beast.
I really love the way he works with the camera. I always say and people think it’s like a figure of speech that I learn from the really great first time directors. His camera work is very delicate and then when you see it assembled together it flows beautifully and is very delicate and I was like “Oh my God, this is…” I was learning stuff from him. He’s been really, really great and you know that said it is my duty to torture him a little bit in the morning and a little bit in the afternoon. “You’ve got to make your day.” “You did ten more takes than you needed.” “What about doing this or that?” But all with the respect that I am very, very conscious that he’s the real deal.
Would you see this as a companion piece to films that you have done? I mean Pan’s Labyrinth, Devil’s Backbone…
It does, but I tell you the thing is that when we came on board, I came on board the short, his storyline was something I had a great communion with. It’s like The Orphanage. The Orphanage and I have many things in common, but it’s a movie that is done in such a completely different style. Yes, there are many things I have in common with Mama, but the style he is shooting it at, the color palette, the design elements are very different than how I would do it and I’m fascinated by that. I go like “My life could be so much easier…” They find elegant solutions to things that I break my head over.
You said something about Andy doing some really revolutionary stuff and obviously don’t spoil some of the surprise, but what can you tell us about what surprised you?
The way he dealt with the movement of the actor is really, really smart. There is one that I use like a test. I showed it to friends and was like “Tell me how we did it” and with the first try nobody succeeds, but there are other ones where he has Javier with a bunch of cables coming out of the body, so he’s pulled into directions that are not normal and he has to counter the wire pull and then we remove the wires and what it looks like is like literally a marionette coming to life. It looks almost digital, but it’s all caught on camera. He moves really disjointed, because they are trying to trip him essentially. It’s really, really cool.
The other one he did is really crazy, but is so simple. If I say it, you will see it. John Landis told me a story that ruined “The Blues Brothers” for me. Shall I ruin it for you? He said when the explosion in their apartment happens, he shot… the small explosion didn’t work and he went to Albert Wedlock and Wedlock said, “No problem, give me a picture of the apartment.” He blew it up. He glued it into foam. He cut the windows out. He said, “It looked horrible” and the board moves a little bit and it’s completely fake and he said “No one has ever caught it.”
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