If there's one genre we're ready for monster movie-maker Guillermo del Toro to tackle, it's gothic horror. And now he finally has in his dark, sexy horror movie Crimson Peak, which we were very lucky to sneak a peek at on the set. Here's what GDT had to say about his latest film project.
We met Guillermo del Toro inside his pitch black, completely silent set for Crimson Peak. A small troupe of reporters and I milled behind a monstrous, misshapen construction. Silently, my eyes tried to grapple what was looming above. Dressed all in black, with a pop of blood red around his collar, the director emerged through the hushed darkness with an excited grin. Then it became clear: I was standing in the shadow of a nightmarish 3-story gothic mansion. Guillermo sighed and peered through his glasses, "In two weeks, this building will be gone forever... It's a fucking shame."
This past March, I joined a small group of journalists in Toronto to explore the set of Legendary's Crimson Peak (which is being distributed by Universal). Half turn-of-the-century romance story, half Gothic nightmare, the elaborate set of Crimson Peak is by far the most impressive creation I've ever tip-toed across. Unfortunately, since this movie is so far off from its premiere date (the studio is angling for an October 2015 release to capitalize on the horror market) this interview may dip into the vague in some places. I apologize for that, but I promise I'm doing this because it's honestly worth the wait. The Crimson Peak set was (for lack of a more flowery adjective) special. If you're anything like me, you've been waiting to see GDT dabble in gothic horror for years, and now it's finally come to pass! Plus, I'm under a very strict embargo. But for now, I'm allowed to release bits of our interview with Guillermo (which was almost 4-hours long). So let's get to the GDT goods.
This Beautiful, Horrible House
For those unaware of the plot, the official synopsis is this: "In the aftermath of a family tragedy, an aspiring author is torn between love for her childhood friend and the temptation of a mysterious outsider. Trying to escape the ghosts of her past, she is swept away to a house that breathes, bleeds…and remembers."
That doesn't say much, but the behemoth mansion is an integral part of the movie, as is its relationship to the decay of the aristocracy in America. You see, everything is not as it seems inside Crimson Peak. The elaborate manor itself is falling to pieces. Guillermo elaborated:
"The house decays. We needed to have the house feel a little bit like an organism. There's a line I already cut in the editing room where it says it lays down like an animal and it goes slowly mad. The house in the screenplay and in the movie has certain features that make it seem like a living organism. So, it's decaying. It's sitting in the middle of a field, rotting."
"We knew that the top needed to be sort of the most weathered part of the house. The bottom and the areas where you received visitors are live and slightly more kept. But the top is the head. The people in the movie are insane. So the head is all rotted away."
But it's still beautiful in a way that only GDT can conjure. While walking through the darkened hallway, Guillermo revealed that the gloominess permeated the work almost too well and some rooms needed more light, so he decided to paint gold fleck throughout various rooms. It's the darkness with pops of light mixed together, the classic saturated blues and hits of gold that have become so quintessentially Guillermo.
And very little CG. When asked about the mixture of practical and CG, the director remarked, "Mostly practical, brutally so. I mean, seriously." It seemed to be true; the house even had a working old-timey elevator running along its metaphorical spine.
"I refuse to do green screen on the elevator. I wanted the actors to really go from the top to the bottom … Literally, we weighed the cameraman, the steadicam, the heaviest lens, the focus puller, the actress and the dog, and that's the permit. Because, you know, to ride with four or five people, you really need to be able to – we didn't want to risk it, so one of the rules is nobody rides the elevator for fun, which made this a f*cking Victorian StairMaster for me [laughs]."
Everything exuded Guillermo. Hell, half the set was created just so he could pilfer the props department to stock his own witchy office space. While entering the house's library, Guillermo excitedly revealed, "I write libraries also in order to explore what books come in. Like out of Hellboy 1, I got a collection of The Strand magazine. You know, I don't know. It saved a lot of time. Let's go sit in the library! Would you like some port?" It's ridiculous, but it works. Hell, Michael Bay does plenty of stuff just for Michael Bay. Thank goodness GDT's "me moments" mean the audience will be getting better set design.
Tom Hiddleston For Benedict Cumberbatch? We'll Allow It.
If you've followed the news on this movie, you know the role being played by Tom Hiddleston was originally handed to Benedict Cumberbatch.
"It's pretty public that Benedict [Cumberbatch] was there. He came out. Then when I sent the screenplay to Jessica, I didn't send it with any part in mind, but everyone was assuming she was going to read Edith. And then she read the part and said she wanted to play Lucille, which is the antagonist. I thought, smart girl! It's a surprise. And then Emma [Stone] was in, Emma was out. Then Mia was the first choice after Emma. It's been a blessing man. It's like going out to take a spin on a Porsche."
"Tom came within 72 hours of Benedict leaving. Benedict called me, Tom was my next choice, and we handed him the screenplay. I think he read it overnight, at least it felt like that for me. I had just sent it and he called back to say all the right things about the script. I needed people that could embrace the very perverse nature and the very humane. It's a very dark but at the same time very human movie. It's really beautiful but it's full of really disturbing stuff. Charlie was on from the beginning, from Pacific Rim, I told him."
Crimson Peak Is Fancy, But It's Not "Class Porn"
Perhaps the most striking statement GDT made while on set was that even though Crimson Peak would have elaborate buttoned-up costumes, expansive Gothic mansions, old world mannerisms and a waifish cast with collection of the highest cheekbones you've seen seen, this would not be Downton Abbey"class porn."
Not only was I surprised at GDT's distaste for Downton Abbey, but his revelation on the new television obsession was refreshingly honest. And now I'm even more excited to see him take the aristocracy down a peg using horror.
Does the rotting house have anything to do with the way that people of that period, that whole aristocracy fell apart?
Yes. This is not Downton Abbey. This is … I don't like what I call "class porn," where everybody's all gooey over, "If only the aristocracy was still in charge, life would be so civilized." Fuck that. It's not true. It was never true. And this is the opposite. This is a movie about a very American trait on Edith [the character], and a very incredibly decadent trait of the aristocracy, [is now] rotting away in a mansion on a hill. It's Miss Havisham. It's anti-class porn in a way.
This reveal was probably the thing that got me the most excited for this project.
GDT Knows His Gothic Romance
"I'm a Victorian nut about gothic romance," Guillermo admits. "I haven't had the chance to do that, at all." And he is well-read and ready. When asked about the potential influences from classic Gothic literature such as Rebecca, GDT went on this amazing tangent:
"Rebecca, Jane Eyre they're all cousins. You can mix and match Gothic Romance and you're always going to find and innocent heroine going to a crumbling mansion where a dark, brooding mysterious guy turns out (or doesn't turn out) to be the holder of a secret. Blah, blah, blah."
"When I tackle things like Pac Rim or Mecca 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."
And he's going to do it his way. GDT explained that the supernatural will ebb and flow with the gothic love story.
"The reason I was attracted to this thing is that, when one story ends, the other one flows, you know? You have, I think, a really good love story and when that ebbs, the ghost story kicks in, and then the complete psycho story picks up, you know? So my hope is, I don't want to do a straight gothic romance. I want to do it hardcore, which is different. But I don't want to do it exactly the way it has been done. I want to bring different stuff."
Oh, and if you were curious, Uncle Silas is his favorite gothic thriller, but he was quick to namecheck a few works by Ann Radcliffe and The Castle of Otranto as well.
Gothic Kink, Rated R (Probably)
GDT wouldn't guarantee an R-rated film, but he thinks it will wind up that way because Crimson Peak is both, "kinky and violent."
"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. It's the first time I've tried to marry the "Pan's Labyrinth" and "Devil's Backbone" sensibilities with a larger cast and larger budget."
Ha! But seriously, folks, this movie's got kink. Where? I'm not sure, because no one would talk about it apart from GDT laughing and throwing out sheepish responses with a little glimmer in his eye. When asked if this was his "most sexual" movie, he admitted that the bar is pretty low for him and that sort of thing. Naturally, we asked him to elaborate:
"Well, it's fun. It's kind of like a little sheepish, but, you know?... I go, 'Excuse me? Would you please?' [Laughs] I'm not like a fish in the water, you know? I'm more like, 'Yeah man! Get it on!' I don't know how to not sound like a dirty old man.
But it's fun. I mean, because I think this is the only movie where that aspect is explored in any form is Devil's Backbone when the hump happens between the caretaker and the lady, the head mistress. I really think this is a little different. It's not by any means a Nymphomaniac with ghosts. There's very tame content for anyone's standards, but for me, it's a big deal.
So not 50 Shades of Crimson (as we teased on set), and not Nymphomaniac with ghosts. Phew, OK. But there will be kink. And we look forward to this kind of kink, especially when the main actors are Mia Wasikowska, Jessica Chastain, Tom Hiddleston, and Charlie Hunnam.
And that's all we can say for now, unfortunately, but there's much much more to come!
Full Disclosure: the studio paid for all travel expenses.