Guillermo del Toro recently took some time out of his busy schedule to show off an exclusive sneak peek of Pacific Rim that included a shot of a 25 story robot dragging an ocean liner along a city street before smacking a monster across the face with it.
Easily the early highlight of WonderCon Anaheim, Del Toro’s Jaeger (robot) versus Kaiju (monster) action movie is nothing short of jaw-dropping. But as he explained to the packed crowd, there’s a lot more going on behind the scenes. Here he talks about what went into building the real physical sets, his unique cast selections (despite the not so surprising inclusion of Ron Perlman aka Hellboy), and what it takes to get a movie, any movie – big or small, made in the current Hollywood system. And then he drops a few hints at what to expect from another of his highly anticipated projects – Dark Universe, featuring the creepier, more twisted elements and characters from the DC comics universe.
Del Toro on the Massive Pacific Rim sets
We occupied every stage including the largest stage in North America, Toronto’s Pinewood Studios, and then we spilled over to other sets. We couldn’t fit. We built several blocks of Hong Kong to destroy. And then we destroyed them. Then, for example, we built the head of the robot, with the machine, the hydraulics, and everything in it. It was about 4 stories high. Then we shoot that set. And every time the monster would hit it, the whole set would rock one side or the other, front and backwards. It made the actors very, very happy. [laughs] Because they insisted that we’d do it with the real actors, not stunts. And we’d do it with the physical machines that control the robot attached to them and not a digital machine. So they have basically an incredible apparatus that they have to carry that was the size of a VW Beetle. And they had to move it. And at the end of the day, they were exhausted and they were destroyed physically. And I was sipping my fourth cappuccino. [laughs]
It was really hard on everyone. The only one [of the actors] that didn’t break was Rinko Kikuchi, the girl. She never complained. That’s why guys never give birth. They’re crybabies. We would be extinct as a species. F*** that! Rinko never broke. I asked Rinko her secret and she said “I think of gummi bears and flowers.” [laughs] I try to do that in my life now.
Del Toro on casting Ron Perlman as Hannibal Chau
We co-wrote the script through the course of one year. So we layered in a lot of stuff I like to layer in visually. I like to show it than to talk about it. We were very inspired by the visuals of World War II, like nose art in a bomber plane. We would do a lot of decay and the places look rusty and used and oxidized. We would layer in Kaiju warning signs, Kaiju refuge signs, pamphlets, flyers. Everything in that city is designed to be in that future. And Ron Perlman plays a black market Kaiju organ dealer. For example, he sells Kaiju bone powder for ED. It’s $500 a pound. And it’s selling. They sell kaiju gall bladder, tissue for every disease. And he took the name Hannibal Chau based on his favorite historical figure and his second favorite Szechuan restaurant in Brooklyn. He goes by that name and he’s basically a rascal. He’s a really funny, impudent guy. He’s a black market dealer of the lowest kind. He has great scenes in the movie. He chews the scenery.
Del Toro on casting Charlie Day from It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia
What is weird that throughout the course of the movie, Charlie Day looks like Rick Moranis, JJ Abrams, the short brother of Bradley Cooper. He transforms the whole time. Charlie for me, I’m a huge fan of Sunny. I did a cameo this year. I’m a huge fan of the series. I saw a monologue he did in one of the episodes two seasons ago when he was coming down from the cellar from killing a rat. He had this monologue about rats and the babies and I thought this guy is a really good actor. He’s a great comedian. I wanted to have a scientist that was like a punk rocker. He has the Buddy Holly glasses and he thinks he’s super hip, but he’s a geek. A super hip geek. So when he sees a Kaiju part, he wants them in mint condition. He’s like a collector. I wanted him to be that quirky as a scientist and not be a straight guy. He came in and said, “Can I play my character straight and let the comedy come out from the situation?” And I said absolutely. He has a monologue that is 2 1/2 to 3 pages long and he delivers and he’s fantastic. And he played it straight. But straight for Charlie Day is still funny.
We designed a lot [of robots] and every week we would do an American Idol. We’d vote them out like on the Voice. [laughs] And it was really great, because every week, those that survived would get refined further and the next week would go back again. We played with them, and say this guy would represent this country and that guy would represent another. And we’d polish them and adapt them to that country and make it perfect. In total we designed about 12 kaijus and about 9 robots that are in the movie, active to some degree. In most movies you have to solve the robot or the monster. In this movie we had to resolve all of these in a single movie. Each of those we needed to figure out where the nuclear reactor was, the digital, solar, and electric. If they were nuclear, they were from American origination. Where would the reactor be located, the pilots. Every style of fighting. Like if you see the Russian robot in the poster, he has a set of incredibly powerful hydraulic presses. So when he hits, those presses push the fist.
Del Toro on choosing pure animation for the robots and Kaiju over motion capture
I think motion capture for a certain size. But these things are basically 25 story high buildings walking around. The weight – and I know something about weight myself – the weight makes things move differently, as my wife will tell you. These things needed to move really slowly, so you could see the compression in the hydraulics, you needed to really feel the size of these things. I’ve seen this movie so many times. And every time I see it, I still have a shit eating grin. I’m absolutely in heaven.
Del Toro on Dark Universe aka Justice League Dark
The next movie I’m shooting is probably Crimson Peak, which is a Victorian turn of the century ghost story, straight hardcore. On Dark Universe, I’ve finished the Bible and we’re going to start the screen play with a writer I hope we can announce very soon. What I’m doing is I’m starting the lead character that leads us through that is Constantine. Blonde. He’s basically trying to recruit these guys. We get to their origin through the story. We don’t make the origin story at the top. We get to it as they each have a mystery to solve. Obviously Swamp Thing is at peace with who he is, but Deadman still needs to find out who shot him. All of these things are woven in. I’m in heaven right now. God willing, it will happen. Knock on plywood.
Del Toro on making your film’s vision happen in the face of the Hollywood studio system
I think the buck stops with you. At the end of the day, you can’t cry and say they made me do it. It’s a lie. Whatever screw ups are in the movie are your fault. As a director, it’s better to not make a movie than to make a movie for the wrong reasons. So that’s all you have. You have one weapon and you can use it only once. And that’s get the hell out of there and don’t do it. What you do is try to join forces with a studio that is making the same movie you’re doing. My worst experience was Mimic, because unbeknownst to me, they wanted Alien. I wanted giant bugs and they wanted aliens. And there was no way to reconcile those things. But now, for example, the most amazing experience I’ve ever had making a movie, the most harmonious, free, absolutely creatively free was making Pacific Rim with Legendary and Warners. It was amazing. The only thing you need to remember in these situations, whether independent film or studios, the best and most incredibly powerful word in the English language is “no”. And later is “Fuck no.” Those are very important for you to remember. You can never allow something to happen that you think is going to kill what you are trying to do. Any movie that you don’t like that I’ve done – my fault. There is no other way to say it.
Official Images: Legendary/Warner Bros