Guillermo del Toro on His Filmmaking Process and Love of Monsters

Alec Baldwin and Guillermo del Toro - Getty - H 2019
Theo Wargo/Getty Images for Tribeca Film Festival
In conversation with Alec Baldwin as part of Tribeca Film Festival, del Toro discussed why he only does "bonkers" movies, the importance of exceeding a film's budget and what he's currently working on.

"As a kid I wanted to be a marine biologist that lived by the sea, studying the creatures of the sea, and [writing] horror stories," Guillermo del Toro told a packed theater in New York City on Thursday night. "When I found directing, I said, ‘That tops it.’"

In conversation with Alec Baldwin as part of Tribeca Film Festival, del Toro talked more about his childhood and enduring love of monsters, along with everything from his creative process to society's unrealistic standards.

As for what he's currently working on, there was no mention of Leonardo DiCaprio's rumored role in the director's upcoming Nightmare Alley, but he did reveal what he doesn't plan to take on: a remake.

"I had an idea to do Frankenstein and Bride of Frankenstein, but I don’t think it’s going to happen," del Toro said, to the audience's disappointment. "I really believe that the movies I do, most of the time, I do them because the premise is so absolutely bonkers."

He specifically cited the concept behind Pan's Labyrinth — an anti-fascist fairy tale set against the backdrop of the civil war in Spain — as for why he can't "do a regular movie."

"Everything I’ve done, even the most commercially viable ones, they have some weirdness in them," he said. "When you’re on a set and you've absorbed 100 years of cinema, your first instinct, the regular instinct, is the wrong instinct. You have to say, ‘OK, that is the way it would normally happen in a movie. What can we do that is different?’ And you stop yourself. You have to stop yourself. The older you get, the more you want to go different. So I’m not sure that they would trust me with any legacy film."

Del Toro also mentioned that he's preparing for a movie that's set to begin filming in September.

"Yesterday, I spent part of my afternoon in antique shops, buying the things that go into a suitcase that the character is going to be walking around [with]," he said. "I bought a wallet. I bought money from 1932. I bought a shaving kit that will fit in the bag. I started filling it. And I do that for months.”

Del Toro is so committed to the smallest of details when making a film that he writes 8 to 10 pages of biography on each character, including what they eat, drink, listen to, watch, like and dislike. He explained that he also gives each actor a secret that they can't share with the rest of the cast.

"Some actors take it, some actors don't. For example, Richard Jenkins, on Shape of Water, said, 'This is great, but I'm not going to use it,'" del Toro said laughing.

Jenkins played one of the characters in the Oscar-winning film that del Toro wrote specifically for him — something that the director often finds himself doing with the roles he creates. If an actor isn't available, del Toro "just won't make the movie."

Del Toro mentioned another important aspect of his process: pushing the boundaries in the studio system.

"As a director, it is your duty to irresponsibly always exceed the scope and exceed the budget," he said. "If you have enough time and enough money, you’re fucking up."

Del Toro also isn't fond of the idea of making a film based on the success of a previous film.

"One of the things that I’ve always believed is that you should not make the movies you need, but the movies that need you; that wouldn’t exist if you didn’t make them," he explained. "That’s where your voice really resides."

And for him, that place is most often with monsters.

“I think monsters, we need right now in a way. [The] media tells us to be perfect in so many ways — the traditional ones: you have to have perfect hair, perfect teeth. ‘Never let them see you sweat,’" del Toro said. "No, no, no, no. Let me sweat, motherfucker. Let me have crooked teeth. Let me have imperfect hair. I don’t give a fuck. I want to be a good human being.”

He continued, "No one can live in those standards. Whereas in standards of imperfection, everybody can win. And I find these monsters so moving, because they embody that for me. They embody the ‘other’ in a way that nothing else does."