Guillermo del Toro Talks Tequila and Previews 'The Shape of Water'

Patrón International Tequila Day event - Publicity - H 2017
Sean Paul Franget

At an L.A. event, the director introduces a limited-edition Patron blend — in packaging he designed — and offers new insights on his romantic horror film, due out in December.

The first time Guillermo del Toro ever got drunk was in his home state of Jalisco, Mexico, where they grow blue agave, the prime ingredient in tequila. “I was with the night watch on a piece of land my parents had,” he told The Hollywood Reporter at the launch of his latest release, the limited-edition tequila blend Patron x Guillermo del Toro. “They said, ‘This middle-class blondie boy, come and have a little one!’ I had one and another one, and all I remember is the next day I said, 'My dad’s going to beat me!'”

Retailing for $399, this is not your average bottle of booze. A unique blend of anejo tequilas aged an average of five years, it comes in a hand-blown glass bottle with a smaller, skull-shaped container of tequila-based orange liqueur.

For some, the appeal isn’t what’s in the bottle, but the package itself. “We said, ‘Let’s do a bottle that changes the way you view tequila, that commemorates and elevates and enshrines, literally, the liquid as something that’s sacred and essential to Mexican culture,” says del Toro of the genesis of the product, which he spent three years designing with frequent collaborator Guy Davis. What they came up with is a black box embossed in a silver Day of the Dead motif that opens to form an altar of orange, yellow and red. Inside, the upside-down bottle is ribbed like a skeletal torso topped by the glass-skull container.

The new product combines elements of dark fantasy and fairy tale like del Toro’s beloved movies The Devil’s Backbone, the Oscar-winning Pan’s Labyrinth and his upcoming The Shape of Water, which is set to premiere at the Venice Film Festival in September and open in theaters Dec. 8. The new film stars Sally Hawkins as a custodial worker in a government laboratory who comes upon a top-secret experiment — a gentle amphibious man played by del Toro regular Doug Jones. When scientists plan to dissect the creature, she takes it home and hides it in her bathtub.

“Before the current administration, I felt an undercurrent of what was to come and thought, 'Wouldn’t it be great to address it through a fairytale, tolerance and love?'” says del Toro of the movie, which he self-financed to the tune of $19 million. The filmmaker chose to set his story in 1962, which he calls the end of idealized America. “The same tensions that existed then are still around now," says del Toro. "I felt the best way to address it was with a love story rather than any other way. And I thought, 'What harder time for a love story than the Cold War?'”

Critical to the movie’s success was the design of Jones’ amphibious man. Anyone familiar with the director’s Bleak House, his epic personal collection of classic horror memorabilia, would expect a variation on the gill man from The Creature From the Black Lagoon. Instead, del Toro referenced Japanese engravings of carp as well as amphibious creatures found in nature. It took over nine months to arrive at the look of the character, and del Toro calls it the most difficult movie he and his team have ever designed. 

At its heart, The Shape of Water is a love story, a genre fraught with difficulties. “If you say 'love,' you are immediately taken down three pegs in your intelligence scale. You are sappy,” says del Toro. To avoid such traps, his story is one step removed from reality, placed squarely in the realm of fairy tales and archetypes. “The movie was made as an antidote," he says. "I think love is the greatest force in the universe. It’s shapeless like water. It only takes the shape of things it becomes.”