The filmmaker provided the actors with dense character biographies, with 10-15 pages of their life stories, with star signs, dates of birth and secrets he didn’t want them to tell each other, said Hiddleston: “Guillermo has an enormous imagination, and getting to live inside it with all this detail and rigor and precision was a huge pleasure.” The film is all about the secrets we carry, he said. “Every character in this film is either weighed down or liberated by what’s happened in the past. The house itself is the past and witness to what happened, it saw and heard everything. There’s an exciting tension on the film, every character is struggling to create their own destiny, that’s fun.”
Before shooting, del Toro enjoys the discovery process of sitting down at a table with his actors and discussing their biographies, what they like and don’t like. “You then come out of the meetings supercharged,” he said. He also adds their input to the audiovisuals: set design, dialogue and staging. “Lucile’s bedroom, for example, came out of these discussions, every little piece in there tells you something about her. I write these movies on paper but they get written on film. Every part was tailored to the actor doing it.
Del Toro wanted the movie to not only be “scary,” but “gorgeous,” he said.” Of my three favorite movies I’ve done, this is the most beautiful movie I have made.”
That’s partly because the director insisted on building the massive four-story gothic mansion, including an elegantly detailed period bathroom and bedrooms packed with character details.
“The great hall I found just jaw-dropping,” said Hiddleston, who replaced the originally cast Benedict Cumberbatch. “The Sharpe’s house in Cumberland, in the North of England, was built on a soundstage in Toronto. It was breathtaking, three to four stories with a working elevator. If you trod on floorboards, the clay under the house would seep across the floor. It was the most extraordinary set I’ve sever seen. I was sad when they had to tear it down.”
The last act of the film “is an emotional rollercoaster,” said Hiddleston. “It exists at a very intense pitch. And we all had to hold hands and battle through, it can take it out of you some days… Most actors are fascinated by extremity, by what happens when people are tested by physical, psychological or emotional challenges they have to overcome. I personally find the last 45 minutes of the film headlong and thrilling, there’s twist after twist and you don’t know where it’s going to go!”
Bring it on! Here’s the panel video.