Guillermo del Toro owes two famous friends and 14 tequila shots for his serendipitous introduction to Sally Hawkins, star of his Golden Lion–winning Oscar contender, “The Shape of Water.” On January 12, 2014, he received a call from from fellow Mexican directors Alfonso Cuarón and Alejandro González Iñárritu, who instructed him, “‘Dude, come over to the Golden Globes party'”; Cuarón had won the evening’s Best Director statuette for “Gravity.” At Vulture Festival this weekend, del Toro recalled his reply: “I’m not going. I’m watching ‘Antiques Roadshow.'”
But they were insistent, and sent a car to retrieve him from his home in Angoura Hills, California. “Because I’m fat, my body mass requires enormous amounts of alcohol,” del Toro explained to the audience at The Hollywood Roosevelt, seated next to his six-time collaborator, actor Doug Jones. “And I get sober super fast, and I don’t get hungover. So I recommend you all get fat.”
The aforementioned shots left him “a little buzzed.” “I go, ‘Okay guys, let’s catch up,’ and they say, ‘We changed our mind[s], we’re not going to drink,'” cueing del Toro’s exit. As he neared the door, however, he spotted Hawkins, a nominee that night for “Blue Jasmine,” whose agent he’d already contacted about another role. “‘Sally! Guillermo!’ and I hug her and I go, ‘I’m writing a movie for you, will you fall in love with a fish man?’ And she says, ‘Great!'”
Cuarón declared the resulting film — which came in under budget, at $19.5 million — “amazingly sublime,” and del Toro says it’s among the most personal of his 10 features. “Three movies in my life have come to me at really, really, really low points in my life, and they have saved my — I wouldn’t say sanity — but my life, really,” he said.
First, “The Devil’s Backbone” (2001) provided solace following “a catastrophic experience with ‘Mimic,’ at Miramax/Dimension, which is still the worst experience I’ve ever had.” Five years later, he said the idea for “Pan’s Labyrinth” arrived when he was “questioning many, many things,” including “what we do, what we leave behind, [and] who we are.” The film won three Oscars.
Del Toro, 53, was feeling “great darkness” when he though up “The Shape of Water” — a Cold War-era romance between a mute janitor (Hawkins) and a creature imprisoned inside the lab where she works (Jones), often referred to as “the asset” (credited as “Amphibian Man”). “A mentor in Mexico — one of the filmmakers I admire the most — he saw it and he said, ‘You’ve finally exhaled,'” revealed del Toro, who will take a directing hiatus through September 2018.
“This movie is a healing movie for me…For nine movies I rephrased the fears of my childhood, the dreams of my childhood, and this is the first time I speak as an adult, about something that worries me as an adult. I speak about trust, otherness, sex, love, where we’re going. These are not concerns that I had when I was nine or seven.”
“The Shape of Water” opens in New York on December 1 before expanding to additional cities.