Crimson Peak: Guillermo del Toro Interview

Crimson Peak

It’s certainly tricky to maintain buzz for an original film for longer than a full calendar year. And that’s precisely what Legendary Pictures must do for Guillermo Del Toro‘s upcoming gothic romance/haunted house film Crimson Peak, which Legendary (and co-producer) Universal plan on releasing in the Halloween season of next year. But in the build-up to Legendary’s panel at next week’s Comic Con (which Crimson Peak has been confirmed to be a part of) CraveOnline gets to reveal some treats from a set visit that Brian Formo was lucky enough to attend in Toronto, this past March. 

Del Toro (Pan’s Labyrinth, Pacific Rim, The Devil’s Backbone and the Hellboy series) was giddy to have guests over to his decaying film mansion. And he could not be blamed. Because Crimson Peak is a current rarity: an actual full-scale Victorian house was built — three stories high — with a functioning old elevator, elaborate kitchen, a clay mining cellar, a decaying roof and (with a del Toro smile) a “fucked up nursery.”

So plan a great Halloween costume for this year, because in 2015 you’ll want to plant yourself in a theater and see all the tricks and treats that del Toro has in store. Crimson Peak stars Mia Wasikowska, Jessica Chastain, Tom Hiddleston and Charlie Hunnam.  This story picks up in the aftermath of a family tragedy, finding a young American woman (Wasikowska) torn between the love for her childhood friend (Hunnam) and the temptation of a mysterious British outsider (Hiddleston). Trying to escape the ghosts of her past, she is whisked away to a house that seems to breathe and remember. And it’s a house that CraveOnline won’t forget: lots of ooh’s and ahhh’s came from seeing hand-carved props, wallpaper with hidden gothic words, repeated moths and butterfly patterns, and small trinket nods to both Pan’s Labyrinth and The Devil’s Backbone

Below is a report from our tour with del Toro himself, who spoke about many things, including making an R-rated English-language film, his gothic influences, Oscar night phone calls placed to Alejandro Gonzalez Iñárritu and the secret reason why, this time, he might be getting everything he wanted.


Del Toro on the Origins of the House:

“I was inspired by Fonthill Abbey which was made by William Beckford, who built towers that collapsed all the time (in England).”

[CraveOnline Note: Beckford was the son of a British politico who amassed his wealth from coffee plantations he’d established in Jamaica. His son was described as “the richest commoner in England” (i.e. “new money”) and he decided to erect a family building as high and fast as he could. The main tower collapsed and damaged the western wing of his estate, too, in 1825.]

“(Producer) Callum (Greene) bought the script in 2006. When we wrote it (del Toro co-wrote with Matthew Robbins and Lucinda Coxon) the intention was to shoot in a found building. But if I was going to direct it: I needed to build a house. I wanted the house to be a character.”

Del Toro shined a flashlight through the model house that was displayed to compare to the massive (and massively impressive) set: “We needed the house to feel like an organism. It lays down like an animal. And it goes slowly mad… And it’s decaying. It’s sitting in the middle of a field, rotting. So, we knew that the top needed to be the most weathered part of the house. The bottom, where you would receive visitors and live, would be slightly more kept. But the top is the head. And the people in the movie are insane. So the head is all rotted away. And that is where the nursery is, and so you know, the nursery is fucked up. “


Guillermo Del Toro on His Gothic Influences for Crimson Peak:

“My favorite haunted house movie is James Whale’s Old Dark House. It’s really creepy in a way that no one else has been able to replicate because he has such a wicked sense of humor. [By building the house] I get to be old school like Whale and Robert Wise because I’m not confined to only filming certain angles. The house is complete.”

“We’re going with a Mario Bava palette of colors. In America the colors are tobacco, gold and green. It’s lush and reflects the optimism in the turn of the century America when everything was blooming. And the other world (Britain) is all blues and grays with deep browns and black mildew. It’s very dark and bleak. We shot outside for America and so we had huge beams of sunlight coming through the windows. And for this house, it’s like we moved into a theatrical play: confined.”

“It’s very Jane Eyre in the way that (Jacques Tourneur’s) I Walked with a Zombie is Jane Eyre with zombies. They’re both someone falling for a tragic figure. You can mix and match gothic romance, but you’re always going to find an innocent heroine going to a crumbling mansion, where a dark, brooding, mysterious guy turns out to be holding a secret.”

“I’m very aware of the tennets of the genre,” del Toro continued into the second floor. “The reason why I am attracted to [Crimson Peak] is that when one story ends another one flows. We have a really good love story and when that ebbs, the ghost story kicks in, and then a complete psycho story picks up. I don’t want to do a straight gothic romance. I want to do it hardcore.”

“This is not Downton Abbey. I don’t like what I call ‘class porn.’ You know where everybody’s gooey [and saying], ‘If only the aristocracy was still in charge, life would be so civilized.’ Fuck that. It’s not true. It never was true. This is the opposite. It’s an incredibly decadent aristocracy rotting away in a mansion on the hill… You know the rich family is draining the land, leeching it out (for clay).”

“It may not be subtle,” del Toro grins. “But I like it.”


Del Toro on the Ghosts Themselves:

“(On set) there are ghosts in physical form. They have two or three forms in the movie, but when the actors turn around, there’s the motherfucker.”


Del Toro on How Crimson Peak Meshes with His Spanish-language Films:

“It’s the first adult movie I’ve made in English. Even with an R-rating, I can hardly call Blade II adult. Crimson Peak is the first time that I tried to marry the sensibilities of Pan’s Labyrinth and Devil’s Backbone into a larger cast and with a larger budget.”

“I want it to be an R so I am shooting it like an R. If by some miracle of miracles we get something else, God bless. But to say that I want to shoot it with that freedom, then the studio comes back and says you have to make it for a budget. To get all the freedom and all the money is, A) rare and B) not desirable. I think that part of making movies is dealing with the restrictions of freedom or restrictions of budget. And I’d rather deal with the restrictions of budget.”

“There are a couple moments that are very, very graphic. I remember when I first showed Pan’s Labyrinth and somebody said, ‘That movie can make more money without the bottle scene.’ (Where a soldier is questioned about rebels’ whereabouts and has his jaw bashed in by a bottle.) But, you know, it wouldn’t be the same movie. Crimson Peak is punctuated a little like that. There are a few scenes where the violence is pretty shocking.”


Del Toro on How Crimson Peak is Different From His Other Work:

“It’s kinky.”


On how Crimson Peak is different from recent horror films:

“Most new horror movies are circulating in a similar area — which is a rich and worthy area — but it’s mostly found footage and middle class America home invasion … They also have a slant that’s impossible for me to [include]: a religious slant. I can’t subscribe to any religion and say, look, if you do this, the ghost will go away.”


Del Toro on how shooting and producing “The Strain prepped him for Crimson Peak:

“It’s tight. It’s a 68-day shoot. Pacific Rim was 100. Hellboy was 135. But I went into training mode with The Strain, shooting a 76-minute (pilot) in 20 days. So I came out of there saying, 68 days? Fantastic!”

“I’ll watch the dailies on “The Strain” every day and it’s so much fun because it’s somebody else’s problem,” he laughs. 

But he’s very grateful for that experience: “John Landgraf (the president of FX) sent me a note that said, ‘Do whatever you want.’ I’d never had that note in English before.”


Between all these projects, does he ever sleep?

“Very little!” he laughs. “Like four hours (a night). The other day I slept eight and I liked it… I go, ‘That’s why people do that!’ It was really good.”


Del Toro on how he works with the studios:

“If a prop is too controversial, I’ll pay for half of it and then keep it afterward.”

On set, he likes to have all cell phones turned off: “Nowadays, everyone is doing this (looks down at an imaginary phone) and I have seen people miss a queue or a spot (because of that). I charge $5 if I see one. Every Friday, we have a raffle. The crew puts in $5 each time they’re caught and then I put in $500 to beef up the potluck.”

But even del Toro is aware, that there’s a potential added benefit of this set rule. “If a producer has a problem, they can call me,” Del Toro smiles. “But my cell phone is turned off.”


Del Toro on his happiness for Alfonso Cuaron winning Best Director for Gravity:

“My first call was to Alejandro (Gonzalez Iñárritu, director of Amores Perros and Babel; all three have collectively produced each other’s work in the past), I said, ‘We won!’  One day he (Alfonso) will tell all the adventures, but it was a drag of five years. Those five years were weighing… You cannot calculate those things. There are times when you are starving and there are times when you are having a fucking chocolate mousse. He was climbing, suffered some more, but he fucking climbed [all the way] and it was incredible.”

“It takes 50 factors to align to make something pop. Every year you [wonder] what happened to The Assassination of Jesse James? What happened to All is Lost? No one controls that. People think that there is a guy with a cigar somewhere, but there isn’t. When I did The Devil’s Backbone, I thought it would have this long, beautiful life in the world. Then it was only released in 11 theaters in America. So, you never know, man.


Finally, it’s been announced that there will be a Pacific Rim 2, but del Toro is determined to shoot a smaller, black-and-white monster movie before that:

“After [Crimson Peak] I want to do a small, tiny one. And I’m going to make it happen. It’s not about can I. Pinocchio? The budget comes in, the budget goes out. But this one I’m going to make no matter what.”

Will it be in English? “No language, because the main character is mute. There’s very little dialogue. But what dialogue there is, is in English.”


And there you have it. All the del Toro words that we can print today. It’s still more than a year before Crimson Peak is released and CraveOnline still has interviews to come with Jessica Chastain, Tom Hiddleston, Charlie Hunnam and various members of the Crimson Peak crew. But hopefully all of those del Toro treats above will tide you over. At least through Comic Con.

Read More Exclusive Film Channel Interviews:

Brian Formo is a featured contributor on the CraveOnline Film Channel. You can follow him on Twitter at @BrianEmilFormo.