18 Things We Learned While on the Set of ‘Crimson Peak’

Crimson Peak

The Actors: The Secrets That They Keep

  • Every actor was given extensive biographical folders written by del Toro with information that could not be shared with their co-stars. The biographies detailed each character’s backstory, even information that will never make it into the film. For example, Chastain read aloud from her personal notes for us, in which del Toro described Lucille as possessing the following traits: “Positives: Loyal, determined, intelligent, meticulous, decisive, observant, eloquent, artistic, passionate, sensitive, delicate, protective, unwavering; Negatives: Insular, narcissistic, violent, domineering, possessive, agoraphobic, germaphobic, vengeful, jealous, manipulative, depressive, demanding, suffocating. Secret dream: To never leave Allerdale Halle (the house); Likes: The smell of tobacco, the test of very bitter chocolate.” The information that del Toro had given her in that notebook included multiple sticky-pads, photographs, and random notes. Classified information.

    Hiddleston said that the amount of information del Toro gives for each character for a two-hour film could easily become a “24-episode [series]. You see where everyone’s been and where everyone’s going (in the bios). But [Crimson Peak] is just one moment in their life where all their stories intersect.” The wealth of information that del Toro offers upfront, however, Hiddleston labels with his own positive: “Brilliant.”

    “Even yesterday,” Hiddleston continued, “We had a scene between the four of us and there was something I knew that nobody else did, [except] Guillermo knew, and he put it very front and center and nobody else in the scene knew what was going on. It’s great because it’s true to life in a way because sometimes we can’t tell what’s going on in other people’s heads. And that’s a good thing.”

  • Hunnam, who worked with del Toro in Pacific Rim, didn’t receive a bio however. But that’s because he and del Toro worked on one together, because Hunnam was one of the first to be cast (on set, del Toro said, “Charlie can be in every movie of mine [going forward]”—so they obviously have a fantastic working relationship). “I write him an email, pal-to-pal, after each draft of the script and ask questions,” Hunnam said. Those questions started turning into a bio of Dr. McMichael. Eventually Hunnam and del Toro got to include some Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (author of Sherlock Holmes) hat-tips, and Hunnam read nearly everything that Conan Doyle had written. “He was one of the founders of the London Ghost Society, which is still up and running,” Hunnam noted. “In general, at the beginning of the 20th century spiritualism was a concept a lot of people were discussing and becoming interested in. And Dr. McMichael—and many scientists at that time—were very engaged and interested in [spiritualism].”
  • Hunnam, however, could not add pipe-smoking to his character makeup, like he had originally hoped. “There’s not too many opportunities to smoke a pipe in film these days, and playing a doctor circa 1901 seemed like a good opportunity. But everyone’s so uptight—as I suppose they should be about smoking—these days. [Guillermo] had a few battles (to get the film made with an R-rating), he had to fight in order to get some of the ‘kinkiness’ and the murder and mayhem OK’d by the studio—and studios are really uptight about smoking, so he just said that was not one of the fights he was gonna add to the [list].” 
  • Hiddleston replaced Benedict Cumberbatch when the once and future Doctor Strange could no longer star in Peak. “My agents called and said, ‘Guillermo del Toro is gonna call you in the next hour,’ and he called me, and he told me the story, and said, ‘Don’t say yes or no. I’m gonna rewrite the script this weekend, or tonight, or tomorrow, and I’m gonna send you a new draft.” A day later, Hiddleston got the script, which he described as “My own draft. He had rewritten the part for me in a way.”
  • Chastain had to learn to play the piano for Crimson Peak. “I’d never played piano before,” she said. “And Guillermo [said], ‘I want you to play the piano and you have to start taking lessons.'” Lucille has a specific lullaby, and Chastain played it for us on a keyboard in her trailer. Her hands shook a little, but her stature was strict and composed, and the melody was haunting. “It’s very sad, right? It’s Lucille’s lullaby. I love her even though she’s misguided.” Chastain notes that in addition to her personal lullaby, she also plays a waltz, and a section of a Chopin piece.
  • Chastain’s trailer was filled with mood photographs of siblings, Victorian houses, books, and films. Her books included collections of death poems, and biographies of serial killers. She asked us to not read too much into the surrounding books of female serial killers; she noted that she became obsessed with the differences between male and female serial killers. Of particular note was “A Hungarian Countess Elizabeth who killed over 600 women,” Chastain said, very excited to share. “She bathed in their blood. She’d bite them to death. She would throw them out in the snow, pour water on them, and keep doing it until they froze. She would stick pins up their nails. She had a contraption made that was like a barrel that she would get these young girls in and then crank it closed. It had spike on it. And she’d bathe in the blood that would drip down,” she paused, and laughed. “I mean she was so disturbing. She was found guilty but all they did was wall her up in a house, they didn’t put her to death.”
  • By Chastain’s television set there were copies of Misery and What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? which she would watch to help her get into the headspace of Lucille (again, surrounded by old photographs of siblings, books of death poems, and female serial killers; but a cute lil dog! and Chastain was certainly not bathing in misery on that day): “I love Kathy Bates in Misery I actually feel for that woman because you think, ‘God, she’s so pathetic.’ But there’s something about her, she actually just wants to love. So I tried to surround myself with films like that (for this performance).”

 Crimson Peak

The House That Bleeds (And The Costumes That Blend Into It)

  • Del Toro said the story and visual aesthetic were influenced by Jane Eyre (by Charlotte Bronte), James Whale (Frankenstein, Bride of Frankenstein) and Robert Wise (The Haunting). “It’s very Jane Eyre, in the way that Jacque Tourneur’s I Walked With a Zombie is Jane Eyre with zombies. They’re both about falling for a tragic figure.” Del Toro’s favorite haunted house film is Whale’s Old Dark House because it “has such a wicked sense of humor.” To make the film del Toro was adamant that, like Whale and Wise, he would be able to build the house. Actually he demanded it. “When we wrote it (del Toro co-wrote Crimson Peak 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.”
  • “We needed the house to feel like an organism,” del Toro said as he took us through the three floors. “It lays down like an animal, it’s decaying, and it goes slowly mad. 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 your visitors and live, would be slightly more kept. The top is the head, and the window (in the photo above) is the eye. The people in the movie are insane, so the head is all rotted away.” Del Toro paused with a smile, as he did frequently, to add, “That’s where the nursery is. The nursery is fucked up.”
  • Production Designer Tom Sanders (Saving Private Ryan) and his crew only had 14 weeks to build the house from scratch. “We molded and sculpted and made every single detail for the house. There’s nothing that you can find off the shelf,” he smiled. While we were on the set visit, Sanders and his crew were finishing the clay mines, which were on a separate stage. Otherwise, almost all of the house—three floors of it—will be as you see in the film: fully functional, connected, and in various states of disarray. There is a working elevator for three floors, and del Toro had a smile when he mentioned that there would be camera shots in the elevator as it moves. In the completed film the elevator also goes to the coal mines.
  • There are words hidden throughout the film (specifically the word “fear”), most evidently, within the wallpaper. There are also streaks of red seeping through cracks. It could be red clay, it could be blood. Del Toro explained that “I liked the idea of them draining the blood of the earth (in the mines below). You know, the rich family draining the land, leeching it out. It may not be subtle,” he laughed. “But I like it.”

    Sanders further explained, “What I always felt was that this house was the fabric of the people that lived in it… So when you see a cracking flowing with clay, it’s the blood of the earth. All down the line [the story] is about this family and house deteriorating at the same time.”

  • Concerning the overall design of the interior, Sanders said, “We didn’t copy anything, we reinvented a lot of [different styles].” Most of the house is in a Victorian Gothic style, but there are notable additions, such as a saber-like arc that repeats through a corridor. 
  • There are two primary locations in the film—England, and Buffalo, New York—and they will have a very different color palette to represent the new world and the old world. “Guillermo is very specific color wise,” Sanders noted. “We wanted to keep all the stuff in England in cyan, and then everything in the states warm…  so that the main characters, Lucille and Thomas, visit [the New World] there is a stark contrast. Thomas has a blue velvet suit, and Lucille has a blue dress. So when we had them out there, they stuck out in Buffalo (against the warm colors). But when they return to their house it’s almost camouflage: they’re part of the fabric of the house. So his suit is a dark blue, and it blends in with the house because they’ve lived there so long.”

Now, with all this information, take another look at Crimson Peak— if you dare… 

…and re-visit our longer interview with Guillermo del Toro on the set of Crimson Peak.

Crimson Peak will be released on October 16, 2015.

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