Shock Interview: Guillermo del Toro on the Development, Destruction and Family-Friendly Pacific Rim


Earlier this month, ventured to San Francisco for the Pacific Rim press day where we had a chance to sit down one-on-one with director Guillermo del Toro to talk about his first feature film since Hellboy II: The Golden Army.

His latest is another monster-filled romp that stars Charlie Hunnam, Idris Elba, Rinko Kikuchi, Charlie Day, Ron Perlman, Robert Kazinsky, Max Martini and Clifton Collins, Jr. in a tale that pits a human resistance group against kaiju, terrifying, giant monsters that are rising out of the Pacific Ocean.  The humans counter this threat with Jaegers, giant robots operated by two pilots.

Shock had spoken to Del Toro about the film previously on the film set; now that we had seen the film, we couldn’t pass up another opportunity to pick his brain more about the making of the project.  Inside, he delves into the writing process, weighs in on the mass destruction we’ve been seeing in so many summer tentpoles today and how Pacific Rim stacks up to that, and discusses how the film plays to kids as well.

Shock Till You Drop:  I want to hear more about the writing process between you and Travis Beacham, what was your input and how did you collaborate?

Guillermo del Toro:  He and I knew each other from his other script Killing on Carnival Row, still one of my favorite projects I hope to do one day.  When I came in on Pacific Rim, it was literally a pitch.  And I came in with the idea of the two pilots and the neural bridge.  I said, I need to balance a little bit with some of the pilot-to-pilot drama.  We started writing the biographies for all of the characters and he would write other biographies.  Like, he wrote a realy pervy biography for the Russian pilots [laughs], a real kinky one.  And then we talked and I said, let’s set up the story line.  He did a draft on his own.  It was very different and more like the comic book, have you read it?

Shock:  Yes, I have.

Del Toro:  It was more like that, two brothers liking the girl and the girl getting in the middle of them.  I really wanted to go another route.  I said, let me start writing myself and set up what I want.  I did a couple of drafts, sent it to him, he did a pass, I got another two drafts and we started pre-production.  I was already designing and doing all of that.  Every draft that was urgent in production, I would do because I was the writer at hand.

Shock:  Beyond the Russian pilot background, what else was there that didn’t make the story?  Because the graphic novel alludes to so much as does the film.

****light spoilers ahead****

Del Toro:  We talked about showing the origin of the brothers rivalry, but you were starting the movie you see now on page 40.  The character of Pentacost was a trainer and he had a Chinese General.  But he didn’t adopt Mako, none of that.  And since my thing is the stories of fathers and daughters [laughs], I said I wanted to do that father-daughter story.  I wanted a lyrical, strangely fairy tale-like back story for Mako with a kaiju attack.  And originally, Mako had Raleigh’s story – she had lost a co-pilot in a kaiju attack and she hated Raleigh.  It was a different story, that original script, but the story didn’t become clear until page 85 and we needed a clean start.  I need to experience some of the stuff for the first time in the script.  I wanted the audience to understand that “drifting” can go wrong.  And if both pilots are experienced, I don’t get that.  The decisions…they were very complicated for a simple story, which is some people have a hard time figuring out.  Screenplays, I say there are three pieces: Plot, information and character.  People think it’s easy, but dispering plot and information is a tricky balance.  And we have 10 characters in the movies.  [laughs]  Ten!  And each of them has to have a moment.  It was a big balancing act.

****end spoilers****

Shock:  You and I grew up on monsters movies, kaiju and so on.  How hard was it to put you stamp on that sub-genre?

Del Toro:  This is a movie I really hope families and kids watch.  I really hope it.  My main goal is if you have a dad and an 11-year-old or 13-year-old kid watching the movie together, the dad can identify the nostalgia feel, but the kid goes, Oh my God, that’s the biggest monster I’ve ever seen!  So, it was about scale and an unmovable, advancing force of nature – the kaiju – and the humans holding up with all of these things: intelligence, bravery, these things standing up against this blind push.

Shock:  What’s the balancing act then in playing to a film for all ages?

Del Toro:  I never think of making a movie for a certain demographic, but I can tell you that we treat the female character with great respect, great care.  She’s not a girl in a tank tub and miny skirt getting wet every five minutes.  She’s a really good character and a good actress.  For the adventure and action of it, we deliver as big as we can get.  For the kids, we deliver a pure adventure feel.  It’s not a movie that has a single negative correlation with the real world.  We made it a point to say, the streets are deserted, I wanted the buildings deserted.  I wanted the destruction of streets, cars, everything to be completely remorseless.  I don’t want people being crushed.  I want the joy that I used to get seeing Godzilla toss a tank without having to think there are guys in the tank…

Shock:  Well, that’s a big thing this summer.  Mass destruction in films like Man of Steel and Star Trek into Darkness…

Del Toro:  Which demolishes San Francisco.  What I think is you could do nothing but echo the moment you’re in.  There is a global anxiety about how fragile the status quo is and the safety of citizens, but in my mind – honestly – this film is in another realm.  There is no correlation to the real world.  There is no fear of a copycat kaiju attack because a kaiju saw it on the news and said, I’m going to destroy Seattle.  In my case, I’m picking up a tradition.  One that started right after World War II and was a coping mechanism, in a way, for Japan to heal the wounds of that war.  And it’s integral for a kaiju to rampage in the city.

Shock: Did you really have a Mexican Jaeger?

Del Toro:  We had a Mexican Jaeger with two ex-convicts that got a deal.  They told them that, If you drive a Jaeger one more time, we’ll give you freedom.  But it was just too many backstories.  When you finish the first draft of a script and it’s a 150 pages, you go, Hmm, that’s not going to happen.  Our final draft was 135 pages and our first cut of the movie was almost 3 hours.

Shock:  You had mentioned earlier that the world of Pacific Rim could expand across other mediums…

Del Toro:  Really, it’s about if it connects with an audience and a box office, then they would love to expand, create more comics and do a video game and then do a second film.  If that doesn’t happen, then I’m as proud of this movie as anything I’ve ever done.

Our conversation then turned to upcoming projects.  To learn a bit about his next feature, Crimson Peak, click here, and for his FX pilot, The Strain, click here.

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Weekend: Feb. 21, 2019, Feb. 24, 2019

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