From the Set: Harbour & Marshall Open Up About Their Gnarly Hellboy Reboot
Ever since the prospect of a rebooted Hellboy was announced, many fans simply wondered “Why?” and to their credit, the filmmakers have stuck to their ideas of exactly why, the chance to do something new, something different, something more Hellboy.
While on the set of the movie, we sat down with director Neil Marshall (The Descent, Game of Thrones) and star David Harbour (Stranger Things) to talk all things Hellboy, and one of the things asked was a version of “Why?” which was “Why’d you say yes?”
“Part of it was that challenge of filling those big shoes,” Marshall said, referring to Guillermo Del Toro’s work on the previous films. “Of taking something that’s so well established and so what can we do that’s going to reinvent it some way, where that isn’t radically deviating from the source material, but in some ways, being more faithful to the source material. I like a challenge, or maybe I’m just a sucker for punishment or something, but that was a big part of it. I just saw so much potential in a darker, more ‘R-rated’ version of the material. And Mike Mignola connected with that concept as well, and then everybody else came on board to it. It was like, so let’s go dark with it.”
Harbour on the other hand was apprehensive about taking the role, saying he was confused and terrified at the fact that the producers thought of him for the role.
“I mean, like ‘Who the fuck am I?’” he recalled thinking. “I’ve been like a character guy for years doing these little things, and then ‘Stranger Things‘ came out, and I think that Neil, Lloyd and Mike Mignola, I guess they all had sort of watched it around that first month. And upon watching it, I think they all called each other and like, “Wouldn’t David Harbour be a great Hellboy?” And I was like, ah, that’s very flattering and very horrifying that you guys would think that I would be like this angry demon, but it seems to fit.”
Speaking of the “More R-rated” take on the material, that’s been the primary talking point for the reboot since its announcement. When asked, just what they meant when they referenced it that way or called it a “more horror” take on the character, both obliged with an answer.
“It certainly has its roots more in that world of Gothic horror, and I think that’s part of the texture of the film as well,” Marshall said. “Quite a bit of it’s set in the UK. It’s got a little bit of like ‘Hammer’ Gothic, you’re sitting in this amazing kind of old country house kind of thing. And it’s taking Hellboy out of his comfort zone, in some respects, and putting him into this different world that we’ve not seen him in before. But it definitely taps into kind of Gothic horror sources and roots and all that kind of stuff that I love so much.”
“The terrible version of it is angsty, and the great version of it is tortured,” Harbour adds. “In the original Hellboy movies, he’s very much a guy that has a sense of humor and goes about his job and does his thing and sort of deals with the demons and the evil in the world. And in our movie, he’s very much dealing with his own being ostracized from society. There is kind of a Frankenstein element to it. There’s I think a lot more self-hatred. Although those movies did explore certain aspects of that, ours is just a lot darker in terms of a character piece, in terms of who he is. He’s a much more tortured guy, who in the end, has to do the right thing…I mean, he is destined to be the beast of the apocalypse. And I think one of our goals is to justify the temptations of that destiny in terms of the creation of a world, where you know, as a demon, he might be accepted, and as a monster, he might be accepted, that he doesn’t feel in this world.”
But what about making the film more in line with the source material? The Del Toro movies certainly drifted from the center, so what do you focus on to get the film back there?
“Right at the beginning our wonderful production designer and DP came up with a color palette based on the color palettes that exist in the comics and we try and stick as closely as possible to that,” Marshall said, and we can confirm it, the visuals of what we saw on the monitors on set looked like a Mignola panel.
“(We use) the colors that are predominant in the comics and also things like whenever Hellboy’s around, nothing else in the scene is red unless it’s possibly blood. We’ve endeavored to sort of create that palette for the whole thing and give it those bold colors and the feel of the comics whenever possible. And yes, deep blacks, because I love my shadows to be dark.”
“There are a couple of things I can’t tell you that we know fans really want to see, which we put in the movie,” Harbour adds. “One of them that I can tell you about clearly is the hooves. The hooves were like a big deal to me….We do hooves and the body and all this stuff is practical, even the eyes, the yellow eyes. It’s all practical. And the one thing we couldn’t give fans, which I really wanted to, but we couldn’t was, we couldn’t put him in shorts. But maybe if we make a billion dollars, we’ll put him in shorts for the next one.”
Harbour also addressed the fight sequences and stunts in the film, calling them crazy and that Hellboy will go around chopping off heads and bathing in blood from the violence. He even tied Hellboy’s fighting style in the film back to his conversations with Mignola
“I talked (with him) about his belt that he wears, because he wears this like, belt where he’s got like, little pouches. And I was like, what’s in those f***ing things? And he said, ‘Well, he’s this paranormal detective, right? So he’s got to show up and fight vampires or witches or whatever, so he’s got like, garlic and silver bullets and all kinds of sh*t.’ So he just shows up, but he doesn’t really know what he’s doing. He’ll just throw a bunch of garlic on somebody and then he’ll be like, ‘That didn’t work.’ Eventually he kind of knows that he’ll just have to knock somebody out.”
Naturally, no comic book adaptation is an island in this day and age. Sequels, spin-offs, and universes have to at least been dreamed about for all of them. Harbour said he doesn’t like to think that way, instead preferring to deliver the best possible version of the character on the big screen.
“To me, one of the pitfalls that I think we all kind of agree on is this, it’s one of the things that I read critically about ‘The Mummy‘ that they got upset about was this idea that you spend half the movie setting up a universe as opposed to just making the greatest movie you possibly can. And then, if people want to see more of it, sure, we can do more of them. But we’re not going to dole out little snippets of what you’re going to see later. We’re just going to make one movie that’s awesome, and then if people love that movie, then we’ll make more of them. But there is no doling out of a universe. We’re just trying to make the best Hellboy movie you’ve ever seen, and that’s all we want to do. And if people love it and they want more of it, I think most of us would be happy to do it. But we’re not spending time setting up a universe.”
Neil Marshall echoed these sentiments, but noted that a larger universe “had been discussed.”
“It’s so far in the back of my mind that right now this is the focus 100 percent, get this done, make it the best film that it could possibly be,” he said. “If that comes off, great. What an adventure and what a world to open a big door on, the BPRD and all the other characters. There’s a huge universe that Mike’s created over the years, to tap into, but I cannot think about that right now.”
For the record though, he’d come back for other stories, and not necessarily just Hellboy.
“Oh there’s definitely some, I don’t know, be it continuations there, so spin-offs or whatever that I think I would definitely want to be a part of for sure. I can’t say what, though.”