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Guillermo del Toro on ‘The Orphanage,’ His Imaginary Friends

Photo: WireImage

For Guillermo del Toro’s latest project, the Pan’s Labyrinth director donned his producer’s hat to oversee fellow filmmaker Juan Antonio Bayona’s debut effort, the spooky horror film The Orphanage, which chronicles a mother’s growing realization that her cherubic son’s imaginary friends may be something a bit more sinister. Like most things del Toro touches, the film (which opens here this weekend after breaking box-office records in Spain) is already generating a substantial amount of buzz: It’s Spain’s official selection for Best Foreign Film in the upcoming Oscar race. A flu-stricken del Toro was kind enough to chat with Vulture about the movie’s prospects Stateside, his own embarrassing childhood memories, and, yes, what’s been going with Hellboy 2.

So you’re a producer and a “presenter” on this film; what does that mean, exactly?
Producers act like bodyguards for their movies. We protect the movie against any bad decisions that could come from the financiers' level. Frankly I wish I could take more credit for it the creative parts. I gave them a couple of ideas for some of the scares in the movie, and we tweaked the ending a little bit, but the rest is all on their own merits. So if you like it, talk to them. If you hate it, talk to me.

Obviously many of your films deal with these sort of mystical, supernatural themes; is that a personal obsession?
We all get attracted to a theme in life. All of us. In my case, I have come to believe in the power of faith and the power of believing as a transforming force. That’s one of the reasons why I was attracted to this screenplay. I remember distinctly how much I liked the Geraldine Chaplin character saying, “Seeing is not believing; believing is seeing.” I think that pretty much sums up what I think.

So did you ever have any imaginary friends?
I think all my friends have been imaginary. To this day I still don’t know if Alfonso Cuarón really exists! No, when I was growing up I was a different sort of weird kid. I was friendly with insects in the garden, so I named some of the ants in the anthill in my grandmother’s garden, and I was under the impression that there were one or two ants that really knew me. I guess that qualifies as a strange sort of imaginary friend.

Do you remember what you named them?
Yes, I do, and it’s ridiculous. Please don’t make me say it.

Say it!
I won’t fall for that! It’s horrible! It was something to the affect of “little ant,” okay? It was completely ridiculous!

Aw, that’s cute. But ok, we can move on. What was the biggest challenge you faced in making The Orphanage?
We had to make the financiers understand that even though Juan Antonio was a first-time filmmaker, this needed to be a full construction with an elaborate set. Normally a Spanish film shoots in about five weeks, and we needed ten. And we wanted one of the top actresses [Belén Rueda] in the country. In America there is this notion that first-time filmmakers should almost… do penance. So that took the biggest leap of faith for them.

What’s he like as a director?
He is scandalously well-prepared! He really has an exquisite sense of narrative and composition, the way how his camera glides and peaks around, which is something I do too. But he is definitely very American in his discipline and in the propulsive nature of his narrative. He has this almost 1970s Spielberg sense of narrative propulsion. He’s not wasting time just doing a set piece. He’s moving the story forward. I truly think he’s the love child of American and European cinema.

Do you think it will win the Oscar?
You know, I don’t think. That’s the great secret in these kinds of things. It’s like with Pan’s Labyrinth: I was expecting nothing. When the time came and we started gaining critics’ prizes and this and that, I still made it a point not to think anything. And then when the film won three Oscars but didn’t win the Foreign Film Oscar I was happy as a clam, because I was expecting nothing. Everybody talks about visualizing that you own everything; I visualize owning nothing and it works really well for me.

So what’s next?
Right now I am finishing Hellboy 2, which comes out July 11th. It’s bigger and more ambitious, much more bright and vibrant than the first one. Of course there will still be Ron Berman Perlman beating the crap out of a lot of monsters! After that, I’m unemployed. —Sara Cardace