Most famously known for his 2006 fantasy drama “Pan’s Labyrinth,” Guillermo del Toro dives back into a mystical world with his new tale “Shape of Water” taking place in Baltimore, Maryland.
Elisa (Sally Hawkins), a mute janitor, and her co-worker Zelda (Octavia Spencer) work in a top-secret government lab. Elisa’s life is changed when she and Zelda discover an amphibious creature (Doug Jones) being tested in the lab. Elisa and the creature form a kinship through their lack of the ability to speak.
Del Toro said he has been thinking about this film since he was 6-years-old. He always wanted to do a movie where government agents went on a boat to the Amazon to capture a mythical creature, but the idea never felt complete to him.
Over breakfast with his co-author of the “Trollhunters” books, Daniel Kraus, mentioned an idea he had of a janitor that works in a top-secret government facility and befriends an amphibious man. “I knew at that moment – politically, thematically—everything would fit because I was not entering through the front door but through the service, door into the story,” said del Toro, buying the story idea and turning it into “Shape of Water.”
Doug Jones plays the amphibious man and love interest in this movie, marking his 5th collaboration with del Toro.
“I started working with him in 1997 and he was more of a performer than an actor. In fact, in many ways he was closer to a mime than an actor,” del Toro said.
Over the course of 20 years, he saw him change from a performer into a full-fledged actor.
“Doug is a really terrific actor and if I didn’t think that I wouldn’t have given him “Shape of Water” in which he needs to hold his own with an actor like Sally Hawkins, or an actor like Michael Shannon, or Michael Stuhlbarg,” del Toro said. “He is fantastic.”
To prepare for her role, del Toro gave lead actress Hawkins Blu-rays of great silent film actors Charlie Chaplin, Harold Lloyd, Buster Keaton, and Stan Laurel. He wanted her to most closely watch Stan Laurel from the famous comedy duo “Laurel and Hardy” because, “he can convey a state of grace and a purity by doing nothing, by doing very little,” which is a trait her character conveys on screen.
The film ends with a poem read by Elisa’s neighbor Giles (Richard Jenkins). Del Toro originally had a different ending in mind with a speech read by Jenkin’s character. Showing up to set early one day, he decided to kill time by walking through a bookshop.
“I was browsing the shelves and I found this poem in a book about an illuminated poet talking about Allah and it moved me very much,” del Toro said.
He bought the book and recorded Jenkins reading the poem that day.
The two main characters, Elisa and Amphibian Man, do not speak in “Shape of Water”, with Elisa being mute and Amphibian Man being an otherworldly creature.
“I wanted to have characters that were able to communicate to the audience their emotions and love through looks, touch, body language, and essence,” del Toro said.
The characters throughout the movie are looked at as incomplete beings because of their inability to speak.
“Words can lie; looks cannot.”
“The Shape of Water” opened in theaters on December 1.