Following Guillermo del Toro’s Golden Globe win for Best Picture, we sat down with author Gina McIntyre to discuss her latest project, Guillermo del Toro’s The Shape of Water: Creating a Fairy Tale for Troubled Times. The book creates an exclusive, behind-the-scenes view of del Toro’s hit film, with a particular focus on concept art and interviews from the cast. In her Q&A, Gina tells us what it was like to be on the set of The Shape of Water, working closely with Guillermo del Toro, and her personal connection to del Toro’s works.
Before you began working on the manuscript for the book, was there anything in particular that drew you to The Shape of Water?
Primarily, the thing that drew me to the film was Guillermo del Toro. I’ve adored and admired his work for ages—I’ve been a lover of genre fare my entire life, but Guillermo’s projects are special and unique. He sets his stories in these gorgeous, intoxicating worlds where beauty and tragedy (and comedy and horror) co-exist, and I particularly appreciate the way he presents female protagonists who are well drawn, resourceful and resolute in the face of adversity. He truly is a genius and a visionary, so every time he embarks on a new project, it’s exciting. In the case of The Shape of Water, it felt like a story that only he could tell. He’s been in love with monsters from an early age, so who better to chronicle the romance between a cleaning lady and a fish-man? Guillermo is the one person who would immediately understand what Sally Hawkins’ Elisa might see in this singular creature.
I should say, too, that I feel incredibly fortunate to have had the opportunity to write a book about the making of this film. Guillermo was unfailingly gracious and so unbelievably generous with his time—the same goes for all the actors and really everyone involved in the production. For me, this project was absolutely a dream come true.
What was it like for you being on the set of the film? Were there any particular scenes, or moments during production, that you knew you really wanted to write about in the book?
It was an unforgettable experience. Walking into the laboratory where the Asset (as Doug Jones’ amphibian man is known) was kept was like stepping directly into Guillermo’s imagination. The set was massive. Steam was pumped through the pipes, water pooled on the floor. Looking at the monitor, you could see at once how majestic the lab scenes would read on film—the aquatic hues, the lighting, even the way the shot was framed, it was unmistakably a Guillermo del Toro film. One small detail that caught my eye—Guillermo had his very own amphibian-man hand that had been created by the effects team. That way, he could place bloody handprints exactly where he wanted them on the set. J. Miles Dale, the film’s producer, later joked that Guillermo quite literally had his hands all over the movie.
Guillermo del Toro moves away from his typical genre by creating an unlikely romance in The Shape of Water. What do you think makes Guillermo’s newest film different from his previous works, such as Pan’s Labyrinth and Crimson Peak?
It very much exists on a continuum with those films (I’d argue that Crimson Peak is criminally underrated), but The Shape of Water is lighter, more hopeful. It takes place in a world that audiences can perhaps more easily recognize, even if the early 1960s seen on screen is heightened to complement the story’s fairy tale trappings. The Shape of Water also allows Guillermo to showcase both his wicked sense of humor and his more fanciful artistic side. The sequence in which Elisa imagines that she and her beloved amphibian man star in an old-fashioned black-and-white Hollywood musical is certainly very different from anything he’d previously presented on screen, but its poignancy is familiar. Elisa can only dream of finding some way to communicate to the creature the depth of her feelings for him since they have no real shared language.
Before The Shape of Water hit theaters, not many people would have expected that such a strange story would appeal to so many different movie-goers. In your opinion, what is it about the film that attracts such a wide audience?
Guillermo subtitled the movie, “A Fairy Tale for Troubled Times,” and there is something about this film that speaks to the turbulent cultural moment in which we presently find ourselves. The heroes are all underdogs, people marginalized by mainstream society—Elisa is mute, her friend and neighbor Giles (Richard Jenkins) is a closeted gay man and her co-worker Zelda (Octavia Spencer) is an African-American woman living at a time when the struggle for civil rights was playing out across the country. Michael Shannon’s character Strickland is toxic masculinity embodied. He’s determined to destroy a creature he perceives as unlike him and, therefore, unfit to exist. Apart from the sheer staggering beauty of the production and the superb performances that bring the story to life, I think the powerful themes underpinning the narrative are resonating with audiences.
After studying the film from so many angles, and with the Oscars approaching, which awards would you say The Shape of Water is a shoo-in for?
Traditionally, the film named best picture at the Producer’s Guild’s annual awards ceremony stands a good chance of a repeat victory on Oscar night—in this case, that bodes very well for The Shape of Water. I believe Guillermo del Toro will take home the Academy Award for best director, a prize he won at the Golden Globes ceremony earlier this year (he might have been the first winner to mention Lon Chaney in his acceptance speech). The film also has a very strong chance to win in the “below-the-line” categories for its production design, editing, and for Alexandre Desplat’s score. In terms of the acting categories, it’s tough to say, but certainly it would be lovely to see Sally Hawkins recognized for an extraordinary silent performance in which she wordlessly conveys so much emotion.
Guillermo del Toro’s The Shape of Water: Creating a Fairytale for Troubled Times is available now wherever books are sold! Click here to watch the official book trailer.