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Film director Guillermo Del Toro

'Pan's Labyrinth' Director Guillermo del Toro

Writer-director Guillermo del Toro grew up in Mexico; his film Pan's Labyrinth, which won three Academy Awards this year, is out now on DVD. With his friends and fellow directors Alfonso Cuaron (Y tu Mama Tambien) and Alejandro Gonzales Inarritu (Amores Perros), he's sometimes known as one of the Three Amigos. Rebroadcast from Jan. 24, 2007.


Other segments from the episode on May 18, 2007

Fresh Air with Terry Gross, May 18, 2007: Interview with Guillermo Del Toro; Review of the film "Shrek the 3rd."


TIME 12:00 Noon-1:00 PM AUDIENCE N/A

Interview: Guillermo del Toro discusses his career and "Pan's

This is FRESH AIR. I'm Dave Davies, senior writer for The Philadelphia Daily
News filling in for Terry Gross.

The movie "Pan's Labyrinth" won three Academy Awards last year for
Cinematography, Art Direction, and Makeup. It was nominated for Best Foreign
Film and Best Original Screenplay. It's now out on DVD.

Our guest is the film's writer, director and producer, Guillermo del Toro. He
also made "The Devil's Backbone," "Cronos," "Hellboy" and "Blade II." Del Toro
grew up in Mexico and has always been absorbed in fairy tales and horror

"Pan's Labyrinth" is about real world horror and a fantasy world. It's set in
Spain in 1944 in the aftermath of the Spanish Civil War, when some resistance
fighters continued to fight against the dictator Francisco Franco. The main
character is a young girl whose father is dead. Her mother has just remarried
and is pregnant with the baby of her new husband, a brutal captain in Franco's
army. The captain is very cold to his new stepdaughter and his new wife,
interested only in the son he hopes she'll soon deliver. When the girl moves
into her father's home, he's commanding government troops in a ruthless
suppression of the resistance. She retreats from the ugly reality around her
into a fairy tale world in which she's given three tasks to perform in order
to become the princess of the underworld.

Terry spoke with Guillermo del Toro in January.


Guillermo del Toro, welcome to FRESH AIR.

I see "Pan's Labyrinth" as being about a girl's attempt to turn the ugliness
around her--the war, the dictatorship, the repression and torture--and
translate it into something she can comprehend, a fairy tale. What made you
think about combining the Spanish Civil War and its aftermath with a fairy

Mr. GUILLERMO DEL TORO: Well, you know, I believe that fairy tales are a way
for us to understand the world. I mean, they were originally intended to be
for adults and then eventually, through the ages, when they were compiled by
the Grimm Brothers especially, they became children's literature. But
originally, they were created to tackle sort of inner struggles in the
outside, in a fable. And I thought that war is such an overwhelming reality
that I wanted to situate a fairy tale universe within the most harrowing
context I could find. Originally, fairy tales were created in the middle of
plague, famine, war, you know, and I wanted to pick up on that.

GROSS: Are there particular fairy tales you've drawn on for the fairy tale in
"Pan's Labyrinth"?

Mr. DEL TORO: I've been collecting fairy tales and books on fairy tales all
my life. I have, I would believe, over a 150, 200 volumes on them. And I
tried to make a potpourri of themes and threads that I noticed in fairy tales
that repeated themselves again and again, but not particular fairy tales.
There are, nevertheless, very frontal homages to Lewis Carroll's "Alice in
Wonderland," "The Wizard of Oz," Hans Christian Andersen, Oscar Wilde and many
other children's literature classics, including Charles Dickens and so forth.

GROSS: Now, the reality part of the film is set a few years after the Spanish
Civil War in 1944.

Mr. DEL TORO: Yeah.

GROSS: So it's still World War II, and there are still some anti-fascists who
are resisting with weapons. Why did you want to set it in the aftermath of
the Spanish Civil War as opposed to in the middle of it?

Mr. DEL TORO: Because I think the Spanish Civil War was quickly forgotten by
most of the world, and '44 is a particularly interesting year. You have the
Spanish resistance working with the Allies toe to toe and vanquishing fascism
in Europe. You have them actively working in the north of Spain, not only
resisting Franco but sabotaging the mining operations that were sending
tungsten to Germany for Hitler to build the alloy to build the Panzer tanks.
And you have the men, obviously, fighting in the south of France and so forth.
And nevertheless, after Normandy and after World War II, you know, the
republican side of resistance in Spain expect the allies to turn their eyes
back to them and help them vanquish Franco. And, of course, that doesn't

And I wanted to show a resistance that was past their prime, if you want. You
know, they were not at the height of their aid internationally. They were at
the lowest point of the civility. But the resistance in Spain lasted for at
least over a decade and a half, arguably even two decades or more and then
mutated into separatist groups, and people sort of splintered away and so
forth. But it was decades of struggle.

GROSS: And you think that the Allies should have helped Spain, should have
helped the resistance in Spain?

Mr. DEL TORO: Yes. I think morally it was a tragedy, a political tragedy.
Because essentially what happened is internationally, all of a sudden, it made
more sense to make sort of a diplomatic alliance with Franco to keep tabs on
the Russians than to help the resistance vanquish this guy. And so
Generalissimo Franco became, at the best, for most people, a punchline on
"Saturday Night Live." You know? And I think that it's such a horrifying,
dark time, and it's almost forgotten.

I didn't want to set it up just on the civil war. "Devil's Backbone," the
movie I did previously in 2001, dealt with that period, and I wanted to see
what happens when everybody believes the war is over.

GROSS: Now, the young girl in "Pan's Labyrinth," Ofelia, is surrounded by
such brutality and ugliness that the fairy tale that she creates for herself
is filled with ugliness, too. For instance, you know, the fairies aren't
these like lovely twinkly things, they're really large insects who she kinds
of turns in her mind into something slightly resembling fairies.

Mr. DEL TORO: Mm-hmm.

GROSS: But they're still kind of ugly.

Mr. DEL TORO: Yeah.

GROSS: Can you talk a little bit about creating that kind of ugly fairy tale

Mr. DEL TORO: Well, the idea...

GROSS: And let's just start with the insect for instance, the insect that she
turns into a fairy. Were you surrounded by a lot of really big insects in

Mr. DEL TORO: Yes. And I'm not talking about the politicians only. When I
was a kid, I used to spend a lot of time in my grandmother's garden, and I
would actually do insane stuff. Like, I would spend hours watching an ant
hill, and I would try and recognize the ants from one another every day. And,
of course, the garden was full of insects, and I would name them. And I
admired them. I think that they're present in most of my movies because I
have such admiration and fear of them. And I always thought that, you know,
listening to Bible tales--I don't know why--I always thought that archangels
should look like insects because archangels were sort of the tough guys of
God's army. And I always imagined them looking like this shelled, armored
creature, you know?

And I believe that the girl's reality in the movie, in "Pan's Labyrinth," you
should be able to read it as existing in her mind or as being really raggedy
left-out-in-the-rain type of magical world because she has been gone from it
so long. So the movie allows you to interpret it both ways. For me, funny
enough, to me, what she sees is a fully blown reality. Spiritual reality, but
I belive her tale not to be just a reflection from the world around her but to
me she really turns into the princess.

GROSS: The princess of what, the underworld?

Mr. DEL TORO: Of the underworld. I think that there is a point in our life
when we're kids when literature and magic and fantasy has as strong a presence
in our soul as religion would have in later days. You know, I think that it's
a spiritual reality, as strong as when people say, `I accept Jesus in my
heart.' Well, at a certain age, I accepted monsters in my heart. And the girl
is basically sort of autobiographical for me.

GROSS: Well, I really understand what you're saying because to me like the
movie was about, in a way, the stories that we have to tell ourselves to get
through life.

Mr. DEL TORO: Mm-hmm. Yeah. Yeah.

GROSS: And for a lot of people, those stories are religious stories, but for
some people they're other stories. They're literature or fairy tales or
whatever. But that...

Mr. DEL TORO: I think that we--the entire world we live in is fabricated.
So when I think about, you know, Republican-Democrat, left-right,
morning-night, geography-borders, all these things are conceits. You know?
Borders are not visible from a satellite picture. The fact that you can have
a civil war where two sides kill each other and essentially, from afar, they
look exactly the same, you know? They are both the same human being. They
share the same taste for food. They sing the same songs, and so on and so
forth. These imagined conceits can create such horrors. And I think when
people talk about fantasy and they mean it, like, `Oh, fantasy is such a low
concern,' well, I think politics, religion are equal inventions for me, at

GROSS: If you're just joining us, my guest is Guillermo del Toro, and he
wrote and directed the film "Pan's Labyrinth."

What you said, you know, you believed in your heart in monsters.

Mr. DEL TORO: I did.

GROSS: What were some of the monsters that kind of formed your view of the
world when you were growing up?

Mr. DEL TORO: Well, a funny story is when I was a kid--and to this day, now
and then, I have lucid dreaming. Essentially, I go to sleep and I wake up in
the dream in the exact situation that I was when I went to sleep. And when I
was a kid, I used to have a lucid dream of a faun that came out from behind my
grandmother's armoire at midnight almost every day. But the funny thing is
that it only happened in that room and it only happened at midnight, so it
became a constant. And the faun in that dream is in the movie. He's
essentially the faun that we designed for the film.

And later in life, I found that Frankenstein was such a beautiful metaphor for
teenage awkwardness, you know. It was almost like a Miltonian hero thrown
into earth by an uncaring father. And, you know, as through my life I found
many parallels with monsters, many of them. I think monsters were created by
mankind to explain the universe around them, and when we became civilized, the
universe within us.

GROSS: Now, you mentioned the faun that appeared to you in your dream that
you recreated for "Pan's Labyrinth." And it's not a deer fawn, it's an F-A-U-N

Mr. DEL TORO: Yes.

GROSS: So why don't you describe what a faun is in mythology.

Mr. DEL TORO: Well, the--you know, the movie is only called "Pan's
Labyrinth" in English and in international language because a faun was so hard
to translate in so many languages, it sounded so obscure. But a faun is a
neutral creature. It is a creature that can bring destruction or it can bring
life. It's obviously a creature of the woods that is savage and unmerciful,
but, at the same time, as benign as nature. They care for the trees. They
care for the plants and the life in the woods. But at the same time, they can
be instruments of savagery.

And I wanted a dual creature to guide the girl into that universe. I wanted a
neutral guide that was untrustworthy, you know, that the girl did not trust
all the way. And, actually, the more beautiful the creature turns in the
movie--because it regains youth, the faun in the movie--the less trustworthy
he becomes.

GROSS: Would you describe how you physically created him, like what he looks

Mr. DEL TORO: We wanted very much to recreate a certain feel of this thing's
living in the woods for so long that they have fused with the stone and the
moss and the bark of the trees. And I referenced very much some symbolist
painters...(unintelligible)...Odilon Redon, Felicien Rops--and mainly a few
key Victorian illustrators, one of them is Arthur Rackham. And Rackham had
these trees that were very twisted, very knotty and vaguely disturbing. And
so when we were creating the faun, I said, `Make his legs really long and
let's make them really knotted and twisted like a Rackham tree.' So the faun
is this very beautifully elongated spindly figure that has sort of tree-like
legs, so it's a very twisted type of design we do with the creatures in the
film: the giant frog, the pale man, the fairies.

GROSS: I want to ask you about the pale man. This is--when she walks into
one of the settings, there's this large pale man at a table, and his head has
two empty holes in it, socket-like holes, and you figure those are those holes
where his eyes used to be and now he has no eyes. But it turns out--am I
giving too much away here? Do you mind if I discuss it?

Mr. DEL TORO: No, I think--no.

GROSS: And it turns out the eyes are sitting on the table, but they belong in
his hands. And what we think are the sockets for his eyes in his face are
actually his nostrils from which he breathes.

Mr. DEL TORO: Yes. Yes.

GROSS: And he holds up his eyes--he puts his hands to his face and his eyes
are in his hands, and that's how he sees, and he breathes through those two
holes in his face.

Mr. DEL TORO: Mm-hmm. Mm-hmm.

GROSS: And it's a beautiful ugly image.

Mr. DEL TORO: Yes. (Unintelligible)...

GROSS: In the way that beautiful and ugly sometimes come together.

Mr. DEL TORO: Yes. There was a school of poetry that used to be called
"graveyard poetry." And I really loved that because there is a melancholy in
the Gothic tradition of literature that speaks about loss and fragility, but
through images of horror and sometimes brutality. And I subscribe that you
need the one for the other to exist.

And the pale man is a prototypical--in function, is a product typical ogre in
the fairy tale, a devourer of children. But in appearance, I wanted it to
look like essentially a monster a child could imagine, a monster from the id.
What I noticed early on is, I ordered first the makeup effects company to
create sort of an old guy who had been very fat and had shrunken so the skin
was loose and hanging, and at the same time, I asked them to remove the face,
because I remember manta rays. Upside-down, they have this thin mouth and the
little nostril-like openings, and they have a very disturbing neutrality to
them. And then one of the things I remember as a kid is one of the first
things you do is you draw your own hand. You trace it and you put an eye or a
mouth or a face, and it's very often that child psychologists find that one of
the first things a kid does in inventing a monster is displacing the mouth or
displacing the eyes. And I came up with the idea. Since the character had
stigmata, I said, `Let's put the eyes in there.' And what came out was
instinctively an incredibly brutal, incredibly sort of Freudian or Jungian

DAVIES: Filmmaker Guillermo del Toro speaking with Terry Gross. More after a
break. This is FRESH AIR.


DAVIES: Let's get back to Terry's interview with Guillermo del Toro, who
wrote and directed the film "Pan's Labyrinth," which won three Academy Awards.
It's set in the aftermath of the Spanish Civil War.

GROSS: There's so much fairy tale violence and war violence in "Pan's
Labyrinth." What kind of violence were you exposed to when you were growing up
in Mexico?

Mr. DEL TORO: All of it. I saw basically everything in my daily life. No
domestic violence, but I did see a lot of violence on the street. I saw--you
know, Mexico is not exactly a very guarded society, so there's people shooting
at each other on the streets, accidents, people burning to death, stabbings,
shootings. I worked next door to a morgue for a while, and I had to go
through the morgue to have my lunch at the cemetery.

GROSS: Oh, gee!

Mr. DEL TORO: So I didn't have what you would call a normal life.

GROSS: Oh, gosh!

Mr. DEL TORO: And I was exposed to that, and I believe that perhaps that has
seeped into my films, of course. But also I believe that there is a moment in
which you have to realize that violence is part of the forces in the world,
and how you deal with it is important. The girl in the film, everybody else
here or there chooses violence. The girl chooses not to exert. And I feel
that I have done this choice in my life, too.

GROSS: Yeah, well, what was your reaction to the violence that you saw when
you were growing up? How did you deal with it?

Mr. DEL TORO: It made me value what we have, the immediacy of what we have
much more. And it made me very conscious of dying and decay and fragility. I
think that we live our lives sometimes believing we are immortal. And we're
not. And our lives actually gain more sense when we believe in pain and when
we believe in mortality. I believe that it makes us better to connect with
this dark side of life. I believe so.

GROSS: Now, the Spanish Civil War figures heavily in your work, in both "The
Devil's Backbone" and, of course, in "Pan's Labyrinth." What--why--how did you
become interested in the Spanish Civil War growing up in Mexico?

Mr. DEL TORO: Mm-hmm. Well, in the '80s, right after Franco had died, the
decade after, there was an explosion of movies and comic books--essentially
underground comic books in Spain--that dealt with the war and the post-war in
a very explicit and in a very shocking and a very harrowing manner. And we
were exposed to it as young adults or as late teenagers, whatever. And I
remember reading those underground comic books and watching those movies and
realizing at that age I had not basically heard anything beyond reading "From
Whom the Bells Toll." And I started reading about it, and I became familiar
with how Mexico had a strong link with the civil war because we gave home to
refugees from the republic.

And, eventually, as a young man, I befriended several of them that were key
figures in cinema in Mexico. One of them became sort of a father figure, a
mentor figure. He was a film historian called Emilio Garcia Riera. And he
really talked to me about the civil war and how it affected him, his family.
His mother was a teacher that immigrated with him when he was four years old,
and I started reading more and more about it.

GROSS: And how old were you when you met him?

Mr. DEL TORO: I met him in my late teens or early 20s.

GROSS: Mm-hmm.

Mr. DEL TORO: It was right at high school time, and he was the most
prestigious film historian. I became close to his wife and daughter and
became sort of part of that family for a while. And he passed away a few
years ago, four or five years ago.

DAVIES: Guillermo del Toro will be back in the second half of the show. He
wrote and directed "Pan's Labyrinth." I'm Dave Davies, and this is FRESH AIR.


DAVIES: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Dave Davies, in for Terry Gross.

Our guest is filmmaker Guillermo del Toro. He wrote, directed and produced
the film "Pan's Labyrinth," which won three Academy Awards for Cinematography,
Art Direction, and Makeup. It's now out on DVD.

The movie is set in the aftermath of the Spanish Civil War and focuses on a
young girl, whose new stepfather is a captain in the army of dictator
Francisco Franco. She retreats from the brutality and horror of his world
into her own fairy tale world. Del Toro told Terry Gross in January he'd
always been interested in fairy tales and monster and horror films.

GROSS: You said earlier that you have monsters--you believe in monsters and
you have monsters in your heart, how was the way you put it? What was the way
you put it?

Mr. DEL TORO: Yeah, yeah, yeah. I received Jesus in my heart, but it was

GROSS: Yeah, but that you started to believe not in religion, but in

Mr. DEL TORO: Mm-hmm.

GROSS: And--but you grew up Catholic, right? You were brought up Catholic?

Mr. DEL TORO: Yes. Yes.

GROSS: And from what I read, your grandmother who helped bring you up...

Mr. DEL TORO: Mm-hmm.

GROSS: ...was a very strict Catholic.

Mr. DEL TORO: Yeah. My grandmother was essentially like Piper Laurie in
"Carrie." She was...

GROSS: That's scary.

Mr. DEL TORO: ...absolutely obsessed. Yeah. She was obsessed with purity,
and when I was a kid, she used to put upside down--upside bottle caps on my
little shoes for me to mortify the flesh as I was walking to school. And my
mother discovered my feet were bleeding, and she found the bottle caps and she
scolded my grandmother, and she stopped doing that. But she essentially spoke
to me about original sin when I was very young, a very young kid, and she
spoke to me about hell and purgatory and all the things that awaited me, and
that instilled a real fear in me. I was not so much afraid of death as I was
afraid of where we went after death. And I truly think that horror and
fantasy saved my brain from this torment. Somewhat, they were liberating and
anarchistic, things that allowed me to, you know, to survive.

GROSS: They were about hell, too, in their own ways, but just in a more
fantasy kind of way.

Mr. DEL TORO: Well, I believe there is two kinds of horror films in the same
way that there are two kind of fairy tales, essentially. Those in favor of
the establishment and those against. So there is, in both genres, there is a
beautiful sense of anarchy at their best, a destructive, iconoclastic,
liberating sense of anarchy. I think that those are the movies that are
completely in favor of the monster and of the experience of the monster and of
making the human characters the scary one, and that's what I tried to do in my
movies. I tried to actually try to make the monster as attractive as I can or
as beautiful as I can. Not beautiful in the, you know, Miss Universe pageant
type of way, but beautiful in the way nature is beautiful.

GROSS: What did you make of vampire movies when you were growing up? Because
there's Catholic iconography in vampire films, you know, like, the sign of the
cross is what...

Mr. DEL TORO: Mm-mmm.

GROSS: what makes the vampire perish.

Mr. DEL TORO: And the drinking of the blood.

GROSS: And the drinking of the blood. Exactly.

Mr. DEL TORO: Yes.

GROSS: Exactly. So did those connect with you because you grew up with so
much Catholic iconography?

Mr. DEL TORO: They connected with me, but they connected with me in--I've
been always very interested, for example, in the biology. I wanted to be a
marine biologist when I was a very young kid, and I started, you know,
sea--ocean creatures, deep--ocean--deep-sea creatures, and I used to make
sketches of the internal organs of these creatures and so forth. And I
approach vampires in sort of that curious way. My first film "Cronos" dealt
with vampirism as an addiction, but not a beautiful addiction. Because
everyone would love to see Brad Pitt sucking Winona Ryder's neck, you know.
That's actually a very, you know, glam type of thing to do with vampirism. I
wanted to see a guy that was in such need for a fix of blood that he needed to
lick the blood from the floor of a bathroom, and that was a key scene in
"Cronos." I was not interested in the directly erotic content of it and I was
not interested--I was interested in the biology and the sociology of the most
base vampirism. Not the glamorous one. Not the beautiful rock star one.

GROSS: Did you watch Mexican vampire films that I've read about when you were

Mr. DEL TORO: Yes.

GROSS: And what were they like? You know, I've read about ones that were
shot on the same set as "Dracula," so like at night when the people shooting
"Dracula" would take a break, they'd make the Mexican version of it. So did
you grow up with films like that?

Mr. DEL TORO: Mm-hmm. Yeah, the famous Spanish language "Dracula" that was
made at the same time as the Lugosi one, the Tod Browning one, is actually,
you know, in some parts is very good, in some parts is very bad. But the
Mexican films are another completely different beast. I think Mexican fantasy
films have an incredible freedom about them, which doesn't necessarily yield
the most coherent product. But they have an almost free style association of
genres. You know, you can go from being a spy movie to it being a vampire
movie to it being an erotic thriller without any semblance of transition.

And this incredible hunger for the world of film that knows no boundaries,
that knows no discretion, is the way I approach the movies I make. You know,
I really don't give a damn. I throw myself joyously into what I believe.
Even if it's an absolutely nonprestigious genre. And a lot of times people
look down on it. I love it and I feel incredibly attracted to the base
premises that the genre almost always proposes, and this comes from watching
Mexican films.

GROSS: Now, you started off your movie career doing special effects makeup,
and I think one of your mentors was the person who did the makeup for "The

Mr. DEL TORO: Yes. Dick Smith. I started doing short films, and the short
films I was doing became more and more elaborate with the monsters I wanted to
create, so I started doing effects also for friends in their films. They
started noticing I could do squibs or prosthetics and creatures and so forth,
and they started asking me for them, and I thought it would give me a real
edge to get a professional course on makeup effects. So I contacted Dick
Smith in New York and I studied--took his course, and I opened my own little
makeup effects company with the idea that I would use it to create the effects
in "Cronos," my first film, and then close it right after. And that's what I
did. I sustained my company for around--over a decade, and then when the time
came, I closed it, after "Cronos" was made.

GROSS: How was it helpful to have done makeup special effects before becoming
a director? Did it teach you the things that you could do?

Mr. DEL TORO: Well, what is beautiful is the craft of the genre filmmaker is
to create realities that do not exist. I think film is a simulation of real
life, but is more beautiful to me when it's a simulation of surreal life, when
you actually go on to creating creatures and places that have never existed
outside your imagination, and it taught me how to do it. It taught me the
tools to do it. I dabbled in all sorts of special effects. I dabbled on stop
motion animation. I dabbled on the optical compositing. I dabbled on
prosthetics, puppetry, all these things, and I believe that all that helps you
to create this reality that you want.

GROSS: One of my very favorite movies is the Charles Laughton version of "The
Hunchback of Notre Dame," in which, you know...

Mr. DEL TORO: Yeah.

GROSS: ...with very old-fashioned prosthetics and stuff, they created a kind
of humane, monstrous look for him, and I think I read that that movie was a
movie you liked, too, and...

Mr. DEL TORO: Yes. I love Laughton.

GROSS: You know, could you...

Mr. DEL TORO: I love him as a director, too. I mean, I love "Night of the

GROSS: Mm-hmm. Mm-hmm. So I'm wondering what "The Hunchback of Notre Dame"
meant to you as a child and as a filmmaker.

Mr. DEL TORO: Well, growing up with my grandmother made me feel, really,
like an outcast because every single impulse that seemed natural to me,
gearing towards fantasy, she rejected. Again, much like Ofelia with the
captain, anything that resembled imagination, she found to be the work of the

And I felt like an outcast. I identified with Frankenstein, and I identified
with the hunchback of Notre Dame and so forth. So they were very dear figures
to my heart, you know, whether they were played by Lon Chaney or Charles
Laughton or later by a very conspicuous Anthony Quinn who had no--not even a
hunchback. But the figure was so powerful. It was sort of a reinvention of
the fairy tale myth of "Beauty and the Beast," evidently, reinvented by Victor
Hugo. But it is such a primal myth, "Beauty and the Beast," that I was always
branded by that. My grandmother, by the way, exorcised me twice when I was a

GROSS: She had you exorcised?

Mr. DEL TORO: She--no, she exorcised me, personally, herself...


Mr. DEL TORO: ...twice because, you know, she hated the things I would draw
or the things I would talk about or the sculptures I would do and, you know, I
think that I haven't had a bad review that bad in my career.

GROSS: Did you ever think that maybe you were possessed by demons?

Mr. DEL TORO: Well, I thought about--I mean, I was a firm Catholic believer.
I was a choir boy. I was a member of the Virgin Mary Society. And I was this
and I was that, and then when you reach your teenage years, I discovered, you
know, that the world was much wider. I started working, as I said, in a place
that I had to go through the morgue, and one day I saw such a horrifying sight
at the morgue that instantly showed me there was no real order in the
universe, at least not a conscious order dictated by a guy in white robes and
a long beard, and it really shook me. And so in my teenage years, my early
teens were very difficult living with my grandmother, and she...

GROSS: What did you see?

Mr. DEL TORO: I saw a pile of fetuses that was about five feet tall, and it
was such a harrowing variety of things there going on at every level. I just
realized--I guess we are on our own, you know, so we'd better make the best of
it. But it's this world that I saw that made me love with a passion the world
that I was creating. Because the world that I was creating, in which I had a
semblance of control over the things that happened and how the stories ended
became a lifesaver for me.

GROSS: Do you remember what your grandmother did when she tried to exorcise

Mr. DEL TORO: Yes, yes, of course. She had always a little bit of holy
water in the living room and she had her little box of Catholic trinkets and
she had holy water there. Don't ask me why, but she always had a little. And
I was drawing monsters and doing things, and she said to me, `Why don't you
draw something beautiful?' and I said I wouldn't, and we started arguing back
and forth, and she went for the holy water and she started praying, saying an
"Our Father," and she started tossing the holy water at me, and I started
laughing. But I started laughing at how ridiculous it was for a grown woman
to be doing this thing to a kid that was drawing monsters, and she was so
scared about me laughing, and she started screaming, `Don't you dare laughing
at the holy water,' and I would say, `I'm not laughing at the holy water. I'm
laughing at you using the holy water.'

But, you know, it was beyond repair. I think that the one thing I learned in
loving my grandmother is that you can love someone not for their qualities but
for their defects. You can love someone because of their difference with you,
not because of their similarities with you, and I think it was an important
lesson in my life.

DAVIES: Filmmaker Guillermo del Toro speaking with Terry Gross. More after a
break. This is FRESH AIR.


DAVIES: Let's get back to Terry's interview with Guillermo del Toro, who
wrote and directed the film "Pan's Labyrinth."

GROSS: You know, in talking about some of the horrible things you've been
exposed to in real life as opposed to in your fantasy life, in 1997 your
father was kidnapped for ransom...

Mr. DEL TORO: Mm-hmm.

GROSS: ...and was released, I think, after 72 days.

Mr. DEL TORO: That's right, yeah.

GROSS: Why was he kidnapped? Why was he chosen?

Mr. DEL TORO: Well, he was--it was purely--you know, these things are run
like franchises, or were run like franchises, in Mexico, you know, and they
target people that have a certain profile and they go for them. It was purely
commercial. You know, they were doing a little commercial venture, those
guys, and the side of mankind, or the side of society, that you see through
the kidnapping is quite harrowing. I mean, you are not only exposed to the
fact that the kidnappers are doing what they do, but the fact that society has
a certain strata, politically, and in terms of Mexico, the police, some of the
police work that is as corrupt you can ever imagine, and you get exposed to a
whole new world. It's almost like somebody lifts the rock of reality and
allows you to see the underbelly of it, and you never see reality quite the

GROSS: Were you involved in the negotiations or anything?

Mr. DEL TORO: I was. I was, with my two brothers. We--I took the last leg
of the negotiations. My elder brother took the first, my younger brother took
the second, and I took the last leg of the negotiations, and it's--you know,
it certainly was quite an experience.

GROSS: Is this why you don't live in Mexico anymore?

Mr. DEL TORO: Yeah. Unfortunately, I have to be exiled of it involuntarily
because I'm a family man, and I didn't want to expose any of my family to it,
not any longer.

GROSS: You know, we were talking about how people need stories to tell
themselves to help them get through life...

Mr. DEL TORO: Yes.

GROSS: ...and for some people, it's religion, for you it was fairy tales and
horror stories and monster stories. Do you feel like you still need stories
in your life to help you make sense of life, and what stories do you turn to
now, besides the ones that you create?

Mr. DEL TORO: Absolutely I do. Absolutely I do. I mean, during the
kidnapping, one of the things that the negotiator tells you is, he tells you,
`What do you do for a living?' and you say--I responded, in my case, `I write.
I write and direct.' And he said, `Then go write every morning.' And I found
myself writing every morning my fantasy stories to escape because those two,
three hours I would be able to dedicate to my creatures and my stories in the
morning would absolutely give me the energy and the power to get through the
day in that harrowing situation, so I need them. I need them many times.
Many times a good story has saved my sanity, at the very least, and sometimes
my life. I mean, there are moments in my life where I have felt so low and
things have been so adverse that, all of a sudden, I read a story that moves
me, that moves me to tears, and I see the world in a different way. I think
that's the power of any art. But in my case, my proclivity, of course, is
towards monsters.

GROSS: You've described "Pan's Labyrinth" as a parable of disobedience and
choice set in the aftermath of the Spanish Civil War, and...

Mr. DEL TORO: Mm-hmm.

GROSS: ...that left me wondering about the times in your life--outside of
when you were young and you were disobedient of your grandmother--but about
the times in your life when you were disobedient and when you've made
difficult choices.

Mr. DEL TORO: Mm-hmm.

GROSS: Choices that could have gotten you into an adult form of trouble.

Mr. DEL TORO: Yes, well, many times, including--I mean, just, again, the

GROSS: Hm-hmm.

Mr. DEL TORO: such a crucial occurrence. You are faced constantly
with that type of choices during an experience like that every day at every
turn, you know, and you encounter things that go wrong every day.

I remember going to the bank, for example, to try and open a safe, a safety
deposit box, and they wouldn't let us open it, even though we had the key or
key, they wouldn't allow us in because they were afraid if my father didn't
survive, we wouldn't repay a loan he had taken, and they were doing things
completely illegal, and I would tell the guy, `This is completely illegal,'
and the guy said, `I just follow orders, I don't make them.' And that, I find,
you know, that type of obedience, where you find refuge in the corporate, or
when you find refuge in the political or religious majority, is such an
absolutely despicable cowardice. You know, the cowardice that the captain
displays by making the others nonhuman so he can torture or kill them.

And, you know, I think that every time you turn towards a truth that is not
your own, that you confide the guidance of your soul to somebody else's
choices, you are making a huge mistake. And even though I have done every
kind of movie--commercial, noncommercial, smaller, larger--every movie I have
made, it has come from my heart, from a desire to tell a romp, to tell an
entertaining story or to tell a moving story. And I have, to this day--and I
knock on wood--I have not done a movie just to do a movie, just to get a check
or just to get by. And those are choices that also you will face every day.

GROSS: I take it, by the way, your father survived the kidnapping OK?

Mr. DEL TORO: Yes, yes, he did. Now, every time I see him I demand for him
to do something entertaining because he was so expensive. I say, `Dad, sing,
do something, you know. We booked you for life.'

GROSS: Does he still live in Mexico?

Mr. DEL TORO: Yeah, he does. He's an extraordinarily strong man.

GROSS: Mm-hmm.

Mr. DEL TORO: Extraordinarily strong.

GROSS: Well, I want to thank you so much for talking with us.

Mr. DEL TORO: Oh, no. My pleasure.

DAVIES: Guillermo del Toro speaking with Terry Gross in January. He wrote,
directed and produced "Pan's Labyrinth," which has just come out on DVD.

Coming up, had enough Shrek yet? David Edelstein reviews "Shrek the Third."
This is FRESH AIR.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Review: David Edelstein reviews "Shrek the Third"

In his 95 years, the late writer and cartoonist William Steig created quite a
few misunderstood giants, but none, thanks to movies, as popular as the
lovable, coarse ogre Shrek. In 2001, Shrek became the star of a
computer-animated film voiced by Mike Myers. "Shrek 2" followed a few years
later, and now we have "Shrek the Third." Film critic David Edelstein has a


When I was a kid in the '60s, my parents routinely dumped me and my little
brother at the movies, where we'd see pitiful imports like "Santa Claus vs.
the Martians" or slapstick comedies with Dean Jones and a willful dog or ghost
or Volkswagen. But nowadays, at least in my protective circles, adults go
with children to what studio executives call "handhold movies," movies for
grownups and kids. There's action and tomfoolery and goody-good life lessons
for the young 'uns, nonstop pop culture in-jokes for adults and fart gags for
everyone. In the last few years, I've held my kids hands through great
movies, like "The Incredibles" and "Finding Nemo." "Shrek the Third" is not in
that league, but it's a flat-out triumph of comedy writing. I'm guessing
there were many drafts by some of the best gag artists in the business, and
then gloss after gloss by astronomically-paid rewrite people.
Computer-generated animated movies with wall-to-wall jokes can be unbelievably
irritating, but these jokes are the best that money can buy.

I should say, I'm no "Shrek" pushover. I found the first film laborious,
ugly, and whenever Eddie Murphy's donkey sidekick was rolling his eyes and
making arch comments, like so-called "colored help" in old movies,
excruciating. But the sequel was lighter on its feet and, by kid movie
standards, rather subversive. The fat green ogre Shrek, voiced by Mike Myers,
married the willowy blond princess Fiona, voiced by Cameron Diaz, and it
turned out she'd been under a spell. She was a fat green ogre herself. The
only problem was that she and Shrek weren't allowed to live happily--and
grossly--ever after in the swamp. The kings and queens and fairy godmothers
and Prince Charmings wanted her skinny and blond again.

"Shrek 2" had wave upon wave of parodies and inspired vocal turns. "Shrek the
Third" has more. It's a busy movie, crammed with plot. Fiona's dad, voiced
by John Cleese, is on his deathbed, and Fiona and Shrek are expected to carry
on the pomp and circumstance. But big flatulent ogres and royal protocol
don't mix. Shrek wants to wallow in the swamp with his beloved wife and
beloved vermin, so he sets out to find another heir to the throne, one Arthur
Pendragon, a nerd at a medieval prep school across the ocean and voiced by an
engaging Justin Timberlake. Shrek and his two sidekicks, Murphy's
insufferable donkey and Antonio Banderas' swashbuckling feline, who someone
compensates for the donkey, pull out to sea, whereupon Fiona stuns her husband
with the news that she's pregnant.

"Shrek 2" introduced, hilariously, a host of figures from other fairy tales,
and "Shrek the Third" pulls out the stops. The spurned Prince Charming,
voiced by Rupert Everett, assembles a crew of defeated fairy tale villains
like Captain Hook and Rumplestiltskin to take back the kingdom. Here's Prince
Charming torturing Pinocchio, whose nose gives him away when he lies, forcing
him to sound like the typical White House spokesman.

(Soundbite of "Shrek the Third")

Mr. CODY CAMERON: (As Pinocchio) (Singing).

Mr. RUPERT EVERETT: (As Prince Charming) You. You can't lie, so tell me,
puppet, where is Shrek?

Mr. CAMERON: (As Pinocchio) Ahh, I don't know where he's not!

Mr. EVERETT: (As Prince Charming) You're telling me you don't know where
Shrek is.

Mr. CAMERON: (As Pinocchio) It wouldn't be inaccurate to assume that I
couldn't exactly not say that it is or isn't almost partially incorrect.

Mr. EVERETT: (As Prince Charming) So you do know where he is?

Mr. CAMERON: (As Pinocchio) On the contrary, I've possibly more or less not
definitely rejected the idea that in no way, with any amount of uncertainty
that I undeniably...

Mr. EVERETT: (As Prince Charming) Stop it!

Mr. CAMERON: (As Pinocchio) or do not know where he shouldn't probably
be if that indeed wasn't where he isn't, even if he was now where I knew he

Mr. EVERETT: (As Prince Charming) Ah!

Mr. CAMERON: (As Pinocchio) ...hiding behind the door--I--ee!

(Soundbite of montage)

Mr. CAMERON: (As Pinocchio) Enough! Shrek went out to bring back the next
heir! Ah!

(Soundbite of laughing)

Mr. EVERETT: (As Prince Charming) He's bringing back the next heir.

Mr. CAMERON: (As Pinocchio) No!

(Sound of Pinocchio's nose growing)

Mr. EVERETT: (As Prince Charming) Hook! Get rid of this new king.

Mr. IAN McSHANE: (As Captain Hook) Right!

Mr. EVERETT: (As Prince Charming) But bring Shrek to me. I have something
special in mind for him.

(End of soundbite)

EDELSTEIN: Prince Charming wants to stage for the kingdom a traditional fairy
tale in which he gets to slay the ogre. But what happens when he and Shrek
face off before the throng is a nerd's dream. It's where wit conquers good

"Shrek the Third" has clunkers. It uses old rock songs promiscuously, and
whoever thought it was a good joke to play "Live and Let Die" at the king's
funeral should re-examine that decision inside an iron maiden. But the bodily
function jokes fit happily into the picture's slob-happy worldview. Early on,
Shrek wakes up beside Fiona and nuzzles her. "Morning breath," he says,
laughing. "Isn't it wonderful?"

DAVIES: David Edelstein is film critic for New York Magazine.


DAVIES: For Terry Gross, I'm Dave Davies.
Transcripts are created on a rush deadline, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of Fresh Air interviews and reviews are the audio recordings of each segment.

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