STACI LAYNE WILSON reporting
Guillermo del Toro, director
Charlie Hunnam, actor
Guillermo, were you looking to raise the bar for your own work, with this film?
GUILLERMO DEL TORO: Yes! You have to take into account that we were shooting 12 weeks ago. The way I shoot is that I shoot and edit, at the same time. The day after we shoot a scene, I come in and it’s edited, no matter how complicated it is. That allowed me to start picking some shots to prepare for Comic-Con. None of the shots were final, the way they’re going to be in the movie. I still have to torture people a little more about flares and drops in the lens, and stuff like that. To me, this movie was a big growth for me, as a director. In the same way that Pan’s Labyrinth represented the chance to do something in the Spanish language, and wanting to show what I could do with more support and more freedom, Pacific Rim represented that, on another scale. As a director, I concentrate on things that I felt, personally, that I needed to improve from the other films, and concentrate on things I hadn’t tried. I shot the movie very differently, in many ways, but with the same philosophy and visual style. It was a huge experience. It was the best time I’ve had on any film set, in all my life. I enjoyed absolutely every moment, and [the cast] was a big part of that.
Charlie, what do you think it is about your character that audiences will be able to identify with?
CHARLIE HUNNAM: I play a guy, called Raleigh, who, in this world that Guillermo has created, was one of the super-soldiers that pilot these giant robots. When you meet me, in the beginning of the story, I’ve suffered a giant loss. Not only has it killed my sense of self-worth, but also my will to fight and keep on going. And then, Rinko Kikuchi and Idris Elba, and a couple other people, bring me out of retirement to try to help with this grand push. I think that journey is a very relatable one. Everybody, at some point in their life, has fallen down and not felt like getting back up, but you have to, no matter how difficult it is. That’s something that’s pretty easily relatable to audiences, I hope. The film is gonna be fucked, if it isn’t.
Well, also there’s this whole imminent apocalypse that really distracts from a lot of the psychological stuff going on between them, but it’s really more of a process of both of us opening up our hearts again enough to be able to trust somebody; it’s a love story without a love story. It’s about all of the necessary elements of love without arriving at love itself: I need to trust Mako and respect her and open up my mind to her.
It’s so fascinating, the whole caveat of how we operate this machine – which is through a neurological bridge – we’re neurologically connected. So everything in my head is available to Mako – and vice versa. If you imagine that. I mean, we’re all very careful about how we present ourselves and what we say, and how much of ourselves we let out. And to just allow someone into your brain, to give them complete access to every thought, and memory, and fucked up thing you ever did – and every great thing you ever did – it's really a big proposition. And for two very damaged people who have decided they’re going to keep it all inside because they’re terrible human beings who have made so many mistakes – to go through a process of opening up enough to allow someone access to your head – it’s really the heart of this film.
DEL TORO: When Charlie and Rinko’s characters meet, they’ve both lost a lot in the past. One of the ideas in the script is that two people who are really, really hurt can become one, both metaphorically and in life. When they meet, they’re two empty pieces and connect, almost like a puzzle.
Guillermo, what inspired this film for you?
DEL TORO: There are two sub-genres that are very, very popular and very powerful in Japan. One is kaiju and the other one is the giant robot sub-genre. Occasionally, they mix together, mostly in TV series. These are things that were part of my nutritional make-up, growing up. I was literally raised watching those movies. One of the points I wanted to make on the movie, and I made it clear to my designers and every department head, was that we should not reference other movies. We should not go and re-watch anything. We said, “Let’s create the world that we’re doing.” It falls in here and there, but we should not be doing a referential film. If things happen, they happen because they are being made by people that love those genres, but I didn’t want to be post-modern or referential, or just belong to a genre. I really wanted to create something new that was madly in love with those things. I tried to bring epic beauty to it, and drama and operatic grandeur. In many of the battles, you’re going to see that it’s executed a different way than you normally would. I cannot say more because I would be spoiling stuff. It’s a year away. But, there are things in the movie that I’m proudest of. Part of that is the way it was designed, thought of and collaborated on. The things are not executed in the way that you necessarily think they would be. I thought, “Where can I go and what point of view can I take that is from creating a new world?” I wanted it to be a movie that I was proud of, on its own.
Is there a specific name for these giant robots?
DEL TORO: They are called Jaegers, and each of them comes from a different country. There is a Russian robot, and Crimson Typhoon is the Chinese robot, and so on. They each have a name and they are as much characters as the pilots. I wanted each robot to have a personality and for you to feel when the robot gets hurt or when the robot wins. I wanted, very much, to be able to make the audience feel for these machines, as much as they feel for other characters.
HUNNAM: When I found out the kind of spirit of the Jaeger that Rinko and I pilot together, it coincided, coincidentally, with a sub-category of society that I’ve been obsessed with, my whole life. I can’t give it away, but that this is the name of the particular Jaeger and what its spirit was, and I just felt, in a grandiose moment, that it was almost destiny for me to be playing this guy, just because the spirit of this robot is something that I have admired and, at periods of my life, tried to emulate. So, that was a really beautiful coincidence.
DEL TORO: The pilots name their robots, depending on where they are coming from. The American robot has the World War II planes. The bombers name their planes and there is an affection. We spent so much time doing the signage. When you see the robots, you’re gonna see them move and you’re gonna see the mask, but between the mask, you’re gone see so many little parts, doing the real job. We designed them as practical machines. We didn’t design them as something we just could bullshit moving. We really went in and said, “This is where they refuel them. This is where they put the new cells.” You can see all the port markings, as if it was on a helicopter. We took a lot of reference from giant machines. We went and took a file of photographs from the most massive airplanes and ships. Some of the airplanes were so massive that they never took off. We took all those things from real machines, and part of it was giving them names, like pilots give to their ships.
A lot of your films have a mixture of practical and CGI. How did you approach keeping the practical element in this one?
DEL TORO: If you see my movies, sometimes I use CGI. Pan’s Labyrinth contains a lot of CGI, and so do the Hellboy movies. But, there’s a school of thought on CGI, where you do an impossible camera move, every time, and everything is sleek and clear and beautiful, and I do exactly the opposite. I dirty it. There are streams of oil in the lens, and drops of water. There is dirt in the lenses. In some instances, I even scratch the glass on the virtual lens, so that you can have refractions of a lens that has gone through a lot of time in battle. You get a sense of all those defects. Even as early as Mimic, I had to have a real element that makes the things make contact with the plate. So, if the monster hits a puddle of mud, I want that mud to really bounce off the ground. In the case of Pacific Rim, we really built a lot of stuff that was oversized and difficult, in order to bring that tactile effect. We built a whole street of Tokyo, and we rig it with shockers, so that every time the monster took a step, the whole street would vibrate and the cars would jump and the walls would shake and the lamp posts would shake and the air-conditioning units would fall. Normally, that would be digital, but it’s about making the plate seem to exist in a world where it’s hard to shoot. So, instead of doing an impossible move, I tell my guys at ILM to come back to the same shot. Nobody does that in CG. Every shot is great and every shot is new. But, I tell them, “Come back to the same master, as if we were shooting this fight for real and we needed to reuse the same angle. Don’t always do the operation of the camera so smooth. Miss the punch. Be late for the monster breaking the building. I know we’re spending so much money on breaking the building, but come in three seconds later, so that we can keep that reality.” So, the dirtier the effect, the more real. That is in play in Pan’s Labyrinth, and that same philosophy comes into this one.