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Guillermo del Toro on Splashy Aquatic-Creature Sex and ‘The Shape of Water’ in Venice

VENICE, Italy – Director Guillermo del Toro was in top form Thursday at the Venice press conference for his well-received Cold War-era fairy tale “The Shape of Water,” in which a mute cleaning lady named Elisa played by Sally Hawkins becomes wrapped up with a gilled primordial Amazonian water creature. And yes, the characters have sex.

Describing what he called his film’s “Beauty and the Beast” element, Del Toro said: “There’s two versions of ‘Beauty and the Beast’ normally. One is the puritanical one where they love each other in a platonic way but they never f—. And the other one is really the reverse…and this is kind of creepy for me. I am not interested in either of them,” he said.

“I wanted to make clear that character [Elisa] is a real woman, and a complete woman: masturbating and making her breakfast with equal ease, but also in terms of the sex in the movie. I wanted it to exist in a natural, beautiful non-exploitative, completely organic way,” del Toro said, adding: “But they do f—!”

The film’s powerful romantic streak takes precedence over its political connotations, del Toro said.

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“Fantasy is a very political genre,” the director noted. “But the first political act we have [to do] right now is to choose love over fear, because we live in times when fear and cynicism are used in a way that is very pervasive and persuasive, and our first duty when we wake up is to believe in love.”

Del Toro did point out parallels between the fantasy world in his film, which is set during the Cold War, and the present day. “When Americans talk about America being great again, I think they are dreaming about what was in gestation in 1962: an America that was futuristic, full of promise,” del Toro said. “But at the same time there was racism, sexism, classism. There were a lot of the problems we are facing today.”

Hawkins, who puts in a tour-de-force performance as Elisa, said that when she was approached by del Toro to play Elisa, she had been toying around with some ideas for an aquatic film of her own. Those ideas became building blocks for her character in “The Shape of Water.”

“I was writing this piece for a short [film]…about a woman who didn’t know she was a mermaid,” Hawkins said, recalling what she described as “just random notes.”

“I got a call from my agent saying: ‘Guillermo is thinking of you for an idea. It’s not written. It’s about this woman who falls in love with a merman. It’s set during the Cold War era.

“I almost dropped the phone! It’s magic and it’s rare. It’s one of those synchronistic odd things that are almost beyond your understanding,” Hawkins said.

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