Guillermo del Toro Calls ‘The Shape of Water’ a New Type of ‘Beauty and the Beast’

Stars Sally Hawkins, Michael Shannon, Octavia Spencer, Richard Jenkins, Doug Jones, and Michael Stuhlbarg brought an air — nay, a wave — of beauty to Beverly Hills’ Samuel Goldwyn Theater at Wednesday night’s premiere of “The Shape of Water.”

Co-written by Guillermo del Toro and Vanessa Taylor, the sci-fi fairy tale tells the story of Elisa (Hawkins), a mute woman in 1960s Cold War America who falls in love with an amphibian man that is the subject of a classified government experiment.

“The idea was to create, through fantasy and science fiction forms, a new type of ‘Beauty and the Beast’ in which the beauty is someone you can relate to — not a perfect princess,” said del Toro, who also directed and produced the film. “And the beast doesn’t need to transform to find love.”

He continued, “The creation of the creature demanded a lot because we were not creating a monster; we were creating a leading man. That required a little more sophistication in the execution of the suit, the makeup, and the performance.”

Hawkins said when she got the call from her agent saying that del Toro wanted her to star in his film, she said yes even though there was no script yet.

“This was about three years before it even came into reality. I thought the role might go away to a bigger, more sparkly star. But it didn’t go away,” she said. “After not hearing from him for a long time, I bumped into him at a mad party by some sheer coincidence. He was drunk — and he never drinks! He picked me up in his arms and said, ‘You are going to do my film!’ And I said, ‘Of course! I already said yes! I don’t even have to read the script. I’m there.'”

Although the movie is full of fantastical elements, its message is far from distant, said Spencer, who plays the role of Zelda. “It feels very relevant, unfortunately,” she said.

She added that the most difficult part of getting into character was stepping into the time period: “The ’60s were not a time for people who look like me. I’ve played women from that era. What was refreshing was that even though Zelda is African American … I got to be like every other woman,” Spencer said. “She felt quite contemporary.”

Composer Alexandre Desplat said his approach to scoring the film was driven by an intention to keep viewers feeling like they are underwater.

“When you hear music in the distance while swimming, it sounds muffled, warm, and strange,” he said. “That’s what I wanted to create.”

Producer J. Miles Dale, who previously worked with del Toro on “The Strain” and “Mama,” said their budget was smaller this time around.

“Relatively speaking, this was a smaller movie. ‘Crimson Peak’ was probably three times the budget of this movie, and ‘Pacific Rim’ was probably 10 times the budget of this movie,” Dale said. “He’s got a big appetite for resources. … It is a period movie, so we had to be smart with how we spent our resources to keep true to the vision.”

Alejandro G. Iñárritu, a longtime fan of del Toro, said his biggest takeaway from the film was the impact of abused power and “the role of ideologies in disguising reality and making people suffer.”

The Shape of Water” bows Dec. 1.

More Scene

  • Dylan O'Brien, Justin Theroux, Angela Bassett,

    Travis Knight on Getting the Call to Direct ‘Bumblebee’: ‘Did You Guys Get The Right Number?’

    “Bumblebee” director Travis Knight admits he couldn’t believe it when Paramount Studios and producer Lorenzo di Bonaventura called him two years ago, asking him to helm the upcoming “Transformers” movie. “My initial question was, ‘Did you guys get the right number?'” Knight joked at Sunday’s premiere of “Bumblebee” at the Chinese Theater in Los Angeles. “You’ve seen [...]

  • Director Peter JacksonWarner Bros. Pictures THEY

    Peter Jackson Talks Transition From 'Hobbit' Movies to World War I Documentary

    Peter Jackson remains a bit astounded at his transition four years ago from the Shire of Middle Earth to the French battlefields of World War I. Jackson introduced his documentary “They Shall Not Grow Old” Friday night at the Linwood Dunn Theatre in Hollywood, four weeks after it aired on Armistice Day on the BBC. [...]

  • Hillary Clinton'Network' play opening night, New

    Hillary Clinton Attends Opening of Broadway's 'Network'

    A 1976 film might not be expected to translate seamlessly to Broadway in 2018, but for the cast and creative team behind “Network,” which premiered Thursday night with Hillary Clinton in the audience, the story still feels uncomfortably close to home. “It was a satire then, and now it’s documentary realism,” said Lee Hall, who [...]

  • Children's Defense Fund

    Angela Bassett, Conan O'Brien Honor Young Students at Children's Defense Fund Gala

    Awards season may be right around the corner, but on Thursday, Hollywood took a break from the glitz and glam to celebrate five high school students who have excelled academically despite facing extreme adversity both at home and in the classroom. The 29th annual Beat the Odds Awards ceremony at the Skirball Cultural Center featured [...]

  • Dolly Parton attends the world premiere

    Dolly Parton Hopes to Perform 'Dumplin'' Song at the Golden Globes

    It’s not easy to upstage Jennifer Aniston. But everyone at Thursday night’s premiere of her new Netflix flick, “Dumplin’,” seemed to be singing the praises of Dolly Parton, who earlier in the day received a Golden Globe nomination for “Girl in the Movies,” one of half a dozen new songs she wrote for the film. [...]

  • Lena WaitheVariety's Power of Women, Arrivals,

    Who Lena Waithe Thinks Should Replace Kevin Hart as Oscar Host

    Lena Waithe thinks Kevin Hart could have handled his Oscar debacle in a much better way. “I kind of wish that he would have taken a moment to let it be a teachable moment and to say, ‘Hey, what I said wasn’t right and I want to make that right,’ not just to keep the [...]

  • Christie Brinkley32nd Annual Footwear News Achievement

    Christie Brinkley at 64: 'Women My Age Cannot Allow the Numbers to Define Them'

    Christie Brinkley may be turning 65 next year, but don’t you dare try to tell her what she should — or shouldn’t — wear. “I think women my age cannot allow the numbers to define them. We need to constantly redefine the number,” Brinkley told Variety on Tuesday at the Footwear News Achievement Awards in New [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content