This previous Friday night, the Chicago International Film Festival honored writer/director Guillermo del Toro during their "Cinema of the Americas Tribute." Wholly worthy of such honor, del Toro has earned the title "visionary" with films like Hellboy, Mimic, The Devil's Backbone, and Pan's Labyrinth.
Delivering a speech in his honor was actor Ron Perlman, (Hellboy, FX's "Sons of Anarchy,") who also appeared on the red carpet for the event. I had the opportunity to speak to both.
First, Ron Perlman:
What would the horror world be without del Toro?
Not nearly as rich.
What have you learned as an actor while working with him?
I've learned that enthusiasm and commitment really make their way to the screen. That showing true devotion to an idea and the material will ultimately be discernible by the audience. He's someone who brings that to every project that he works on. I've never seen a more wide-eyed, naive, flat-out enthusiasm as with Guillermo. He's so committed to everything he does. And he's so original. He doesn't think like everyone else. So originality is not something that is celebrated as much in our culture, but it should be.
Is [originality] what motivated you to work with del Toro?
Well, he sent me this letter, which I'm going to talk about tonight. [It] showed so much appreciation for everything that he was going to do. He immediately got my attention. And then the script that accompanied the letter was unlike any genre script I had ever read. He was reinventing the language of the drama. He wasn't doing anything that was derivative, or an homage, or anything that you had ever seen before. He was taking something and setting it in an amazingly articulate way. You know you're going to get into a boxing ring with someone who is much smarter than you, and you're gonna come out probably smelling better for it.
A few minutes later, one of the greatest horror directors of our time walked up to me, and introduced himself by saying:
[Jokingly] My shoe is untied. As a fat man, [bending over], I should go to the bathroom.
What still inspires you when you are working in the horror genre, after all of these years?
I try to find inspiration in books, paintings, illustrations. The one thing I try to avoid is being inspired by other movies. Because then you end up talking about movies about movies. I try to talk about films that are culturally or spiritually diverse. The movies I make are in love with cinema. They try to control that. They try to be in some way also drinking from other sources.
When it comes to subject matter in films, what do you think scares Americans the most?
I think it's a lot of things. The sad thing is that only a decade ago, I was making Mimic, and I was talking to someone of the studio level. I said, "I want the lead actor to be Andre Braugher, who is an African-American actor, to be the husband of Mira Sorvino's character." They said, "America is not prepared for that." Ten years ago.
Eh, it's changed somewhat since then.
Yes, it's changed a lot, and it should change more. I don't think that it's Americans that are afraid. I think it's the studios that are overbearingly protective of anything that they think will ruffle the feathers. But every time someone breaks those ideas, it's a success.