Along with 2010 films The Extra Man and The Romantics, Katie Holmes ventures into the horror genre with screenplay writer Guillermo del Toro in Don't Be Afraid of the Dark. Buzzine got a chance to sit down with the two of them, and Guillermo del Toro talks about how the original film from 1973 influenced him and how he has changed it, and Katie Holmes tells us about balancing motherhood with a successful acting career.
Izumi Hasegawa: How much did you change it and date it, or is it exactly like the original, shot for shot?
Guillermo del Toro: We changed origin. Some of the creatures are completely different and the family dynamics are completely different. The other one was a grown-up woman, Kim Darby, but playing an adult married woman that was almost pathological and passive, and there was no kid; the creatures were not fairies nor had a magical origin at all; there was no adoptive family or any of those dynamics. It's very different. What we did is preserve the landmark moments I remembered as a kid, but tried to create a lot of new ones. A lot of the best scares in the new movie are completely new.
IH: Was it challenging to hire Katie Holmes, who's always being chased by paparazzi? Was it difficult to shoot?
GDT: It was actually remarkably uneventful. I don't know if we were too far in Australia or what, and we had paparazzi now and then. There was a really funny thing, because there was one piece of news report: "Fiery Explosion in Old Set Car with Katie Holmes." It was a day she was not on the set, she was not even on the set in the car, and the car stopped and a little smoke came out of the muffler. That was it. And they were like, "Firey explosion consumes..." But we didn't have any problems. She was very low maintenance. She was really, really surprisingly easy to access, low maintenance, so I don't have many of those anecdotes.
IH: Did Tom [Cruise] visit the set?
GDT: Tom came a few times, yeah.
IH: And Suri?
GDT: And Suri, yeah. Suri was there most of the time playing hide and seek.
IH: What was it about Troy [Nixey] that made you feel comfortable with him?
GDT: I liked his short film a lot, Latchkey's Lament. I thought it was visually very whimsical, and I thought he had the right baroque, twisted sensibility in his drawing as an artist, and I admire him as a craftsman and I thought that was a good match.
IH: Stylistically, the film looks a little bit like Pan's Labyrinth...
GDT: In a strange way, like the garden, and this and that do. The house is awesome. The house is completely palatial and looks more like my library than my movies. But all of that -- I made it a point to allow Troy to design with as little or no input from me. I said, "Well, he has similar sensibilities as I..." but I didn't want to be, "Oh, can you put this so all the trees look natural...?" All that came from him. They were described in the screenplay, but they were described more in the style of the Natural History Museum in London, which is a folly of natural creatures and all that, and he went with a completely more whimsical, more fairy tale take on it.
IH: Given the influence that the original telefilm had on you as a kid, what do you remember from it that really stood out? Do you find that, because it was something from your youth, you tended to remember things differently?
GDT: When I saw the movie again years and years ago, like more than a decade later after seeing it – I saw it in the '80s or early '90s again – and it was very different than I remembered. Not only how it ages or not -- a lot of the moments I thought I liked were not in the movie. Things that you go, "I remember this shot..." and it was not -- you had made them up. So those things are in this movie -- the things that I remembered fondly that were not real.
IH: Bailee Madison is amazing. Where did you find her?
GDT: We were doing casting with a lot of girls reading, and then suddenly Natalie Portman recommended Bailee. She said, "I just did a movie called Brothers with this girl that is a fantastic actor -- you should check her," and we tested her, and she just took the movie. As you see her, she's a little girl with the spirit of Winston Churchill in her. She's a great diplomat; she's like a state emissary. She's very regal and very serious and poised, very serious about her craft.
IH: Katie, what was it about this that attracted you? Did you know this movie before?
Katie Holmes: I didn't, and my first encounter with this was the script, and of course I knew Guillermo. I just fell in love with these characters, and I like the genre of classic horror movies and, in particular, ones that have characters and stories that can stand apart from the use of the creatures. I thought this did that so beautifully, and I loved Kim because she is a strong female character who makes real, definitive choices in the movie. It was very exciting.
IH: As an audience, what do you think it is that we like about being scared so much?
GDT: I think it's socially proven in the same way that we like to laugh and watch a comedy, or go to a comedy club. It's part of our social function. We seek entertainment that gives us stuff that we don't get in large doses in normal life. It's the same reason why car rage occurs in highways or streets, because you need an outlet for certain basic impulses, and I think horror gives you that.
KH: I love movies, and I love the different genres of film. I agree with Guillermo. I think audiences like to have a release and a relief, and whether it's through laughter or tears or being frightened, you get out that emotion you're carrying around with you. There's nothing like not knowing what's coming, and there's nothing like a film that really delivers great tension and really gives you that thrill. There's really nothing better; it's like great theatre – you really feel something, and you identify, and those people up there are you.
GDT: But it's funny because you almost go to the movies in those genres to obtain the sensation -- you go to a comedy to get laughter and a little bit of recognition of yourself; melodrama -- you expect, if possible, to cry; and horror movies... So you go, and people that don't like crying or don't like comedy or don't like horror don't go to those movies. I adore movies like Dumb and Dumber, or movies that are completely base comedies -- I adore them, and there's not a bad fart joke in the world for me. My wife goes, "I don't want to see that movie." It's the same with horror – there are some types of horror that people go, "I don't see that type of movie."
IH: Katie, could you talk about your character's fear of motherhood but really becoming a mom toward the end of the film?
KH: What I loved about this character is the journey she went on, and starting at the beginning of the film, she rejects being a mother and really being close to Sally, and it's hinted at that Kim had a tough childhood so she doesn't want to be a mother. I think, through the sheer moments of listening to Sally, she becomes her friend, and it is then where she makes the choice to really pay attention and take care of her, and almost without any effort or despite herself, she becomes a mother. It is really culminated at the end.
IH: How about your experience as a mother?
KH: I think a tremendous amount of strength is revealed when you become a parent that you didn't know you had, and a tremendous burst of love that you didn't know you were capable of feeling and giving. Both of those things are a surprise, and they're the best.
IH: Katie, to what extent does the actual house inform your performance? Does it have a haunted house vibe, or was it not nearly as creepy as it looks onscreen?
KH: Kim helped to design the house, so I didn't find it too creepy. I thought it was beautiful, and it was important that the house looked very nice because that was their jobs, and you always want to believe that their jobs are their jobs. It was very important in this movie because it explained why Alex was so distracted and not available to Sally. I didn't find it creepy; I found the locations in the house quite beautiful, and I was excited about it because I could feel that juxtaposition of something beautiful set against something incredibly terrifying. I really loved it. It had a fantasy element to it.
IH: Did you know what the creatures in this film were going to look like? What was it like relating when they're not there?
KH: I was privy to that information. I saw them, and I was blown away. So cool looking and totally creepy and disgusting. The previs was very helpful. I didn't do much green screen. The previs helped because then I could really follow what I was supposed to do.
GDT: It's the step between storyboard and finished animation, when you see rough models of the characters moving in a digital space. The two adult characters only interact with the creatures way at the end. It's Bailee that interacts with them the most, so when it was time for her to interact, it was after she falls down the steps and they're coming and she's dragged and all that. It really was a segment that we prepared already. You could see an animated movie of what was going to be, so to speak.
IH: Sometimes, when you make a film like this, creepy things happen. Did anything creepy happen on this set?
GDT: Miramax got sold. That was pretty creepy. No, we didn't have stories of any strange things happening. The strangest thing in the movie was catering. Some choices of pancakes that were very terrifying. But no, nothing.
IH: Did you use motion capture for the creatures?
GDT: No, it's all frame animation because I believe motion capture has a very limited use, unless you are creating something as incredibly large as Avatar, where frame animating is almost insanity. It's so much of it that the interaction is too precise and so forth. I think motion capture tends to have a linear effect because you're capturing every point of the movement, whereas in frame animation, you can quicken, compress, and make more expressive movements in a different way; otherwise, the vector of the move is linear, so they move a little bit like puppets. If you don't, then exchange it. Like Gollum: perfect, but they did tweak it in post. It was not just capture alone.
IH: Katie, is it challenging for you maintain both an acting career and motherhood?
KH: In today's society, mostly both parents are working, and it's always a question of balance and just making it work and figuring it out, and it's wonderful. What I love about the movie business is that, when you're working on a movie, everybody brings their children, and I've gotten to know Guillermo's family. Our families are good friends, and the kids grow up together. It's great to be around artists. I feel very proud that my daughter gets to meet and – for lack of a better word – hang out with very interesting people.
IH: Can you talk about working with Bailee? She's amazing. Was it just natural, or was it great direction?
KH: She's amazing, wasn't she?
GDT: She's a self-guiding missile. She gives you a range. She calibrates herself.
IH: She seems to cry on command. What was it like working with her?
GDT: I don't know how her mom could tell the difference.
KH: It was wonderful. She is so professional, so talented, and she really loves being an actress, and is so dedicated and brilliant. Talking to her about a scene, you feel like you're talking to a partner. She comes in with great ideas, so she's not afraid. She has a point of view, and she's willing to discuss. She's really strong.
IH: Did anything else, besides the popcorn machine bursting, surprise you at the screening? Any scenes?
GDT: We've seen it with test audiences in the past, and it's pretty consistent.
IH: Do you have a favorite scene?
KH: I think there's a scene where Bailee is hiding up in the tree, and my character comes and finds her, and it's one of the first moments where Kim actually starts to listen and let go of her own guard. I think that's powerful, and it was really fun to shoot.
IH: What's next for you guys?
KH: I have Jack and Jill coming out November 11th, with Adam Sandler and Al Pacino, and The Son of No One coming out sometime this fall, with Channing Tatum and Al Pacino.
GDT: I'm shooting Pacific Rim starting in November, in Canada.
IH: What happened to Frankenstein?
GDT: I'm writing. It's not a quick one.
IH: Did you change the script -- the Japan scene?
GDT: No, somebody came up with that. Japan is in the movie, but I find it really cheap when journalism tries to connect things that are really serious and they try to make a story. We have scenes in Peru; we have scenes in San Francisco, Alaska, Japan, Hong Kong, Korea -- everywhere. The movie happens everywhere. The main body of the movie is in Hong Kong, but I think sometimes somebody needs a headline.
FilmDistrict's 'Don't Be Afraid of the Dark' is released on August 26, 2011.