Speaking with the press in Beverly Hills, Guillermo del Toro casually tossed off a line that sums up the spirit of his most recent film, Hellboy II: The Golden Army and the tone he and his cast achieved: "When you go see a movie called "Hellboy," already there's an implicit, assumed certain sense of goofiness; you have to then say 'Look, we know we're pulpy, we know we're different, but we take ourselves seriously, and we want to entertain." Mike (Mignola, creator of the Hellboy comics) said it: He's not the Hell Knight, he's not the Hell Spawn, he's not the Hell Lord, he's the Hellboy. ... "
Much of the pleasure in the Hellboy series comes from the mesh and mix of the sensibilities of del Toro and Hellboy's creator Mike Mignola; I asked del Toro about the challenge of adapting someone else's material. How much of it is a struggle, and how much of it is a pleasure, to find ways to make someone else's creation yours? "I said in the past that, obviously, no matter how respectful you are of the material there's a moment ... I made the analogy that it's like marrying a widow; you have to be very respectful about the late husband, but at some point, you're going to get in bed, and the late husband is not gonna matter anymore, or it better not. And I think it's the same with material; there's a point where you go "I have only my instincts to guide me through this section ..." But, it's co-exploring. In the case of Hellboy, I've been blessed with a guy like Mike (Mignola), who is the most generous landlord of the Hellboy real estate; he says, essentially, move in, decorate as you want and make it yours."
I asked Selma Blair, who plays pyrokinetic Liz Sherman, about the fact that there are moments in the film when, as Liz stands shoulder-to-shoulder with Hellboy and Abe Sapien and Johann Kraus, she's the only human character on the screen. Was that something she thought about? "I didn't realize it until we were halfway through the movie and I was like "Wait a minute -- I'm the only face here!" It took me a while -- and I don't know what that says about me -- but I didn't even notice it until there was one point when we were doing a golden army scene, and that's really some of the only main CGI stuff in the movie; everything else was really there, the monsters (del Toro) actually created, so there's stuff to look at. And I'm like "Where are you guys looking?" And everyone else says, "Oh, it doesn't matter; no one can see our eyes. ..." And I said "Oh, my God, everyone can SEE MY EYES! It REALLY MATTERS where I'm looking, what I'm doing, oh my God, I have a face, I have a face. ..." There was a moment of terror, like "Oh, my God, I'm gonna crap all over this movie; I'm going to be the mess.""
With so much special effects magic in the finale, I had to ask Blair about her reaction when she saw the finished movie: "I thought the film was pretty epic; I thought Guillermo made an amazing film and I can't believe how successfully he covered all the bases; everything's in the film: Love, death, amazing action sequences and war and monsters. ... It's incredible."
Ron Perlman, more relaxed and stately than the bright-red comic-book character he brings to life in Hellboy II, talked about the film's final image -- a big, old-school freeze-frame of his character's face after a revelation too good to spoil. I asked if he knew that shot was coming. "No, I didn't; (seeing the film) was pretty revelatory for me in so many different ways. First of all, when you finally see a movie in real time, all cut together and finished, you either live up to the potential of what was already there, if it's really good, or sometimes surpass what you thought was kind of (an experience of) "I hope we can find a way to make this work. ..." The playing of a film is kind of like a living, breathing organism - and you never know, by the sum of its parts, whether it's going to be a good living breathing organism, something that works, something that's affecting. Because you shoot these things in such a piecemeal fashion. "Does it add up? Will it play?" ... I was thrilled ... when I finally saw it; there were so many great choices that were made after all was said and done in the shooting of it, in the post-production. ... I was just thrilled with so many things. That freeze-frame at the end? I didn't know that was how (del Toro) was going to play it, or going to end it. I'm a real happy camper right now."
I also asked Perlman if it was tough to craft human moments when there aren't any humans on screen -- not just the absent computer-generated characters, but when you're trying to have a discussion about relationships between a demon-spawn and a fish-man. Is it tough to make those scenes feel real with all the paranormal, comic-book stuff going on on-screen? "Well, you know, if you subscribe to Guillermo's point-of-view, which I do, the monsters are more human than the humans ... and when I look at Abe Sapien, I just see the heart of the guy, I see the heart of this beautiful being; I don't see the outer trappings, and I guess that's sort of the point in all this. But it's so easy to do, because the humanity of our core group of people, Abe and Liz and Hellboy and even by the end of this film, Johann comes around ... There's a huge amount of humanity, and that's what we're all drawing off of when we play these scenes."
Between the cast and crew's good vibes and good will manifesting on-screen and del Toro's mix of epic action and goofy good humor, a third Hellboy film might be something audiences want. I asked Hellboy creator Mike Mignola about his relationship with del Toro, and the fact that del Toro's going to be busy working on The Hobbit for several years, pushing back any possibility of del Toro directing a possible Hellboy III anytime soon. Could Mignola see anybody but del Toro in charge of his creations on the big screen? "Fortunately, that's not my decision. It's not like they have to come back to me really, and say "Hey can we have your characters?" They've got the characters, but the big question is what happens, and I don't know. It's going to make the next couple of months very interesting, because five years is a long time to be gone, and if Hellboy II is as successful as we hope, Universal may want to get moving with that much faster; I don't know what's going to happen there."