It was in 1973 that a young Guillermo del Toro experienced the horror of Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark, a television movie that to this day he considers to be one of the scariest productions ever. But it was in 1995 that del Toro began to pursue the rights to the film and within a few years began to craft a story that is about to unfold next month on the big screen. Guy Pearce (Alex Hurst) and Katie Holmes (Kim) co-star alongside 12-year-old Bailee Madison (Sally) as the new tenants of Blackwood Manor, whose dark corners are explored by the neglected Sally. But it’s the rasping whispers that lead Sally to open a gateway into a hellish underworld….
In our exclusive interview, Holmes and del Toro talk about the making of Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark, Guy Pearce’s moral dilemmas, their first scary movies and their numerous upcoming projects, including Frankenstein, Pacific Rim, Pinocchio and Jack and Jill.
Movies.com: I have to admit that I closed my eyes a few times during the film.
Guillermo del Toro: That’s good. That’s like admitting you were laughing at a comedy. My daughter did physical damage to my wife’s arm.
Katie Holmes: I think it’s terrifying. It slowly creeps up on you. By the time you see the monsters under the covers you’re already at the edge of your seat, you know what’s going to happen but you keep saying, “No, it’s not going to happen, it’s not going to happen.” And that’s the beauty of a well told story.
Del Toro: To be absolutely honest after 20 or more viewings the scare under the sheets still scares me.
Holmes: It still terrifies me.
Movies.com: Let’s talk about little Bailee Madison who plays Sally. She’s quite the actress.
Holmes: She is so professional and so dedicated to her work and loves it.
Del Toro: So mature and very serious about her craft and she wants to learn. I love that she asks questions like, “What would you do here?” If she feels that she has been given the wrong direction she fights for it.
Movies.com: Katie, do you think your daughter might want to follow in your footsteps and become an actress?
Holmes: You know, I have no idea. I think that she’s capable of so many things. I’m so excited for her to let us know what she wants to be.
Movies.com: This project has been in the works for a long time. When did it all begin?
Del Toro: About 15 years ago. We started chasing the rights in 1995, got the rights in 1997 and we wrote the screenplay in 1998. It took two entire regimes at Miramax but here it is.
Movies.com: You could have directed this film yourself but instead you decided to bring Troy Nixey onboard to helm the project. What was it about him that impressed you?
Del Toro: I think his short film was a smart film, beautiful to look at and great visuals. I always like to take a risk with first-time directors and if things get complicated I’m there as a producer. I’m there to make sure that everything comes out to a happy ending. First-time directors, it’s a bigger risk but when you’ve made the right choice the reward is 10 times more satisfactory.
Holmes: I had a great time working with him. He’s an amazing illustrator and to see that translated into his work with visual design it was really exciting. I think it’s always fun to work with someone who is new and bringing their own take to a project.
Movies.com: Guy Pearce is such a chameleon. It seems like he can take on any role and give an outstanding performance.
Holmes: Guy Peace is such a great actor. We were just talking about it. I don’t think of him as a certain type because he has given so many great performances. So it was really exciting and I learned a lot from him and great actors only make you better. I was really thrilled to work with him. His wife is lovely and they live in Melbourne so they would tell us where to go, they’re just lovely people.
Del Toro: He’s a private man and a really intense actor. There is no such thing as a casual decision. Getting up from a chair and going to a desk is a moral dilemma, literally. He needs to understand the very root of the act.
Movies.com: Scary movies seem to leave an imprint in people. Do you remember the first scary movie you watched?
Del Toro: The first scary movie I saw was Wuthering Heights with Laurence Olivier. It’s a gothic romance, so it has thunder storms, bleak landscapes, but it’s not a horror film. It has a ghost so technically there is something scary about it.
Holmes: I wish mine was as interesting as yours.
Del Toro: What is it?
Holmes: Freddy Krueger. [Laughs]
Del Toro: How old are you? My god, you’re a kid.
Holmes: Yeah, I was too young. I had older siblings so I would sneak around the corner and they wouldn’t know I was watching.
Movies.com: Let’s talk about the upcoming projects you’re both involved in.
Del Toro: There are a lot of people announcing projects that are not real, [but] the real projects are a lot. I’m working on The Hulk for ABC. We’re developing the series, it’s going well, we don’t have the pilot screening yet. Frankenstein, I’m writing now. I’m rewriting Haunted Mansion. I just finished writing the third book of the Strain trilogy of novels. My next directing film will be Pacific Rim that starts in November and we’re shopping around the project of Pinocchio.
Holmes: Really? I love Pinocchio.
Movies.com: What’s your take on it?
Del Toro: It’s stop-motion. It’s Pinocchio set between World War I and World War II in Italy with motion puppets, pre-fascism so everyone is a fascist except for Pinocchio. So everyone is a political puppet. We don’t have the financing together yet but it’s perhaps one of my favorite projects.
I’m still working in animation with Dream Works. We just finished Kung Fu Panda 2. I’m very proud of that movie. We’re finishing Puss in Boots and I’m working on another movie for Dream Works that comes out 2013 called Garden. So those are the real projects.
Movies.com: Katie, you have The Son of No One and Jack and Jill coming out soon, right?
Holmes: Yes, The Son of No One is with Channing Tatum, Al Pacino and Ray Liotta. Dito Montiel directed it. I play Channing’s wife and he’s a cop who is going through a lot and I’m the wife wondering what’s going on? I have Jack and Jill coming out November 11th with Adam Sandler.
Del Toro: It’s a boys club, right?
Holmes: Yes, but they are so kind. The first day they were like, "Come on over."They watched ESPN. I bought them cheeseburgers and then I bought them fresh juice. [Laughs] I tried to get them all to try it and they were like, "Get rid of this!" But they were so sweet. I liked working with Adam and seeing his range, it’s unbelievable.
Don’t be Afraid of the Dark opens in theaters August 26th.