ARTICLES

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  • Creature Discomforts: Guillermo del Toro and Katie Holmes team up for Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark

  • 22 AUG 2011|BY JOE NAZZARO
  • Don't Be Afraid Of The DarkIn 1973, ABC aired the movie-of-the-week thriller, Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark. Starring Kim Darby as Sally Farnham, a young married woman who moves into a Victorian mansion with her businessman husband, only to be menaced by the tiny creatures living there, the movie left a lasting impression on a young Guillermo del Toro and his brothers, who would recite lines from it to scare each other.

  • Just about four decades later, Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark has been remade as a high-profile feature film, produced by del Toro, who co-wrote the screenplay. This time, the role of Sally has been changed to a young girl- played by ten year-old Bailee Madison- and an additional character has been added: Sally’s father’s girlfriend Kim (Katie Holmes), who finds herself unexpectedly drawn into Sally’s nightmarish fantasy world.

  • During a recent New York visit to promote the film, producer and actress sat down together to discuss the challenges of working with kids and creatures…

 

  • When you decided to revisit Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark, what elements of the original TV movie did you want to keep and what elements did you want to get rid of?

  • Guillermo del Toro: I knew I wanted to repeat the ‘highlight reels;’ the stuff I loved as a kid, like the homunculus in the flowers, the homunculus under the table, the line, ‘We want you, Sally!’ dragging one of the main characters down into the basement, Harris the caretaker, the self-absorbed male figure; other than that, frankly, I wanted to start from scratch and we did. We created an entirely new mythology for the movie. It’s more than a remake; it’s a re-imagining of the movie.

  • What made you change the protagonist from a woman into a young girl?

  • Don't Be Afraid Of The Dark
    Actress Bailee Madison and Producer Guillermo del Toro

    Del Toro: The reality is that the character that Kim Darby plays in the original is a married woman but is almost horribly passive. She is almost like a limp noodle. The husband treats her terribly and I just don’t understand that character. She’s almost borderline irritating as an adult; she should just pack up and leave, and the idea that we’re trying to answer in our movie is that we’re trying to create a situation in which the character cannot just pack up and leave. The father figure has sunk all his money into the house, the girl is completely crippled by a custody battle so she needs to stay with the father and ultimately she does what the Kim Darby character never does, which is that she actually tries to escape, so I knew that I didn’t want to go with a passive adult female character and even then, when I wrote it, I had already done Mimic, which had a central character that was a child and I had done Cronos my first movie, in which one of the two central character is a girl, so I already wanted to continue exploring the relationship between childhood and horror, which is central to my movies.

  • Katie, what was your reaction to the character of Kim? She really takes on the role of protector in this film.

  • Don't Be Afraid Of The DarkKatie Holmes: That’s what I really loved about her and it was thrilling to work with Guillermo and I was very excited, especially by one of my favorite scenes which is near the end of the movie when Kim is hurt and she wakes up and realizes that Sally is in danger and you see her use all of her strength to do what she has to do. I think that’s very real, and I like seeing strong female characters; somebody who doesn’t run away screaming when she’s scared but confronts the monsters. I really enjoyed that.

  • Del Toro: What was attractive to me was that Sally already had a mother who by description and those little interactions was a terrible mother, but what they find is each other, not as mother and daughter, which is the role that Kim was afraid of entering into, because we hint about her having a terrible childhood too, but they find each other as two women who have to make each other strong, because the guy around which their lives circle is frankly an absentminded, self-centered little prick.

  • Guillermo, you mentioned at a recent press screening that your inspiration for the creatures came from a book?

  • Del Toro: It’s not one book; it’s the studies of folklore in Judeo-Christian mythology say that when God and the devil waged battle, the fairy folk declared themselves neutral. They didn’t care which one won therefore they were cast down to live under the earth. In traditional folklore, they are not necessarily considered beneficial; they are considered creatures that can bring great gifts and goods but they can be absolutely terrible; kidnapping babies or children; they can kidnap an eight year-old and return them 15 years later the same age with the parents aged. If you remember Rip Van Winkle who disappeared for many years, they are known to be very tricky and morally elusive characters.

  • But they also figure out how to use garage door openers.

  • Del Toro: What they know is very basic electricity and they just fry themselves. But that was in the original movie and I adored it, because it shows they are so smart. They are tacticians, so in order to bring down a six foot tall guy, they use wires, they use a little hook to turn off the lights and they know he’s using that little box to operate the door so they hide it. I think what is very scary about these little things is that they are unstoppable and determined, but they are smart. They’re not just little rats. They communicate, they talk and they are quite evil, and that was very important.

  • Katie, what were you picturing in your mind for these creatures while you were filming?

  • Holmes: Guillermo had said, ‘Come in and look at the creatures!’ so I was definitely allowed to see them. When we were filming, we were looking at pieces of tape, but I knew what they looked like. What I like about this movie as I said before, you have these two female characters that are not running away from these creatures screaming; they’re swatting them and picking them up and throwing them and crushing them and it’s kind of great, especially picturing them as so yucky-looking.

  • How did you like working with Bailee, who played Sally?

  • Holmes: She’s an incredible actress; so poised and age really had nothing to do with it, because she was so prepared and had so many ideas. She already has a great dedication to her craft and she wants to do well. She wants to service the story and things have to make sense but it was fun. She’s smart.

  • Some reviewers have compared Bailee to Ivana Baquero in Pan’s Labyrinth. Is that a reasonable comparison?

  • Del Toro: Oh, absolutely. Look, the movie has superficial similarities to Pan’s Labyrinth but that’s where it ends. It’s really on the surface, but I must say, both Ivana and Bailee are two of the best actors of any age and any gender that I’ve ever worked with. I jokingly say they are 50 year-old souls trapped in a kid’s body, because they are incredibly serious and earnest about their craft, to the point where you almost want to shake your head because you’re almost sure they’re joking. They are so absolutely demanding about what is my character, what is my motivation, what is my thinking; I want to get into the moment. They are incredibly heartbreakingly professional about their craft and that’s rare. I’ve worked with a lot of child actors and these two are exceptional.

  • Can you talk about the climactic sequence in which Kim gets sucked into the grate?

  • Del Toro: We created a rubber cover for the ash pit, because you cannot have her hitting an iron ash pit full force. Three days before we shot it, I went to Katie and said, ‘Can I break your leg?’ because I really wanted something that woke up the audience and that shock makes the immediate getting her in more surprising, because you’re still recuperating from the breaking of the leg and then she did her own stunts on a wire, so she was being pulled by a group of very burly Australians into the pit.

  • Holmes: That was a very intense scene at the end of the movie. It was a challenge to make sure that everything that needed to be seen and head was in that performance, with the cutting of the rope and telling Sally to run and making sure that was just the right timing and then thrusting back and being pulled. A lot of times it takes a couple of takes for everyone to get comfortable and they want to know how much to pull so it’s an organizational thing, but it was fun and definitely an example of teamwork, because there were a lot of different elements.

  • Does that take more preparation than just doing a scene sitting and talking?

  • Holmes: It’s simpler in some ways to sit and talk for a scene, but every scene is its own thing and there’s a lot that goes into something that looks simple, and there’s just as much that goes into something that looks difficult so it’s our job to make it look effortless and to communicate that story.

  • Del Toro: When the leg breaks, we were all frozen, like, what happened? Did we really do any damage? And that scream is the one in the soundtrack.

  • Does your character actually believe Sally stories about seeing these creatures, or does she just want to empathize with her regardless?

  • Holmes: I think she believes her at the point where she sees the drawings and the mural and how they match, because that’s when she starts packing and says, ‘We’re getting out of here!’ Prior to that, I don’t think she believe that there’s any value to Sally’s nightmares, except for the fact that the girl needs somebody to talk to.

  • Katie Holmes

  • What about when she sees Jack Thompson’s caretaker in the hospital?

  • Holmes: All of these things sort of add up, but you have to remember that Alex and Kim are under a lot of pressure to have this dinner party and they have a lot going on, so it’s one of those things where everything is so heightened that it’s hard to keep up with what’s being revealed and only when it’s the mural and that hits you in the face like, ‘Oh my God, I get it now!’

  • Del Toro: Until then, Jack Thompson’s character never says ‘Little creatures attacked me!’ They say, ‘He must have fallen on his tools and it was an accident, blah, blah, blah.’ You try to graduate it so that the characters learn things to the point where they… the girl is the first one to find out and she’s the first to get the hell out of the house, but she’s 11 so they bring her back. The second one is Katie and she realizes that the face in the engravings matches the girl’s drawings and that’s when she says, ‘Party or no party, we’re packing and we’re leaving. And then the library happens and she has to get the girl in the car, and now Alex is on board. And after that is the siege, where the creatures strategize to keep them in the house, so the evolution of how much the characters know was mapped out from the beginning.

  • The ending suggests if there was a sequel, Kim might be back in a different form?

  • Holmes: My role would be-

  • Del Toro: Tiny!

  • Katie: It would be in a sound booth.

  • Del Toro: That ending came from one of the characters in the 1973 original. What’s great is that even though we are in a horror movie, it’s very rare that a studio and a distributor will allow for what happens in the last five minutes of the movie to happen and it’s a big shock to the audience to see that and I think we were lucky enough to A) be with the right studio, and B) in a transition between one studio and another and we were able to keep all of that. But normally, it takes the audience entirely by surprise when that happens.

  • END