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The cast and crew of Pacific Rim were on hand at Comic-Con International in San Diego to talk with journalists about the giant robots and monsters that populate the Legendary Pictures film – and how much director Guillermo del Toro enjoyed messing with Peter Jackson.
“I was sending him emails during Pacific Rim and emailing a lot during the prep during The Hobbit,” said del Toro, who at one point was attached to direct the adaptation of J.R.R. Tolkien’s novel. “Then I sent a picture of me and a guy who looked like him at the beginning of Pacific Rim
“I wanted to see if we could organize a rumble, like our cast against their cast,” actor Charlie Hunnam joked.
“I decided I would take on all the Hobbits,” Ron Perlman added as the other actors and del Toro laughed.
Written by Travis Beacham, Pacific Rim centers on soldiers who pilot giant robot suits in an attempt to stop an invasion of enormous monsters. In addition to Hunnam and Perlman, the film stars Idris Elba, Charlie Day and Rinko Kikuchi.
Del Toro noted that he was able to screen footage from the film at Comic-Con because he shoots and edits at the same time – although he stressed that none of the scenes shown in Hall H were final. He also said that Pacific Rim forced him to grow as a filmmaker.
“To me, this movie was a big growth for me as a director, the same way Pan’s Labyrinth represented the challenge to do something in the Spanish language. … I wanted to show what I could do with more support and more freedom,” del Toro said. “As a director, I concentrated on things that I feel personally that I need to improve from other films and concentrate on things I haven’t tried and I shot the movie differently in many ways, but still with the same philosophy and visual style.”
“This is the best [time] I’ve had in any film set I’ve ever had in all my life,” he added.
“Aw,” Kikuchi said as the actors and members of the press laughed.
Pacific Rim isn’t the first time that Sons of Anarchy stars Perlman and Hunnam appeared together in a movie; that honor went to 321 Frankie Go Boom!,” a quirky independent film about warring siblings.
“Luckily, I didn’t have to make out with Ron in this one,” Hunnam joked. “That was a dramatic improvement.” He acknowledged, however, that he loves working with Perlman, labeling the experience as being a part of a brotherhood of collaborators.
“I don’t feel that way at all,” Perlman shot back, before adding more seriously that, “Charlie was the one who brought me to Frankie Go Boom. He asked me to read the script, and I thought it was the funniest thing I had read in 25 years. As everyone here knows, I always felt I was a woman trapped inside of a man’s body, so here’s my opportunity to prove how wrong I was!”
The actors then spoke about their Pacific Rim roles, with Day describing his characters as an everyman.
“Guillermo has made a movie where we’re saving the world … and that needs big tough guys and strong guys, and you need the people you believe could fight and save the world — and then in the case of my guy you think, ‘How is this everyman, who doesn’t seem like he could fight, how’s that guy going to contribute?’” Day said.
“If there’s anything people latch onto with my character is how flawed he is,” he added.
Perlman, who had the majority of his scenes with Day, praised the It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia actor. “I will always remember to my grave that Hannibal Chow, who is the name of my character, was only ever onscreen with Charlie Day,” he said, “We had a really great time together bouncing off one another other.”
Elaborating on his character, Perlman said, “I’m a black marketer in the film. I have this relationship with the powers that be whereby I have the rights to all of these fallen monsters to sell on the black market to rich people who have way too much money and are looking to collect rare and exotic strange shit. So I have no moral compass, no scruples whatsoever.”
“But talk about your character, please,” del Toro interrupted as the group cracked up.
Hunnam said his turn as the soldier Raleigh is more sympathetic than Perlman’s character, describing the role as a super-soldier who’s fallen on rough times. “When you meet me in the beginning of the story I just suffered a giant loss and not only has it killed my sense of self-worth but also my will to fight and to keep on going,” he said. “Then Rinko and a couple of people bring me out of retirement to try to help in this grand push. I think that journey is a relatable one, I think everybody has fallen down and not felt like getting back up, but you have to no matter how difficult it is.”
“She is a Japanese student and her dream’s to be a pilot, and that’s it!” Kikuchi said of her character, eliciting another laugh from the room.
Del Toro elaborated, saying, “Rinko’s character, like Charlie’s, has a big fall. They both lost a lot in the past, and when they meet, one of the ideas in the script is that two people who are really, really hurt can become one, both metaphorically and in life.”
Although the film is already being compared to Godzilla, because of the prominence of kaiju, del Toro said Pacific Rim is more of a Japanese genre mash-up
“There are two subgenres very popular in Japan: One is kaiju film, the other is giant robots. Occasionally they mix together, mostly in TV series,” the director said. “I thought these were things that were part of my nutritional makeup growing up. I was literally raised watching those movies.”
Although Pacific Rim is an homage to those genres, del Toro told his crew, “We should not reference other movies.” He instructed them during production to avoid watching the kaiju and robot movies that inspired the project. “If things happen, they happen because it is being made by people who love those genres, but I didn’t want to be post modern or referential or just belong to a genre, I really wanted to create something new.”
“I tried to bring a big beauty to it and drama and sort of operatic grandeurs, but it happens in many of the battles and many of the quirks are going to be executed in a different way than they normally would,” he said. “There are things in the movie I’m the proudest of I’ve ever made.”
He also said that the robots the soldiers pilot, called Jaegers in the film, all had their own unique names and are “as much characters as the actors.”
“We have [a] Russian robot, Crimson Typhoon, which is a Chinese robot, and so on and so forth,” del Toro said. “I want each robot to have a personality and for you to feel when the robot gets hurt, or when the robot wins. I want very much to make the audience to feel for those machines as much they feel for the other characters, and frankly as much for the kaiju. There are very unexpected things we do with the kaiju in the movie.”
For Hunnam, the name and personality of his robot held a special meaning. “When I found out about the spirit of the Jaeger we pilot together, it coincided coincidentally with a subcategory of society that I’ve been obsessed with my whole life,” he said, “and when I found out this was the name of the particular Jaeger and what it’s spirit was I just felt a grandiose moment, like it was almost destiny to be playing this guy.”
Del Toro said that when it came to design, he wanted all the pieces of the robots to look as if they had a practical purpose, avoiding the slick and shiny computer-generated effects that have been prominent in many recent blockbusters.
“Pans Labyrinth contains a lot of CGI, and so do other of my movies, but there’s a school of thought in CGI where you do an impossible camera move every time and everything is sleek and clear and beautiful,” he said. “I do exactly he opposite, I dirty it. If you saw in the advance scenes we showed there’s oil and dirt and drops of water in the lens. In some instances I would scratch the glass on the virtual lens. … If the monster kicks up a puddle of mud, I want that mud to bounce off the ground and things like that.”
Del Toro also wanted an element of realism to his digital and practical effects, and ensured the scale model of a city street shook whenever a monster took a step, for instance, and positioned the camera is such a way that it felt as if the operator was actually there.
“So instead of my camera doing an impossible move around this and show how cool my movie is, for example, I tell my guys, ‘Come back to the same shot … come back to the same master, as if we were shooting this fight for real and we needed to use the same angle. Don’t always do the operation of the camera so smooth, be late for the punch, miss the punch,’” the director said. “The dirtier the effect, the more real.”
Because the film is still a year away from release, the actors and del Toro were reluctant to go into many specifics, laughing when asked if they were worried about spilling the details on the secretive project.
“Contrary to everything I’ve ever done, I was not talking about this movie, so I’m the guy I’m most nervous about!” del Toro joked.
Ending the press conference, Japanese actress Kikuchi revealed that the most challenging part Pacific Rim wasn’t the effects shots or the emotions but rather mastering the English language.
“It’s really hard for me to do acting with English line,” she said. “I have a lot of action scenes with Charlie. I’ve also been training for many months, weight-lifting, stick-fighting, but it was really hard.”
Labeling herself a lifelong fan of these genres and science fiction, Kikuchi added that the role was a dream come true. “I really think I’m so happy, and I’m so lucky to get this role. And when I’m on set I just want to see Guillermo happy!” Kikuchi said as del Toro shook his head bashfully.
“She kicks all the guys’ ass!” the director replied.
Pacific Rim opens July 12, 2013.