“He picked me up, said, ‘Will you be in my fish film?!'” Sally Hawkins on working with Guillermo del Toro and why she had to do ‘The Shape of Water’.
The film that the 53-year-old Mexican director, best known for outrageous, ornate fantasies like 2006’s Pan’s Labyrinth, was working on was titled The Shape of Water. And oddly enough, like Hawkins’ tale, this project also revolved around an underwater creature: a merman cryptically referred to as “the Asset,” who’s been captured by the U.S. military just as the Cold War with the Soviets begins to heat up. To say that the British actress and one-time Oscar nominee (Blue Jasmine) was experiencing a moment of supreme kismet would be putting it lightly.
“I just got goosebumps and nearly fell off the chair,” Hawkins recalls, when she first heard that the filmmaker had written a character specifically for her. “I said, ‘I don’t need to read a script, it’s Guillermo del Toro. Whatever it is, it sounds amazing.” For a long while, nothing happened. Then, after she unexpectedly found herself at the 2013 Golden Globes (“I was gate crashing – my friend brought me along,” Hawkins explains), the actress was getting ready to leave and suddenly bumped into a very inebriated del Toro. “It was very loud and I couldn’t quite hear him,” she says. “but he just picked me up and said, ‘The fish! The fish! Will you be in my fish film?!?’ And I said, yes, of course – just say when and how high I need to jump and I’m there!”
“She then said, ‘You’re not going to believe this,” del Toro recalls, picking up the thread. “But I am writing a story in which a woman turns into a fish.’ I asked, ‘Can you send it to me?’ I was surprised at how poignant and beautiful the material was. It seemed to be rephrasing something very deep in her. As a writer, you recognize when a piece of material hurts.” He would soon take that charming bit of synchronicity one step further: By the time the two had finished making The Shape of Water, which opens In New York and Los Angeles today and goes into wide release on December 8th, he had included two details from Hawkins’ original tale: the scars on the side of Eliza’s neck and the use of saltwater in a bathtub. It was the beginning of a beautiful friendship.