“This is your secret. Don’t share it with the others.”
Guillermo del Toro, the mad man behind Universal and Legendary’s upcoming haunted house thriller Crimson Peak, isn’t just a master craftsman when it comes to imagining larger-than-life horrors, like the monstrous mansion Allerdale Hall. He’s also masterful at creating actual monsters — more than just the Hellboy, Pale Male and Kaiju varieties, too.
Indeed, man becomes monster in Crimson Peak, as author Edith Cushing (Mia Wasikowska) learns to her dismay upon moving to Allerdale with her dashing new husband, British gentleman Thomas Sharpe (Tom Hiddleston). Behind his kind eyes and lyrical voice, Thomas and his Cheshire Cat grin hide deep, dark secrets that only three people know: Del Toro, Hiddleston, and Sharpe himself.
“Sometimes I say don’t share it, sometimes I say they can share part of it, but each biography has a thing that is their secret.”
Speaking with Digital Trends and other journalists on the set of Crimson Peak, del Toro reveals the meticulous details he put into making the movie’s mysterious, mythical men and women, to the point that he wrote in-depth biographies about each of the piece’s central characters.
“I gave each of them a ten-page biography that says everything from what they like to eat to what sign they are and day they were born — all the story of the characters up to the point of the movie,” he says.
What’s more, each biography contains secret information that del Toro specifically ordered his actors not to share with anyone else on set.
“Sometimes I say don’t share it, sometimes I say they can share part of it, but each biography has a thing that is their secret — and that one they shouldn’t share with each other,” says the filmmaker. “They know certain things about [each other], but I don’t give everybody’s biography to everybody.”
Hiddleston describes del Toro’s process as “a gift,” an unlikely offering from filmmaker to actor that more than assists in the creation of the character. “Normally, that’s the work you do on your own,” he says of the biographies, adding that the secret-keeping only furthers the performances of each key Crimson Peak player.
“It informs the way you play things,” Hiddleston says of knowing Thomas Sharpe’s untold mysteries. “If there’s a moment in the back story that references a line in the film you know exactly how that line should be played because you know what it means to the character, even if the other actors don’t know how much that line means.”
“It makes the whole world of the film have a huge level of detail and you realize the story is a moment in time.”
“It makes the whole world of the film have a huge level of detail and you realize the story is a moment in time,” he continues. “It’s a slice of these people’s lives, and they’re already fascinating. There’s a longer 24-episode version where you could see where everyone is coming from and going, but this is the one moment where they intersect. It’s brilliant.”
Del Toro says he wrote the biographies for each and every character in the movie, save for one: Alan McMichael, an American doctor played by Charlie Hunnam, the Sons of Anarchy leading man who previously teamed up with del Toro on Pacific Rim.
“The only guy that wrote his own biography was Charlie,” says del Toro, “because by the time I said, ‘I’m going to send you the biography next week,’ he said he already did it. He said he’s been working on McMichael for the last four months!”
Hunnam plays against type in Crimson Peak, less the hunky heartthrob he’s normally known for, and more of a hopeless romantic. He’s known and loved Edith for most of his life, but he’s unable to win her over when Thomas Sharpe enters the picture and lures her to Allerdale. McMichael’s love and concern for Edith eventually puts him on a collision course with the Sharpe family’s horror house.
“It’s kind of the first step for me of exploring who a character is, to just go back in a really fun way to imagine your character’s past,” Hunnam says of why he chose to write his own biography, rather than rely only on del Toro. “I thought a lot about the relationship that he and Edith had had, and thought back to some similar relationships that I had had in my life with people and let that inform how I imagined their relationship had evolved.”
Still, as much as Hunnam poured himself into McMichael, there’s only one person who has final say on the character at the end of the day: Guillermo del Toro. The director says he approved of almost everything the actor cooked up for McMichael, with one major exception: Hunnam wanted his character to smoke a pipe.
“As you start to peel away the layers, you realize he’s much darker than you might have imagined.”
“He brought it in for the wardrobe test and I went, ‘No,'” del Toro says with a big laugh. “But he tried. He tried!”
Unlike Hunnam, Hiddleston chose to follow the path paved by his fearless, fear-inducing director, arriving at aspects of Thomas Sharpe he might not have discovered on his own.
“There is something very appealing and sympathetic and heroic in Thomas, especially with his ambitions and his dreams,” he says, “and as you start to peel away the layers, you realize he’s much darker than you might have imagined. On the other side of the darkness, there is a kind of light.”
An interesting take from an actor playing one of the film’s key antagonists, wouldn’t you say? But if you thought Hiddleston’s take on Thomas was complicated, just wait until you hear about his sister.
Crimson Peak opens on October 16.