In the lead-up to this year’s Academy Awards on March 4, EW is taking a closer look at some of the screenplays honored in the original and adapted categories. Each weekday between now and Oscar night, nominated writers will break down a single scene that was essential to the stories they were telling and explain how the pages came together.
Guillermo del Toro was years into the process of outlining and constructing a story for his monstrous love story, The Shape of Water, when he realizes that something was missing. “I knew at this point, after two years, that I was not going to find it alone,” he said. “I started interviewing different writers to come aboard. Vanessa Taylor provided the magic bullet, to grow more of the Russian subplot and the pressure from the generals to [Michael Shannon’s character] Strickland.”
With the co-writers finally paired, they set about cracking the immense tonal shifts of The Shape of Water, which — as del Toro explains — jumps “from melodrama to comedy to musical to thriller.”
In the one of the movie’s most emotionally raw scenes, the mute protagonist (Best Actress nominee Sally Hawkins) tries to enlist her neighbor (Supporting Actor nominee Richard Jenkins) to help break her beloved sea monster out of a government lab. Below, del Toro provides his commentary on the scene.
GUILLERMO DEL TORO: “As the friendship developed in the screenplay, I thought that it could have another advantage. I thought it could have the advantage of evidencing how Sally’s emotions could not fit the words. At the same time, I thought it would be good to see how those words provoke an insight and almost a catharsis on Richard Jenkins. To get there, I really, really had to take time because I didn’t want it to be a speech that was just a nice monologue. I really wanted to define in any way I could what I believe love is.”
“It’s such a hinge scene. It’s a scene that exists as a bridge between two of the most important parts of the movie. As Steven Spielberg explains, no one things of the hinges between the cars of a train, but if you don’t have them, the train doesn’t move.”
“I knew that because I had a mute character, I wanted a song and dance number, and I wanted a monologue. I knew the monologue would be interesting because it needed to be verbalized through a second character.”
“That is the hardest block, and in my opinion, along with the general’s monologue to Strickland, is like boxing. It’s a complex sport. Every word needs to count. I knew that love, to me, is when you’re looked at and the person looking at you sees you whole. They don’t look at you with any desire for change, with any lacking being visible. Love is complete understanding.”
“That’s Giles stopping her from signing more. That came out of rehearsal, so it was easy to incorporate. Every time we rehearsed, I would incorporate it either in the staging or the screenplay, because things would come out. Originally, it was accompanied by the line, ‘Stop talking. Stop talking.'”
“The last five years of my life have been rough for many reasons. My dad is 84. My mom lost her ability to do cohesive speech completely. I just started thinking, for really personal reasons, that I wanted to redefine what love was, beyond words but also in words.”