We were invited to cover the release of the new Hellboy movie starring David Harbour and Milla Jovovich and I was lucky enough to chat with them both about the movie.
First up is my full interview with David about taking on such an iconic character.
The new Hellboy uses aspects of The Wild Hunt storyline from the comics; why was that the right direction for the movie?
I don’t know that that one in particular was specific in as much as going back to the original source material as the entire Dark Horse canon which was very appealing to us. We chose that one because I think it has a lot of stuff in it that’s just great. In terms of going back directly to the comics and pulling stuff right from the page and even having the tone and colour palette; we really wanted to go back to those graphic novels using these blues and greys with Hellboy being the only red thing in the frame, Nimue’s cloak being the only red thing or Excalibur being the only yellow thing. There were a lot of rich characters who are introduced there too but also the brutal, bleak world with skeletons and witches and we just wanted to go for more of a horror thing. The giants and the eating of The Osiris Club was all very macabre so they were excited about that. In general we thought it was important to go back to those graphic novels.
I thought while watching it that it was like the graphic novel brought to life and feels like some images were lifted right from the page…
Yeah, it felt that way like some frames even having Hellboy on a horse with him and the riders; you look at the comic and you look at the screen you’re like “wow, that’s amazing!”
It must have helped having Mike Mignola on board too; how involved was he?
Absolutely! He was very involved; he’s also very generous so he’s hands off when he needs to be and he’s not overly controlling but he’s very available. The script was Andrew Cosby’s but he had a lot of input and worked on the script a lot. His ideas were great and he was always available to me to talk about stuff; he was a great presence on the whole thing and he was very excited about the movie and about where we wanted to go with it. To me that is the greatest gratification as he’s the creator of this world and of that character specifically so the fact that he’s very supportive of this tone and direction is really exciting to me. I mean, of the approval that I wanted in terms of the character his was the most important. He saw the completed film and was like “man, you killed it!” (laughs) and I think he said something cheesy like “you played the Hell out of this character!” but yeah, his opinion to me is the one that matters most.
You’re so lucky to actually have the creator of the character working on the film with you which must have been so helpful…
Exactly! To have the author’s mind and to even think who Mike is when I talk to him and see that in the work, it’s a great resource.
The movie really embraces the horror elements and pushes the R rating and it felt like it really suited it; was that always the intention?
It was, yeah and that’s what really excited me was it felt like they hadn’t been given that treatment before. I really liked the previous movies that had come before but we wanted to get back to this really horrific brutal world to make it more of a horror movie which is what I get a sense of from the comic books with these skeletons and weird dead people who are causing havoc in this world so it seems to live between these worlds in the comics. Just the brutality of these monsters with the eviscerations and the gore made me excited that we didn’t shy away from that. One of my fears going in is that everyone has these high ideals but when you get in there they say “Oh we can make it PG” and I’m like “no, you’re missing the point” (laughs) so the fact we went as far as we did was great. I think from early on with things like the Gruagach where he rips the monk’s tongue out I was like “WOW! We’re gonna go there right off the bat… that’s GREAT!”
The Baba Yaga scene was way up there too…
Oh that was crazy!
That’s going to be the one people talk about!
(laughs) Is it? That was an uncomfortable day of kissing Troy the contortionist with his tongue all over my face (laughs).
A few drinks required before that I imagine…
(laughs) Exactly! Definitely a few.
How did you find working with director Neil Marshall (The Descent)?
I was really excited because The Descent is one of my favourite horror films of that genre but it’s also done in this way that’s scrappy and practical, like all of the effects. The monsters in The Descent were dudes crawling along walls and I knew that he liked to do things practically which was really exciting. He wasn’t going to skimp with CGI; we were going to take our time and do the make-up and try to make things as practical as possible. He’s also really good with scares and monsters and all the horror stuff so he was really the right guy to do it. In person Neil is a very sweet, demure, self-described introvert kinda guy so it’s funny that he’s so into people ripping each other apart but I guess that’s part of the deal (laughs). Knowing him from The Descent I knew we were on the right track so I was really excited to have him on board.
I was aware when watching the movie there were a lot of practical effects; do you prefer working with practical effects rather than CG?
I like it myself; it’s funny even when the initial photo came out I remember there was a lot of speculation online thinking it was going to be all CGI and people were convinced that the entire suit was all CGI. I was so happy that we had Joe Harlow because to me the technology has become super advanced (and we do use a lot of CGI in our movie) but there’s just something about the weight and the gravity of a guy in a monster suit that feels dangerous because it feels like I can really get hurt when I fall down unlike the way a CG character can. One of the other things I love about doing things practically is with CGI you’re always painting the frames so you’re always intellectually figuring out where something is in the frame and shooting for that but with practical effects I can go move and the camera can follow me like a tennis match, like they’re capturing actual action as opposed to pre-viz-ing it and I really like that.
Would you say this is your most physical demanding role to date?
Oh Hell yeah! (laughs) Oh my God, beyond! I mean, I do physical stuff in Stranger Things like punching, fighting and whatever but nothing like this. I got beat up too; I mean I don’t have the greatest joints so I really got busted up. It was so sweaty inside the suit too where it was brutally hot some days where I would nearly pass out but there’s something truly cathartic about it too. You’re just beating creatures to a pulp with that big old fist and there was something just really fun about that.
Did you have to do a lot of physical preparation for it?
I did yeah, the suit is a suit, it’s not my body but underneath I did a lot of weight-lifting and training for strength and power; even those chemical feelings of testosterone which gets released when you’re lifting heavy weights you sort of feel angrier and more… bestial in a sense so I did do a lot of that.
What do you think the enduring appeal is of Hellboy?
That’s a good question. First of all I think the iconography itself of the Devil; I think we’ve always ben fascinated by the Devil and I think one thing I remember specifically from the comic is those shaved horns. The fact that he is a Devil but he shaves his horns so you’re asking “why?” and it’s because of his own shame about it; about who his nature is so there’s a complex reason but then he’s just drawn so iconically and just that image in itself, that simple but powerful image of the Devil who is ashamed to be the Devil which is so cool.
What do you want audiences to take from the movie?
There are so many thematics in it that I find complex and interesting; it’s about identity at its core. I think it’s about whether or not we are our genetic destiny or are we defined conscious choices but in general I could talk about it all day like it was The English Patient (laughs) but it’s a fun monster movie and I just want audiences to let go of their day and their cares and just watch this fun, action, gross-out horror thing and just have a cathartic experience. I want them to leave the theatre laughing and having a great time.
A big thank you to Lisa Seselja for taking the photos.