The Umami Of Fantasy With Guillermo del Toro and Diego Luna

  The new Netflix series 3Below: Tales of Arcadia, which debuts on Dec. 21, is the second animated show from executive producer Guillermo del Toro, the man who directed such acclaimed films as Hellboy, Pan’s Labyrinth, and the Oscar-winning The Shape Of Water. Featuring the voice talents of Glenn Close, Diego Luna, Uzo Aduba, and many others, 3Below is a sci-fi epic with comedic touches. It focuses on two royal aliens and their bodyguard who flee a violent, fascist takeover of their planet to seek temporary refuge on Earth after crash landing in the city of Arcadia. While regrouping to fix their ship and create a plan for rebellion on their homeworld, they choose the forms of three Earth people no one will notice: a Latin boy, a girl, and an old man. If those two unusual high school “exchange students” from 3Below look familiar, it is because they appeared in del Toro’s other Netflix show Trollhunters. The two series are linked and will also connect with a third, forthcoming show called “Wizards.”

  While he has been executive producer on some kid-oriented films, these Netflix shows are del Toro’s first major forays into creating his own material for a young audience. His movies tend to be dark, adult-oriented tales that often feature kids but are not meant for them. Interestingly enough, one of his favorite films is Who Can Kill A Child?, an obscure 1976 thriller from Spain about a tourist couple who arrive on a sunny island where the kids have been killing off adults. It is an intense and provocative film. But, such a contrast in his cinematic tastes makes del Toro’s transition into children’s television programming all the more interesting, especially as he has serious lessons to impart to his young viewers within a less ominous framework.

  At New York Comic Con, The Aquarian sat down with del Toro and 3Below co-star Diego Luna, who voices the alien turned Latin boy named Krel, to discuss the series and its themes.

You like to create dark fairy tales for adults with kids in them. This is a bit of switch.

  Guillermo del Toro: What I find is I am attracted to impossible combinations. You can take a very simple premise and make it visually complex, or take a very complex premise and approach it almost like a fairy tale. Or take a very simple premise and put it in a time that is very difficult for that premise to flourish. I’m attracted to combining things that normally don’t go together. I like the umamiof it all, and it’s not easy. People see Pan’s Labyrinth and they think, “OK, that’s the guy.” Then I do something like Hellboy. “Oh, that’s the guy.” And then I do this or Pacific Rim, “Oh, that’s the guy.” To me, the fun is that the range of things that I’m interested in can only be spoken either by you visiting my house, which has all the range of toys and books and art, or by waiting until I croak and finally all the things I wanted to do are done.

Can you talk to us a little about the design of the fairy tale that we’re going to see in 3Below?

  Guillermo del Toro: To me, the fairy tale element in 3Below is the transformation. That’s why I [have] quoted Doraemon, the Japanese series, because it has a very fairy tale-like logic. This cat [in that show] has a bag, and anything that he needs he pulls out of the bag. Whatever is needed. When I was a kid, we were inundated by anime. There was a series called Señorita Cometa [Princess Comet], and it was full of these inventions. I think that the spirit of a fairy tale is not the setting. It’s the breath in which the tale is told. If you think about Star Wars, it is a fairy tale told in a science fiction context. There’s a good wizard, a bad wizard, a princess, a young farmer hero, and a bunch of monsters, which is fantastic.

  I think that 3Below has a little bit of that. The main idea for me is what happens to people in exile, or immigration, is that they have to restart. You could find a brain surgeon working as a taxi driver. I thought it would be great to bring that into here and show that transformation as something that is good for the character.

Diego, what can you tell us about your character being a transplant on this show?

  Diego Luna: I’m glad that this story makes you think about it from not just from a perspective of something that we need to change, but something we need to accept, you know? The characters celebrate who they’re going to become, because he [Krel] really needs to be a Latino. In fact, being a Latino saves his life on this planet. I think we do have a big issue in front of us, and if we keep seeing it the way we’re seeing it, we’re never going to solve it. Because we allow this to happen already, and we’re part of it somehow. We have to reinvent the way we interact with each other and the way we see each other in comparison to the other.

  I think it’s a very lovely way to approach an issue that my kid is not going to have. In fact, Guillermo was trying to explain to my 10-year-old what the joke [about the aliens taking “invisible” human forms] is about, and he didn’t get it. He was born in California, his best friend is the daughter of his nanny, he speaks both languages, he crosses the border…He still has to find out that there’s another reality. There are other kids going through a different reality, but he’s going to see it from a different perspective. From the perspective of someone who understands or believes that this interaction can happen naturally, and in a love-driven world, you know? I think that’s where the solution is going to come from.

  Guillermo del Toro: [That’s] one of the things that I observed in a documentary called Five Came Back, about filmmakers in America that we did [with HBO] a couple of years ago. Sometimes, the love of the immigrant for the country, in storytelling, mythifies the country in a beautiful way. Like Frank Capra’s view of America became what we accept America as — families talking together, sharing a meal, screaming at each other with great love. That’s probably not exactly the way an Anglo-Saxon family was behaving at that moment, [but] it was filtered through the experience of Capra. What is great is that we see the world of Arcadia through the eyes of these guys that have just arrived, and everything is wonderful.

The word “normalizing” has taken on negative connotations, but it can also be used in a positive way. Like what one Mexican fan posted online about you, Diego, being in Rogue One. She took her dad to see the movie, and he was surprised to see someone with his accent portraying the hero and not a minor character. She explained to him that things are changing now.

  Diego Luna: And the lovely thing about that letter you were talking about is the way she wrote about the experience of her father from a perspective she didn’t understand. The father was saying, “Is that guy going to be the good guy? And he speaks like I do?” And she was just watching a movie with a guy from Y Tu Mama Tambien. It was very different, because for her, I was always there, you know? Whereas for this old man, it was like, “Holy crap, this thing is changing, and I’m going to witness it.” I think that is the hope of things actually changing.

  Guillermo del Toro: The greatest trick ideologically to weaken any group — be it a country, a small group or a world — is to fragment it. To say, “You are not the same as you, and this is my reason for that.” And it’s always a word. There’s always a word that separates us. But in reality, it’s an illusion. And I don’t say this as [being] “kumbaya” or idealistic. I say it as a fact.

  The fiction is not that we are one. The fiction is that we are separate. What happens is when you polarize the discourse and you say “these are the reasons why you should not understand each other” and you accept it, whatever the reason — be it religious, gender, or political — you are falling into a trap from which there is no exit. The beauty of this series, this little humanistic fairy tale, is that we’re all in this together. No one leaves this ball of mud. No one. We’re all here. From space, everybody is the same person.

Do you think as creators and artists that connecting with your audience and being relatable to your audience is important?

Guillermo del Toro: You mean [through] the characters? One hundred percent. Here’s the thing — I’ve got to believe that the world is made of imperfect people. We discuss it many times as if it shouldn’t be. It is. It’s never going to change. We’re all going to have moments of great blackness and moments of great whiteness in our choices, and to connect with the kids is to tell them, “It’s OK. Today, you were not the good guy. Tomorrow, you can be.” I think that’s far more liberating for everyone, and it’s a huge point of connection. I don’t want to spoil it, but one of my favorite characters is Steve, the bully from Trollhunters, who becomes such a great character in this series and becomes so multi-dimensional. That is such a great journey to tell the kids, “Everybody has more than one side.” And that’s where the connection is.

  Diego Luna: The moral standard of good and bad, or good and evil… I never saw that as an audience [member] until I had kids. It is such a heavy weight on the shoulders of an audience, when the character alwaysdoes the right thing and is incapable of actually hurting anyone. We are the exact opposite. If you can find out when you’re hurting someone, and that makes you change, that makes you, in fact, a hero in the stories that I want my kids to watch. But it’s not just because of them, it’s because of me. I think about my father and mother as real people. And I think that’s changing really fast in content for kids, which is amazing because if you go back to the films I grew up with, there was none of that.

  Guillermo del Toro: That’s why one of the crucial things on Trollhunters for me was the moment when Jim makes the decision to become a troll. He doesn’t consult with his mom, he doesn’t consult with Claire. He just says, “Here I go,” and there’s no return. It’s a moment when people say he was selfish, but he had to do it. And to also show the kids that this decision was counter-intuitive in a way.

  Diego Luna: Something is changing. We’re talking about projects that are driven by the perspective of a director. I think that is a big difference because then you have that integrity behind the decisions. When you’re thinking from a producer’s point-of-view or the companies’ point-of-view, they’re thinking numbers. But when you’re thinking about character stories, then you have that strength which also at the end shows in the numbers. I think we are living in a freer moment in our industry, where someone like me, Guillermo, and the team can be doing a project like this…

  Guillermo del Toro: I said in one of the early meetings with Netflix, “This is not the normal structure. You have a showrunner, but you have this strange position where I can run the showrunners.” And I can influence those decisions very strongly because it needs to have the integrity of a single view. We may change from one [animated] series to the other, and I’m going to oversee the whole thing. We are going to go through so many different changes. It’s not an adventure of the week. There were some really long arcs that are beautifully tracked from episodes 1, 2, and 3. And in that, it has a unique place for me. When I see the gold standard like [the Disney animated series] Gravity Falls, I watch the first season again and go, “They were already planting this [thing] that paid off in the last episode.” It was beautiful. If you can do that model in animation, it’s great.