Guillermo del Toro is quickly becoming thought of as a visionary in Hollywood whose films are always a don’t miss. His latest, the horror film with heart, Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark, stars Katie Holmes, Guy Pearce and a newcomer who steals every scene she’s in, the young Bailee Madison.
Holmes and del Toro sat down recently to discuss the finer points of their scary film and one thing is immediately obvious: They both believe Madison will be a star audiences will be hearing about for decades.
Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark follows an unmarried couple, Alex and Kim (Pearce and Holmes), who live in a Rhode Island mansion that they are renovating with hopes of selling. When Alex’s daughter Sally (Madison) comes to live with them from L.A., her presence unleashes something downright demonic in the house that will not only haunt the three of them, but forever change their lives and shake their souls to the core.
Movie Fanatic: Katie, what made you want to play the role of Kim?
Katie Holmes: I am a huge fan of Guillermo’s first of all. So, I was very honored. I love the characters in this film. They are very real. Kim is such a strong female character who goes on a very real journey. I loved where she started and where she ends up. I loved the moments where she bonded with Sally. I like horror movies and this had great emotional tension. I felt like the whole thing was very exciting.
Movie Fanatic: Speaking of Sally, Bailee the actress, how did you find her and how did you know she was the perfect one?
Guillermo del Toro: I wish we could take credit for all of that. But we can’t. We auditioned a lot of girls. Alfonso Cuaron is good friends with Natalie Portman, and Natalie said, “I know that you guys are looking for a girl. This is the girl.” They had done Brothers together. We thought we would go on that recommendation alone. We read Bailee and it’s like discovering Area 51 [laughs]. It’s like discovering an entire alien world of joy. She’s a perfect actor. It’s uncanny to find an actor that good at that age that has such control of her craft.
Movie Fanatic: Katie, you also started acting really young. Could you talk about working with Bailee?
Katie Holmes: I had a wonderful time working with Bailee. She is such a professional. She’s so talented and lovely. There was great joy on set and I loved every minute of it. I did start young, not as young as her, but she’s really her own person. She’s terrific. We’re going to see so many of her projects to come.
Movie Fanatic: You play a maternal role in Kim, was that easy for you to identify with? And also, there’s an unspoken theory that your character has had a rough childhood too.
Katie Holmes: It is hinted in the movie that Kim’s troubled childhood is the cause of her not wanting to immediately bond with Sally -- definitely not wanting to be a mother. What is great about these two characters is they come to understand each other and they become companions and comrades -- even more so than mother-daughter. I think that what I found identifiable in terms of Sally, when I was a little girl, sometimes when you’re a child, people don’t listen and don’t take you seriously. They don’t realize that you’re listening and you know way more of what’s going on than they think you do. That is one of the themes and what is explored in this film.
Guillermo del Toro: One of the beauties of the character of Kim for me is that she is even more than a mother. Using that same analogy, but I think it is more powerful than that. Because a mother has biologically and socially no choice but to be there, there is an obligation. Kim’s journey is all by choice and by mercy and by compassion, love and empathy. She says, “No, no, no.” But then, she realizes that... wait, this girl’s in trouble. It’s instinctive for her to help Sally. It’s the earmark of a good heart. When you are evil or good by choice it is ten times more apparent who you are than when it is by circumstance. Kim sees Sally has no one and decides to stick by her.
Movie Fanatic: Guillermo, why did you want to just write and produce, and not direct Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark?
Guillermo del Toro: I wrote Don’t Be Afraid before Pan’s Labyrinth and I think there were scenes in Pan’s Labyrinth that were in there. A small child moves into a home with one step parent. The child is called in the night by a voice and goes into this secret garden that covers a secret entrance to a secret place where creatures live. That is where the similarities end. After that, in Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark, it’s a war. Because of those similarities, I didn’t want to direct Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark. I decided to just produce it. Both of them are fairy tales gone wrong.