The Shape Of Water’s Sally Hawkins On Why The Film Is What The World Needs Today

The Shape of Water is the fantastical tale of Elisa, a mute janitor in a government research lab who falls in love with one of the lab’s research subjects: a humanoid sea creature.

Directed by Guillermo del Toro, the film released to great reviews and took home 4 awards – including Best Picture and Best Director – at this year’s Academy Awards. Sally Hawkins, the British actress who plays Elisa, shares everything you need to know about the film before it premieres exclusively in GSC International Screens on March 22.

On the film:

“Oh, it’s beyond words, which is apt. Love is beyond words. And it’s the most ultimate unique beautiful fairy tale, of its time. I mean, we need this film in the world today. And the way it embraces love and there’s no cynicism about it, like so passionately– the otherness, embracing the otherness of us, or the uniqueness of us all. It’s a huge strength in the world and something to be worshipped and adored.”

Sally Hawkins as Elisa in The Shape of Water

On her character, Elisa:

“She’s like a child, she has such an innocence, it’s so beautiful, it’s so pure, you know. And she’s all instinct and she doesn’t know that there’s something in her that is similar. She just recognizes that there’s a real connection and doesn’t quite understand what that is but it doesn’t matter.

And just the curiosity, I adored that innocence is so delicate and it was quite precise to get and, um, you’re, you know, she’s in this sort of dream-like world state of grace at the beginning. And [she’s] sort of very happy in her world and happy with adoring the people she works with. And with her best friend Zelda and then Giles next door, and very happy that they talk to her and engage with her. And she has this other worldly ethereal type thing, energy. And you’re not quite sure of what– she was an orphan and washed up and it’s slightly biblical. I love all that mythology in it, woven in so deep, as it is with all Guillermo’s work.”

On playing an ‘invisible’ person:

“I love that Guillermo tells a story of people that are seemingly dismissible and easily dismissible, and not really understood or heard, or given a voice. He literally takes them and makes them mute. And I think it’s a strength, it is a strength where the world and people see it as a disability. But I don’t know if even Elisa if she’s even aware of that or sees it as that.”

From left to right: Sally Hawkins, director Guillermo del Toro, and Doug Jones

On working with Guillermo del Toro:

“Everyone he works with, he takes on as family and he’s that passionate. He is the film. It is his heart his soul, he is Elisa, he is the fish, he is that romantic. He believes in the power of love and the transformative power of love and the fact it’s able to break through walls. And this seemingly small person who doesn’t speak, this gentle soul, that has this power behind her that is fueled by this love that literally is ripping her soul apart if she doesn’t free him, and release him and save him, it’s just the most extraordinary thing to play.”

“He believes in the power of love and the transformative power of love and the fact it’s able to break through walls.” – Sally Hawkins, on Guillermo del Toro

On co-star Doug Jones’ performance:

“The strength of Doug is beyond any other human being I know. And he has this beautiful slither to him. I mean he says so himself, he’s a hundred and ten pounds and he’s tall and he’s like a creature in himself, he’s like other worldly. And there’s this incredible strength of him, mental and physical. The way he’s able to do what he does in that suit that is for the majority of time water0laden and logged. So it’s not only heavy, uh, this rubber suit, where you can’t see proper or hear or really able- be aware of where he is, and can’t get out of. He had to time his evolutions. And, um, and dinner through a straw, he can’t ever properly get comfortable in a day – three hours getting in and probably three hours getting out of it – and just as having just as long days. The work he does is stunning.”

On the beauty of the sets:

“The production values are like nothing else– it’s like this painting that you walk into and it was just breathtaking, you know, seeing those sets for the first time and the fact that I got to play in them, down to to the holes in the floor boards of her flat and the wall paper where you’ve got the giant Japanese wave hidden with what seems like years of encrusted blue-green paint… it was just stunning.”

This interview has been lightly edited for length and clarity.