Tom Hiddleston, Jessica Chastain, Mia Wasikowska and Guillermo del Toro Talk Crimson Peak and Latino Influence

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“Lord Byron said famously: ‘if everything else fails, scare them, shock them,’” director Guillermo del Toro told the press at a recent conference for his new film CRIMSON PEAK. Set in the late 1800’s, the film stars Mia Wasikowska as Edith Cushing: a soft-spoken but self-possessed young woman who falls for the charms of Thomas Sharpe (Tom Hiddleston), a mysterious young man looking to secure investors for a mining operation on his family estate in the north of England.

Edith and Thomas soon marry, and the pair travel to Allerdale Hall to live with Sharpe’s only living relative: his sister Lucille (Jessica Chastain). But Edith is soon unsettled by her experience at Allerdale,  and the house and her new family are full of secrets that turn her newlywed life dark and strange.

At the CRIMSON PEAK press conference in New York, Hiddleston -- no stranger to morally ambiguous roles -- said he hoped Thomas would confound the expectations of the audience. “Initially he’s very charismatic and charming, and behind the charisma you see somebody with some guilt, and shame,” he said, “and then behind the guilt you see a vulnerability.”

“Within a half an hour of saying: ‘yes, I would like to play the part,’” Hiddleston recalled, del Toro “bundled me into his car and drove me to the studio” where the director showed him a model of Allerdale Hall, whose scene-stealing, richly detailed environs are heavy with the history of the Sharpe family.

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The AVENGERS star said his preparation for the role mostly consisted of “syncing up with Guillermo,” by reading gothic romance novels the director suggested. Hiddleston also recalled a literature teacher from his childhood that would draw the curtains on Friday’s and read the gothic ghost stories of M.R. James out loud.

Culturally, del Toro explained that he had an “affinity with melodrama of the gothic romance quality because it it’s a little bit overwrought. All these passions, the stabbings, you know? It’s part of the Latin temperament.” The BAFTA award-winning director added, “the fact is, the way I see monsters or ghosts is very Latin. I open the movie and I say ghosts are real: end of story.”

Noting that he had named his lead character Edith in honor of novelist Edith Wharton, whose ”oblique ghost stories” served as inspiration, del Toro told reporters that CRIMSON PEAK was also inspired by a supernatural visitation his mother experienced.

“My mother’s grandmother died, and when she was a child she was crying in her bed, and she heard the silk of her grandmother’s dress move in the corridor,” said del Toro. “she smelled her perfume, and she heard the bedsprings creak and felt the weight of her grandmother leaning on her back, and she jumped up screaming.”

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Chastain, who learned to play Chopin on piano for the role, said “It wasn’t fun” playing Lucille, who she referred to as “the darkest character I’ve ever played.” While the Academy award-nominated actress emphasized that she loved working with Hiddleston, Wasikowska and del Toro, she said: “I really underestimated the toll this character was going to take on me,” and revealed that she had to drop out of a project she had planned to film following CRIMSON PEAK. Said Chastain: “I just had to take time off, I was so depleted...nothing was easy. There was never a day where it was like, ‘ah, this is a fun, light day for Lucille!’”

Chastain shares the screen with several ghosts in CRIMSON PEAK, but in terms of supernatural stories she cited THE EXORCIST as the one that’s stuck with her. The actress shivered as she recalled watching the film with her mother, and becoming so afraid that “I remember crawling into the fetal position on the couch with a blanket over me.”

To better understand the twisted world her character exists in, Chastain drew inspiration from genre films like MISERY, starring Kathy Bates, and Alfred Hitchcock’s REBECCA, starring Laurence Olivier and Joan Fontaine. “Looking at genre films you see these incredible female performances,” Chastain said, “for some reason there are phenomenal female characters in this genre, I think because the situations are heightened and because they go through a huge emotional journey.”

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CRIMSON PEAK’s leading lady, Edith, also has a complicated emotional arc. “Edith is a character who starts off very sure of herself,” said Wasikowska, “a bit idealistic and naive, and because of this ends up in this troubled romance that is continually not what she expected.”

Edith is also an aspiring author, penning her own ghost story -- within a ghost story. The ALICE IN WONDERLAND actress cited the horror classics Turn of the Screw and Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein as having made an impression on her. For his part, del Toro was also drawn to Shelley in particular, saying, “I had such a crush on Mary Shelley!”

In the Victorian era the film depicts, del Toro said people were “afraid to talk about sex.” By contrast, the director said:  “now I think we’re afraid to talk about love. It becomes a corny emotion in an era that is so cold, so cool, distant, and aloof.”

Hiddleston characterized the film as “such a different treatment of the subject matter...CRIMSON PEAK is about exploding the truth from the shadows.” The actor explained that as love is a “powerful and surprising force,” the film “ultimately is a story about love, it’s a story about the uncontrollable power of love, a depiction of different kinds of love.”

In writing CRIMSON PEAK, del Toro explained he was interested in creating a gothic romantic with a modern sensibility, and wanted to “switch it into a more female centric, gender-political arena. Normally these girls are all rescued by Fabio and they go to the cliff and catch the next ship to ‘Romantic Island.’”

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In opposition to this trope of the romance genre, del Toro told reporters he wanted Wasikowska and Chastain to “take charge of themselves.” This spirit of rebelling against the genre in which CRIMSON PEAK exists is, to the director, true to the nature of gothic romance.

“It was full, for the Victorian era, of sex and violence and they were very titillating elements...rebelling against academia and the establishment. I happen to be a filmmaker that is not postmodern, not ironic. I am completely high on my own supply. Everything I do, I do with a passion and earnestly. So I love that spirit. That’s the spirit of romanticism.”

Hiddleston summed up CRIMSON PEAK by saying, “the film asks a question about who gets to love in the end. It’s a battle between love and fear.”

CRIMSON PEAK is in theaters nationwide on October 16.

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