Ana Lily Amirpour Interview: Guillermo del Toro’s Cabinet of Curiosities

From the minds of everyone from H.P. Lovecraft to Henry Kuttner comes Guillermo del Toro’s Cabinet of Curiosities. Curated by the Oscar-winning director, the Netflix horror anthology is a collection of adaptations of short stories from iconic horror authors, as well as a few of his own tales.

Del Toro has gathered a roster of well-known, independent filmmakers for the various Cabinet of Curiosities outings, some of whom include A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night’s Ana Lily Amirpour, The Babadook’s Jennifer Kent, and Mandy’s Panos Cosmatos. Though varying in time periods and subgenres, del Toro’s anthology series proves to be a consistently terrifying and ambitious treat for horror genre fans just in time for Halloween.

In anticipation of its premiere, Screen Rant spoke exclusively with director Ana Lily Amirpour to discuss Guillermo del Toro’s Cabinet of Curiosities, her installment « The Outside, » finding Kate Micucci to lead the cast, her Cliffhanger reboot, and more.

Ana Lily Amirpour Talks Cabinet of Curiosities

Screen Rant: I’m very excited to talk about Cabinet of Curiosities with you. I went through them all yesterday and was just blown away by each and every mini-film. I love that Guillermo del Toro handpicked all the filmmakers to be involved with this. How did he come to you and approach you about being involved with this project?

Ana Lily Amirpour: Guillermo and I became friends when I was cutting my second film, The Bad Batch. I needed a filmmaker [to look at it], it was like, « Who would be my ideal person to have eyes on a cut of my film, who would understand this kind of genre mashing, really different, aggressive cinema that I do. » I had heard that he was a fan of my first film, I got connected with him, and he was so awesome, and really just encouraging. He’s just this really cool, generous guy and a true fan of artists and filmmakers, and just a generous soul. So yeah, we became friends, then he was also there when I was cutting my third film, he came in the edit with me in New York, so yeah, he’s just dope.

Then, he reached out to me last summer, and he was telling me about this anthology, and he had a story that was adapted from a comic, and he just asked me if I was interested, and of course, I was like, « Yeah, let me read it, I have to connect to the story to know that I can do something with it. » The thing with Guillermo was he was just like, « If there’s something you connect with, and you want to do this, you can change it, make the script whatever you want, » be absolutely limitless with what I could do with it. That’s clutch, that’s like the all-in, free thing, and then I read it and I got what I wanted to do with it right away, so we were off to the races.

Was there anything major that you felt you wanted to shake up from the original for filming?

Ana Lily Amirpour: I changed the ending, and I really changed the ladies of the bank, [they] weren’t ladies at the bank. It’s hard to even remember the first script, because I just changed it. It was really the ladies of the bank and their world that I made into what it is, they were [originally] teachers in an elementary school. So, it was the world Stacy wanted to belong to, I felt like I’d seen it before, they were elementary school teachers in the first draft I read, so I just changed it and, yeah, that’s what was different. A lot of things were different, I just shaped it, the script was really good for Stacy and Keith, the story was there, and it was really fun and stuff. But yeah, I changed a lot of things, it’s hard to remember, but I didn’t have any real rules, I just took the script and made it into what I needed to do, as any director would.

A story like this is often carried by its cast, and Kate really leads this thing so powerfully. What was it like looking for the perfect person to lead the cast for this one?

Ana Lily Amirpour: This project felt really blessed, I think I’ve had that to some degree on all my films, when there’s that real spark, but I know I’m the one that’s meant to tell a certain story. I mean, I wrote the first three, they’re my scripts, and then this one, because I got to take it and shape it into my own completely, it really feels like it’s my fourth movie. It did have a real charm, there’s an energy around when you’re making a film, and you’re looking for the people that are going to play it and inhabit it. Because Kate was presented to me as an idea, and I just instantly clicked with the essence of her, there’s something so inherently benevolent about her, and honest. When I met with her, there’s a fragile, genuine goodness in her that’s so special.

I just knew that, because Stacy gets pretty aggravated, you know what I mean? I feel like it’s like Patrick Bateman in American Psycho, how do you put someone on board, so they’re in the driver’s seat, rather than judging from a distance, where you’re really with her while she goes into this descent into basically being her own worst enemy. So, yeah, it was Death Becomes Her and American Psycho were the movies that felt like they were in the DNA of what I was imagining, this type of hyper-amplified storytelling, she was just special. And she was such a warrior, because that’s a lot of work, just makeup and everything she had to do to become Stacy. Then, what she’s doing, what she’s going through, the agony of what she’s going through, it was a wild shoot for her, so she’s a true warrior. I absolutely love her, I would work with her again in a heartbeat.

Dan Stevens is someone who I’ve worked with before, we worked together on Legion, I’m a huge fan, I loved him from the moment I saw The Guest, and I always look forward to if there’s a way to work together. He just really made Alo Glo Man this specific thing, he’s so great at developing and building weird eccentricities in his characters. I feel, in a way, lucky to get to watch him bring something to life like Johnny Depp when he was younger in his career, having to stand apart as someone who builds characters in such an amazing way. I feel like Dan is like that. And then, yeah, Martin Starr is amazing, incredible, so brilliant. Everybody, really, all the ladies of the bank, they were incredible actors in Toronto. We had so much fun, so much fun.

I love that you threw out both Legion and The Guest for Dan Stevens, two things that I feel are still underappreciated.

Ana Lily Amirpour: I know, they’re magnificent, he’s magnificent. He’s really a unique artist.

The voice that he brings to the character feels so ambiguous. Did you two discuss the specific voice for him to have for his part?

Ana Lily Amirpour: Yeah, it’s funny, Dan, that was all his idea. In the script, it read more like an American-sounding infomercial, and we talked and met and talked about it, he was the one that suggested that kind of, somewhere Swedish, somewhere Nordic. There’s a lot of beauty products that come from Switzerland, that kind of side of the world, and then I remember he sent me this commercial of a guy from, I think it was Sweden, for some product, it was a commercial from the ’90s, but that was his inspiration. And I said, « Yeah, I’m all for that. » If an actor is excited about doing something, and I think it makes sense to go into some weird specific direction, it just makes it more their own.

That was all Dan, and then I would do it rewrites, because he has so much to say, and I would do rewrites, and he would have to read out of that crazy accent, it’s like, « Careful what you wish for. » It was really fun to watch him do it, we’d all just kind of watch him, everybody would be wowed by Dan, you [were] kind of just staring at him in awe, he had the suit and the hair and all of that. The hair was also his idea, to go platinum, I showed him this one picture of a guy that has kind of platinum blonde hair, but it was more for the guy’s vibe, overall. I really didn’t think he would go that far and go all in and do platinum, I didn’t know he was down, and I can’t even picture it any different way.

That was certainly a very specific look that worked for the ominous character. What was it like crafting the specific look of this film?

Ana Lily Amirpour: Yeah, my cinematographer, Jeremy Benning, that was an extraordinary collaboration, I adore him, he’s so amazing. I wanted to come at this with really wide lenses, I wanted it to have the wider lenses give a kind of madness to the images. I was referencing Terry Gilliam with Twelve Monkeys and The Fisher King, where those wide lenses take you into this weird, psychological kind of experience in the story, and everything is distorted in a way when you’re on these wider lenses. So, it kind of makes everything dance, and then gives energy to everything in a certain way.

So yeah, that was a beautiful collaboration with Jeremy, I do storyboards. As a filmmaker, I’m really into the art direction and the visual approach, so I had the lenses, and the look we were going for, then it’s about every location having a unique kind of architecture to it that’s going to play nicely with those lenses. Tamara, the production designer, she’s a genius, and any idea I had, she would just bring it to life. It was a really nice working environment, because I had the best team, and that’s a testament to Guillermo, being a producer on something like this. Then, you’re getting to work with these incredible artists, from my production designer to my monster creator, the VFX and CG post people, they’re all geniuses.

If you look at like those women, I remember showing him pictures of Dynasty and stuff like that, Dallas and Dynasty, the ’80s and ’90s. I’m just telling him like, « Let’s make these ladies look like tropical fish in a fish tank. » We just went balls to the walls, it was a dream team.

I love that Guillermo not only introduces every special by telling us who the director is, but he also has that little figurine of you all. What was your reaction like when you found out that he would be doing that for everybody?

Ana Lily Amirpour: I didn’t even know, I got it in the mail, and it was just the cutest thing. It’s sitting on my kitchen counter next to my olive oil, I get to see Stacy, which actually that’s the perfect place in the kitchen, of course she’s doing a lot of her artistry. He’s so thoughtful, and everything he does, I feel like he does it with genuine care and attention and love. That’s what it is, getting the opportunity to be connected with someone who’s just so thoughtful and generous. I can’t wait to watch the other episodes, I can’t wait to see Panos’ episode, I haven’t seen. I didn’t want to, but I peeked in the edit, I peeked at a few of the other episodes, but I didn’t want to see them until they were all the way done. I’m a huge fan of Panos and Sofia Boutella, I’m excited to see that one.

I know it’s been a couple of years since we heard that you would be working on a Cliffhanger reboot, and I thought it was a wonderful idea. Has there been any update on that project?

Ana Lily Amirpour: Yeah, it is still very much [in progress], it has been in development for a long time. The COVID of it all kind of put a weird redirection on so many things. But now, we have an awesome writer, who I love, we’ve come up with this script from scratch together, and it should be done relatively soon, and it is really fun. It’s not a remake, it’s not exactly a sequel, I don’t know exactly how to describe what it is, but it’s very much a fun action movie from the soul of what Cliffhanger was, but done in a different, new way. Just like, did you see Prey, the new Predator movie?

I did, yes.

Ana Lily Amirpour: I loved it, and there’s been so many Predator sequels and things that I felt like that one really somehow contained the truth of what Predator was. Because Predator is one of my favorite movies, and remains one of my favorite movies of all time, and I felt like Prey was a fun revisiting of spirit of the Predator story. So, hopefully, Cliffhanger will be we something like that. We are working on it, the script is going to be done soon, and we’ll see how it goes.

About Guillermo del Toro’s Cabinet of Curiosities

In CABINET OF CURIOSITIES, acclaimed Academy Award-winning filmmaker and creator, executive producer and co-showrunner Guillermo del Toro has curated a collection of unprecedented and genre-defining stories meant to challenge our traditional notions of horror. From macabre to magical, gothic to grotesque or classically creepy, these eight equally sophisticated and sinister tales (including two original stories by del Toro) are brought to life by a team of writers and directors personally chosen by del Toro.

GUILLERMO DEL TORO’S CABINET OF CURIOSITIES is created and executive produced by Guillermo del Toro; executive produced by Academy Award winner J. Miles Dale (The Shape of Water; Sex/Life), who also serves as co-showrunner; and executive produced by Gary Ungar. Regina Corrado serves as co-executive producer. Del Toro also serves as host.

Check out our other Cabinet of Curiosities interviews here:

Vincenzo Natali Keith Thomas Crispin Glover Ben Barnes