10 Fast Facts About The Shape of Water

Kerry Hayes, Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation
Kerry Hayes, Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation

Over the past seven years, Guillermo del Toro has worked to bring the love story between a mute janitor and a fishman from the Amazon to life, and now that he’s finally succeeded, The Shape of Water is a contender both for Best Picture and for Strangest Best Picture Nominee of All Time.

It’s also a delight, drawing on Capra-esque elements of the Golden Age of Hollywood to create a magical haze of optimism and innocence and pure love. Sally Hawkins plays Elisa, the mute janitor who lives above a movie theater and who works at a secret facility where the Cold War-era government stashes Amphibian Man (Doug Jones, with three hours of make-up). It’s Amélie meets The Creature From the Black Lagoon with just a hint of Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy. Here are 10 fast facts about The Shape of Water.

1. IT PREMIERED IN THE THEATER IN WHICH IT WAS SHOT.

Doug Jones and Sally Hawkins in The Shape of Water (2017)
Fox Searchlight Pictures

The stunning, turn-of-the-century movie theater that Elisa lives above (and drips water into) is the historic Elgin Theatre in Toronto, Canada. As a nice note of serendipity, it’s also where the film played at its Toronto Film Festival premiere. The Elgin (and its sister theater, the Winter Garden) were built in 1913 and originally designed to host vaudeville acts.

2. ELISA’S LAST NAME HINTS AT HER ORPHAN STATUS.

The main character doesn’t appear to have any family connections throughout the film, relying solely on the friendship of her closeted gay neighbor Giles (Richard Jenkins) and her co-worker Zelda (Octavia Spencer), and her last name suggests that she was abandoned as a child. “Esposito” means “exposed” in Italian and was used as a last name for babies left on the stoops of orphanages or otherwise given up for adoption.

3. HER NAME ALSO OFFERS A CONNECTION TO MY FAIR LADY.

Both Elisa from The Shape of Water and Eliza (Audrey Hepburn) from My Fair Lady are working-class characters who undergo a transformation that allows them to find their own voice. Elisa does that literally in the dreamy musical act where she professes her love, but discovering her voice is largely metaphorical, an act of refusing to remain silent in the face of oppression. The connection is purposeful, too. Hawkins studied Hepburn, among other classic actors, for the role, and Giles has a drawing of Hepburn in his apartment studio.

4. GUILLERMO DEL TORO WAS DRUNK WHEN HE PITCHED THE MOVIE TO HAWKINS.

Actor Sally Hawkins (L) and director Guillermo del Toro attend The 23rd Annual Critics' Choice Awards at Barker Hangar on January 11, 2018 in Santa Monica, California.
Christopher Polk, Getty Images for The Critics' Choice Awards

As the story goes, del Toro was watching Antiques Roadshow when he got a call from Alfonso Cuarón and Alejandro González Iñárritu, asking him to go to a 2014 Golden Globes party with them, promising they would all get drunk and sing together. Del Toro doesn’t drink often, but he needs a lot of booze to get him buzzed, and after downing a bunch of shots, Cuarón and Iñárritu confessed they weren’t going to drink. On his way to the exit, he ran into Hawkins (who wasn’t supposed to be there). He embraced her, lifted her up, and said, “I’m writing a movie for you! You fall in love with a fish man!”

5. DEL TORO GAVE HIMSELF A BIRTHDAY PRESENT IN THE MOVIE.

October 10th is the fated day that the rains will come to Baltimore and allow Elisa to release Amphibian Man at the docks, so there’s a lingering shot on the rip-off daily calendar page for October 9th, which is del Toro’s birthday.

6. THERE ARE SUBTLE NODS TO OTHER OCTAVIA SPENCER ROLES.

Octavia Spencer and Sally Hawkins in The Shape of Water (2017)
Kerry Hayes, Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation

Spencer plays Elisa’s smart yet weary friend/co-worker Zelda, a role del Toro wrote for her. The Oscar-winning actress noted that the role was a blend of her roles in The Help and Hidden Figures, adding that she “would have played the desk had Guillermo asked” her to. In one scene, Strickland (Michael Shannon) jokes, “What am I doing? Interviewing the help?” while interrogating Zelda and Elisa—a reference to Spencer’s Oscar-earning performance. Later, he claims that God would look like him, or maybe her, but definitely not Amphibian Man; Spencer actually played God in The Shack.

7. DOUG JONES GOT INSPIRATION FROM DOGS AND MATADORS.

It took three hours for Jones to get into the suit and special make-up to become Amphibian Man, which was actually less than normal for the actor who appeared as the Pale Man in del Toro’s Pan’s Labyrinth and as Abe Sapien in the Hellboy movies. Jones told NPR that, in playing a character that cannot speak, he studied the way dogs respond with their heads and bodies to our vocal tones. He also utilized the pelvis-first movements of matadors to create Amphibian Man’s alluring, fluid body language.

8. A CAR ALMOST CRASHED INTO DEL TORO DURING A SHOT (THAT THEY KEPT IN THE MOVIE).

There’s a scene late in the film when Strickland furiously drives to confront Elisa about harboring Amphibian Man. Michael Shannon was supposed to park outside the movie theater, but he rushed from the car without shifting it out of gear, so the car kept going, crashing through a decorative post. “Shower of sparks,” del Toro told The Hollywood Reporter’s directors’ roundtable. “Goes for the second post, and it’s coming straight for the video system. Everybody says, ‘Run!’ Now, I never run for anything in my life! And I go, ‘I am going to die.’ And the car stops at the second and final post, which is anchored to the ground. Everybody was horrified. And I say, ‘Now I can make my shot.’”

9. THE ONLY CHARACTERS WHO DON’T HAVE TROUBLE COMMUNICATING ARE THE MUTE ONES.

One sly touch that reinforces the film’s subtext of connecting with someone different from you is the ease of communication between Elisa and Amphibian Man, despite not speaking a common language. Their relationship comes effortlessly while, as del Toro explained, “every single character that has the power of speech has problems communicating.”

Strickland sees anything beyond giving or obeying orders as weakness; Giles has to muster the courage to convey his feelings for another man (and when he does, it’s disastrous); Zelda talks near-constantly but can’t find common ground with her husband; and Dr. Hoffstetler (Michael Stuhlbarg) speaks multiple languages, but struggles to find the words to simultaneously placate the KGB and his American colleagues.

10. JONES AND HAWKINS SAID “I LOVE YOU” BEFORE TAKES.

The combination of their innocence and effortless, fiery sensuality was a product of the actors trusting one another, which takes a lot of work. That included taking dance lessons together to get a sense of their mutual physicality, as well as sharing personal insecurities with each other so they could be completely vulnerable. “I was scared,” Jones told the Los Angeles Times. “I think we were both scared. Before almost every take, we’d hold each other, caress each other’s faces, say, ‘I love you. I’m so glad you’re here.’”

11 Surprising Facts About Sylvester Stallone

Evening Standard/Hulton Archive/Getty Images
Evening Standard/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

As streetwise boxer Rocky Balboa (in eight films) and haunted Vietnam veteran John Rambo (in five films), the man born Michael Sylvester Gardenzio Stallone has made his brand of muscular melodrama a staple of the action film genre across five decades.

The latest Rambo chapter, Rambo: Last Blood, opens September 20. In the meantime, check out some of the more intriguing facts about the actor, from his modest beginnings as an accidental porn star to his peculiar rivalry with Richard Gere to his waylaid plans to run a pudding empire.

1. An errant pair of forceps gave Sylvester Stallone his distinctive look.

Many comedians have paid their bills over the decades by adopting Sylvester Stallone’s distinctive lip droop and guttural baritone voice. The facial feature was the result of some slight mishandling at birth. When Stallone was born on July 6, 1946 in Manhattan, the physician used a pair of forceps to deliver him. The malpractice left his lip, chin, and part of his tongue partially paralyzed due to a severed nerve. Stallone later said his face and awkward demeanor earned him the nickname “Sylvia” and authority figures telling him his brain was “dormant.” Burdened with low self-esteem, Stallone turned to bodybuilding and later performing as a way of breaking through what seemed to be a consensus of low expectations.

2. sylvester Stallone attended college in Switzerland.

A publicity still of Sylvester Stallone from the 1981 film 'Victory' is pictured
Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Despite a tumultuous adolescence in which he was kicked out of several schools for misbehavior, Stallone eventually graduated high school while living with his mother in Philadelphia. He went on to attend American College, a university in Leysin, Switzerland, where he also worked as a gym teacher and dorm bouncer in addition to selling hamburgers on campus. It was there he became interested in theater—both acting and writing.

Stallone continued his education at the University of Miami before moving to New York with the hopes of breaking into the entertainment industry. While auditioning for parts, Stallone worked as a movie theater usher and cleaned lion cages at the zoo. He was fired from the theater for trying to scalp tickets to a customer. Unknown to Stallone, the customer was the theater owner.

3. Sylvester Stallone’s mother was an expert in “rumpology.”

Stallone’s parents separated while he was still a child. His father, a beauty salon owner named Francesco Stallone, was apparently prone to corporal punishment, and would cuff his young son for misbehavior. (Stallone was once caught swatting flies with a lead pipe on the hood of his father’s brand-new car.) His mother, Jackie Stallone—whom he once described as “half-French, half-Martian"—later grew interested in the study of rumpology, or the study of the buttocks to reveal personality traits and future events.

4. Sylvester Stallone had a small part in a porno.

Actor Sylvester Stallone is pictured during a promotional tour for the film 'Rambo' in Madrid, Spain in January 2008
Carlos Alvarez, Getty Images

While struggling to make it as an actor, Stallone was talked into making an appearance in Party at Kitty and Stud’s, a 1970 softcore adult film that was not as explicit as other sex features of the era but still required Stallone to appear in the nude. While he was initially hesitant to take the role, Stallone was sleeping in a bus shelter at the time. He took the $200 for two days of work. Following the success of Rocky in 1976, the film’s producers capitalized on their now-valuable footage and re-released it under the title The Italian Stallion. In 2010, a 35mm negative of the film and all worldwide rights to it were auctioned off on eBay for $412,100.

5. Sylvester Stallone wrote a novel.

In addition to his acting ambitions, Stallone decided to pursue a career in writing. After numerous screenplays, he wrote Paradise Alley, a novel about siblings who get caught up in the circus world of professional wrestling in Hell’s Kitchen. Stallone finished the novel before deciding to turn it into a screenplay. Paradise Alley was eventually produced in 1978. The book, which was perceived as a novelization, was published that same year.

6. Sylvester Stallone was not a fan of the Rambo cartoon series.

After the success of 1982’s First Blood and 1985’s Rambo: First Blood Part II, Stallone was confronted with a litany of Rambo merchandising. Speaking with the Chicago Tribune in 1986, he said he disliked that the psychologically-tortured war veteran was being used to peddle toys. “I couldn’t control it,” he said. “I tried to stop it, but I don’t own the licensing rights.”

On the subject of Rambo: The Force of Freedom, a 1986 animated series featuring a considerably softened-up version of the character, Stallone was resigned. “They’re going to make this Saturday morning TV cartoon show for kids with what they tell me is a softened version of Rambo doing good deeds. First of all, that isn’t Rambo, but more important, they tell me I can’t stop them because it’s not me they’re using. It’s a likeness of a character I played and don’t own.” The show lasted just one season.

7. Sylvester Stallone never planned on the Rocky series enduring as long as it has.

Through the years, Stallone has made some definitive declarations about the Rocky series, which has been extended to eight films including its two spin-off installments, 2015’s Creed and 2018’s Creed II. Speaking with movie critic Roger Ebert in 1979 shortly before the release of Rocky II, Stallone indicated Rocky III that would conclude the series. “There’ll never be a Rocky IV,” he said. "You gotta call it a halt.” In 1985, while filming Rocky IV, Stallone told Interview magazine that he was finished. “Oh, this is it for Rocky,” he said. “Because I don’t know where you go after you battle Russia.” In 1990, following the release of Rocky V, Stallone declared that “There is no Rocky VI. He’s done.” Upon the release of Rocky Balboa in 2006, Stallone once more declared he was finished. "I couldn't top this," he told People. "I would have to wait another 10 years to build up a head of steam, and by that point, come on."

Creed was released nine years later. Following Creed II, he posted a message on Instagram that served as a “final farewell” to the character. Several months later, in July 2019, Stallone told Variety that, “There’s a good chance Rocky may ride again” and explained an idea involving Rocky befriending an immigrant street fighter. It would be the ninth film in the series.

8. Sylvester Stallone was offered the lead role in Beverly Hills Cop.

Actor Sylvester Stallone is pictured during production of the 1978 film 'Paradise Alley'
Central Press/Getty Images

In one of the more intriguing alternate casting decisions in Hollywood history, Stallone was originally offered the Axel Foley role in 1984’s Beverly Hills Cop. Not wishing to make a comedy, Stallone rewrote the script to focus more on the action, as Detroit cop Foley stampedes through Beverly Hills to find his friend’s killers. Stallone described his version as resembling “the opening scene from Saving Private Ryan on the beaches of Normandy” and said his climax involved a game of chicken between a Lamborghini and an oncoming train. Producers opted to go in another direction. It became one of Eddie Murphy’s biggest hits. Stallone would later use some of his ideas for a rogue cop in the 1986 film Cobra.

9. Sylester Stallone does not get along with Richard Gere.

While filming 1974’s The Lords of Flatbush, in which Stallone and then-unknown actor Richard Gere both played 1950s street toughs, the two actors apparently got off on the wrong foot. Stallone recalled that Gere drew his ire for being too physical during rehearsals—and worse, getting mustard on Stallone during a lunch break. Incensed, Stallone demanded the director choose one of them to stay and one of them to be fired. Gere was let go and replaced by Perry King.

10. Arnold Schwarzenegger once tricked sylvester stallone into starring in a box office bomb.

Actors Sylvester Stallone (L) and Arnold Schwarzenegger (R) are photographed during the premiere of 'The Expendables 2' in Hollywood, California in August 2012
Frazer Harrison, Getty Images

Stallone has often discussed his rivalry with Arnold Schwarzenegger, as the two action stars were believed to be the two biggest marquee attractions in the 1980s. Recalling his 1992 bomb Stop! Or My Mom Will Shoot, Stallone told a journalist in 2014 that he believed Schwarzenegger was to blame. “I heard Arnold wanted to do that movie and after hearing that, I said I wanted to do it,” he said. “He tricked me. He’s always been clever.”

11. sylvester Stallone wanted to create a pudding empire.

In 2005, shortly before Rocky Balboa resurrected his film career, Stallone embarked on a line of fitness supplements. His company, Instone, produced a pudding snack that was low-carb and high in protein. Stallone even appeared on Larry King to hawk the product. A legal dispute with a food scientist over the rights to the concoction dragged on for years and Instone eventually folded.

Highclere Castle—the Real-Life Downton Abbey—Is Available to Rent on Airbnb

Highclere Castle, used as the setting for Downton Abbey
Highclere Castle, used as the setting for Downton Abbey
Emily_M_Wilson/iStock via Getty Images

Have you ever wanted to spend a night in a castle? And not just any castle—the Downton Abbey castle, Highclere Castle? On November 26, one lucky couple will get the opportunity to relive the TV show and movie, when castle owners Lady and Lord Carnarvon will cordially invite one person and their guest of choice to spend the night in the castle, which is located in Hampshire, England—about 45 miles west of London. On October 1 (Airbnb reservations go live at noon BST) anyone with a verified profile, positive reviews, and passion for Downton Abbey can vie for the opportunity. Even though the castle has 300 rooms, they are only making one bedroom available, for $159.

Upon arrival, the royals will host cocktails with the guests in the saloon. Visitors will hear stories from more than 300 years of Highclere Castle history (construction on the castle began in 1679, and has been in the Carnarvon family ever since).

“I am passionate about the stories and heritage of Highclere Castle and I am delighted to be able to share it with others who have a love of the building and its history,” Lady Carnarvon said in the Airbnb listing.

The Earl and Countess will host a dinner for the guests in the state dining room, and afterwards have coffee in the library. Before bed, the guests’ butler will escort them to their gallery bedroom. The next morning, guests will receive a complimentary breakfast, a private tour of the 100,000-square foot castle and 1000-acre grounds, and a special gift from the Carnarvons. (Airbnb will also make a donation to The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies.)

It should be noted the castle doesn’t have Wi-Fi or central air, but it does have fireplaces and central heat. There are a few rules guests must follow, though: all newspapers must be ironed; one butler per person; cocktail dress is required at dinner; gossip is restricted to downstairs; the listing is midweek because, as the Dowanger once said, “What is a weekend?”

If you don’t win the opportunity to stay at Highclere, all is not lost: you can tour the castle year-round.

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