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.’”

The Reason Why the Genie From Aladdin Is Blue

Disney Enterprises Inc.
Disney Enterprises Inc.

Ever since Disney’s original Aladdin movie debuted in 1992, the Genie has always been blue. The Genie in the Broadway musical wears a royal blue costume, and a trailer for the 2019 live-action remake shows a blue, shirtless Will Smith playing the part of the Genie. While Disney has been known to change things up when it remakes classic movies like Beauty and the Beast or The Jungle Book, the Genie’s hue is one area where they're apparently sticking with what worked the last time around.

As Smithsonian explains, the reason for that is both symbolic and stylistic. Eric Goldberg, who oversaw the Genie’s animation for the original Aladdin, said the movie’s color palette was intentional. Specific colors were used to convey subtle messages about what the characters were like, before viewers had the chance to get to know them.

“The reds and the darks are the bad peoples’ colors,” Goldberg told Smithsonian. “The blues and the turquoises and the aquas are the good peoples’ colors.” If you go back and rewatch the movie, you’ll see that Jafar wears black and red, while Aladdin and Jasmine are dressed in cooler shades of blue, purple, and white.

Production designer Richard Vander Wende, who developed the movie’s color script, said the blue hue has even deeper symbolism attached to it. “Certain blues in Persian miniatures and tiled mosques stand out brilliantly in the context of the sun-bleached desert, their suggestion of water and sky connoting life, freedom, and hope in such a harsh environment," he said.

Disney animators and designers often use color to highlight the traits and attributes of different characters. A color wheel created by Venngage shows the colors various Disney characters are associated with, as well as the traits those colors supposedly stand for. For better or worse, crimson-clad characters like Jafar, Mr. Incredible, and the Queen of Hearts remind us of strength, energy, determination, and passion, according to Venngage’s analysis. Blue, on the other hand, stands for trust, loyalty, and confidence.

So even if people aren’t thrilled with Will Smith’s off-putting hue, it would seem the symbolism runs too deep to do away with it now.

[h/t Smithsonian]

Why Are the Academy Awards Statuettes Called Oscars?

Getty Images
Getty Images

In 2013, the Academy Awards were officially rebranded as simply The Oscars, after the famed statuette that winners receive. "We're rebranding it," Oscar show co-producer Neil Meron told The Wrap at the time. "We're not calling it 'the 85th annual Academy Awards,' which keeps it mired somewhat in a musty way. It's called 'The Oscars.'" But how did the statuette get that nickname in the first place?

The popular theory is that the nickname for the Academy Award of Merit (as the statuette is officially known) was coined by Academy Award librarian and future Director of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences Margaret Herrick. The story goes that when Herrick first saw the statue in 1931, she said that it looked like her Uncle Oscar. According to Emanuel Levy, author of All About Oscar: The History and Politics of the Academy Awards, columnist Sidney Skolsky was there when Herrick said this and would later write that, “Employees have affectionately dubbed their famous statuette ‘Oscar.’”

While the first documented use of “Oscar” as the nickname for the statuette was made by Skolsky—in a 1934 New York Daily News article—there doesn’t seem to be any evidence that Skolsky was actually responsible for the above quote. Skolsky, in his 1975 memoir Don’t Get Me Wrong, I Love Hollywood, claimed he first used the nickname referencing a classic vaudeville joke line, “Will you have a cigar, Oscar?” in an attempt to mock the Academy Awards:

"It was my first Academy Awards night when I gave the gold statuette a name. I wasn’t trying to make it legitimate. The snobbery of that particular Academy Award annoyed me. I wanted to make the gold statuette human. ... It was twelve thirty when I finally arrived at the Western Union office on Wilcox to write and file my story. I had listened to Academy, industry, and acceptance talk since seven thirty ... There I was with my notes, a typewriter, blank paper, and that Chandler feeling.

You know how people can rub you the wrong way. The word was a crowd of people. I’d show them, acting so high and mighty about their prize. I’d give it a name. A name that would erase their phony dignity. I needed the magic name fast. But fast! I remembered the vaudeville shows I’d seen. The comedians having fun with the orchestra leader in the pit would say, “Will you have a cigar, Oscar?” The orchestra leader reached for it; the comedians backed away, making a comical remark. The audience laughed at Oscar. I started hitting the keys ...

“THE ACADEMY awards met with the approval of Hollywood, there being practically no dissension … The Academy went out of its way to make the results honest and announced that balloting would continue until 8:00 o’clock of the banquet evening … Then many players arrive late and demanded the right to vote … So voting continued until 10 o’clock or for two hours after the ballot boxes were supposed to be closed … It was King Vidor who said: “This year the election is on the level” … Which caused every one to comment about the other years … Although Katharine Hepburn wasn’t present to receive her Oscar, her constant companion and the gal she resides with in Hollywood, Laura Harding, was there to hear Hepburn get a round of applause for a change…”

During the next year of columns, whenever referring to the Academy Award, I used the word 'Oscar.' In a few years, Oscar was the accepted name. It proved to be the magic name."

"Mouse's Return," a September 11, 1939 article in TIME magazine, seems to back up Skolsky’s above claim, stating:

"This week Sidney Skolsky joined the growing stable of writers that Publisher George Backer is assembling for his New York Post. Hollywood thought Publisher Backer had picked the right horse, for Skolsky is one of the ablest columnists in the business (he originated the term “Oscar” for Academy Awards) and by far the most popular …"

Though Skolsky has actual evidence to back his claim, his assertion that he coined the nickname is still slightly in doubt. Many claim that during Walt Disney’s Academy Award acceptance speech for Three Little Pigs in 1934—the same year Skolsky first covered the Awards—Disney referred to the statuette his little "Oscar," which was supposedly an already well-established nickname for it within the industry. The term Oscar was commonly used as a mocking nickname for the Academy Award (as Skolsky claims he used it), but in this theory, Walt Disney was supposedly the first in the industry to publicly use the name in a positive light.

Perhaps Herrick really did think the statuette resembled her uncle. Or maybe Skolsky really did come up with the moniker (whether he did or not, he certainly helped popularize it). In the end, nobody really knows why the Academy Award statuette is called an Oscar.

The idea for the design of the Academy Award statuette was thought up by MGM director Cedric Gibbons. His idea was to have a knight gripping a sword while standing on a film reel. Sculptor George Stanley was then hired to create the actual statuette based on this design idea. The first Academy Awards ceremony was held on May 16, 1929 in the Blossom Room of Hollywood's Roosevelt Hotel. The nickname Oscar wasn’t officially adopted for the statuette by the Academy until 1939.

Incidentally, the Academy states that the five spokes on the film reel the knight is standing on signify the original five branches of the Academy: writers, directors, actors, producers, and technicians.

Daven Hiskey runs the wildly popular interesting fact website Today I Found Out. To subscribe to his “Daily Knowledge” newsletter, click here.

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, let us know by emailing us at bigquestions@mentalfloss.com.

This article originally appeared in 2013.

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