Pan’s Labyrinth 15 years on – Interview with Ivana Baquero who played the lead role

words Adam Davidson

15 years after its release, Ivana Baquero, who played the lead role of Ofelia in Pan’s Labyrinth, looks back on filming the fantasy movie, Del Toro and how she managed to enjoy a normal childhood.

Set against the backdrop of Franco’s fascist regime in 1940s Spain, Pan’s Labyrinth blends fantasy with reality as the young protagonist Ofelia is given three tasks by the Faun in order to achieve immortality and return to her kingdom as the Princess Moana.

The moralistic tale of good vs evil, the stunning yet brutal imagery and the transportive mythical storytelling are only but a few of the reasons why Guillermo Del Toro’s masterpiece is considered one of the best fantasy movies of all time.

Pan’s Labyrinth

Ivana Baquero was 11 years old when she auditioned for the lead role of Ofelia in Pan’s Labyrinth. Filmmaker Del Toro was specifically looking for an eight-year-old girl to play the character but out of the thousand who auditioned it was only Ivana who he could picture in the role. He later rewrote parts of the script to accommodate the young actress.

Speaking about the casting, Ivana said: “Frankly, I still don’t think it has sunken in [laughs.] It was definitely meant to be, and I’ve never taken it for granted.

“That movie was a make or break for me. I was so young that if I hadn’t gotten such a strong start to my career I don’t know that I would’ve ultimately continued being an actress. But all the stars aligned!”

Before filming, Del Toro gave Ivana a selection of manga and comic books to immerse herself into the world of myths and fairy tales.

She said: “We shared a mutual love for manga so a lot of the character work for Ofelia was channeled through comics and anime. Some that particularly stuck with me, and that I still revisit and cherish, were Ghibli’s ‘Grave of the Fireflies’ and the ‘Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind’ comic books.

“He also shared other pieces, but those two staples are still very dear to me. Looking back now, it made total sense that he would share those stories since they are both so relevant to Pan’s Labyrinth.”

Pan’s Labyrinth is full of dark imagery, haunting creatures and difficult themes so it would be understandable if an 11-year-old found these difficult to deal with.

However, Ivana actually enjoyed the mystical experience. She said: “I was actually never scared- if anything I loved all those dark and creepy elements.

“I’d actually done a few horror movies before Pan’s Labyrinth so I was well versed in the art of limbs, blood and monsters. I was an avid fan of fantasy so the creatures didn’t really phase me.”

Nevertheless, there was one thing that unsettled Ivana.

“I do remember that the very first time I saw Doug Jones as the Faun, probably on day one or two of filming, I felt intimidated by how tall he was in real life- bear in mind it was 6’3 Doug on top of huge stilts! I was like ‘wow’ I’m going to need a chiropractor for my neck,” she said.

Despite being a young actress and in one of the biggest movies of the year, Ivana continued to go to school in between filming. She led a relatively normal childhood but this fame did throw up some challenges.

She said: “It was strange in the sense that, coincidentally, my first movie a few years before Pan’s had been cast at my school so a lot of my classmates had also auditioned for that and I was the one chosen for the part. That brought along resentment and awkwardness on behalf of some of the kids, and as you can imagine it was exacerbated at that age.”

Ivana added: “When I got older and found the right crowd coming in and out of school became seamless- bear in mind I was never home schooled, I’d always jump back into class as soon as I finished a film.

“So in that sense, I actually had quite a normal childhood and rarely felt like I missed out on anything.”

Despite starring in the movie, Ivana is still able to enjoy Pan’s Labyrinth as a spectacle.

She said: “To me, one of the beauties of Pan’s Labyrinth is that no matter how many times you watch it, you always discover new things and uncover different layers.

“Over the years, I’ve probably watched it more than 20 times- most of these were during its earlier years as I’d always stay to watch the full movie at premiers, screenings and during film festivals.

“It’s also very interesting to me that the older I get, the more I can disassociate myself from the movie and just appreciate it to its full extent without feeling like I’m in it- which to me is more enjoyable and allows for a whole different experience.”

She finished by saying: “The whole experience was so magical and insightful. I couldn’t have chosen a better ‘master class’ with which to kick off my career.”

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