Guillermo del Toro’s ‘The Shape of Water’ features gay character who helps amphibian humanoid

The Guillermo del Toro film “The Shape of Water” is drenched in film noir with strong, vulnerable, and marginalized characters, including a speechless, scaly, amphibian humanoid and Giles, a lonely, closeted gay man.


Giles (Richard Jenkins), an avid movie musical lover, is a neighbor and close friend of the movie’s mute protagonist, Elisa (Sally Hawkins), who works as a janitor in a secret, high-security government laboratory in 1962 Baltimore at the height of the Cold War. The amphibian humanoid, aka The Creature or The Asset, is captured and experimented on at the lab.

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Elisa’s best friend at work is Zelda (Octavia Spencer), an African-American janitor who wants respect in a segregated world. When Elisa discovers the Creature, she befriends him.


Eventually, Elisa, Giles, and Zelda plot together to help the Creature escape.

“All three are marginal and invisible for different reasons — one for race, one for sexual orientation, one for disability – and then they get together and give it to the man,” del Toro says in the film’s press notes.

“The lab thinks they’re fighting powerful Soviet spies, but I love that they are really fighting two cleaning ladies and a gay artist,” he says.


As a gay man in the oppressive 1960s, Giles is suffering in silence, but also a force to be reckoned with, del Toro says in the notes.

“I told Richard I wanted Giles to be someone both hiding and defiant, a strong guy in a vulnerable position,” del Toro says.

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Jenkins, who was nominated for a best actor Oscar in 2009 for “The Visitor,” understood the challenges gay men faced in the early 1960s.

“In 1962, if you were a straight, white man, life was great. If you weren’t, it wasn’t so good,” Jenkins, 70, says in an interview with the Los Angeles Times. “You didn’t even talk about being gay, or gay people. You were invisible if you were an African American or you had a disability.


“I used to say, ‘We didn’t have any gay people in high school until our 35th reunion.’ I mean, it’s true,” he says. “You had to live a lie.”

Richard Jenkins, left, plays Giles, a lonely, closeted gay man and friend to Elisa (Sally Hawkins), right, in Guillermo del Toro’s “The Shape of Water.” Photo: Fox Searchlight

About the author

Phillip Zonkel

Award-winning journalist Phillip Zonkel spent 17 years at Long Beach's Press-Telegram, where he was the first reporter in the paper's history to have a beat covering the city's vibrant LGBTQ. He also created and ran the popular and innovative LGBTQ news blog, Out in the 562.

He won two awards and received a nomination for his reporting on the local LGBTQ community, including a two-part investigation that exposed anti-gay bullying of local high school students and the school districts' failure to implement state mandated protections for LGBTQ students.

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