There is always a strange period at the start of the year, when movies we haven't yet seen are already leading the awards season.

This year it is Guillermo del Toro's The Shape Of Water which has the most nods, but UK audiences can't see it until later this month.

The movie, with strange fairytale-like qualities, tells the story of a mute woman who falls in love with a sea creature, and features a stellar cast including Sally Hawkins, Richard Jenkins, Michael Shannon, Octavia Spencer and Michael Stuhlbarg.

It's the latest offering from the Pan's Labyrinth director, who told Sky News that he's been working on the idea for a long time.

"It came from a childhood dream that the creature from the black lagoon and Julie Adams could end up together, which they didn't," he said.

"But then it evolved over the years and I thought I could do a Beauty And The Beast kind of story that was not conventional, because often times the beauty is an idealised woman… and I wanted to build a story of a unique woman, but that was real."

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Image:Sally Hawkins and Michael Shannon in The Shape Of Water

Del Toro was also conscious he didn't want his beast to become a human.

"A beast that didn't have to turn in to a prince to have a love," he explained, adding that the key to the romantic relationship is that it's relatable.

"The physical love between them was not perverse or titillating, it was just very matter of fact."

Del Toro financed the creation of the sea creature off his own pocket, because of how essential it was to get it right.

"It had to do very complicated things: One, it couldn't look like a real, organic thing; two, it needed to be a movie monster; three, it needed to be a leading man; and four – very important – it needed to be a God, it needed to look like a primal God.

"And those things required three years – beginning with sculpting, there was painting, designing – we moved the eyes a little, we moved them a millimetre, everything was done physically, old style.

"I wanted the movie to feel handcrafted and real – like an old Hollywood production of a musical."

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Richard Jenkins
Video:Richard Jenkins on working with del Toro

The film features some fantastic performances – Sally Hawkins and Octavia Spencer are both BAFTA and Oscar nominated for their roles, while Richard Jenkins is also in the running for an Academy Award.

Del Toro said he knew who he wanted for many of the characters while writing the film – and that he tailored the script for each actor who joined the cast.

"The way I wrote the movie – I wrote it for Sally Hawkins, I wrote it for Michael Shannon and I wrote it for Octavia and then the rest I got every one of my first tries.

"I got Octavia, I got Richard and I got the other Michael, and then I re-wrote the movie.

"If it was not written for one of them I would re-write it, specifically for that person."

Jenkins, who plays the best friend of Hawkins' character, told Sky News it was an easy decision for him to accept the role.

"Absolutely, it was the easiest thing I ever did," he told us.

Guillermo Del toro
Image:Guillermo del Toro has been nominated for best director at the Oscars

"It was two emails: 'I hope you love this as much as I do,' he said. And I wrote back and said, 'I think I do,' and that was it, that was it."

Del Toro says that setting the film in the 1960s allowed him to address modern-day issues – alluding to President Donald Trump's surprising rise to power.

"The conditions in 1962 are not only identical to the conditions now – Cold War, casual racism, sexism, misogyny, everything was very active back then that is active now – but also '62 is a once-upon-a-time for America.

"It's a fairy-tale time for America – the Kennedys are in the White House, the space race is on, after the war there's an economic boom, everybody has jet fin cars, automatic kitchens, TV in every room, suburban houses… And that's the time I think America dreams of, when they say, 'let's make America great again'.

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"They dream of the 1960s – 1962 – but that [dream] dies, it never is fulfilled because Kennedy is shot and Vietnam escalates, so for the movie to have a spiritual, emotional and political position, I thought '62 is the perfect once-upon-a-time for what I need."

The Shape Of Water is out in cinemas in the UK on 14 February.

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