Guillermo Del Toro's new film The Shape of Water is an unusual hybrid, a romance with overtones of both creature fantasy and political satire. Set in 1962, it features a central character who is a mute. And Del Toro wrote the role specifically for Sally Hawkins.

Sally Hawkins in 'The Shape of Water'Sally Hawkins in 'The Shape of Water'

"I mean, I said yes as soon as I heard that Guillermo was doing it," Hawkins admits. "I didn't need to read the script to know that I wanted to do it. He's a genius in the true sense of the word."

And when she did read the screenplay, she was pleasantly surprised. "It's monster-led but it's more Beauty and the Beast, as it were," she says. "It's a love story. But he's not really a beast. He's a beautiful creature that she falls in love with. He's part man, part fish. The film is extraordinary! I feel very lucky to have worked with Guillermo. It's quite an unusual part, and it's storytelling on an epic scale."

Watch the trailer for 'The Shape of Water' here:

To play the role, Hawkins had to revisit speaking in sign language, which she learned while starring in the play Constellations. "It's like learning a different language," she says, "and you're never going to do it justice just sort of doing a crash course. You're still going to have the hangup of accent. Even if you are doing it for a year, it won't be enough. Just like that wouldn't be enough to speak French fluently. You'd still give yourself away with an accent."

But then, Hawkins says that this made the role even more interesting for her. "I'm always wanting to cut everything out because so much can be said with less," she explains. "And so when I heard about this I thought, 'Well this is my dream, a script with no words.' And I don't have to open my mouth and make a nonsense out of many words that some writer has written or I won't be able to pull them off. That's always the fear."

More: 'The Shape of Water' leads Golden Globe nominations

After premiering at the Venice Film Festival, where it won the Golden Lion, the film has also thrust Hawkins into the Best Actress race. A Golden Globe winner (for Happy-Go-Lucky) and Oscar nominee (for Blue Jasmine), Hawkins is bracing herself for awards season. "I'm taking it all with a pinch of salt," she says. "You know, you try to do your best. I do find interviews quite overwhelming when they are a lot of them! But I have a responsibility to present the film and myself in the best possible light."