Guillermo del Toro is one of the hardest working men in genre, so it is hard to limit an interview with him to just one topic. We started on The Strain, his trilogy of vampire novels that has just been adapted into a comic book series, but that quickly spawned into The Strain TV series, Pacific Rim, Frankenstein, and Haunted Mansion. You may be tired after just reading this interview.
What was it about The Strain that felt like it was a good choice to turn it into a graphic novel?
From the very start, The Strain was conceived with a visual medium in mind. Originally, that was going to be a pilot at Fox. Then when they didn’t pick it up, we switched to novels and wrote them with Chuck Hogan. But there was something about it that made it perfect for a visual medium. I didn’t want to do it as a movie where I had to condense the books into a movie or two or three. Mike Richardson [from Dark Horse Comics] and I have a good relationship. He offered me 10 to 12 issues per book, so I didn’t need to condense as much. That was a very big temptation. I thought it would be a good trial to see if it really retained the roots of its visual conception.
Do you feel it has transferred well into a graphic novel?
It did, but I cannot take credit for that. David Lapham and Mike Huddleston did a terrific job, and we had great editors at Dark Horse. They were the right people. Fortunately I had my first choice of colorists, color artist, the artist, and the writer. Once those choices were made, they really took the ball and ran with it.
Was it difficult to make those choices and turn your vision over to someone else?
No, it wasn’t. Frankly, I saw how Mike Mignola was when he allowed us to adapt Hellboy. We took a lot of liberties with Hellboy to bring it to the big screen, and Mike was always really laid back and said, “The books will be the books; the movies will be the movies.” Frankly, David Lapham was far more respectful, but he was right about his decisions. I asked for consultation on the script, the drawings, the color, the inking, but when it comes to David’s scripts, I seldom have anything to say. I have comments about basically everything else, but his scripts are dead-on.
Was there stuff that didn’t translate well from novel to graphic novel?
A lot. If you translated from the novels exactly, you would have 20, 24 issues per book - and not necessarily the best issues. You need to time the narrative for a different medium. A lot of us thought if we put in the first third of the first book, it would slow down the narrative of the comic. So David was very judicious about what made it and what didn’t. He omitted characters, he omitted situations, he omitted beats. But the way he condensed it I thought was marvelous. Frankly, when I read his first script, I wrote him immediately and said that it was perfect. [Throughout my career] I have given many, many very detailed notes. With David, I think I gave him two notes, three notes max on the whole process. Most of the time I just write him back and say, “Wow. I love it.”
The Strain is a very different take on vampire lore than most people are used to. Did you have the vision of the creatures in your head while you were writing the novels?
I’ve had [the idea] since I was a teenager. When I was a teenager I discovered a few books: The Natural History of Vampirism, The Vampire’s Kith and Kin, Passport to the Supernatural. They all dealt with vampirism throughout the world. You discover that Filipino vampires can protrude the tongue 20 or 30 feet. You find out the Malaysian vampires can detach from the body - it’s a head floating with a bunch of intestines. You find out that the Greek vampires, the Roman myths - each culture has their own slant. Some are covered in green hair. One that stuck with me was the image of Eastern European vampires having a stinger on their tongue like a bee. I liked that very much. I thought that was better than the little fangs, because fangs don’t make much sense. Vampires in nature would use a razor blade then lick the blood. I started writing about [the stinger vampire] and I tried putting it in Chronos; I tried to put some of what I imagined on Blade; finally I was able to translate every single note I had on the biology of vampirism into The Strain.
Seeing how The Strain has been adapted as a graphic novel, do you want to give this project another try on television?
Yes. We are doing the series for FX. We are going to shoot the pilot over the summer or early fall next year. Frankly, I think I will go into more detail than David did because in the TV medium, you have more leeway in time. But the pacing was quite good. It proved that it could be adapted in a chapter by chapter format.
Where are you at with Pacific Rim?
We’ve finished a couple of cuts, and are about 50% delivered on basic animation with ILM. We have started the process of converting it to 3D. We are building the soundtrack - you know, composing the music - so it is well on its way. [The movie] should be ready around April next year.
When might we see a trailer?
The trailer is coming up during the holiday season. [It will be attached to] a couple of movies.
Pacific Rim is one of those movies that has had an intense amount of secrecy around it. Do you find the secrecy beneficial?
It’s the second time I have gone through it. The only other time was with The Hobbit. Normally I run an incredibly open and collegiate process. I am very used to there being zero secrecy. Hellboy 1, Hellboy 2, Blade... basically there were no secrets! I posted a lot on the internet.
I was on the set visit for Mama and you were very open about everything.
Yeah. Movies like this I think require it. It’s not a branded movie. It doesn’t have characters that people are clamoring to recognize. It needs to exist and open to the imagination very carefully. You don’t want the wrong image to go out first and it be the wrong image. In this case, I think I am completely okay with it.
Do you worry that people will build it up too much in their minds?
No, I think that people know what to expect [from me] and that’s what we are going to deliver. The production is insanely big. We already know we have the action and the set teasers and what people will be expecting from it in a major way. I think they will be pleased. Hopefully.
You have a bazillion projects in the works. What are you directing next?
I’m doing Pinocchio in the summer, right around the time when Pacific Rim comes out. I will be starting voice recording with Pinocchio and with a little luck we will be storyboarded or in the process of storyboarding and doing animation reels. Then the next thing after that will be the pilot for FX. Then after that we will do another feature, which we are still determining.
I know Frankenstein is one of your pet projects; something you have always wanted to do. Is there any movement on that?
We are finishing the deal to write the project for Universal. It’s not done yet, but hopefully soon enough. We have a very enthusiastic push for it from Donna Langley, the co-head of the studio.
I have to ask about the Haunted Mansion movie because I am a rabid Disneyland fan.
I am too! We are finishing the deal with a new writer to do a draft on it. I delivered my drafts with Matthew Robbins. Now we have hired someone else because I am going to be doing Pacific Rim, I’m going to be doing the series, and I know I won’t have the time to write that one. We are doing one more revision, and we are very close to getting the movie made. I think we need a fresh point of view on the screenplay.
Will you still direct that one?
It depends on the scheduling, but hopefully!