I wasn't prepared, however, for how generous with his time del Toro proved to be. It's one of life's great pleasures to engage with an artist with the wit and generosity of spirit that GDT exhibits, and he never seems to be playing any particular angle, just genuinely pleased to be discussing some of his favourite things.
With a conversation running a full 90 minutes, the small
group of us were able to discuss a wide variety of topics, from the nature of
"foreign" films to a shared interest in 70s Italian Progressive rock soundtrack
music. We also of course talked about Mama, the very thing that was meant to be the focus of the session.
GDT co-wrote and executive produced Mama,
which proves to be an interesting take
on the ghost story/cabin in woods tale. The film is
a stylish and unflinching debut by first time helmer Andrés
Muschietti, complete with an unforgettable ending that's refreshingly honest and brutal. The film includes several gothic, signature
tropes, leaving the film to feel very much a part of the "canon of Guillermo del Toro". Notably, the film stars the new "it-girl" Jessica Chastain in a very challenging role where she once again proves that she's a superstar in the making. Annabel is a
very different type of character than most audiences are used to seeing Chastain
play, one that may well surprise fans of The Help or even Zero Dark Thirty. I was pleased to see the actor showing both her range and her courage at refusing to fall into a narrow, predictable pattern of roles.
In this, the first of five parts of our conversation (which contains more than a few spoilers for Mama and other films) del Toro began with talk of his returning to
Toronto, a place he has called home for the last several years...
Welcome back to Toronto - you're practically becoming a local celebrity!
I hope to become one! I mean, we're shooting The Strain [a television series based on the book he co-wrote with Chuck Hogan] in July or August. We're doing the whole series here. I've started prepping Crimson Peak in September/October, and then I shoot in January 2014. I'll be here for at least two years.
To be honest, we really love Toronto so much. I mean, I cannot move my man cave [GDT's world famous collection of nerdy things], because I cannot move my man cave anywhere, I would rather commit seppuku than trying to move that stuff. As for the family home, we're thinking of moving it to Toronto.
I love it, I think it's an amazing city.
We're happy to have you.
I think the people are amazing, the culture is amazing, the film culture is amazing... and you can find people to disagree about Frenzy!
I already talked to TIFF's Bell Lightbox about them doing another four Hitchcocks in December [continuing from a lecture series he did in 2012]. Now we're going to be more coherent - last time it was a sampler, now we're going to show what I call the "Shadow Trilogy." It's going to be fun!
What constitutes the Shadow Trilogy?
Shadow of a Doubt, Strangers On a Train, and Suspicion. And then, uh...
Foreign Correspondent would be perfect! Perfect! And there you go... But it's that, [back to talking about Toronto] it's an eminently livable city; the crews are amazing, great comic book stores, great book stores, and as we have discussed, great food!
I already lost 80 pounds [since I was living in Toronto a few months ago]. Unfortunately for me, I go from being a ball to being an ovoid fucking shape, but it's not like I come in and look like fucking Brad Pitt, but 80 pounds already! But [I blame] the fucking Beer Bistro - the fucking duck fat French fries are not conducive to losing [weight]!
My last time at Pizza Libretto, I broke the bench. I was like "phruchhhhh aghhhh" on the floor.
Anyways... And this is the first question! [Laughs]
I'm hoping to segue into more about Toronto, how you can also make it look like, for example, Virginia, like you have with MAMA.
What I love about Toronto is that from a producer's point of view, you find a city like this that can handle three, four, or five productions [at once]. There's enough depth of crew, there's enough depth of stages, there's enough depth of looks. Literally, I was prepping Mama when I was prepping Pacific Rim. We were neighbours.
I was able to keep an eye on Andy [Muschietti], I was able to do my work as producer, I was able to check his storyboards and go right into my office on Pacific Rim. I would go to him and ask if there was anything wrong, and go right to my room on Pacific Rim, so it's a unique situation. I think you rarely find things like that.
You go to a great city where things were made but you have no depth of crew or you have only one stage, and if it's taken, it's taken. This is a great city.
Are you planning to keep juggling productions like this then?
I'll be juggling less than I have over the the last couple of years. I think that the conclusion I've come to is that I need to create a company, because I do it all myself.
When you hear J.J. [Abrams] has 10 projects, he has [his company] Bad Robot. When you announce that I have 10 projects, it's me, it's me [alone] and when I have an assistant it's me and my assistant, that's it. So, you know, I've come to the conclusion that I don't want to keep the rhythm as frantic as the last couple of years, but I also want to create a little bigger infrastructure to help me do this. What is worth [the effort] is to continue to produce first time directors.
Do you have any other people lined up right now?
Yeah, I have Brian Kirk, who's a hopefully directing a movie called Midnight Delivery. [He's] a first time director, but he's directed a lot of the Luther [episodes], Game of Thrones, many many movies and [television] series for BBC. He did Luck for Michael Mann, so he's not exactly like...
You don't have to hold his hand.
Yeah, I don't have to do that. Nevertheless, I've found out that even when you're experienced, like [Juan Antonio] Bayona was when he came up to do The Orphanage, you still have to do certain things with first time directors.
You have to defend [first timers] to the studio in certain ways, you have to find the budget, make them be more comfortable than they think they need to be.
The times with first time directors when I listened to them when they say "no, I can do it in a lot less time!", I have regretted it. I'd rather give them the time and the resources they need. I spoil them a little bit.
How did the MAMÁ short film come to your attention?
I look at probably 50-60 shorts a year, more sometimes, that people send to me. They send them to my public e-mail, they give them to me on DVD and I try to watch them. And let's say I answer or write to half of the filmmakers because I don't I literally don't have the time, but the half I write to get very surprised! They say, "well i never expected [to hear back from you]."
I don't write only to the really outstanding ones, I write to a mixture. 80% of the time you'll find a short that is done very well, but has very little to say. Or, you find a short that is very ambitious, but is badly produced. Rarely then you find a nugget and you go, "WOW!, there's a voice there, it's well produced, it's well thought out." That's Mamá, but it's like, it's one in 100.
Then what I do is I contact the guy and I say "can we meet?" If there's chemistry, you move it little by little. I don't mean it's the good one, that's not what I'm saying. It's [about being] the one I respond to.
Like I say to people, if I don't want do anything with your short or get involved, it doesn't mean your short is good or bad. You should be able to do something with it with someone else. The film business is survival of the fattest [sic]. If somebody discourages you and you crumble, I have bad news for you, you are not made to be in this fucking business! "Fuck del Toro! Fuck that fat bastard!", go and make your feature! [In the end], it needs to be done in a very personal way.
What was it about MAMA that resonated with you?
It's the fact that I think that there's primal emotions to motherhood and family that you respond to. In the movies I've made as producer or director I'm very prone, or at least I have a proclivity towards, orphans, father-daughter and father-son relations. I think family is both the source of all horrors and the source of all blessings -- horrors for sure! I am very happy I never shied away from a fist fight, thanks to my brothers, because they trained me to be physically very hot. At the same time, I curse the fact that I got the shit beaten out of me plenty of times! So it's like that, and I resonate with that.
I think that a horror story needs to have a real emotion at the centre for you to respond. The fact that it's a ghost in love, well, you know I love that.
Click here for Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5