are good days for Guillermo del Toro, for at least two reasons.
1) The Guadalajara-born director is still riding nearly unanimous
critical acclaim for his third feature, The Devils Backbone.
The creepy Spanish-language ghost story received a U.S. release in
November and quickly became one of the best-reviewed films of 2001.
An expert, sunlit chiller, opined J. Hoberman of The Village
Voice. Mr. del Toro provokes your screams and shudders, but
he also earns your tears, noted The New York Times A.O.
Scott. The directors bleak vision, wrote The Los
Angeles Times Kevin Thomas, is so compelling, unpredictable
and unique that The Devils Backbone really works.
The Devils Backbone has been compared to The
Others, and has the same ambition and intelligence, but is more
compelling and even convincing, added Chicago Sun-Times crtic
Roger Ebert. Eberts competition, Robert K. Elder of The Chicago
Tribune, called it a well-crafted white-knuckle cinematic journey.
The buzz on del Toros fourth feature, the New Line horror-actioner
Blade 2: Bloodhunt, is huge. A sequel to Stephen Norringtons
hit 1998 comic-book adaptation, the March 27 release tells the tale
of a vampire slayer who must team with his deadly foes to take on
a fast-growing new breed of mutant super-vampires called reapers.
Test screenings of Blade 2 in November and January precipitated
a flood of online raves. If you hated the first one, you still
might love this one, wrote one Aint-It-Cool-News
Website correspondant, who added the film is filled with the
sort of cool one-liners and action beats that turn films into geek
favorites. This feels like the Aliens of the Blade
franchise, bigger and more dangerous than the original
The words bigger and more dangerous are not
unfamiliar to del Toro, whose early career included a long stint as
one of Mexicos leading makeup effects men. The producers of
the 1980s Mexican TV horror series Hora Mercada were impressed
enough with his gory creations and several shorts del Toro
financed and directed himself that they let him serve as writer-director
on three episodes of Hora. This work led to his first
feature as writer-director, the low-budget vampire saga Cronos.
A Mexican-American co-production, Cronos won the critics
prize at Cannes in 1992 and garnered a whopping nine Mexican Academy
Awards, including trophies for best direction and best screenplay.
U.S. execs took notice of the work, and del Toro was soon called up
to Hollywood to helm Miramaxs 1997 mutant-cockroach epic, Mimic.
With only four features under his belt, del Toro is building a reputation
as an international powerhouse. A founding member of the Film Studies
Center and the Mexican Film Festival in his hometown of Guadalajara,
hes served as a juror on the selection committees for the Sundance
Institute, the Mexican Film Institute and the Spirit Awards. For his
production company, Tequila Gang, he gathered together a few other
south-of-the-border heavyweights: director Alfonso Cuarón (Y
tu Mama Tambien), screenwriter Laura Esquivel (Like Water
for Chocolate), producer Bertha Navarro (Men with Guns)
and agent Rosa Bosch. He currently has films in development with Francis
Ford Coppola, Mike Newell and James Cameron.
Topping his list of future projects is another comic-book adaptation,
Mike Mignolas Hellboy, which del Toro has been pursuing
for several years. In the meantime, he says he has very specific plans
for the next few months: hes taking time off from work to spend
time with his six-month-old daughter.
early did you start working in film?
I started doing my own little Super-8 movies when I was around eight
years old. But I started to teach at the age of 15 to children who
were a couple of grades below my own. I was around, I think, seventh
or eighth grade, and I was teaching kids my own age.
I started working on films around then, on very small jobs. Production
assistant, menial jobs that would allow me to hang around the set.
And it was great, because my teachers in high school, who knew what
I wanted to do, would give me the chance to go out to movie sets and
I just needed to bring back the homework and do the exams. They would
give me exemptions. It was really great.
did you come to study with [Exorcist makeup-effects artist]
Ive always admired his work, and Ive always been kind
of an okay sculptor and an okay illustrator, never fantastic. I was
always doing storyboards for my movies or for other peoples
movies, and doing some amateur types of special effects. I decided
that if I was going to get an edge in the industry for when I did
my feature films, I would at least in Mexico be one
of the guys that knew and did the best makeup effects. I decided to
contact Dick Smith, who was at that time offering a makeup-effects
course; he responded to me and said, You know, youre an
okay sculptor, youre an okay illustrator, but if this will help
you in your directing, you can take the course.
you always intended to direct.
I was already directing when I was doing effects! I would do two or
three films, then use that to finance a short film of mine. I found
that it actually worked very well for me as a tool to get, for example,
a job on a horror TV series in Mexico as a makeup effects consultant
and director of that department. And then I wrote and directed three
episodes, and managed to write a couple more. So, you know, it was
a very good tool for me to position myself in an industry where the
first thing when you said, I want to do a vampire film,
people would laugh, because there was no one doing special effects.
So it gave me an edge.
is a gorgeous movie, and I know you were working on a very low budget.
A million and a half.
special effects work with the blood-sucking Cronos device itself were
We created thirteen devices. Each one was created for a purpose, because
they were so small, and we had to do all the mechanisms really miniature.
And we didnt have money for remote control, so they all had
to be cable-operated. So we operated them with guitar strings, and
we created very small, finger-sized levers to operate those strings.
One of them was in a fake hand and it opened, and another held in
a real hand and it moved the legs, and I cut around all thirteen of
them to make it look like its one.
On top of that, we had a huge interior maquette done it was
the size of a Volkswagen beetle. And we had an insect in the middle
that was about two feet tall, supposedly filtering the blood. The
entire effects budget for Cronos was $100,000, so all
of this was done on a truly shoestring budget. But I think it makes
you more creative. You know, Blade 2 is around $50 million,
and for a blockbuster movie thats a very reasonable price, when
youre seeing movies that are 100, 120 at the drop of a hat.
You still never stop using that low-budget ingenuity.
brought all of that to your next film, Mimic, but the
movie was a disappointment. Where do you think you failed with Mimic?
What would you do differently?
I would do a shitload of things differently! The first thing I would
probably do is not accept [the assignment]. (Laughs) It was a case
of a movie not being what the director wanted, nor the product that
needed to be put on the shelf by the studio. I was coming from a world
of just personal film making, and I entered thinking this was going
to be played by the same rules.
The movies that are made in Hollywood are made to be played to
a wider audience than Devils Backbone, and the requirements
in terms of rhythm and pace and narrative style are completely different.
So I learned all of that and I decided, hell, why not just do both
types of movies and have fun being Dr. Jekyll and also have
fun being Mr. Hyde, as opposed to going back and forth and suffering?
I enjoyed the experience of having made Blade 2 a lot,
and I enjoyed making Devils Backbone. But Mimic
was an experience in between. I was trying to do an arthouse movie
with a giant cockroach!
you moved back to more personal filmmaking with The Devils
Backbone, which youve said is very autobiographical. In
Well, in most ways. Most of the experiences that the children have
in the movie I had as a child. Even if Im not an orphan, Ive
felt abandonment and I saw a lot of violence as a kid between children.
I was in a Jesuit school an all male Jesuit school which
is as close to prison life as you can imagine. And I wanted to portray
those violent episodes of childhood. I saw a child being actually
smashed against a tile column by another child, like in the movie,
but he didnt die. But he did bleed a lot. I saw very
brutal episodes of childrens war when I was a child. And at
the age of twelve, I heard a ghost.
actually heard a ghost?
Yes! Very much like the episode in the movie, I heard a ghost sighing,
very sadly, very close to me. It was the ghost of my dead uncle.
I was occupying his room, three years after he died and he was one
of my best friends in childhood. He and I had made a deal because
we loved horror movies When I die, he said, Ill
come back and let you know if theres something else. And
I heard his voice in that room, for about 15 minutes, sighing really
sadly. And the moment that he started articulating more, not through
words but starting to articulate a little more, I realized it was
his voice and I ran away.
It was creepy, but thats my childhood.
the movies creepy. Its reminiscent of the old Hammer films,
with the big, foreboding building and the dark corridors ...
I was trying to make it a [Italian horror-fantasy director] Mario
Bava movie. I love Bava, his architectural use of buildings. He used
to be a designer among other things, and one of his greatest gifts
was that, as director, he could make a building scary. So theres
actually a couple of architectural references to Bava [in the film],
the main entrance to the orphanage is shaped exactly like one of the
doorways you can see in his movie Kill Baby, Kill. Its
a big doorway with two eye-like openings on the side.
also used an interesting color palette on the movie, almost monochrome
with lots of ambers and browns but the nighttime scenes are
Yes. Its a movie about opposites. So what we wanted was to create
almost two completely different worlds. One that seems to exist only
in the childrens lives and their imagination, which is blue-green,
and the other one which is the harsh reality of the world at war in
1939, with a kind of amber, faded-photograph feeling all done in earth
tones, amber and so forth.
I think that movies have two languages one is the screenplay,
but another one, very strong, is also visual in terms of colors, shapes
and textures. What I like to do is to tell the story with both, like
in Devils Backbone. Or to concentrate on the visual
if its a much more fast-moving, plot-driven movie like Blade
I think that with Blade, the most fun I had was to be
able to do what I failed to do on Mimic, which was make
a really entertaining, fast-moving popcorn movie.
can we expect, story-wise, for Blade 2?
The way the movie was designed and approached was to make it a very
fast, very fun ride. As I said, everything in the movie tends to happen
on the go, and its a very different take on the vampire universe
than the first one. In this one, its a more mythological looking,
more comic-book-looking universe than in the first one. The first
one was very urban I think thats a lot of its strength.
It was extremely urban, and it was essentially, How do the vampires
fit in a universe where reality is very strong?
Here, the universe that they move around in is very unreal, much more
underground, much more comic-book-like. Subterranean cities. Underground
dance clubs that are much more exotic than the first one.
The vampires basically become the humans in this movie, because we
created the reapers, which are the super-vampires, and
one thing that you have to do with that is you have to make the vampires
a bit more human than in the first one.
like to work with the same actors; Ron Perlman, who was in Cronos,
is in Blade 2.
I had always been a huge fan of Ron Perlman, because hes a chameleon.
He can do really great stuff from under the makeup of Beauty
and the Beast or under the makeup of the hunchback in The
Name of the Rose, or the primitive man in Quest for Fire.
You know, I always loved him as mime, a pantomime actor. I wanted
very much to have him in Cronos, and we became good friends
and I like to work with my friends! I enjoy the sense of familiarity
and family that working with the same people brings.
is he the head of the vampire gang in Blade 2?
Hes not so much the head as the guy you love to hate. In the
movie, hes an absolute nuisance, but at the same time hes
extremely charming. I think that Ron and I managed to find a really
good point for the character. You know, the characters [in the script]
were very, very similar to each other. I mean, all the people in the
Bloodpack [Blades allies against the super-vampires] were almost
the same character! When we were talking, the actors and I, we started
finding little idiosyncrasies for them, and Ron and I decided to play
this guy as a super-cool bad guy who you really like, but you really
we see Wesley Snipes doing more wire-fu in this one?
Not a fucking chance. (Laughs) Wesley and I talked about the fighting
in this movie, and I was so happy we agreed on that. No wire-fu. Because,
you know, if Cameron Diaz can kick five guys in Charlies
Angels, anybody can.
What we wanted was to make the fighting in the movie more street,
and more full of humor. I dont mean humor in the slapstick,
Jackie Chan way, but showing that Blade has much more fun fighting
than he had on the first one. He enjoys his work far too much on this
have to ask Kris Kristofferson is in Blade 2.
... isnt his character dead?
Thats never stopped a character in a comic book, ever! (Laughs)
You know, when Im asked how he survived, its simple
the first movie never showed [Kristoffersons character, Whistler]
succumbing. All we saw was Blade walking away and we heard a gunshot.
Now, Kris Kristofferson shot himself when he was a human. If the bullet
went through him and he fell dying, as he lay dying he turned into
a vampire and lived.
Thats exactly how the movie starts, with Kris Kristofferson
being in a limbo, half-human, half-vampire, so to speak, and Blade
rescues him. So, you know, itll connect. I think thats
beneficial for the series, because I think the rapport between Blade
and Whistler is really good. That was one of the things I enjoyed
a lot in the first one.
from your background making smaller, more personal films to a $50
million Wesley Snipes picture, is it intimidating having that kind
of money riding on you?
No. I think that Hollywood works in bigger budgets, but the main difference
between doing movies on your own in an independent way and doing it
in a system is really the freedom with which you can reach a decision
without going through channels. You know, going through channels always
waters down the decisions made. No matter what.
And you know, hopefully some day Ill be in the position to make
movies of this size and have the decision-making left completely up
to me. But for now Im very happy making both types of movies,
and Im enjoying them both. As long as they come close to the
result I wanted meaning Devils Backbone being
a personal film, and Blade coming out as fun and as wild
as I wanted it to be Im happy.