Interview: Guillermo del Toro on infecting TV with ‘The Strain’

Filmmaker Guillermo del Toro ("Pan's Labyrinth," "Pacific Rim") heads to TV for "The Strain." Credit: Getty Images
Filmmaker Guillermo del Toro (“Pan’s Labyrinth,” “Pacific Rim”) heads to TV for “The Strain.”
Credit: Getty Images

The week he started filming on his FX show “The Strain,” filmmaker Guillermo del Toro (“Pan’s Labyrinth,” “Pacific Rim”) received the best phone call he’d ever gotten from anyone in a position in power in Hollywood. It was from John Landgraf, the station’s CEO.

“He said, ‘Look, I want you to know we encourage creators to be as wild and as free and as daring as they need to be. I want you to know this before you start shooting so you can feel the absolute freedom to do this,’” del Toro recalls. “I have never gotten that phone call! I’ve gotten that phone call on my Spanish movies, but never on a Hollywood project.”

TV might seem an odd place for del Toro, especially since “The Strain” is a sometimes gory mash-up of the vampire movie, the pandemic saga and the CSI-style procedural. In it, an old, odd strain of vampirism infects a flight, killing most but leaving a handful alive to quickly spread the virus around New York City and beyond.

The vampires aren’t kind to their victims. In the first episode, one gets his head smashed like a watermelon — the kind of sight usually exclusive to premium cable. “They were never any creative restrictions,” del Toro says, laughing. “We needed to show the vampire were very brutal in their feeding. They are not romantic vampires. They’re vicious parasites.”

Corey Stoll and Mia Maestro investigate a vampiric pandemic in "The Strain." Credit: Michael Gibson/FX
Corey Stoll and Mia Maestro investigate a vampiric pandemic in “The Strain.”
Credit: Michael Gibson/FX

Originally del Toro pitched “The Strain” pitched the strain to Fox back in 2006, but things didn’t work out. So del Toro and his co-writer Chuck Hogan wrote it as a trilogy of books. While writing, they never imagined it becoming a TV show, nor a movie.

“I make movies and I know that a lot of the places we wanted to take [‘The Strain’] would be very restricted creatively if we had a huge investment behind it,” del Toro says. He cites as one thing that would never fly in the movies is one infected character, a rock star, whose biological mutation costs him his genitals, effectively turning him into a Ken doll. “That would be a hard sell to the studios.”

Only the first episode is directed by del Toro, who was also directing his latest movie, “Crimson Peak,” a psychological horror with Mia Wasikowska, Jessica Chastain and Tom Hiddleston. But he monitors every aspect of production, including the most acclaimed aspect of his work: creature design. People mutate after they’ve become infected. The main vampire, called The Master, doesn’t look like a traditional bloodsucker but rather keeps changing over the show, growing weirder and weirder.

“Ever since I can remember I have always been in love with monsters,” he says. “I was barely able to speak and I was already talking about monsters and vampires. It really is something I think about all the time. It’s just the way I swing.”

“The Strain” is also del Toro’s first foray into TV since his pre-film days, when he cut his teeth on Mexican television. Doing the show is also reminiscent for him of his early low budget films, like “Chronos.”

“For me the challenge was going back to a tighter schedule,” he says. “It was like going to the gym. You go back and discover you have muscles you haven’t used in awhile.”

Follow Matt Prigge on Twitter @mattprigge



News
Entertainment
Sports
Lifestyle
Local

MTA announces service changes for Sunday

The MTA has announced service changes ahead of Sunday's People's Climate March, which will be held from 11:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Sunday. Riders using…

Local

NYPD launches Twitter account for L train

The NYPD recently launched a Twitter handle dedicated to the L train and its riders. According to @NYPDLtrain, officers went underground Thursday morning to hand…

Local

Bushwick community space offers activists a place to…

A new Bushwick community space offers community activists to meet, create, learn and throw back a few cold ones. MayDay, located 214 Starr Street in Bushwick,…

Local

Activists gearing up for Sunday's "historic" People's Climate…

If all goes according to plan, more than 100,000 people will gather near Central Park West on Sunday morning and march through midtown to raise…

Movies

Review: Terry Gilliam's 'The Zero Theorem' is better…

Terry Gilliam's latest, "The Zero Theorem," concerns a reclusive malcontent (Christoph Waltz) struggling with the search for the meaning of life.

Music

Esperanza Spalding and a being called Emily get…

Esperanza Spalding is about to spiral off in a brand new direction that may or may include an alter ego named Emily.

Movies

Review: Bickering family dramedy 'This is Where I…

A talented cast sits Shiva in the bickering family dramedy "This is Where I Leave You," although it's more sap than yuks.

Movies

Review: Desert-walking movie 'Tracks' would be better as…

Mia Wasikowska walks 1700 miles across Australia's deserts in "Tracks," in a story that defies triumph-of-the-spirit cliches but gets some of them anyway.

NFL

J.J. Watt poses unique challenges to struggling Giants…

Watt, arguably the best defensive player in the league, is the leader of a surprising Texans (2-0) team that has already matched last season’s win total.

NFL

Eric Decker 'unlikely to play' against Bears: Source

Jets wide receiver Eric Decker's status for Monday night’s game against the Bears is in doubt after he missed practice again Wednesday.

NFL

Preston Parker, not Odell Beckham, will replace Jerrel…

Tom Coughlin noted the next man up will be unheralded veteran Preston Parker.

NFL

NFL Week 3 full schedule (kickoff time, TV)

NFL Week 3 full schedule (kickoff time, TV)

Parenting

A sneaky way to serve kids fruits and…

"My First Juices and Smoothies" gives smoothie recipes for kids.

Style

3 things we love from Day 1 of…

The highlights from Day 1 of Milan Fashion Week.

Sex

Why don't more couples use condoms?

  Call it the “condom moment.” That’s the name the authors of a new study have given to the pivotal conversation every couple should be…

Sex

Need an idea for a first date? Here's…

Picture your idea of a nice first date. Is it dinner and a movie? A visit to an interesting museum exhibit? Instead, an expert on…