Director Guillermo del Toro's Blade II
Guillermo del Toro is one of America's most visionary genre directors. The Mexican native, who resembles a slightly larger version of Peter Jackson, Del Toro earned a place as one of Time magazine's "50 Young Leaders for the New Millennium" before he made his third film.
Born in Guadalajara, Mexico, and raised by his staunchly Catholic grandmother, Del Toro was already involved in filmmaking by his teens. A fan of such horror masters as James Whale, Mario Bava, George A. Romero, Alfred Hitchcock, and the work of Britain's Hammer Films, Del Toro learned about makeup and effects from The Exorcist's Dick Smith as well as studying screenwriting and making Super-8, 16 mm, and 35 mm short films. Though he executive produced his first feature, Doña Herlinda and Her Son (1986), at age 21, Del Toro initially spent almost a decade as a makeup supervisor, forming his own company, Necropia, in the early '80s. He still found time to produce and direct numerous programs for Mexican television, as well as teach film workshops. Doing his part to turn his hometown into Mexican cinema central, Del Toro also co-founded the city's Film Studies Center and the Guadalajara-based Mexican Film Festival.
Del Toro's feature directorial debut, Cronos (1992), heightened his prominence as a rising star in Mexican film. Winner of the critics' prize at the Cannes Film Festival, Cronos put Del Toro on the world cinema and American independent map. Along with serving on the selection committees for the Sundance Film Festival and the Independent Spirit Awards, Del Toro followed Cronos with his first foray into Hollywood filmmaking, Mimic (1997). Starring Mira Sorvino (who took the role partly on the advice of then-boyfriend and Del Toro fan Quentin Tarantino), Mimic mined some great scares out of mutant, shape-shifting bugs terrorizing New York City, but having to acquiesce to Hollywood studio demands left Del Toro unhappy about the experience. Returning to Mexico, Del Toro formed his own production company, The Tequila Gang, and set out to make a more personal thriller. Produced by Pedro Almodóvar and his brother, Augustin Almodóvar, and shot in Spain, The Devil's Backbone (2001) was a more ambitious ghost story set during the end of the Spanish Civil War. Hailed for its chilling atmosphere, and excellent performances from Federico Luppi and Marisa Paredes, The Devil's Backbone confirmed Del Toro's artistic promise and earned him more critical kudos.
Gratified by the experience making The Devil's Backbone and clear-eyed about what Hollywood could offer, Del Toro followed his personal movie with the big-budget, Wesley Snipes-starring comic book vampire thriller sequel Blade 2 (2002) and the director is currently developing some highly anticipated projects.
It was a good-humoured and gregarious Del Toro who spoke to Paul Fischer.
Paul Fischer: So I heard you're moving to L.A from Mexico.
Guillermo del Toro: Yes, it's about time, especially for my wife and 9 month-old kid. You know, I like living in Austin, Texas and in Guadalajara, Mexico but my family is missing me when I'm away for business, especially when it's 5 months in Prague, Czechoslovakia. So I decided that since I need to be in L.A quite often, that we would all move in this year. The only thing is that I don't like to think about the business all day long and here in Hollywood, it's impossible not to!
P.F: Your films are so violent and so dark and this one is definitely bloody and gory. Where does it come from ?
Del Toro: From being Catholic and living in Mexico!! And being a proper Catholic means being a repressed Catholic, so the kinds of images that Catholicism deals with and the kinds of native mythology create the most horrific monsters. You know when you're a kid and you're told of these stories of decapitation and mutilation and blood, but on top of this, all of these stories have a spiritual content, which is really weird, like spiritual mutilation.
P.F: What about the fascination with Vampires?
Del Toro: Well, as you know it started a long time ago with my first film, Cronos. In Cronos the Vampire was more about the meditation about time and immortality and here in Blade 2 it's the vampire at a basic level, vampires that are just animals that are greedy for blood, I created a new kind of vampires: the reapers that are designed genetically to be even stronger than the normal vampires. But we tried also to find some moments of empathy with these creatures, and there are moments when the reapers look pathetic, like junkies, and at moments when they have a broken arm or a dislocated head you almost feel sorry for them. So we tried to find beauty in these monsters and that's really horrific because it's almost real.
P.F: It was said that after September 11, studios and filmmakers would take a far more responsible attitude towards violence.
Del Toro: What I think is that when a movie is so far removed from reality like Blade 2 that you have to have the license of making visual and representative scenes, and even with the autopsy of the reapers, I don't think it's an horrific When it's so out there and "comic"-like and as long as you're not putting straight violence on the screen like a shooting in a shopping mall, I believe you can get away with it. You see, there is violence like Kabuki theatre in Japan and there is violence with basic visceral and sick images, but Blade 2 is like a Japanese cartoon, a comic book. The spirit of the type of action and horror is very light and fully cartoonish.
P.F: Where does the fascination of vampires come from?
Del Toro: Well it's obviously deep, deep in the history of our civilization, probably it comes from some kind of cannibalistic history we had, from within our own tribes or between close tribes and it has been really deeply hidden, who knows, we might have eaten our neighbours way back or our own family to survive, or for rituals, and we deal with mythology. The original fear of something that's gonna drain you for life became then a Victorian story and then a lavish romantic movie like Interview with The Vampire, but the reality about vampires and vampirism is darker and more depressing and bloodier. This is that reality I was interested to deal with Blade 2. I wanted to go back to the basics and have these monsters be scary on a biological level.
P.F: Is their some sexual relevance in the myth of Vampires?
Del Toro: Of course. The first erotic component is in feeding and sucking and I tried not to deal too much with it because it's always the direction that Vampire films take, so I was interested in taking another direction, to explore another side of vampirism. I wanted to make this film more of a dark fantasy, whether through the colours, the camera movement, the design, and the locations. The first Blade was very stylish and hip and yuppyish but in this one I wanted to show the dark side, the decadent side of their world, almost the despair of the vampire universe. I wanted to have of a wicked sense of humour and a graphic approach like a comic book. I wanted to go crazier and to have a better understanding of Blade's psychology and to understand why he is acting the way he does.
P.F: Can you talk about the choice of blending CGI effect in regular action scene or other scenes?
Del Toro: The idea was to have the type of action, of non stop action, that you see in cartoons or some Hong Kong movies. I didn't want to use the same tricks than in The Matrix when the action slows down and stops or any wire stunts but I wanted to "free" my camera and let it follow the action, follow the actors, non stop. This way it gives a real sense of intensity and acceleration. To do this the only way is to link to action sequences with a digitally, computer generated, sequence that you put in the middle. So this type of camera that I created was called the "L" camera, I wanted to say El Zorro camera but it really stands for Liberated camera. I'm proud of the imprint of this type of shooting. The result is amazing since you can see shots such as one where Wesley is falling from a building and keep following and then he shoots a bullet and we follow it and the bullet goes into a reapers head and out on the other side; all of this is in one shot. Actually it's the montage of 3 shots with one in the middle that is digitally animated, the one with the bullet, but you can't tell and it looks fantastic !
P.F: How was Prague?
Del Toro: Well, I didn't see much of it because I really went from the set to bed to the set to bed, but I did look around for some exteriors and also I checked out the sewers and it truly was even more horrific than expected. It was so gross and so much covered all over of some weird mucus and fungus that I decided to re-create the sewers as a set on soundstages. But the rest of the crew I heard had some serious fun, but for me it really was a seven days affair, so not too much time to play the tourist.
P.F: So, what do you prefer to direct, something more internal, more subtle like The Devil Backbone or a Blade 2?
Del Toro: Well, it's the difference between jogging and screwing! Both are exercises but they are totally different. I think that what you obtain and what you gain are different. Both films are great to put together, but it's far more emotional when you do something like Backbone and when you do Blade 2, you can play and you can have lot's of fun. Ultimately it's always a labour of love and it's painful and it takes hours.
P.F: So, are you planning to do more jogging or more screwing?
Del Toro: Well it depends with what studio I will work with next. Right now I'm still working on several projects from Wind in the Willows to an old project of mine called Mephisto's Bridge to Helboy, another comic book. Hopefully Mephisto because I've been working at it for over 10 years now!!
Blade 2 opens nationally on March 24
Paul Fischer is originally from Australia. Now he is an interviewer and film critic living in Hollywood.