This was ostensibly for the DVD release of Julia’s Eyes, which Del Toro produced but didn’t direct. But the interview also takes in the early stages of Pacific Rim, the director’s cut of Mimic, the abandoned At the Mountains of Madness, and his novel series The Strain.

With the delays that ended his involvement in The Hobbit and the consignment of At The Mountain Of Madness into the purgatory of turn-around, you’d forgive Guillermo del Toro for feeling a little exasperated with life. In fact, you’d probably turn a blind eye if he choose to launch a frustrated boot in the direction of the nearest hell-beast. Not a bit of it. When Empire caught up with the Mexican maestro he was every bit his usual, ebullient self, sharing the latest on his current project, monster mash Pacific Rim, and chatting passionately about his work on Don’t Be Afraid Of The Dark, Julia’s Eyes and a freshly spruced director’s cut of Mimic. Oh, and he’s also written another novel. Question is, when does he sleep? Turns out he doesn’t…

Where are you at the moment with Pacific Rim?

We’re scouting locations for it right now. Last week we were in Asia. We start shooting in about 12 weeks, so it’s getting very close.

Tom Cruise was attached to At the Mountains of Madness, but Pacific Rim seems not to be very star-driven, from the casting announcements we’ve seen so far.

I think the stars are the robots and the monsters, but everybody that we’re casting is a star in my book. They’re all actors I want to work with. They’re the most solid group of actors I can gather, and I think they will be stars!

You’ve said before that you’re a big fan of the game Shadow of the Colossus, which is very ambiguous about the morality of killing its beautiful, strange colossi. Will that influence Pacific Rim at all?

I think Shadow is so specific; it’s almost like a tonal poem. This is much more different and more genre than that, but I think there will be moments… I can’t spoil it, but there will be moments that are very unexpected. I can’t give much away. I signed the mother of all non-disclosure agreements.

We’re used to your designs being very organic. Was a film involving giant robots and mecha a deliberate move into something different?

It wasn’t deliberate. It was completely impulsive, but the things that I read and the things that I’m designing entirely inspire me. I think they naturally will have idiosyncrasies, but they are very much part of the design make-up I like. We’re very much continuing what I always like, which is monsters! But the robots were a joy to design too, and we designed them really fast. They’re seriously beautiful. The monsters are about halfway done, and we’re still designing them. We’ve been working on them for about six months. I came to the movie after I read a four-page synopsis, and from that point on I started developing it from scratch, and working on the screenplay with Travis Beacham. I co-wrote the storyline and I’ve written several drafts on my own, and I’ll bounce it back to Travis when it’s prudent. I’m as immersed in this movie as I’ve always been. When I was doing Mountains, I was involved in Pacific Rim as producer, so by the time I left Mountains and came to Pacific Rim I was already fully immersed.

Is At the Mountains of Madness dead forever?

Remember, the lesson that Lovecraft gives us is that nothing dies: they just slumber. It’s sleeping at the bottom of the South Pacific, like Cthulhu. 

The story went that studios were wary because you insisted it had to be rated R. Lovecraft’s story is basically a lot of very dubious archaeology followed by a giant worm chase; what was it about your adaptation that was so scary and violent?

It wasn’t quite about that. We may make the movie and the movie may end up being PG-13, but I can’t contractually agree to limit the movie to that. I’ve just gone through the experience of Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark, which to my eyes was a movie designed to be for a young audience, and the MPAA decided to give us an R. I didn’t want to compromise any of the possibilities of the Lovecraft movie by committing to something that is unpredictable like that. 

You have a personal connection to Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark, as the TV movie original scared you as a kid. The Orphanage too seems thematically in tune with films like Pan’s Labyrinth and The Devil’s Backbone. But Julia’s Eyes seems very different: what attracted you to come on board that one as producer?

I think, initially, it was because I loved the first film that Guillem Morales did, The Uncertain Guest. I love that he has a different way of narrating horror, and I read the screenplay and I was very, very intrigued by the ideas in it. Precisely because it was so different, I latched onto it with great curiosity. I came on board asking for certain things to give me comfort. I really wanted Belén Rueda as the star. I really wanted the same assistant and the same cinematographer from The Orphanage. Other than that I was very curious about how Guillem was proposing to execute the movie, because it had this sort of Eastern European aesthetic, but in Spain, which is very rare. And yet at the same time the melodrama of it was almost like Almodóvar: this crazy collection of characters in a very visually stark environment. I really loved doing that movie, and I was very involved with the pre-production and post-production. I’m very proud of it.

Is that how you work as a producer: heavily involved in pre-production and post-production but hands-off in the middle?

Most of the time it happens like that. Occasionally I have to be there, either because logistics get too complicated or there are other problems. But I try to be hands-off during shooting.

Belén Rueda has to cope with being disbelieved in The Orphanage and in Julia’s Eyes; she’s wheelchair-bound and haunted for some of The Orphanage; and Julia is losing her sight. Do you just enjoy torturing her?

Haha, no, more the opposite! I think that she’s one of the most incredibly strong female presences around. She’s an amazing actress: I find her almost supernaturally relatable. People really feel her emotions, and that’s not something an actor can learn. It’s an innate quality and she has it. From a purely selfish point of view, I wanted to see another movie with her in it.

As if Pacific Rim and your producer credits weren’t enough, you’ve also gone back and reassembled a director’s cut of Mimic

Yes! We spent a good deal of time restoring stuff to Mimic. We went back to the Miramax vault, which is like the final shot of Raiders of the Lost Ark. We were rummaging through discarded footage of Sling Blade until we found the boxes for Mimic, and we tried to reconstruct certain parts. We couldn’t find all the footage we really wanted. But let me put it this way: for a long time Mimic was a movie that I couldn’t love. This is the cut I love. Now, if you don’t like this cut, I can take the blame with a smile, because it’s as close as it can be to what I wanted. I wish we could have shot the original ending. I can’t do much about that. It was much more pessimistic than the ending we have now: the insects were fucking the brains out of each other, and the ending was essentially one of the creatures being able to mimic the naked human form. And being able to fuck. That was the ultimate horror for me. Little did I know that that guy already worked for Miramax…

Did you have misgivings about going back?

No, because it’s a different regime now. And I must say that over the years I’ve always had a very cordial relationship with Harvey Weinstein. 

And on top of all that, your final Strain novel is published in October. When did you find time to write a book?!

Well, I’m very obsessive and I sleep very little. I wake up between four and five in the morning and write, and then I take a little nap again before the rest of the family wakes up. It really is enough time. Chuck [Strain co-writer Hogan] and I, I can say very proudly, entirely co-author those novels. They are not ghost-written: I really roll up my sleeves and get to work. We write different bits separately and ultimately re-write together. Many times during the three novels we’ve surprised each other by coming up with entirely new characters that we didn’t tell the other about. And then the other goes, ‘Oh my god, I have to adjust!’ We were literally, obsessively re-writing the third novel past the deadline. I was still sending corrections this morning!

Julia’s Eyes is out now on DVD and Blu-ray and Mimic: Special Edition is out to buy on Blu-ray October 31


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