Guillermo Del Toro on Mama, picking producing projects and getting no sleep

Joe Utichi
Yahoo UK Movies Features
Character... del Toro with weird pink bird thing (Credit: Rex Features)

Oscar-nominated director Guillermo del Toro is an ever-more-familiar name thanks to his involvement with the likes of ‘Hellboy’, ‘Pan’s Labyrinth’ and the upcoming ‘Pacific Rim’. But the prolific Mexican is also a writer and producer, and in the latter capacity has helped shepherd the careers of directors like Juan Antonio Bayona (‘The Orphanage’), Troy Nixey (‘Don’t be Afraid of the Dark’) and Gillem Morales (‘Julia’s Eyes’). He’s back this week presenting ‘Mama’, a creepy horror from director Andy Muschietti, and Yahoo! caught up with him for an exclusive insight into the film.

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Yahoo! Movies: Your name has become a mark of quality for the films you produce – what did you see in Andy that made you want to take the leap for him?

Guillermo del Toro: Rarely do you find a director that has that strong of a voice coming out on the first movie. The two times I’ve found somebody like that it was Juan Antonio Bayona with ‘The Orphanage’ and Andy with ‘Mama’. I think in both cases they came from shooting short films and hundreds and hundreds of commercials and music videos. In both cases, too, I found that their intelligence and understanding of cinema was of a more classic ilk. It was not the fast-cutting, super-flashy commercial aesthetics. They were coming from a really emotional place. Bayona was a big admirer of American filmmakers, but had a really European sensibility, and Andy was a guy that loved to be in film, but ultimately has a strangely American sensibility.

YM: Is it essential to see the root of that vision? That the directors don’t just rely on your vision to launch them?

GDT: Yes, I’ve tried to produce movies that I’ve had a lot in common with, but I’ve tried very much not to impose a visual sensibility to them that comes from me. I really love to respect the director in those projects because it’s ultimately their movie. Andy, in the same way as Bayona and Guillem Morales had in Julia’s Eyes, they go for an aesthetic that’s very different from what I would do, but I respect it.

YM: How do you find these guys?

GDT: Well, every time is different. Bayona I met in a film festival, Andy, my assistant brought me the short. With Troy Nixey I saw the short through a webmaster in America. In the case of Guillem Morales, I saw his first feature film and loved it. It’s a different approach every time. I’m producing a filmmaker right now in Mexico, and I saw his short films while I was a juror at a festival. I saw them and loved them. But normally, every year I see almost a hundred shorts, I would say.

YM: Where do you find the time to do all this?

GDT: You know, it’s really weird, but this is the way I’ve always worked, since the start of my career, but now all the projects I’m doing go public. I find that it gives me great results to create small compartments in my life, where I work 8 to 10 hours on the film I’m actively directing, and then I dedicate two or three hours in the morning and two or three hours at night to the other projects, and I ultimately get five hours of sleep, if that. I really don’t sleep much. My personal life is almost exclusively dedicated to films. These are not secrets for a successful life, but they are certainly secrets for a productive one!
YM: What’s your hope for Andy going forward?

GDT: I believe Andy will have a long and fruitful career. I think he is a very strong director and very determined. But at the same time he is an incredibly pleasant man to work with. That’s the same for Bayona. He’s a guy that can be a master politician, but he’s also a master filmmaker and I think the combination of those two qualities guarantees longevity. Andy, like Bayona, is very ambitious with what he wants to do next and I can tell you, I couldn’t be happier when Bayona, after ‘The Orphanage’, invited me to be part of the team producing ‘The Impossible’. I took a read of the script and I told Bayona, “I don’t even want to wrap my head around how you’re going to shoot this thing and I frankly don’t want to be part of such a Shakespearian nightmare!” When I saw the film – he showed it to me in one of his early cuts - and I still can’t figure out how he shot it. The tsunami sequence is staggering. It’s a colossal set piece, and - and I say this from the narrative, technical point of view – I can’t think of any other filmmaker except maybe Spielberg or Zemeckis that can claim a sequence as complex and beautiful in their second film. Especially after such a brilliant first film. In my opinion ‘The Orphanage’ belongs in the top ten ghost stories in the genre.

YM: It’s great for these directors that they can make their debuts in the right way and be spared some of the hurdles you had to jump through.

GDT: I tell you, in all honesty there is a lot of that still, because I have produced over twelve movies already and most of them, to be utterly honest, the investment of time and effort is insane. You end up making your personal life very complicated! But I’m doing it partially because I don’t want these filmmakers to have to go through the ringer. I experienced first-hand what it was to be able to be creatively protected and liberated when Pedro Almodovar produced ‘The Devil’s Backbone’. As corny as it sounds, part of the reason I keep producing is to pay it forward.

‘Mama’ is in cinemas now.