Gwilermo! Enthusiastic gringos call out to Guillermo del Toro outside of the Directors Guild of America where he is receiving a New Yorker Film Festival award. Wearing a dark jacket, grey pants, and military boots, he is a lesson in simplicity next to the other stars who are stepping out of their limousines all gussied up in chinchilla coats and pearls and coming over to listen to his anecdotes.
Of average height and chubby, with blue eyes that peer out from behind thick glasses, del Toro looks a bit like a younger version of the controversial US director, Michael Moore. He is, in fact, always joking about his appearance: "Look, I can't really give you any advice, except, of course, on losing weight," he said once to a corpulent man who asked him innocently about his formulas for inventing fiction.
Del Toro also jokes about the tense border relationship between the United States and Mexico, commenting that he is legal in the US but that "nobody believes me." Born in Guadalajara, Mexico, he shot quickly to stardom and is now an icon of the film industry at age 44. His first work, Cronos (1993) won him a Cannes Film Festival award in France, and the next to the last one, El laberinto del fauno [Pan's Labyrinth] (2006) garnered three Oscars and the nomination for best foreign film. His other films include Mimic (1997), Blade II (2002), El espinazo del diablo [The Devil's Backbone] (2001), Hellboy (2004), and Hellboy II: The Golden Army (2008). And that's not all, because soon he will be making The Hobbit (2010) and The Hobbit II (2011) in New Zealand. Both are movies from The Lord of the Rings series (2001-2003) written by J.J. Tolkien and taken to the screen by New Zealander Peter Jackson.
Del Toro has also been selected to film H.P. Lovecraft's At the Mountains of Madness, Stevenson's Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, and a unique new take on Frankenstein. "It's a very particular version that develops an incidental chapter about the monster in Shelley's novel, but I can't say a lot about it right now. Though I do promise," he says to Americas magazine, laughing, "that Kenneth Branagh will not play Doctor Frankenstein." While most directors are wondering about what their future holds, del Toro is happy to say that he is gainfully employed through 2017.
Is making horror films his particular way of dealing with his own demons? Del Toro confesses that he has experienced the supernatural in the past, and that these experiences helped him create the fantasies that put him on solid ground in the difficult-to-penetrate film industry. "I saw a ghost when I was twelve," he says. "It was a sign from my uncle. (I was named Guillermo after him.) He introduced me to the world of ghosts and goblins. 'If I die before you,' he would say, 'I'll come back and tell you what it's like in the afterlife.' Well, he died before me, and one night when I was watching television, I heard his voice resounding all over the house and I knew for sure that it was my uncle."
Though he doesn't say what he talked about with his uncle that night, he does say that the event helped him to make sure that the creatures he makes for film have that same kind of supernatural consistency and porosity. The violence he experienced in life has also informed his film making. "When I was eleven years old, I accidentally saw someone die. I was in the street and I saw someone being shot. I also saw a decapitation and someone being burned alive. I think I have seen more cadavers in Mexico than people see working in the New York City morgue. I've just been exposed to these kinds of things and they have left their mark on my life as a director of horror movies."
Politics are also an important element in his work. El espinazo del diablo, for example, is a horror story immersed in the context of the Spanish Civil War. "I think that all politics is fantasy. I've always been fascinated with it. In film, you can choose a fable of some kind to shine light on an important element of politics instead of just making a movie. …