As ‘Book of Life’ Opens, Guillermo del Toro Looks Ahead to His Busy Slate

Filmmaker Guillermo del Toro may have every well have inherited the title of the hardest-working man in showbiz.

Since his Hollywood breakthrough more than a decade ago, del Toro has consistently juggled a full slate of projects – many that have come to fruition, a few that haven’t and some that still may – and this year he’s been, almost impossibly, busier than ever. Following How to Train Your Dragon 2 and the first season of FX’s The Strain, he now has Jorge Guiterrez’s kooky Day of the Dead-inspired animated film The Book of Life, which opens today nationwide.

As always, however, del Toro still has a full roster of projects ahead of him, and he gave SPINOFF an update on many of them – from Crimson Peak and Pacific Rim 2 to Justice League Dark and Hellboy 3. There’s even a planned Pan’s Labyrinth stage musical.

What does it mean to you to be able bring a special cultural flavor to a mainstream animated film with The Book of Life?

Guillermo del Toro: Well, when you go out to a movie as a family, you want it to be an outing like going to a great restaurant. And you go to Chinese food, you go Italian food, you go Greek food. I think this is the biggest and most amazing Mexican meal we can offer the world, audio/visually, you know. The movie has the personality we wanted to have, and it was a delicate movie to produce because you not only get involved creatively, you get involved emotionally. And you want to protect it. And so we were having to battle and work very hard to keep the movie at a budget that allowed us the freedom, but gave us the spectacle that we knew we wanted to deliver. We were very ambitious. We wanted to deliver a movie you've never seen before. And I think we did it.

What are you loving about animation right now and what you're able to do?

Well, it's great to transit from, let's say The Simpsons animated opening couch gag that I did last year to a DreamWorks movie, to this. These are three different experiences, and what is great is the variety that you can get in a medium like that. I still hope one day we can do PG-13 or R-rated animated movies that are only R-rated because of how great they are, intense, nothing else. Because the medium is amazing, and I think it needs to keep moving to a different direction. And this is a movie that moves definitely in a different direction.

We’ve heard some early talk about you and a Justice League Dark film. What's the latest word on the possibility of you doing that?

Well, I know they are basically behind closed doors, determining the destiny of the whole DC Universe. And that is way above my pay rate.

Just waiting for them to call and say “Go!”?

If they call, I will build it!

Where are you with Pacific Rim 2 right now?

Zak Penn, Travis Beacham and I are doing the screenplay. We are going to be probably ready – we have a first draft. We'll be ready to start producing the movie in about four months, five months. But the movie starts shooting November 2015, next year.

How is your next release, Crimson Peak, looking so far?

Looking good! We have a screening with 20 percent of the effects and temp music. It went great. Now, I changed it a lot. We're going to have another one.

How was it working with Charlie Hunnam again?

Charlie, for me, I can work with him the way I can work with Ron [Perlman] every time, or with Doug Jones. He's part of the family. He's really a great, effortless collaboration. Love him. I mean, the cast experience in Crimson Peak has been unique in my career, honestly. I think that other than Pan's Labyrinth, I haven't enjoyed the entire cast as much as I did on Crimson Peak. Those are the two movies where everybody, everybody, delivered.

As soon as that's released you'll go on to Pacific Rim 2?

No. Actually, we start with The Strain in November, and I'm going to be shooting a creature unit, the action unit, and I'm going to be shooting the Mexican luchador footage, the black-and-white footage that appears in the series. Then I shoot a little movie in April, a small one. Then I start prepping immediately in May. And we start production in end of November, beginning of December.


Where are things with the Pan's Labyrinth musical?

We are about to hopefully get very good news. We have a British producer that is financing it, but we are about to, knock on wood, be able to get really good news on it in the next couple of months.

What's been the creative thrill about putting music to that story?

What is great is that Gustavo [Santaolalla] and Paul [Williams] already wrote a few songs. And listening to them is great because they are verbalizing the themes of the movie in a beautiful way. But for me, it always was a movie that was very inspired by theatricality: the sets, the costumes, everything. So what we are planning for, and I hope, people will be very interested in because that piece of news is about to come.

Is it English-language?

It is English-language, but we are already thinking about the translation of the lyrics. And Gustavo and I talked about maybe writing half of the songs in English and half of the songs in Spanish and translate them so that we don't feel that everything was in one language.

Tell me how you got connected with Paul Williams

Well, I started because I'm a fan of Phantom of the Paradise. And I'm a big advocate of that movie, and he knew that. And Edgar Wright is another crazy guy for Phantom of the Paradise, and he said one day, “I have Paul Williams' number.” I said, “Give it to me, man!” When I was a kid, I drove seven hours to go to the only concert Paul Williams gave in Mexico. And I was wearing my father's suit with my best friend. We drove from Guadalajara to Mexico City to listen to him. We met him after. He remembered – he says he remembered, but I’m a huge fan of his. I mean, all his songs are great. Phantom is great, and “Rainbow Connection” is so powerful. And Gustavo is a great amalgam with him, as proven by Book of Life.

What's the small movie you want to do?

It's the only thing I've been able to keep secret, and I'm going to keep it secret until I make it or not!

Why is it important to make small movies when you can be making big blockbusters?

Because I think the reasons I make the movies remain the same as when I did Cronos. I mean, I dress like shit. I don't drive a Porsche – I had the replica of The Car made from the James Brolin movie. I live in the Valley. I don't want to move over to Beverly Hills – my goal is to make the movies I want to make and support the people I want to support. That's it. I manage to have as many rubber monsters as I need. That's enough for me. And I think making small movies remind you of the effort. When you make big movies, the effort is to fight for freedom. When you make small movies, the effort is making the day, making the budget, and I think when you get all the money and all the freedom, rarely you get a good movie out of it or a good movie that you're proud of, you know.

How about a Hellboy 3? Are the chances any better now that it could actually happen?

You know, I answered the question in Comic Con, and that's the question: that we all should wait. That's unfortunately, a movie that is so big compared to the other two. And the other two, you have DVD and Blu ray and all that to make [the argument] for it. The first two movies were very successful on home video, and that allowed for them to recuperate. A third movie? That market is basically gone. So the studios are conservative about it.

I imagine Halloween, right around the corner, is one of your favorite days of the year.

It is, but it's a lot of pressure because when I make myself up like a really good zombie, kids cry. So then I end up going low-rent.

How do you usually celebrate?

Well, if we are in America, then we go out trick-or-treating with the kids. And my wife, more than anyone else, loves to dress up. So she's like planning her Halloween costume like somebody would plan an haute couture.

Do you follow her lead and match yourself up?

No. She wants me to play Frankenstein to her Bride of Frankenstein, but I said, “Look, the creature never was fat and had a beard.” It's going to be pretty hard for me to play that.

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