Gadfly: I should confess
to you that I havent seen Cronos. After I
saw Mimic, I had planned to rent it but never did.
Guillermo Del Toro: Lots of people havent seen Cronos.
After seeing Mimic, Cronos would have rewarded
you a little bit.
So you arent too
happy with Mimic.
Im happy with it
to a degree, but its not the movie I wanted to make.
It has about 40 or 50 minutes that are the movie I wanted
to make and about 40 or 50 minutes that arent the
movie I wanted to make. Its a half and half.
How did the opportunity
come about to make it? Were you approached by producers
after they were impressed with Cronos?
It was actually meant to
be a short film, part of an anthology called Light
Years. It was going to be Bryan Singer, Danny Boyle,
Gary Fleder and myself. And we were going to do one episode
each, science fiction but with a different bent for each.
Singers was to be very abstract, very philosophical.
And Boyles was called Alien Sex Triangle,
which is shot but has never been shown. I havent
seen it. And then there was Fleders, called Impostor,
which has since been turned into a feature [starring Gary
Sinise, shot in 2000, released in January of 2002]. When
we were scouting and doing sketches and designs for the
shorts, the studio said, "Why dont we take Impostor
and Mimic, turn them into features, and abandon
the anthology project until we find more shorts to go
with it?" I initially said I dont think there is
enough there for a feature. I think it is a perfect short,
but theres not enough there for two hours.
I had done Cronos
two years earlier, and I was growing very impatient. Originally,
it was just the couple in the short [the Mira Sorvino
and Jeremy Northam characters], and I wanted to add the
character of the shoe shiner and his autistic grandchild.
And I felt it would be interesting enough for me to do
And after Mimic?
After Mimic, I moved
away from Mexico. I had a very heavy security problem
there. We had some terrible experiences with crime in
Mexico. I decided to move away from there, which was painful
and difficult and essentially took two years of my life
to move and find a house and get settled. And I lost two
years. During that process, I was pursuing Devils
Backbone with Pedro Almodovar. Three years into that
process, I was ready to shoot and was offered Blade
2. I said to New Line, "If you want me to do this
movie, I will do Devils Backbone first. And
then I will go and do your movie" because I wanted, after
Mimic, a movie that I felt I would control 100
percent. And the great deal with Pedro Almodovar is that
he is absolutely a champion of the filmmaker, and a filmmaker
himself. So I felt it was a very safe creative bet for
me to stick to Devils Backbone and then do
Blade 2. And thats what happened. I did Devils
Backbone. Four weeks after the shoot, I locked picture
[after editing the film while shooting it], post-produced
it from September to December while pre-producing Blade
2, and in January I moved to Prague and shot Blade
2. And they came out about 3 or 4 months apart.
In your comments after
the screening of Devils Backbone the other
night, you seemed to apologize for Blade 2, saying
No, I didnt apologize
for it. I love that movie. I said I couldnt do senseless
killing in Devils Backbone. If you want senseless
killing, go see Blade 2. But I love it. I love
the senseless killing in the movie. Because it is a cartoon,
like an Itchy and Scratchy cartoon. Just completely inconsequential
and lighthearted in its somberness. Just absolutely inoffensive.
So its definitely
not the case that you did this film in order to get more
leverage with studios to do things you want to do later.
I would never do that because
then you are a hand for hire. And Im not a hand
for hire. I just do movies I love. Blade 2 I love
just as much as Devils Backbone, but they
are completely different.
Ive read some
reviews that say it is far superior to its original, which
is a rare compliment for a sequel.
The movie is absolutely
in love with its nature. I think when you execute movie
material that is comic book or pulp-based, you gotta execute
it with your heart on your sleeve. You gotta execute it
with all the passion and bravura with which you would
execute Shakespeare. You have to give an A execution to
what people normally perceive as B material.
I think they were the best
experiences of my life. The two movies are exactly what
they were meant to be, exactly what I set out to make.
There was no damaging interfering in either of the two
projects, including my own interference with Blade
2, because I didnt want to meddle with the screenplay
to the point that fans of the first one would suddenly
face a slow-moving, deliberate philosophical rambling
about eternity with Wesley Snipes. I said, "Screw this,
Im going to concentrate on the movie being what
it is and moving fast and entertaining," and I had a blast.
I love that fuckin movie.
Because Blade 2
and Mimic get such wide release compared to Devils
Backbone, how does that make you feel?
Thats the market.
As long as people are getting what they paid for, I am
So you never considered
making Devils Backbone in English?
Never. We got offers, and
it would have been what happened on Mimicpeople
trying to contort something into something that the movie
was not. Mimic would have been more commercial,
would have had more potential had it been left to be what
it was, which was a very scary premise. And not try to
make it a semi-actiony horror film, which it wasnt.
It was not an action film. Ive very happy with movies
that deliver what I wanted to deliver. And then if someone
likes it, great. And if someone doesnt know the
other movie, they shouldnt see it. Were not
all scholars, you know. My mother may have seen one Kubrick
film, and she may like it not, but she doesnt need
to know all of his films. She may be enriched by them,
but you know
people that view movies as pure entertainment
are the majority of the audience.
How have your tastes
in movies changed since you were a kid, versus now when
you are yourself a filmmaker?
I can see interference
easier. I can look at a film and say to myself, "Someone
fucked with it." I see the dirty, greasy fingerprints
easier on the film. And at the same time, my view of the
homogenization of film is a little despairing. Some foreign
films look like American films. It makes me appreciate
when a true voice or a truly foreign movie gives me that
otherness experience of seeing a different country
on the screen. But I still enjoy films that are good,
both commercial and not, as much as when I was a kid.
Im blown away by something like Monsters, Inc.
even if it is a commercial movie. I dont care. There
is true artistry at work there. Im amazed at the
Argentinean film like Nine Queens, which has ingenuity
and resources beyond its budget. I enjoy them all as much
as before. The funny thing about right now is that cinemas
are full of shit, and people tend to cling onto that.
But at the same time, we get as many good movies every
year as we did in the 1970s. Yeah, in the 70s we
had Scorsese and Coppola, but it was also Smokey and
the Bandit and Rollerboogie. We have the impossibility
of thinking that what we have now, the time in which we
live, is any better than another. That is the perpetual
human dissatisfaction with what is at hand.
What I particularly
liked about Devils Backbone is how it was
a supernatural story grounded in a specific historical
reality, with the backdrop of the Spanish Civil War.
It is a very political
movie but still has scares and special effects and very
genre moments. Which is what attracted me and made me
stick to the idea for sixteen years, of doing something
that has both. And in that it is very similar to Cronos,
which was a very spirited film. But at the same time,
it was a hammer movie. And what I love about Devils
Backbone is that it exists as a very earnest political
metaphor and is also very savage. It tries to be a microcosm
of what was going on in Spain in 1939.
Have there been criticisms
of the film for those reasons? Have you heard from people
who felt the film trivialized the historical events?
Quite frankly, I dont
care. I dont care enough to engage in the discussion.
To me, a movie is a blind date with 300 people at the
same time. Some go to bed with it, some have a cup of
coffee and leave disgusted because its not their
type of date. I think movies are like religion; people
feel as passionately about movies as they do religion
or politics. When someone doesnt like a movie, they
dont say, "Well, the movie had its problems." No.
They say, "I hate that fucking movie." And they have the
right to do so. I know I crafted Devils Backbone
carefully and lovingly. And if they do not watch it carefully
and lovingly, its their prerogative.
Ive seen movies that
Ive hated passionately and ten years after I love.
And vice versa. Movies I thought were the bomb at 15,
like DePalmas Dressed to Kill. I thought
that was a masterpiece. But seeing it again at 35, I say,
"Its not so masterful. Its got some good stuff,
and I can see what carried me over, but its not
a masterpiece." The only thing you can ask from a movie
is to be true to itself from beginning to end. And thats
what Devils Backbone has that Mimic
doesnt. The shift of gears in the last third of
Mimic is not genuine.
Was that evident while
you were making the film, or only something you began
to perceive when the film was being completed?
It was something I realized
during the shoot. I thought it was the wrong route to
take, but I didnt have the strength or the know-how
or the tool to make it happen. Essentially, I did my best.
Which is not a pretext; a movie is as good as a director
that defends it."
The child actors in
Devils Backbone are remarkable for how un-childlike
they carry themselves. They seem quite adult by the end.
More than show them as
adults, I wanted to give the impression of them being
complete at the end. What happens to the children in the
film is that they lose their purity; they get tainted
by the war. And at the end, they are sadly less childlike.
But I think they are actually childish in a nice way of
how they view war. How they discuss pussy and war in that
central scene of the movie proves they know nothing about
pussy and nothing about war. But they discuss it with
equal mystery and fascination.
How many festivals have
you taken this film to?
It has gone alone to several
festivals because I was shooting and finishing Blade
2. One of the main things I ask from El Deseo [production
company] and which Almodovar and I share is that we hate
competitive festivals. And we hate them even more if we
are not going to be there. So I asked them not to send
the film to competitive festivals in my absence. So essentially
the movie has a nice life, but without being in the official
selection of festivals. And when it was, I tried to be
After the screenings
of the film, as you had here, there is a Q & A. It
seems to be an environment you are well suited for.
I love interacting with
the audience. What I have learned through the years is
not to engage one way or the other. If someone likes the
movie for the wrong reason and tries to railroad you into
saying the movie is something that it isnt, you
say no. And if somebody tries to railroad you into having
a Stalin-esque purge and say, "Im so sorry I made
this movie, that it is so bad," that doesnt work
either. I give people equal time and respond as clearly
as I can and move on. I used to be a projectionist/moderator
in a cinema club for seven years. So I would take the
tickets, project the movie and have a Q & A after.
So it was seven years of debate, which helped meI
was also a critic for those years in radio and printlearn
that the audience enjoys much more the next question than
it enjoys a battle of wits between the filmmaker and someone
there. Now if someone finds something that is genuinely
wrong with the movie and engages on that weak aspect of
the movie, I will engage with them on that. I am really
not ashamed when something if kind of weak in a movie,
like if Cronos lacked production or was naïve
in certain things or was kind of a "first movie" in the
way it was handled with the camera. I would be the first
one to admit it, even back then. Cronos was a film
very influenced by alchemy, and some people took that
aspect of it, particularly in Europe, a little too deep.
And I said, "Well, these are the chemical aspects of it;
if you think it beyond that, Im glad. But its
not my reading." And mind you, I think a true reading
of a film is the one the storyteller does and the
reader has. They are both valid.
I think that comes across
at your Q & A session, that the audience can smell
how much you are just a guy that loves making and seeing
Thats true. I am
a fan. A lot of directors dont like other movies,
other directors. I love other directors. Its rare
that I find something as fascinated as I was at 15, but
sometimes it happens. But I discover gladly that at least
four or five movies every year make me a fan again, and
I cant wait to have them on DVD and watch them again.
Would you do a directors
commentary for a new DVD of Mimic?
For a little bit after
that movie, I was convinced it was as good as it could
have been, that all the changes that happened to it were
right. Then as you distance yourself, you can be far more
objective. You cannot ask one way or another for a director
to be objective about a movie he just finished. We are
blinded by love or something, and the moment you give
birth, you cannot be expected to criticize it. Maybe when
the child is 12 or 13 or 14, you realize he is a bit of
a fuck-up. But early on, he is just your baby.
So yeah, I would love to
do a DVD commentary, but I dont think they would
ever let me. I would not do one that is fake. I jokingly
say it, but it is true. If they allow me to do a directors
cut of that movie, it would be the first one that is shorter.
I would take out the ten offending minutes of crap.
Why were you not free
to do that?
Because the studios idea of the movie was not the
idea I had of it. And what I considered ten minutes of
crap, they considered ten minutes of absolute gold. And
my feeling is that I failed the movie as its ambassador,
and thats what hurts. I think it is a pretty decent
giant bug movie that you can watch on a Sunday afternoon.
But what hurts me is what it could have been. It could
have been a classic, and it is far from it.
Snipes and Del Toro on the set of Blade 2
How much input or control
of the marketing do you have for your films?
Blade 2 was a great
experience because the marketing side was completely open.
They truly heard me, and I got the chance of doing my
own version of a trailer. And some of the ideas were used
in the trailers they released. I just think the campaign
for the movie was beautiful. I was hoping it would be
elegant and muted and not loud and that the trailers would
be interesting and enticing but not reveal the full, long,
crazy balls-to-the-wall nature of the movie, and they
didnt. I actually thought the trailers were extremely
effective in that people were thinking, "Well, if the
trailer contains the best of the movie, its going
to be okay but not fantastic." I hate when the trailer
is better than the movie. And with Blade 2, they
were enticing but didnt give it all away.
About my Hollywood experience,
I just joke about it a lot. I am apologetic for Mimic,
but in general I am sarcastic about the whole experience.
What you cannot say about Hollywood is that it is the
best way of making all types of films. It is the best
way of making some types of films that are big
and bombastic and loud and beautiful. If you want quiet
horror, more mysterious gothic things, you can go another
route or finance it independently in English. I love Hollywood
for how it is such a fascinating machine. To be absolutely
frank, those are the movies for people who are not involved
in the arts, in the culture, and just go to the movies
to see what is playing.
It seems wise to take
a film for what it is trying to do, much like going to
a concert and evaluating the show based on the bands
connection to the audience and how they respond to him,
whether or not you actually like their music.
That happened to me with
Independence Day. I think it was one of the most
appalling movie-going experiences of my life. And all
around me people were cheering. I hated the movie so much.
I felt it was the end of filmmaking, as we knew it. The
movie affected me so deeply in how it connected to the
audience that I realized it was jealousy. The fact that
something that I didnt like, didnt control,
didnt approve dared to connect so well with an audience.
And what I did was probably the wisest thing Ive
ever chosen to do: I stayed for a second show. I didnt
like the movie, but I enjoyed seeing it work with the
You seem to be in a
pretty good position, to be able to make both kinds of
film and even tell a major studio, "Hold on, yes, I will
make Blade 2, but Im going to make my movie
first." Not many people get that opportunity.
As many people as who fight
for it. Thats the funny thing. I learned that half
the fight is wanting to have it. With Mimic, I
was coming from an environmentwhich is Mexicowhere
essentially being agreeable and being nice is part of
the deal, part of making a movie, because it is so difficult.
In Hollywood, its not that you pick fights. But
half the victory is knowing what you wont give up.
Im older, Im heavier and Im a little