Guillermo del Toro is a jolly fellow. You’ll be 20 minutes into a conversation filled with jokey repartee and his self-deprecating asides, and you’ll think: This is the guy who unleashed a swarm of killer cockroaches on a city full of children in “Mimic”?
Then, suddenly, a fuse will blow in the studio, and as your crew scrambles to re-light the set, del Toro will say, with a mix of charm and do-not-cross-me gravity, “My DP would punch you!”
But his director of photography is nowhere to be seen, nor are plague-laden roaches, and all soon returns to normal. Del Toro is here to chat about target="_blank">“The Fall,” the second book in his trilogy (co-written with Chuck Hogan), about a parasitic epidemic turning a city’s population into blood-sucking vampires. It’s grim material, no doubt, but the director-turned-novelist talks ebulliently, almost from start to finish, about the book, its influences and its development.
He’s got a right to be happy. Like the first installment, “The Fall” became a bestseller, thanks to robust pre-orders before it even hit shelves Tuesday. And, having dealt with a heartbreaking, years-long struggle to make “The Hobbit,” del Toro is energized to be temporarily working outside the Hollywood machine, writing fiction about a subject he’s been obsessed with since the age of 7.
That, too, is a project he’s been dreaming about for decades. Yet to hear del Toro talk about “The Fall” is to realize the special place fiction holds in his creative heart. And it doesn’t hurt that the book is one kick-ass page-turner.
MTV: I’m, first of all, curious about the process. You’ve written screenplays with other people; you’ve now written two books with Chuck Hogan. How do those two processes differ, if at all?
Guillermo del Toro: It’s much better than writing solo. Writing the books is very similar to writing the screenplays with collaborators. For the books, we get together for what Chuck terms “a four-day breakfast.” We talk and eat, and eat and talk. Eventually, we figure out everything we want about the book, we go away, we generate a 30-page outline, and then we call dibs: “I want this section. I want that section.” I think I get all the fun sections. I write them and send them to him, and when I get his sections, I realize he got a lot of fun sections, and I get envious and rewrite them. He rewrites my stuff, and we go from there. It becomes a single voice.
MTV: There’s more of an action vibe in the second book than in the first. Was that one of the goals, to mix much more action into your horror story?
Del Toro: Chuck says that we got together on the first one and took our Legos and created the city and the characters, and on the second, we finally get to play with them, and on the third, we’re going to destroy it.
MTV: The vampires in the trilogy are unique compared to other depictions of vampires in popular culture in that vampirism is a disease. Where’d the idea come from? Any specific sources?
Del Toro: During the Age of Enlightenment, there were plagues in Europe and vampiric panics that led to ransacking of graveyards and desecration of corpses. There was mass hysteria about vampires. I thought that in this age of GPS and iPhones, the only thing that reverts us to primitive fear is a viral epidemic. Immediately, you see people wearing masks and not opening mail for fear of anthrax. And if you talk to these people, most of them have no idea how anything is transmitted. It’s very superstitious. I thought it would be great to recreate vampires biologically, explain how they work, and make them scary again. I’ve been reading vampiric folklore since I was 7. I know more about vampires than I know about my cousins.
MTV: What is the lure of telling this story in book form, as opposed to, say, in comic books, video games or as a TV series?
Del Toro: The only way to really track the epidemic was the long-arc form. You could have done it as a TV series or books. The freedom you get by doing it as books is you get to establish the characters and the world the way you want it. You don’t get any notes from studio executives and TV executives. You don’t test it with an audience. You don’t have to get feedback. You don’t mind about ratings. You do everything you want. It was a liberating thing to do it that way. I found it to be, personally, as a fat human being, an escape pod from really constrictive screenplay writing, especially within the studio environment. I really love writing fiction. It’s like an amusement park for me. I have no end of fun.
MTV: And it’s an excuse to have four-day breakfasts with your friends.
Del Toro: Everything I do, I feel like I’m a very well-financed child. I just do everything I dreamt of doing as a kid, and I get to do it with the friends I like. Someone puts us in a room together, and we build a city that is crazy, and we get in costumes and play, and then you have dinner with those people. It’s like camp for abnormal kids. I’m deeply abnormal, so I am very happy.
MTV: When the trilogy concludes, will that ending be final or does the possibility exist for the stories of any of these characters to continue?
Del Toro: We don’t want to return to it. We really want to close it on the third book. I would love to continue to do a short story now and then about the world or the characters, but with the novel form, we will close on the third one. The arc ends.
MTV: I don’t need to tell you how popular vampire fiction is these days. In your interactions with fans, in readings and whatnot, have you found a lot of overlap with fans of “Twilight” or “The Vampire Diaries,” or is it very much a separate crowd?
Del Toro: There is room for fans of vampire romance to look for the nastiest vampires. Our trilogy is dedicated to a parasitic feeding entity. These guys don’t sparkle. They won’t take you to dinner. You will be dinner. They are mouths with a stomach and a collective brain — the terrifying inhuman aspect of vampirism. The other aspect is perfectly genuine, and I don’t put it down, but it’s an area I have no interest in. I’m not attracted to the Byronian badboy that vampires can be. That’s an analogy I don’t pursue. But we do find people that are reading both types of fiction and enjoying it. Diversity is the key to happiness.
MTV: When the first book came out, you said you talked with Fox about a TV show, and it didn’t work out. This time around, have you tried to go back to the networks or cable?
Del Toro: When the first one was on the bestseller list, we got a lot of calls. Some of the people we pitched it to originally called back. We don’t want to turn it into anything. We want to wait until the third book because we don’t want to think about it any other way than just books. You don’t want to contaminate it. We got approached by studios wanting to turn them into movies. I don’t feel comfortable with that. I don’t know if I ever will. We’re going to do stuff in the third book that is pretty hardcore. I don’t know if we’d be able to preserve it. But, look, my favorite stuff is on TV right now.
“Breaking Bad” is exceptionally good. At my household, we consider “Dexter” a family show. Partnering up with somebody like that would be fantastic.