To say that Guillermo del Toro is a busy man would be a serious understatement. The Mexican filmmaker’s latest picture, Pacific Rim, arrives on Blu-ray and DVD today. As if that weren’t enough, he also has a hefty book called Cabinet of Curiosities on the way (it hits shelves on October 29). Curiosities is much more than your average coffee-table tome – it collects the director’s notebooks and drawings (including those created for his several as-yet-unfinished projects) in addition to contributions from James Cameron, Tom Cruise and John Landis. Rolling Stone spoke with the 49 year old about both projects as well as The Stain, Crimson Peak and The Witches, three more movies he’s eager to release.
Pacific Rim is every child’s dream – robots versus monsters. What was it like to play in that world?
I said it before and I sustain it now: Making Pacific Rim was the best creative experience of my life, bar none. I was completely supported by Legendary Pictures creatively. They were behind me and the creations I was putting on screen, and they never, ever wavered. We wanted to make a movie as huge as anyone has ever seen.
It’s a beautiful film, but it’s also a very human story. How did you manage such a personal touch with something so huge in scale?
That was one of my goals. I wanted very much to, slowly but surely, find the heart of the movie. The crucial moment for me is the flashback to Tokyo. It’s very difficult to do a movie like that nowadays, because it has a very gentle spirit, ultimately. It’s not a movie that is full of skepticism and irony. It’s a movie that is completely romantically heart-on-the-sleeve in love with what it’s doing. Every human character in the movie is ultimately, essentially, good, and it’s because I was thinking of me at age eleven watching a movie that embraces that uncomplicated heroism.
You don’t see that very much these days.
I wanted a robots and monsters movie that ultimately provided the message that if we stick together – all of us – we have a chance of making it. A lot of the time I find myself craving a movie that gives you a good thrill ride, but also gives you a thrill ride that is life-affirming. That is beautiful. Pan’s Labyrinth is very dark, but has a very warm and very fragile heart at the center. I wanted Pacific Rim to have that.
Do you think that Pacific Rim plays just as well at home in 3D as it does in the theater?
We did a really, really careful conversion of everything. You’re going to have a different experience. Obviously, in terms of spectacle, the movie is to be experienced in IMAX 3D, but it really translates very well into the home theater.
It’s nice to watch it again and find things you missed the first time around.
Everything I do, I do it with the hope that people will watch it more than twice. Whether it’s Pan’s Labyrinth or Pacific Rim or the opening of The Simpsons, I do it with that hope.
The film was a huge worldwide hit. Are you working on a sequel?
Legendary gave me the absolute go-ahead with writing the screenplay, so Travis Beacham and I are working on it. As far as giving it a green light, that’s the big step of the process. We need to put together a budget and then they’ll make that decision, but everybody is unwavering in their love for the movie.
Is Cabinet of Curiosities the kind of book you wish existed when you were growing up as a movie fan?
That’s exactly what it is. You nailed it right on the head. In the same way that Pacific Rim is a movie that I wish I had seen when I was eleven, or the house that I have is the house I wanted to have when I was eight or ten. What I do with my work is just create little pockets in the world where I can live, and this book is exactly the book I would have liked. I want to connect not only with people that are fans of horror or fantasy, but to create new fans.
It’s a really thick, hearty book. You feel like you’re getting a lot of bang for your buck.
Palace Press was a great partner in editing The Art of Pacific Rim and we did the same with that book. We wanted to create an in-depth experience. What is frustrating, in a way, is that we are publishing only probably a fifth of my notebook pages. There are nearly 400 pages of notebook pages and notations so there is five times more than you see in this book.
You have a lot of other projects in development. What’s the status of The Strain?
I’m talking to you from the set. [Laughs] I’m shooting the pilot and I’m trying to bring a huge scope to the series. We are working with incredible support from FX. I’m standing on a gorgeous set, and I’m almost done with my shoot. It’s gone incredibly well and I’ve really enjoyed it. Then I go into shooting Crimson Peak in February. That’s basically my next year-and-a-half or two years.
Crimson Peak is a throwback to classic horror. I feel like part of what you tried to do with Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark was just that, but it didn’t translate from your script.
The problem with Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark was that it was designed to be a PG-13 movie. It was literally a horror movie for a younger generation. I was trying to do the film equivalent of teenage, young adult readers and when they gave it an R rating, the movie couldn’t sustain an R. It had a couple of intense scenes, but it didn’t have the weight to be an R-rated movie. Crimson Peak is an R-rated movie from the get-go. At the same time, it’s a sincere, beautiful, classical gothic romance that’s very violent and very kinky, in a way. What’s a complete dream is the cast – Jessica Chastain, Tom Hiddleston, Mia Wasikowska and Charlie Hunnam. It’s amazing. We’ve also been designing the house to the last little corner, and it really is a monumental character in the film. I hope it’s going to be my most beautiful movie.
And what’s the status of your version of Roald Dahl’s The Witches?
The Witches is at Warner Bros., and every time I can, I bring it up. Every time they say that they’re interested and then nothing happens. I can tell you that [Felicity] “Liccy” Dahl read the screenplay and, when I went to see her at Gypsy House, she said, “I honestly think it’s the best adaptation of Roald Dahl’s books ever.” I spent about two years adapting the screenplay. If anyone says to me, “You have to shoot the movie in the most difficult circumstances as you can, but you’ll get to do it,” I would do it. I think Roald Dahl had the rarest combination of talking to kids about complex emotions and he was able to show you that the world of kids was sophisticated, complex and had a lot more darkness than adults ever want to remember.
Do you ever worry about being too busy?
These things don’t happen all at the same time. I shot Pacific Rim while we were preparing The Strain while we were producing Cabinet of Curiosities. I designed The Simpsons opening while I was producing Pacific Rim so, yes, I’m pretty busy. [Laughs] But I’m a workaholic and I love it. For me, real life is hard work. Making movies is like a vacation for my soul.