Season two of the FX horror series, The Strain, was already airing on FX when the cast and creators gave a panel for the Television Critics Association. Guillermo del Toro, who co-wrote the book with Chuck Hogan, and directs and produces with Carlton Cuse, was there to give us a personal lesson in how he creates such scary monsters.
The Strigoi are The Strain’s vampires, which share some characteristics with other del Toro creations. Their mouths open four ways like the vampires in Blade II and shoot serpentine tentacles like creatures in the Hellboy and Pan’s Labyrinth movies. Del Toro spoke with us and other reporters about his monsters on The Strain and some changes the show has made from the book. The Strain airs Sunday nights at 10 on FX.
When you and Chuck Hogan were conceiving this, did you already know what you wanted the Strigoi to look like?
Guillermo del Toro: Yes, I’ve been drawing them for decades. They existed in my head since I was a teenager. I always wondered about vampire biology. I always drew in my notebooks and in my doodles what the vampires would look like. I knew Eastern European folklore and I called them the Strigoi. Each country has a different vampire and they are all very different. Chinese vampires, Filipino vampires, Mexican vampires, Greek vampires, Vrykolakas is a vampire from Greece. The Strigoi from Eastern Europe. Upir is the Russian vampire. The Vourdalak is a Russian vampire and so forth. So I’ve been doing that for a while.
As an artist, how does it feel to have drawn things your whole life, but in the last two decades you’ve had other artists you’ve brought those drawings to life for you to see?
Guillermo del Toro: It’s really good. I tell people, “Look, when you see my notebooks, when I started in the ‘90s, I was drawing 10 pages of drawings or 15, 20 pages of notes for each project. Now I draw four or five because the bulk of the drawings are done with Guy Davies and Mike Mignola, Oscar Chichoni, all the people I collaborate with and they are much better artists. So I have the luxury of working closely with them, but I still draw. It’s less and less for every project.
Are the Feelers played by real kids and do they get nightmares from this?
Guillermo del Toro: I think we lucked out finding these amazing kid performers that are nightmare free. They really love attacking adults at the smallest provocation. We scouted for dancers, kids that were really, really nimble, that have a grace, and we love that. But, yes, they are they seem to be the happiest members of the cast.
Will you be able to direct a lot more of The Strain next season than you were while you were making a movie this year?
Guillermo del Toro: I did a lot of second unit that goes uncredited. Frankly, I’m the most available director of the show. They call me within a week, they say, “Monday, can you shoot this?” I go, “Absolutely.” I have shot stuff that is invisible in the episodes. I shot the black and white prologue, the Mexican wrestler, I shot the opening and I plan all the gags. All the gory, brutal gags, I plan them. There is one of my favorite gags we’ve done coming up and I think people are going to just go, “What?” I’m really, really proud. It comes in the later part of the season.
The show adds a lot of female characters who weren’t in the book. When you revisited the narrative for television, did it feel like it needed more women? How does it change things when Fet has a girlfriend now?
Guillermo del Toro: For me, extending the show, I’m the least objective person about going off book. Obviously, staying on book for Chuck and I is the natural route. But Carlton came up with ideas. Some of them, I absolutely immediately latched on. The others evolved, like Dutch. Originally, when we started talking about Dutch, it was just a male hacker that came in to this. We were having dinner and I said, “You know, it would be great if it’s a female character,” because normally you get the same guy that looks, you know, like a hacker, and blah, blah, blah. I think that she is going to interesting places, not only this season, but next. I think what surprised me about the TV process was how it evolves on its own. You map it out, you do the episode guide, and then as the writing is progressing, and we are on production, we’re getting new pages from Carlton and the team, and a lot of the times we get great surprises, like we have a Roman flashback.
What is the Roman flashback?
Guillermo del Toro: I don’t want to give spoilers but there is a Roman flashback.
Did you always intend to give Nora’s mother a different outcome than the book?
Guillermo del Toro: As I said, the thing that I’m amazed in doing this series is how much things change on their own. Literally, they take different solutions. It’s when you are reading, if you are absent from a character for 60 pages, you recuperate him or her, and you’re instantly engaged again. But because an audiovisual narrative has a real time flow, you need to give them every so and so number of minutes so to speak. It was an interesting decision, and we thought it was a good arc for Nora to be a doctor saving lives, saving lives, proposing that the humanitarian thing was to save lives, to have to make that decision at the end of the season, which is completely opposite of how she starts when she leaves the first house. It’s an interesting change for her.