Strain, 101 - Cory Stoll
The Strain, 101 "Night Zero" - Ephraim Goodweather (Cory Stoll) ©2014 FX, photo by Michael Gibson

Guillermo del Toro gained worldwide recognition for the 1993 Mexican-American co-production of Cronos, a horror film that del Toro directed from his own screenplay. He went on to create such memorable movies as Pan’s Labyrinth, Pacific Rim, Hellboy and its sequel Hellboy II: The Golden Army.

His latest venture is as Executive Producer, writer and occasional director of FX’s new horror series The Strain, based on the novel of the same name. It tells the story of Dr Ephraim Goodweather (Corey Stoll, (House of Cards, Midnight in Paris), the head of the Center for Disease Control, whose team are called upon when a mysterious virus erupts in New York City, turning people into vampires.

Guillermo came to the TV Critics tour to talk about his new series, which can be seen weekly on Sundays at 10 pm.

If you had approached the book faithfully, it would be a very slow burn and we probably would not have seen any vampires in the first few episodes. Did you always know that you needed to make sure to have them present in the first episode?

Strain, 103 - Jack Kesy
The Strain, 103 “Gone Smooth” – Gabriel Bolivar (Jack Kesy) ©2014 FX, photo by Michael Gibson

I think it was important to set up the vampires on the first episode. You need to see the first feeding, and you need to see the vampire drink the person like you would drink a little box of Capri Sun.

(he laughs) And then discard it with equal abandon. What do you do with a Capri Sun? You drink it, and you just crush it and throw it away.

We needed to set it up, [then after that] we started constructing more of a mythology. You start following the vampires on their own storylines as we go along.

So we’re not just using them as a wave of horror pushing against the humans. They become, and they are, important characters.

You’re inventing new characters and scenes that aren’t in the book. Fans of the book are going to be debating it on the Internet, as they know what’s coming even though you’ve changed thing so a degree. Does that worry you?

Stain, 104 - Sean Astin, Mia Maestro and Cory Stoll
The Strain, 104 “It’s Not For Everyone”- Jim Kent (Sean Astin), Nora Martinez (Mia Maestro) and Ephraim Goodweather (Cory Stoll) ©2014 FX, photo by Michael Gibson

Well, I think that we knew from the start that the books were going to be a guide, and we wanted to hit some of the highlights of the books. Sometimes we hit them earlier, and in other cases, we’re going to hit them much later, if at all.

The reality is that we want to hit the big hit points of the book, but we will get there in a much more Baroque way than we would in the book. Alfred Hitchcock said, ‘The only way to really adapt the book is to film the pages and turn them slowly so that people can read.’

The Strain is obviously a natural for television. I understand that some years ago you took your treatment to Fox and they wanted to actually turn it into a comedy. Is that true?

Strain - Poster
The Strain – Poster, Key Art ©2014 FX, photo by Michael Gibson

What happened is I went and pitched it around ’06. I think at that time, the only way anybody would envision vampires was a romantic conception of vampires, sort of  a GQ version.

And I get in with this pitch about vampires being spiritually and physically revolting parasites, and they did say, ‘Could you turn it into a comedy?’ I said, ‘No.’

I know the question is hypothetical, but when you ran out of money on Cronos, if Ron Perlman had not said, ‘Let’s continue,’ would you be sitting on this stage today?

Puss in Boots - Guillermo del Toro
Executive Producer Guillermo del Toro © 2011 DreamWorks Animation

I would probably be thinner, because I wouldn’t be able to afford as many sweets. (he laughs) But Ron really saved our life. I knew I had no knowledge of what happens in the real world. I had grown up in a very insular community in Mexico where we all made movies because we were friends. If you gave your word or shook  hands, that was the deal.

The money ran out on Cronos, and I said to Ron, ‘I give you my word as a gentleman that you will get paid.’ And he stayed, and I did pay him. But my life would be very different [now].

The Strain, Episode 4 “It’s Not For Everyone” Airs on FX on Sunday, August 3 at 10:00 pm.

Judy Sloane

Judy is Film Review Online's regular Los Angeles based reporter.