Guillermo del Toro talks new, savage vampire show 'The Strain'

By Alex Intner, Daily Arts Writer
Published July 15, 2014

When Carlton Cuse (“Lost”) was asked why he jumped at the opportunity to work with Guillermo del Toro (“Pan’s Labyrinth”) on the adaptation of “The Strain,” he said, “I had a lot of respect for Guillermo as a filmmaker … he’s one of the most imaginative guys out there in terms of creating creatures and worlds.” More interestingly, he said “I also thought that embedded in the book was this fantastic opportunity to upend the vampire genre … it was time to go back to the conception of vampires as really scary, dangerous creatures.”

This is the idea embedded at the core of “The Strain”: making a television show about vampires that’s different from any other. During a conference call in which The Michigan Daily participated, del Toro said, when asked about what makes his show different from all the others, “very rarely do we get to see a savage form of vampirism in either film or TV, or basically any other medium, so I think the degree to which this mythology and biology, and basically lore of this type of vampire, is laid out is really quite unique and evolving.”

One character that got attention during the call was Abraham Setrakian (David Bradley, “Harry Potter”).

“Literally every character ends up circulating around the figure of Setrakian, even Corey and Mia, they connect with the rest of the characters through Setrakian,” del Toro said.

“David Bradley is a huge part of the show, he’s a wonderful actor,” Cuse added. “And I think we wanted a guy who wasn’t going to be the sort of sweet, kindly, grandfather, sort of kindly mentor figure that we’ve seen in a lot of shows. We wanted Setrakian to be a bad ass, and David Bradley was the perfect piece of casting, and he plays a hugely significant role in the series.”

On transitioning from film to TV, del Toro said the process “was very smooth in many ways because we had the chance to adapt the novels to comic book form with Dark Horse. And coming in we really sought Carlton’s guidance into this new form … I asked FX to give us a long pre-production period so I could really plan out the makeup effects, the creature effects, the visual effects, all of which I have big experience with, in order to try to bring to the pilot a big scope feel to the series doing sophisticated effects and some set pieces, while staying on a fiscally responsible budget and managing.”

He said FX President John Landgraf was supportive the whole way.

“It was a huge thrill for me to get a phone call from John Landgraf before starting the series, saying to me, ‘We encourage creator content, we love Carlton, we love you, and we want you guys to do the most idiosyncratic, best version of the series that you can.’”

“It would have been impossible to make this show under a normal network production schedule,” Cuse said. “We needed a vast amount of lead time to not only do creature creation, but to do a significant amount of the writing so that we could plan and organize things, because obviously we were working within certain fiscal limitations.”

“We’re incredibly grateful to FX for being so supportive in allowing us our process,” he added.

The creatures weren’t the only reason del Toro needed more time than normal to prepare.

“One of the reasons we asked FX for a long lead time for the show was that I spent a long time working out line and saturation patterns with coordinating art department, wardrobe department, set design, and cinematography to give the show a very strong look”

He called the color palate “saturated monochrome.”

In the end, del Toro said he wanted to create a show that “if you’re channel surfing - the show would almost pop out and demand your attention visually.”