From filmmaker Guillermo del Toro and showrunner Carlton Cuse, The Strain tells the story of an epic battle for survival between man and vampire. When Dr. Ephraim Goodweather (Corey Stoll), the head of the Center for Disease Control in New York City, and his team are called upon to investigate a mysterious viral outbreak that is eerily similar to an ancient and evil strain of vampirism, they quickly realize that they are waging war for the fate of humanity itself. The show also stars David Bradley, Mia Maestro, Sean Astin, Jonathan Hyde, Richard Sammel, Kevin Durand, Miguel Gomez, Natalie Brown and Jack Kesy.
During this recent exclusive interview with Collider, executive producer Guillermo del Toro talked about why he wanted to do a horror TV series, the idea of vampires as a predatory species, why he wanted to direct the pilot, supervising all of the visual and make-up effects on the series, why David Bradley was the right actor for Setrakian, how the events of Episode 8 will change the group dynamic, why he thinks they’ll need three to five seasons to tell this story, going forward in the story while they go back in the mythology, learning the medium of TV, and how excited he is to get to work on Season 2. Check out what he had to say after the jump, and be aware that there are some spoilers.
GUILLERMO DEL TORO: No. I was watching The Wire obsessively, back in 2006 or 2005, and I love the way that show played the heroes has flawed characters. They never behaved truly moral or truly immoral. They never behaved as you’d expect them to behave in a crime series, and I liked that so much. I said, “I would love to see a vampire series where you end up rooting for some vampires, you end up seeing the heroes do things that you find reproachable, and you get that moral ambiguity, as you go along.” That was what started my thought. And I wanted, very much, to do it in a way that is not done in horror anymore. When I was a kid, horror series were fun. Kolchak would go out to a junkyard and face a zombie, entirely alone at midnight, and you’d go, “Why are you going there alone, in the middle of the night, to put a bag of salt in the mouth of the zombie? Why can’t you bring somebody else, or call the police?” I wanted to have that sense of fun in horror, but also make it go places that it normally doesn’t go, if we do our job right. Hopefully, we will end up doing that.
And you really set up how scary you wanted these vampires to be, right from the beginning.
DEL TORO: The idea of vampires being a predatory species means that they would be ruthless. That’s why, in the opening of the series, I showed a vampire drink a human like you would drink juice, and then dispose of the human like you would dispose of that juice. He doesn’t turn anyone or give them immortal life. After you finish drinking a little box of juice, you crush it. So, I wanted to see the vampire crush him and just leave. It’s a very important moment where you go, “Okay, this guy doesn’t give a fuck.” What do you do with a wrapper on a burger? You throw it away.
DEL TORO: I established the night look of the series, and the interiors. I couldn’t establish daylight because I basically had none. To this day, I supervise all of the VFX in the series, I color correct every episode, and I established all of the make-up effects and the main sets. Most of the main sets were designed in the pilot, and almost the entirety of the make-up effects were done under my supervision. I wanted to establish that and make sure that, in a couple of instances, I could go back and shoot additional footage on second unit, which I did with a couple of the scenes, like the one where Eichhorst is making himself up in the mirror. It was important to establish that type of look.
What were the challenges in finding the right actor for Setrakian, and why was David Bradley the right guy for the job?
DEL TORO: The thing with David that made us cast him was that we needed a Setrakian that was not only a good verbal actor, and that could deliver the character and the pathos, but we also needed a guy who could kick ass. Setrakian is both frail and, at the same time, he’s super active, physically. David is the youngest guy I’ve met. He goes salsa dancing with the cast, at the end of the week. In his free time, he skis. He has such physical force. Setrakian is my favorite character in the books. He’s the one that is the pivotal character to the mythology because he and The Master have the most storied relationship, until the advent of Mr. Q, the hooded vampire killer. He has an even older story with The Master. It’s a great character. As we go along, that character becomes super important.
How will the events in Episode 8 change the group dynamic, going forward?
DEL TORO: It defines how the group starts to gel. [Vasiliy] Fet is as ruthless as Setrakian. Setrakian is a really hardcore character. He’s much more sociopathic than in the books. He just says, “Look, you turn and I’ll take you down.” And Fet becomes almost like his surrogate child, as the series goes on. Eph is a difficult character because he is never going to behave like the square-jawed hero. He may play one, but he’s not. His wife tells him, “You’re always five minutes late to everything.” If you let Eph handle the situation, it would have become a disaster. Fet comes in and solves it really quick.
Are you still looking at three to five seasons to tell this story?
DEL TORO: Yeah, because the second and third book were very compressed. If you read them, they go to flashbacks. We learn Setrakian’s story up to the ‘40s, in the first season. In the second season, you’ll learn his story as a child, and how he first learned of The Master. And then, you think you see the origin of The Master, until you end up tracking it to thousands of years before. As you go forward in the story, you go back in the mythology. When Setrakian is asked about Eichhorst, he says, “I knew him before when he was human, but equally monstrous.” And then, there is that moment when Eichhorst is talking while he’s drunk, and he says that we all submit to a greater will. That’s where the series is heading, and the books head. It’s a very dark scenario about how easy it is to submit our will, if we are told that’s the way things are.
What did you learn from Season 1 that will make Season 2 a different experience?
DEL TORO: A lot! It’s such a steep learning curve. You have a lot of time, and no time, at all. You have X number of months to shoot the series, but at the same time, you’re dealing with problems that come at you at 100 mph. The partnership with Carlton [Cuse] has been the main thing. Chuck [Hogan], Carlton and myself were learning what exactly we could do to function the best together, and what areas are the blindspots of each other, and I’m actually super excited to do the second season. I cleared my schedule to not shoot until February of next year. I’m shooting a small movie, but I want to be there and I want to be available because I love this so much. To me, the important thing is to learn a new medium. Five years ago, I gave myself a goal, which was that I wanted to publish comics, publish books, do a TV show, do a video game and make movies, and learn from all of that, to see where the future of storytelling can go. And I’ve done four of the five.
The Strain airs on Sunday nights on FX.