THE STRAIN – Interview With Carlton Cuse and Guillermo Del Toro

The debut of The Strain came with a lot of expectations. Both for the critical pedigree of the creator’s involved, a collaboration between arguably the most respected genre filmmaker of his generation and the co creator of the defining cult show of its decade. And the ratings success it would have to be to pay off it’s relatively epic scope. But if Carlton Cuse and Guillermo Del Toro were feeling any pressure they certainly weren’t showing it on their phone interview last week. Instead both sounded remarkably happy and confident for two people in the midst of a major production and press tour.

“We really were able to put our unadulterated version of the story on screen, and FX has been enormously supportive, and I think very aware when you’re competing with films and also with pay cable, you don’t want to find yourself in a situation where you’re doing an adulterated version of the story,” Cuse said, “… I think Guillermo, Chuck, myself, all of us involved have basically said, okay, here’s the book, now how do we take the best stuff in here and then use that as elements and then make the best TV show we can. But we view the TV show as its own creation. ”

“It should feel as seamless. ” Del Toro affirmed, ” The transition came from both Chuck and I, it 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 think there never has been an occasion in which our dialogue has seen anyone read the books and say, “This is not the way it’s in the books.” So that much was very satisfactory. For me as a producer and director, it was about having some of the quirks that come from a feature film. 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.”

“And from a director’s point of view it was the same on the pilot. I didn’t want to go back and say, can I get one day more? Can I do many extra hours? I wanted to fit in the sandbox what I was hoping would feel like a big pilot episode for a big series. And that pre-planning was crucial, but also adjusting the way I staged, the way I approach coverage, or storytelling, and yet not sacrificing anything. It was both some fiscal constraints, but creative absolute freedom, which 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.”

Cuse & Del Toro

“I think that whatever aesthetic limitations exist in the show are ones that Guillermo and I came up with ourselves. ” Cuse added, “We have had the full support of FX to make the show the way we wanted to.”

Which as Del Toro knows is essential for horror, ” I think that one of the important things on creating this is that the genre requires you to cross, at some point. It’s almost like a hostage situation, where you need to show an audience that you’re not kidding, you know? You have to show you are going to deliver either by atmospheric, creepy moments, or by visceral punch, hopefully both. You’re going to be able to deliver the goods, the things that will make you feel queasy, will make you feel unsafe, will bring this delightful shiver that is required with the genre.”

“And you can execute it both atmospherically and by simply making the emotional relationship of a father welcoming a daughter long after he knows she’s dead, or by making it a shock moment. Or, hopefully also now and then in the series we have moments in which we have really, really sick humor. Certainly in the pilot we had the freedom to try to set up one of the most intense scenes to a pop song, and things like that I think are what defines a generic appeal for the show.”

The collaboration between Del Toro and Cuse seems like a happy one, Del Toro certainly sounds like someone confident he’s found the right shepherd for his material, ” One of the things that linked me very strongly to Carlton is when we met, we met one fateful morning for breakfast, and he said to me, “I love the fact that you start the first book debunking the spiritual aspect and the mythical aspect of vampirism, and the second book you go into sociological aspects of the tale, chemical, biological aspects of the tale, and you come full circle on the third book recuperating a new spiritual dimension to the myth.” And we knew that journey was not achievable in a single swift six episode arc, or eight episode arc of a miniseries. We knew that structurally we wanted each season to not only continue what you did on the first one, but to evolve into different and hopefully more increasingly daring territory, and I think that in that sense it really was the natural way to go creatively.”

I’ll be reviewing The Strain every Sunday through the rest of the summer. It’s off to a strong start. It’s rare even in this age of television to find a concept so thoroughly thought out from its inception. I have no doubt that The Strain will stay strong.

The Author

Bryce Wilson

Bryce Wilson

Confirmed film geek and literary nerd. Writer for Paracinema and Art Decades Magazine, columnist for the San Luis Obispo New Times and author of Son Of Danse Macabre. Resides in Austin, TX.

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