Guillermo del Toro (left) first discovered Andy Muschietti’s Mama as a short.
MAMA directed by Andy Muschietti, written by Neil Cross, Andy Muschietti and Barbara Muschietti, with Jessica Chastain, Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, Megan Charpentier and Isabelle Nélisse. An eOne Films release. 100 minutes. Opens Friday (January 18). For venues and times, see listings. See review.
Hey Toronto, Guillermo del Toro isn't going anywhere. Not today, on a press day for his new production Mama - where he forgoes his scheduled lunch break to keep a convivial round-table session rolling for an hour and a half - and not for the foreseeable future. He's settling in.
Two years ago, the ebullient Mexican genre stylist, who made Mimic here in the mid-90s, moved himself and his family to Toronto to shoot the sci-fi epic Pacific Rim and promptly fell in love with the city all over again. The expanded facilities at Pinewood Toronto Studios allowed him to work on two pictures at once, producing Andy Muschietti's Mama on the side.
"I was literally prepping Mama when I was prepping Pacific Rim," del Toro explains. "We were neighbours [at Pinewood]. I was able to keep an eye on Andy, I was able to do my work as producer, I was able to check his storyboards and ask if there was anything wrong, and go right into my room on Pacific Rim. It's a unique situation."
Mama stars Jessica Chastain as a young woman charged with the care of her boyfriend's nieces (Megan Charpentier and Isabelle Nélisse), newly returned to them after five years in an isolated cabin. But their ordeal isn't over.
"I think family is both the source of all horrors and the source of all blessings," del Toro says, digging into what drew him to the project. "There are primal emotions to motherhood and family that you respond to. And I think a horror story needs to have real emotion at its centre for you to respond."
Del Toro first discovered Mama as a short film.
"I look at probably 50, 60 shorts a year," he says. "People send them to my public email, they give them to me on DVD, and I try to watch them. Eighty per cent of the time you'll find a short that is done very well but has little to say, or a short that's ambitious but badly produced. Rarely, you find a nugget and go ‘Wow! There's a voice there, it's well produced, it's well thought out. That was Mama."
And now, with the feature version of Mama opening and Pacific Rim locked into a July release, it's time to look forward to new projects - which will also be made right here.
"We're shooting The Strain in July or August," he says, referring to the TV adaptation of the vampire thriller del Toro wrote with novelist Chuck Hogan. "We're doing the whole series here. I start prepping [feature film] Crimson Peak in September-October, and then I shoot in January 2014. I'll be here at least two more years."
Which means we can look forward to another del Toro-presented Hitchcock series at the Lightbox.
"Last time it was a sampler; now we're going to be more coherent," says the director, who plans to screen and discuss the "Shadow Trilogy" of Shadow Of A Doubt, Strangers On A Train and Suspicion.
And there's more for del Toro to discover here. An avowed foodie, he admits he hasn't made it to Kensington Market's El Trompo yet - a recommendation I'd offered in our last conversation - but he's been keeping himself busy on the east side of town. He says he's lost 80 pounds since work began on Mama and Pacific Rim.
"I go from being a ball to an ovoid shape," he says, "but the fucking duck-fat french fries" at Beerbistro have kept him from going any lower.
"My last time at Pizza Libretto, I broke the bench," he says, laughing heartily.