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A Minute With: Guillermo del Toro on going full gore for TV

By Mary Milliken

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Mexican film director Guillermo del Toro doesn't seem to be holding much back in his often terrifying and visually arresting movies, and yet, he says television today allows him even more freedom to create.

The director behind blockbuster "Pacific Rim" and dark fantasy "Pan's Labyrinth" premiered his new TV thriller series "The Strain," based on a trilogy of books he co-wrote, on the FX cable channel this week.

"The Strain" chronicles the vampirization of society through a viral outbreak and the battle by Dr Ephraim Goodweather (played by Corey Stoll of "House of Cards") as the New York City public health official trying to stop its spread.

Del Toro, 49, talked to Reuters about his fondness for television, anatomically correct gore and infusing love in tales of horror.

Q: Why did you make the move to TV?

A: I became very enamored of the long-form narrative of TV and really loved the fact that you can develop notions and characters over a long period of time. In the case of something literary like "Deadwood" or "The Wire," it feels like you are reading a piece of literature.

You have the chance to explore ideas that ... don't open and close in the space of two or three hours, like they do in a movie. And that is a unique luxury.

The content also came from the fact that we have changed the way we consume stories on TV. So now an audience has a relationship with a drama that can last several years.

Q: Did FX put any restrictions on you?

A: Noooo (laughs). I wish I had a great story to tell, but the reality was the opposite. The week before I started shooting I got a unique phone call in my career from John Landgraf (president of FX Networks) and he said ... "You can be as off-kilter as you want." I certainly tried some things in the pilot that were edgy and it all went beautifully.

I wanted the idea that you can use these vampires and creatures and that you can use love; love as a guiding force that they remember and that guides them back to destroy the family. That is a concept I was very fond of in the book and that I really was afraid of losing. I wanted to make very clear these were not young, sparkling, beautiful vampires, but parasitic entities that are no-nonsense about the way they absorb and transform their victims.

Q: How far did you feel you could go in the gore department?

A: I tried to do a very forensic approach. I didn't want to make it cinematically cool. I wanted to make it very visceral and almost down to earth. I wanted to make it anatomically correct.

(In the killing of the first victim) what you see is a very systematic destruction of the human head, and I really wanted to make that element very medically real, but not gory in the sense of pictorial splashes of blood. I didn't want to make it cool violence, I wanted to make it effecting.

Q: We know about your childhood love of vampires, but were you also fascinated by medicine?

A: My parents had two encyclopedias in the library, one was an encyclopedia of art and the other was medical, volumes of family medicine with anatomical charts, and I remain to this day incredibly anatomically curious.

Q: What does the lead character Ephraim represent to you?

A: I wanted the hero to be a very flawed hero, heroic in ways that are not just testosterone-fueled, gun-toting ways you expect from a hero in a genre movie. He (Stoll) is really good at playing flawed characters that for some reason you find irresistible.

Q: Is the second season a done deal?

A: Not yet. But we have a very spotless record in the way we have managed the series. FX is very pleased that I remained involved throughout.

If we succeed, we start as a procedural genre piece that is going to get progressively idiosyncratic and with every passing season we can go to places a normal vampire tale never goes.

(Editing by Eric Kelsey and Diane Craft)

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