The Strain (FX) Interview: Carlton Cuse and Guillermo del Toro Talk Vampire Mythology, Seeing Red and More

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Viewers are three episodes deep into the dark, vampire infested world of FX’s The Strain, and the series only unfurls more layers as it progresses. Before the season began, TV Equals joined in a call with executive producers Carlton Cuse and Guillermo del Toro to discussion their vision for the series. For del Toro, the project is personal, as The Strain is adapted from his book trilogy. As a result he spoke at great length on the complex biology of the vampires and his vision for the creature creation. Meanwhile, Cuse was all about the chance to collaborate with del Toro and the character development.

Read on for highlights from the interview, and then tune in to FX Sundays at 10PM ET/PT for all new episodes of The Strain.

Taking the Romance Out of Vampires

Both del Toro and Cuse expressed a desire to take the romance out of vampires and bring the creatures back to a much scarier place. The intricacies behind the biology of The Strain‘s vampires is all del Toro, who has had a fascination with vampire myths since he was a small boy. “I read about vampire mythology worldwide and I familiarized myself with the Japanese, Filipino, Malaysian, and Eastern European variations on the vampire, and many, many others,” del Toro said. “And I kept very detailed notes as a kid on where to go with the vampire myth in terms of brutality, social structure, biology, this and that, and some of those notes made it into my first feature, Cronos, some of them made it in Blade II, when I directed that, and most of them made it into The Strain.”

Fans of The Strain have already begun to notice the intricacy of the biological process behind the vampirism on the show. The turned do not simply grow fangs they become something altogether new, as del Toro explained in detail. “The older that they stay alive, the more they lose their humanity; they start literally by losing their heart. Their heart is suffocated by a vampire heart that overtakes the functions. This was important metaphorically for me because the beacon that guides these vampires to their victims is love. They go to the people they love the most. So they turn their instinct that is most innately human into the most inhuman feeding mechanism, so their heart is dead.”

“Then shortly thereafter their digestive system is overtaken,” del Toro continued. “Then, as we do in an early episode, their genitals fall off. And their excretion system becomes really efficient in the way that ticks, or lower forms of life that feed on blood do. In the series that comes with the big splashes of ammonia infused liquid that they expel while they’re feeding. Then I know that they lose their soft tissue, their ears start falling off, their nose, if they’ve been alive for several years their nose rots and falls away, and they develop a tracheal opening to vent the extra heat from the metabolism and to project the stinger.”

It is not a pretty picture, but it is one that achieves what del Toro and Cuse set out to do: remind viewers that vampires are not always sparkling, romantic figures. They can be gruesome monsters as well.

Creative Freedom and the Shock Factor

Cuse revealed FX has given the creative team total freedom. Those behind the scenes have been left to decide how much is too much in terms of gore. The most important aspect of the creative process has been getting the pacing right. Cuse was adamant about placing a loose end date on the series.

“The plan is that the show will run somewhere between three and five seasons, and as we work out the mythology and the storytelling for season two we’ll have a better idea of exactly how long our journey is going to be,” Cuse said. “But it won’t be more than five seasons, we’re definitely writing to an endpoint, and we’re following the path as established in Guillermo and Chuck’s novels. Obviously there’s a lot that’s also going to be added. The television show is its own experience, and there are new characters and new situations, different dramatic developments, so the show and the book can each be separately enjoyed.”

As for how far they will go in their quest to bring viewers the chill that accompanies all good horror tales, both men advised viewers to prepare themselves for shocks. “I think that one of the important things on creating this is that the genre requires you to cross, at some point,” del Toro said. “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.”

On the Characters, The Master and Seeing Red

As with any story, the real meat comes from the characters that populate the tale. All of the cool shots of vampires in the world cannot keep fans glued to their seats the way good characters can, and del Toro and Cuse are proud of the characters they have created and the unique ways in which their lives intersect. A great deal of thought went into The Master, a character of “many voices,” whose age is visualized by the decades of clothing that drapes around his body like rags, but the humans are just as important.

A character both men are proud of is Setrakian. “I think Guillermo and I, 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,” Cuse commented. “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.”

Meanwhile Corey Stall’s Eph is on a complicated journey himself, one that del Toro likened to Job’s. “It is my hope that in the evolution of the series Corey Stoll, which is the square-jawed, troubled hero that you may identify from other series, evolves into places that are much darker and challenging, both for the character and the actor,” del Toro teased.

Finally, the duo revealed a visual trick viewers should keep a lookout for: the color red equals a connection to the vampire world. “Every time you see red, with the exception of a police siren or a fire extinguisher, something causally of the real world, every time you see red – you know it’s linked in some way to the vampires,” del Toro said.

So in other words, be careful who you get attached to…

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