Guillermo del Toro opens his ‘Cabinet of Curiosities’ with new book

Oct. 25, 2013 | 11:40 a.m.
guillermodeltoro 4 Guillermo del Toro opens his Cabinet of Curiosities with new book

Guillermo Del Toro is photographed on June 17, 2103. Click through the gallery for a look at some milestones in his career. (Ricardo DeAratanha / Los Angeles Times)

cronos Guillermo del Toro opens his Cabinet of Curiosities with new book

"Cronos" (1993): Del Toro's first feature, the Spanish-language thriller "Cronos," centered on a young girl and her grandfather, who stumble onto a golden, scarab-like device with a secret inside. (October Films)

mimic Guillermo del Toro opens his Cabinet of Curiosities with new book

"Mimic" (1997): Del Toro famously warred with studio executives on this film about killer insects, which was his second feature and his first Hollywood production. (Kerry Hayes / Dimension Films)

thedevilsbackbone Guillermo del Toro opens his Cabinet of Curiosities with new book

"The Devil's Backbone" (2001): A moody ghost story set during the Spanish Civil War, the film chronicles what happens when a young fatherless boy arrives at a haunted orphanage. (Sony Pictures Classics)

bladeii Guillermo del Toro opens his Cabinet of Curiosities with new book

"Blade II" (2002): A race of super vampires is on the loose in this comic-book inspired sequel directed by Del Toro and starring Wesley Snipes. (Bruce Talamon / New Line Cinema)

hellboy Guillermo del Toro opens his Cabinet of Curiosities with new book

"Hellboy" (2004): Longtime Del Toro collaborator Ron Perlman starred, with Selma Blair, in the filmmaker's adaptation of Mike Mignola's signature comics about a grumpy demon summoned to Earth. (The Orphanage / Columbia Pictures)

panslabyrinth Guillermo del Toro opens his Cabinet of Curiosities with new book

"Pan's Labyrinth" (2006): Del Toro's brilliant, beautiful dark fairy tale follows the stepdaughter of a cruel military man as she stumbles into an elaborate fantasy world. The film won three Oscars. (Teresa Isasi / Picturehouse)

theorphanage Guillermo del Toro opens his Cabinet of Curiosities with new book

"The Orphanage" (2007): Del Toro produced Juan Antonio Bayona's terrifying Spanish-language thriller, which helped introduce the filmmaker to a wider audience. (Picturehouse Entertainment)

hellboyii Guillermo del Toro opens his Cabinet of Curiosities with new book

"Hellboy II: The Golden Army" (2008): Perlman's title character is only one of dozens of magnificent monsters who become embroiled in an epic supernatural conflict that threatens the people of Earth. (Universal Pictures)

dontbeafraidofthedark Guillermo del Toro opens his Cabinet of Curiosities with new book

"Don't Be Afraid of the Dark" (2010): Del Toro co-wrote and produced this remake of a 1970s scarefest that was among his favorites as a child. (Carolyn Johns / Miramax Film Corp.)

mama Guillermo del Toro opens his Cabinet of Curiosities with new book

"Mama" (2013): Del Toro fell in love with Andrés Muschietti's spooky short film, then signed on to produce the writer-director's full-length expansion of the story of two orphaned girls visited by an apparition. (Universal)

pacificrim Guillermo del Toro opens his Cabinet of Curiosities with new book

"Pacific Rim" (2013): Rinko Kikuchi starred as one of the pilots of the massive Jaegers that fought against invading Kaiju in Del Toro's love letter to Japanese monster cinema. (Warner Bros.)

thestrain Guillermo del Toro opens his Cabinet of Curiosities with new book

"The Strain" (2009 book): Partnering with author Chuck Hogan, Del Toro penned an apocalyptic vampire trilogy that he now hopes to translate to television. He's currently directing the pilot for the show in Toronto. (William Morrow)

Over the last two decades, filmmaker Guillermo del Toro has become known as one of popular culture’s great visionaries. He’s channeled his wild, restless imagination to create dark worlds of fantasy and horror, crafting beautifully rendered stories that function as modern fairy tales. Del Toro is interested in innocence and evil, and his tales are populated with winged, multi-limbed creatures and human monsters.

His new book, “Cabinet of Curiosities: My Notebooks, Collections, and Other Obsessions” (Harper Design, $60), details Del Toro’s creative process, examining the pages of the leather-bound journals he uses to jot down ideas and drawings, many of which have found their way into his signature films, including “Pan’s Labyrinth” and this summer’s robots-versus-aliens blockbuster, “Pacific Rim.”

“Curiosities” also invites readers inside Bleak House, his Southern California sanctuary that’s home to a massive collection of pop culture artifacts, paintings and novels. A lengthy interview with Del Toro accompanies photographs of some of his prized possessions. (To check out a gallery of images from the book, visit our sister blog, Jacket Copy.)

Calling from Toronto, where he’s directing the pilot for the new FX vampire show “The Strain,” based on the trilogy of novels he wrote with Chuck Hogan, Del Toro spoke with Hero Complex about this visual compendium as well as the six-volume horror series he’s curated for Penguin Classics — which includes the work of Shirley Jackson, Mary Shelley and a writer who has long inspired the genre aficionado, H.P. Lovecraft — and his spooky opening for “The Simpsons” most recent Halloween special.

Hero Complex: What prompted you to want to share these personal collections in this way?

Guillermo del Toro: Every time I go to a signing, people know that I have my book with me, and they say, “Can I take a look?” I have in the past said, “Yeah, of course, here it is.” People say, “Why don’t you publish this?” I say, “It’s on the DVDs, it’s on the extras.” But they say, “We want to see the stuff that didn’t get made or the stuff that is just an idea and is a cool drawing.” I thought, “Well, let’s publish that.” I thought, what would be great [is something] that shows you a little bit of the fact that all these things, the books, the house, my notebooks, my movies, are one piece. They’re one single work.

"Pan's Labyrinth" (2006): xxx (Teresa Isasi / Picturehouse)

“Pan’s Labyrinth.” (Teresa Isasi / Picturehouse)

When I was a kid growing up in Mexico, it gave me great hope to read about [movie memorabilia collector Forrest J.] Ackerman or to read about Ray Bradbury’s library or Harlan Ellison’s house with all the crazy secret passages. It really fed my imagination. I thought, if a book like this gives hope to anyone … with the same love and dedication and detail orientation anywhere in the world, it would be great. That’s what those people, those characters or those books and magazines did for me.

HC: The collection in Bleak House is so vast and varied. It even includes life-size replicas of H.P. Lovecraft and Boris Karloff. It’s interesting that you’re living with those gentlemen.

GDT: What I am is a well-financed 10-year-old. When I was 10 years old, all I could think of was who I wanted to meet, where I wanted to go. I started reading at age 4 voraciously. I read most of the library in my parents’ house at that age. I bought my first book at 7. I started dreaming. There’s a writer, William Beckford, who wrote a Gothic novel called “Vathek.” He had an abbey … and he filled it with curiosities from all over the world. When I was a kid, all I could dream of was having a house like that. I wanted a huge library and to have H.P. Lovecraft in the library. I’m commissioning right now an Edgar Allan Poe sitting in a chair reading.

HC: You began the notebooks as mementos for your two daughters. Are they interested in them?

GDT: My daughters have the least interest in the notebooks of anyone in the world. When I leave them in the dining room or the kitchen, they go, “Dad, you’re leaving your book around again.” One day, they’ll be curious and they’ll have them. They share a lot of what I love in different ways. They are not at all as obsessed as me. Their taste in literature surprises me sometimes. I was talking with my daughter last night at 1:45 a.m. about Chekhov. That as a father, I tell you, makes me very proud.

"Pacific Rim" (2013): xxx (Warner Bros. Pictures)

“Pacific Rim.” (Warner Bros.)

HC: You mention in the interview in the book that you’re afraid of both success and failure. That must be an interesting mental space to occupy.

GDT: Both are very scary. Fortunately I have dealt with some measure of both, and once you go through [them] you’re prepared to go through them a little better the next time. We have an entire culture geared toward telling you that success is benign — not only benign but highly desirable. No one ever tells you or prepares you for how paralyzing it can be. I think it’s extremely important to know that as a creator. That’s the reason why many, many great filmmakers have one film or two. They get paralyzed by that.

HC: You’ve also curated a new Penguin series focusing on classic horror novels that have inspired you. Did you know immediately which titles you wanted to include?

GDT: I wanted very much to have the Ray Russell book [“Haunted Castles”] available because he’s a lesser known author and a very interesting one… In the case of “Frankenstein,” I could write a book about why that book is important for me. I wrote a fairly balanced introduction to all the books in the series, and God willing if they are successful we’ll do a second series. Previous to that, I had written for Penguin an introduction to a book called “The White People,” which is one of the most interesting weird fiction collection of stories. That started my relationship. Hopefully I can continue introducing people to strange fiction.

HC: Is there something fueling this examination of your artistic influences?

GDT: It was time to start articulating a dialogue with the audience that is a little more personal, beyond just the movies. I’m nearly 50, I’ve been doing this for 20 years now in features, and 35 years I’ve been involved in film in some manner or another professionally. I’m more than halfway through my life span and I haven’t done a fifth of what I wanted to do. And that appetite is very much a part of my personality. Spiritually, I have a burning curiosity for the world and a hunger for lore and for stories. This is what propels what I write and is what propelled the book.

HC: On one last note, your “Simpsons” opening was really remarkable, and seems to dovetail with these book projects — capturing inspiration points from the genre and celebrating them.

GDT: That is of a piece with the collection and the book. I wanted to make a love poem to the genre — some of the characters I wanted to put in it was too late to put in — but even as it is it’s a very beautiful moment for me to be able to say I love you to two things [the genre and “The Simpsons”]. Whatever I am, the one thing I know is I am cohesive because I am sincere.

– Gina McIntyre | @LATherocomplex

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