A film prodigy dedicated to Latin American cinema even as his success gave him a ticket to Hollywood, Guillermo del Toro earned a place as one of Time magazine's 50 Young Leaders for the New Millennium before he made his third film.
BornOctober 9, 1964 in Guadalajara, Mexico, and raised by his staunchly Catholic grandmother, del Toro was already involved in filmmaking by his teens. A fan of such horror masters as James Whale, Mario Bava, George A. Romero, Alfred Hitchcock, and the work of Britain's Hammer Films, del Toro learned about makeup and effects from The Exorcist's Dick Smith as well as studying screenwriting and making Super-8, 16 mm, and 35 mm short films. Though he executive-produced his first feature, Doña Herlinda and Her Son (1986), at age 21, del Toro initially spent almost a decade as a makeup supervisor, forming his own company, Necropia, in the early '80s. He still found time to produce and direct numerous programs for Mexican television, as well as teach film workshops. Doing his part to turn his hometown into Mexican cinema central, del Toro also co-founded the city's Film Studies Center and the Guadalajara-based Mexican Film Festival.
del Toro's feature directorial debut, Cronos (1993), heightened his prominence as a rising star in Mexican film. A low-key, superbly acted horror movie, Cronos' imagery of the vampire as parasite was at once a smart revision of the genre and a veiled allegory about Mexico and the United States. Winner of the critics' prize at the Cannes Film Festival, Cronos put del Toro on the world-cinema and American-independent map. Along with serving on the selection committees for the Sundance Film Festival and the Independent Spirit Awards, del Toro followed Cronos with his first foray into Hollywood filmmaking, Mimic (1997). Starring Mira Sorvino (who took the role partly on the advice of then-boyfriend and del Toro fan Quentin Tarantino), Mimic mined some great scares out of mutant, shape-shifting bugs terrorizing New York City, but having to acquiesce to Hollywood studio demands left del Toro unhappy about the experience.
Returning to Mexico, del Toro formed his own production company, The Tequila Gang, and set out to make a more personal thriller. Produced by Pedro Almodóvar and his brother, Agustín Almodóvar, and shot in Spain, The Devil's Backbone (2001) was a more ambitious ghost story set during the end of the Spanish Civil War. Using filters and a mobile camera, del Toro created ominous, sepia-toned visuals that evoked a spectral surveillance over the tragic, politically metaphorical events taking place in an isolated, haunted boys' school for Republican Army orphans. Hailed for its chilling atmosphere, intelligent complexity, and excellent performances from Federico Luppi and Marisa Paredes as the school's left-wing leaders, The Devil's Backbone confirmed del Toro's artistic promise and earned him more critical kudos.
Gratified by the experience making The Devil's Backbone and clear-eyed about what Hollywood could offer, del Toro followed his personal movie with the big-budget, Wesley Snipes comic-book vampire thriller sequel Blade 2 (2002). del Toro also began to develop several other American projects, including works with notable Hollywood mavericks James Cameron and Francis Ford Coppola. Though the prospect of del Toro adapting H.P. Lovecraft's chilling short story At the Mountains of Madness gave fans of the horror author hope that someone would finally get his work right on the big screen (no slight to Re-Animator director Stuart Gordon), del Toro's next project would ultimately be an adaptation of a more contemporary supernatural tale. Adapted from and produced by comic-book artist/writer Mike Mignola, Hellboy told the tale of a demon summoned by Nazis in the waning days of World War II (Ron Perlman) who eventually joins the allies in battling the forces of evil.
Subsequently preferring to pull back a bit from Hollywood and craft another modestly budgeted dark fairy tale in the vein of The Devil's Backbone, del Toro would next focus his attentions on the production of Pan's Labyrinth. Though Pan's Labyrinth wasn't a direct sequel to The Devil's Backbone in the traditional sense, this unsettling fantasy continued to explore the themes of childhood innocence and tyrannical oppression by following the quest of a young girl who becomes convinced by a mythical faun that she is a lost princess of legend. Once again set during the days of the Spanish Civil War, Pan's Labyrinth merged real-world nightmares with otherworldly wonders with a fluidity seldom seen in contemporary fantasy, and critics were quick to praise the director for his assured handling of the thematically complex material. Pan's Labyrinth became a rare art-house crossover hit, and curried the favor of Academy members, who showered it with Oscar nominations.
By this point, Hellboy fans were beginning to wonder whether or not the long-gestating rumors of a sequel to that modestly successful Mike Mignola adaptation would ever bear any tangible fruit. Then, in 2006 Universal announced that they had acquired the rights after Sony withdrew funding from Revolution Studios and were looking to move forward with the film, with director del Toro once again teaming with writer Mignola and stars Ron Perlman and Selma Blair to chronicle the further adventures of everyone's favorite BPRD agent.To the delight of fans, Hellboy II: The Golden Army was eventually released in 2008.
In December of 2010, del Toro, along with his long-time cinematographer Guillermo Navarro, director Matthew Cullen, and Executive Producer Javier Jimenez, launched a production company named Mirada. Designed to serve as a collaborative space for artists to work on on the development of a wide variety of digital production (film, television, advertising interactive media, and more), Mirada would find enough success to merit the creation of Motion Theory, another production company.