The day before his 52nd birthday, Guillermo del Toro – failing to blow out trick candles – extinguished several flames with his fingertips. “Don’t screw with a Mexican,” he said before a crowd of 5,600 inside Madison Square Garden on Saturday during New York Comic-Con. Del Toro – joined on stage by Kelsey Grammer, Ron Perlman, Steven Yeun, Charlie Saxton, Marc Guggenheim, and Rodrigo Blaas – discussed Trollhunters, GdT’s animated Dreamworks’ series that will stream on Netflix starting on December 23. GdT and team treated the audience to a two-episode look into the series that prior to Saturday, had virtually no digital footprint.
Trollhunters – a spinoff of the 2015 fantasy novel written by del Toro and Daniel Kraus – tells the story of a teenager, Jim Lake Jr. (Anton Yelchin), who after finding an amulet learns there’s a whole secret world of trolls living right under his fictional suburb of Arcadia. Because the amulet chose Jim, he must protecting them and the human world from bad trolls, as he simultaneously struggles with high school. Del Toro joked that the show’s partially inspired by his time spent exploring the sewers of his city as a kid before explaining that DreamWorks originally planned to turn Trollhunters into two features. Yeun, the voice of Jim’s tormentor, Steve, best described it when he said, “This is a show that’s typically a show, but it’s created like a film. So the animation is very detailed.”
After the hour-long preview of the show – and before del Toro egged Perlman on to sing a portion of “Cielito lindo” – GdT spoke about creating characters specifically for Grammer and Perlman, the late Yelchin, and making a family friendly show. Unlike Bleak House – the real house in LA where he stores his collection of creepy, crawly figures – this is a show his children wholeheartedly approve. After attending the panel and chatting with del Toro at a roundtable discussion, here’s what we learned about Trollhunters.
On Latin American Influences in the show
Well, there’s Claire, a Latin American girl. I made it a point to do that, because I needed a very different energy from her. But eventually, if God willing, if we can continue, we will go there. Claire Nuñez is a character I love.
On How Trollhunters Came Full Circle
The reality is people know about my hundred things, but everybody has a hundred things. I am fortunate enough that people pay attention to what is announced about me. But you know, announcements are pieces of paper on the trades. The projects become real only through great fortune and great work. It’s a natural state of a project is to be undone. You have to work very hard for it to happen. Each announcement, you read it, I work for a year on a screenplay that doesn’t get made. Or like Mountains of Madness, I worked on it for years. We design everything, scout, and it’s heartbreaking. That’s invisible. All people read is a line on IMDB. Or a line in an announcement. But for me, it means busting my ass trying to make it. But they don’t happen. Most of them don’t happen.
See, [Trollhunters] is a perfect example. I pitched this as a series at Fox, live action. I said, ‘I want to do an ambulant series of kids versus monsters.’ Too expensive. No. We don’t do that. Pass. That’s 10 years ago. I co-write a book for young adults for people to at least be exposed to the universe. I make a deal at DreamWorks. We start developing that as a feature, and then Jeffrey [Katzenberg, Dreamworks CEO] says, ‘Would you like to turn that into a series?’ I go, ‘Absolutely, I would.’ Does that sound like the logical road? Fuck no. But it’s the road that happened.
On How Cuban Food Contributed to the Writer’s Room
“I wanted to have an un-ironic, humanistic, crisp, and beautiful series.”
This has been without a doubt one of the best creator experiences I’ve ever had. It’s been great. Why? Because our writer’s room is great. Headed by Marc Guggenheim, a lot of it has been done over dinner. We have these fabulous Cuban dinners in LA. Huge, huge arroz con pollo, huge plátanos. And we talk for hours and hours and hours at the beginning of each [session] and then, because we guarantee freedom to the creators, the animators, the story heads, the story boarders, they come to us. And they all come to us because they know they’re not going to have to do 20 versions of the same thing. They know there’s very few steps, so they come with their best work. And it’s been great. Because we don’t do the storyboards and then get 15 nos. This is a very protective, creative result. It’s been a heaven.
On Keeping the Voice of the Late Anton Yelchin
I refused to strategize. It’s not easy. This is a great guy we lost. So we didn’t go into a meeting or have a conference. I made one call and we said, we’re keeping it. Whatever we need to do to keep it, we’re keeping it. He was a great guy to work with. He was proud of what he did. We were so proud of [what] he did. The last sessions were some of the best. I’m 52 tomorrow, and somebody that young, it hits you very hard because I’m a parent. It hits you in a very brutal way.
On Wanting a Family Friendly Show
I love animation, and this is a series I made because I wanted to have an un-ironic, humanistic, crisp, and beautiful series to watch on a family morning. Very much like Book of Life was for me, which is a lovely movie full of life.
On His Most Important Contribution to the Show
There are a lot of voices we can’t announce. They’re all super geeky. There’s some geeky stuff coming up. [After Guggenheim reveals GdT is the voice of one of the characters’ dentist:] I sing. I sing very well. I sing “Cielito lindo.” We wanted the dentist to be a retired Mexican wrestler.
Trollhunters premires on Netflix December 23, 2016.