By Jack Rico
Many top film directors have no idea what their next movie is. But Guillermo del Toro is now booked through 2017. And maybe beyond.
Universal — which has a three-year first-look deal with the helmer inked in June ’07 — and del Toro are making a long-term commitment by setting up four directing projects, including remakes of “Frankenstein,” “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde” and “Slaughterhouse-Five.”
The fourth project is an adaptation of “Drood,” a Dan Simmons novel acquired by U that will be published in February by Little, Brown.
Of course, del Toro’s first priority is New Line and MGM’s “The Hobbit,” to which he has committed the next five years. He has begun writing “Hobbit” with Peter Jackson, Fran Walsh and Philippa Boyens, collaborating via video conferencing and trips to New Zealand every three weeks.
While it’s difficult, if not impossible, to plan projects five years into the future, at this point U execs think “Drood” is the most likely to be del Toro’s first post-“Hobbit” directing vehicle.
If both sides have their way, the helmer will belong to Universal after “The Hobbit” wraps.
In addition to the four pics, the studio still has its sights set on del Toro’s pet project, an adaptation of H.P. Lovecraft’s “At the Mountains of Madness.”
As if that is not enough to keep him busy, U also has on the horizon an adaptation of David Moody’s apocalyptic novel “Hater” that del Toro will produce with Mark Johnson but not direct, and “Crimson Peak,” a gothic romance spec script by del Toro and his “Mimic” collaborator Matthew Robbins, which del Toro will produce but not direct.
While he busies himself with “Hobbit,” del Toro will outline the other projects and hire writers. The pics will be supervised at del Toro Prods. by his manager, Gary Ungar, who’ll be exec producer of the films and will oversee the slate with development director Russell Ackerman and U exec Scott Bernstein.
“No one expected ‘The Hobbit’ to come about; it was the most marvelous monkey wrench tossed into my life,” del Toro said. “I consider (the new deals) the renewal of my marital vows with Universal.”
U production prexy Donna Langley said the helmer’s “Hobbit” hiatus will only delay plans to dive into the del Toro business.
“We came out the other side of some tough conversations with a stronger bond and sense of long-term commitment,” Langley said. “Guillermo is in the most prolific time of his life … Joe Johnston on ‘The Wolf Man’ showed us the importance of entrusting the Universal franchise monsters to experienced filmmakers with voices. That was a big impetus for our decision to go with Guillermo to put his creative stamp on these properties.”
Langley said she is intrigued by “Drood,” in which Simmons supposes that survival from a catastrophic train crash changed author Charles Dickens, plunging him into the depths of London depravity and possibly turning him to murder before he wrote his final novel, “The Mystery of Edwin Drood.”
“It’s the fantasy and gothic horror world Guillermo finds comfortable,” Langley said. “It feels like a great fit for where (we expect) Guillermo will have evolved as a filmmaker five years from now.”
Frankenstein represents a longtime fascination for del Toro, who has made his home a memorabilia shrine to the Karloff monster from the 1931 U film.
“To me, Frankenstein represents the essential human question: ‘Why did my creator throw me here, unprotected, unguided, unaided and lost?’ ” del Toro said. “With that one, they will have to pry it from my cold dead hands to prevent me from directing it.”
On “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde,” del Toro wants to stick more closely to Robert Louis Stevenson’s prose and explore the addictive high the repressed Jekyll experienced as his murderous alter ego.
Del Toro plans to provide a more literal interpretation of “Slaughterhouse-Five” than in the 1972 film adaptation, hewing closely to the Vonnegut novel about a prisoner in a German WWII POW camp who travels through time and space.
“There are ways that Vonnegut plays with and juxtaposes time that was perhaps too edgy to be tackled on film at that time,” del Toro said.
Meanwhile, del Toro is awaiting word on whether U will embrace a follow-up to “Hellboy 2: The Golden Army.” The big-budget film opened in the heat of summer and fell short of blockbuster status in the U.S. but has performed well overseas.
“I think they’ll decide when the last euro hits the piggybank,” del Toro said. “We laid the groundwork to have a magnificent third act. I’d like to return to an action franchise with 60-year-old actor Ron Perlman, because he’ll be scratching at that age when I get to it.”
Langley said the studio is interested and may work with del Toro to add a TV series and online segments to broaden the following before making the series finale.
Del Toro is repped by Endeavor and Exile.