How The World’s Biggest Director Saved Guillermo del Toro’s Dad From Kidnappers

Good friends are hard to find. Good friends that will listen to your problems with intent ears are even harder to find. So, if you have a buddy that’s willing to drink a few brews with you and ignore your personal issues in lieu of hearing the stats for the Monday Night game, just be happy that you have someone that doesn’t mind sharing their company with you.

James Cameron and Guillermo del Toro are not just good buddies. They’re great buddies. In 1997, Guillermo del Toro had seemingly run out of options when a harrowing ordeal involving his family had sent the director into a tailspin of despair and confusion. What he didn’t know, is that Cameron — whose films often depict a heroic figure of larger than life stature — would himself become a real-life hero, more realized and selfless than anyone could have imagined.

Two Peas

After growing up in Guadalajara, Mexico — and experimenting with Super 8 films — Guillermo del Toro immersed himself in creature and makeup creation, learning his trade from famed The Exorcist SFX artist Dick Smith. He would go on to to shoot several short films and TV episodes in his native Mexico, before beginning work on what would become one of the greatest fantasy-vampire films of all-time, Cronos, in 1993.

During pre-production on the film, in the early 90s, del Toro would meet James Cameron at a Fourth of July party. Cameron had just finished one of the most important films in his catalog, T2: Judgment Day, and the two filmmakers found kindred spirits in one another. Cameron would even let del Toro stay in his guest home for “extended periods of time”.

Jim and I have been best friends for the last couple of decades. We met in 1990 or 1991, and he has been one of my best friends through all those years. We have been through his life and my life making sure if we ever co-operated it would be on the right project.

As del Toro continued production on Cronos, Cameron even lent his expertise in helping him frame some of the narrative elements in the film.

In Cronos he suggested a couple of cuts and said we should add a line where Angel, played by Ron Perlman, says, ‘Not my nose again!’

Cronos was a huge success for del Toro, winning awards at the Cannes Film Festival, as well as the Ariel Awards, the Mexican equivalent of the Academy Awards.

For del Toro’s follow up, he would get his first crack at writing and directing an American feature film, Mimic. But, the film was plagued with micro-managing from production companies, and to this day it remains del Toro’s least favorite film.

Something else troubling was happening, though, as del Toro was shooting the sci-fi horror film. His father, Federico del Toro, was kidnapped off of the streets of his Mexican hometown, Guadalajara, and held for ransom. del Toro had sunk all of his money into Mimic, and had no idea how he would get his father back home.

72 Days

del Toro and his two brothers began receiving ransom notes. The three brothers would take turns speaking with the kidnappers, with del Toro taking control over the last leg of the negotiations.

We would get ransom notes with many syntax and spelling errors. It effects you.

Mexico is plagued with kidnapping; it has become an epidemic. In fact, The nonprofit Citizens’ Institute for Crime Studies estimates that there are 500 kidnappings reported per month, and that doesn’t include the ones that go unreported.

The kidnappers were asking for $1 million in order to return the elder del Toro home, unharmed. Guillermo and his family had nowhere near that kind of money, and they seemingly were running out of options. As the days in the negotiation process dragged on, the del Toro family would run through at least three negotiators, most of them specialists from England.

During the ordeal, to help Guillermo escape the visual of his father being held against his will in the hands of kidnappers, one of the negotiators told him to write everyday — Guillermo did; it helped him cope with the terror befalling his family, but it didn’t erase the reality of the situation.

A Hero Emerges

There’s a scene in T2, where Arnold’s Terminator character bursts though a barrier to jump down into a flood-control channel in order to give chase to the other Terminator that is attempting to run down John Connor.

While James Cameron certainly didn’t risk his life by attempting to jump several stories into a concrete channel, his heroism is no less valorous. When finding out about his old friend’s kidnapping ordeal, Cameron promptly shuffled del Toro into a car, and hastened him over to his bank, promptly handing over $1 million in cash. He also recommended a negotiator that would help bring Federico del Toro home in one piece.

After 72 days, del Toro’s father was released without harm. In the aftermath of the kidnapping, a few men connected with the crime were arrested, but most of the criminals were able to make off with the money and no criminal repercussions.

del Toro’s family had also begun receiving death threats. In response to the threats and the kidnapping, del Toro decided to take his family to America—for good.

Unfortunately I have to leave Mexico after the kidnapping of my father. Creatively I would be back, but as a parent I find it very difficult to return with the assurance that it will not be a problem …

Federico del Toro, on the other hand, refused to leave his homeland. To this day, he still resides in Mexico. Still, he and his filmmaking son remain close.

Now every time I see him, I demand for him to do something entertaining, because he was so expensive (laughs).

As for del Toro and Cameron’s relation, the two world-class filmmakers are as close as ever. They continue to help each other out on their respective projects.

He’s helped with every one of my movies, except Mimic, where we were sequestered in Toronto and couldn’t show anyone. In Blade II, he gave me a few comments on the cut. I’ve been with him in the editing room for True Lies,TitanicAvatar, all of them. When I was going to do Pacific Rim, he gave me a private tutoring on 3-D conversion, and on 3-D theory. Can’t ask for anything better! He’s a great friend and an even more extraordinary filmmaker.

Although Guillermo and his family made it through the storm, physically unharmed, the psychological scars remain.

I lost a part of me that I don’t think that I’ll ever get back.