Culture

From Massey Hall to The Lakeview, The Shape of Water's enigmatic director has a serious love affair with the 6ix.

Take a Tour of Guillermo del Toro’s Favourite Toronto Haunts

Guillermo del Toro loves Toronto. Not in the contractually obligated way every actor/athlete/musician says, “I love [insert name of city we’re currently touring].” In a real way. In a buying-two-houses-here-actually-make-that-three kind of way. A bicoastal- living-except-one-of-the-“coasts”-is-Lake-Ontario kind of way. An earned-the-nickname-Guillermo-del-Toronto kind of way.

Whether it’s his beloved monsters or the world’s best ice cream, del Toro’s prone to obsession—just go check out his AGO exhibit for proof of that. And ever since the Guadalajara-born filmmaker came to Toronto to film his first major Hollywood movie in 1997 (that’d be the killer bug movie Mimic), he’s become a fixture in the 6ix, filming four more movies here—Pacific Rim, Mama,1 Crimson Peak, and the upcoming The Shape of Water—along with all four seasons of his vampire series The Strain.

With GDT’s latest GTA-shot feature, a Cold War-era fishboy-meets-girl love story, coming to Toronto theatres this week, here’s a tour through some of del Toro’s favourite spots in his adopted city.

Downtown

The Elgin Theatre

Featured in: The Shape of Water

Del Toro’s favourite place to premiere a movie and/or film one. Before The Shape of Water played to a standing O at the historic Yonge Street theatre back during TIFF, key scenes of the monster romance were filmed at the Elgin, making the most of the 104-year-old theatre’s ornate Edwardian interior. No set dressing necessary.

Massey Hall

Featured in: Shape of Water, The Strain

For exterior shots of the Shape of Water theatre, del Toro just went around the corner to Massey Hall (ignore the marquee they added onto the front and look for the signature fire escapes). It was an encore performance for Toronto’s hallowed concert venue – a few years earlier, it’d been seen doubling as a Tribeca concert hall/vampire lair in The Strain.

Roy Thomson Hall

Featured in: The Strain

When you think of Roy Thomson, you typically think of the symphony or the opera. When del Toro saw it, he apparently thought it’d be the perfect home base for The Strain’s villainous Stoneheart Group.2 Either because of the King Street concert hall’s uber-cinematic glass exterior, or because he still hasn’t gotten to premiere a movie there during TIFF. Your call.

The Downtown Core

Featured in: Mimic, Pacific Rim, The Strain

Whether Toronto’s doubling for downtown Tokyo during a kaiju invasion or New York post-vampire apocalypse, give del Toro and his crew a few hours and they’re capable of making our city streets unrecognizable to all but the most eagle-eyed Torontonian. Assuming everyone remembers not to point the camera up at the CN Tower or down at the streetcar tracks, that is.3

The West End

The Lakeview

Featured in: Shape of Water

You can usually find del Toro on Twitter asking for/doling out restaurant recommendations during any new production, but the filmmaker didn’t hit up the Lakeview for disco fries and a shake while making Shape of Water. Instead, the retro diner subbed in perfectly for the movie’s downtown Baltimore pie shop. (Considering it’s open 24 hours, it’s also the perfect place to go grab dessert after a late Shape of Water showing.)

Pearson Airport

Featured in: The Strain

Let’s be real: Pearson isn’t anyone’s “favourite” airport. But when del Toro needed a location to double for New York’s JFK to open his vampire plague series, it’s not like he could turn to Billy Bishop. No. He was forced to go to Pearson. Just like the rest of us.

The Port Lands

Pinewood Studios

Featured in: Pacific Rim, Mama, Crimson Peak, Shape of Water, The Strain

Toronto’s had a rep as “Hollywood North” for years, but when Pinewood opened on Commissioners Street in 2008, the 20-acre studio finally gave the 6ix its own blockbuster-caliber facilities. Del Toro’s probably spent more time on the Pinewood lot than every other filmmaker combined—at one point in 2011, he even had two productions going at the same time. Pacific Rim on one side, Mama on the other.

Hearn Generating Station

Featured in: Pacific Rim, The Strain

Right across from the street from Pinewood is the Hearn Generating Station, a decommissioned electric plant in the Port Lands, making it a favourite of filmmakers and urban explorers alike. Unsurprisingly, 99.9% of Pacific Rim was shot inside Pinewood – it’s a movie about giant robots fighting giant monsters, after all—but when del Toro had to find a location for an Alaska factory building massive walls meant to keep out the film’s terrifying alien invaders,4 he went to Hearn. You’ll catch glimpses of it in The Strain as well.

Midtown

Casa Loma

Featured in: Crimson Peak, The Strain

The city’s favourite fake castle has long been a go-to attraction for both out-of-towners and movie shoots,5 thanks to its Gothic architecture (and ample parking), and when del Toro needed period-appropriate interiors for his gothic ghost story Crimson Peak, he headed straight up the Spadina steps, filming all over the property, including the stables.6 He’d later return for The Strain, using the exterior to double for The Cloisters in New York’s Washington Heights.

Lower Bay Station

Featured in: Mimic, The Strain

The Lower Bay subway station has been out of commission since 1966 – unlike the real TTC, which just seems like it’s been out of commission since then. But the combo of those grimy white tiles, subway tracks and empty platform makes it the ideal stand-in for any Hollywood production looking to film in a “real” New York subway. (Pizza rats not included.) Lower Bay featured prominently in Mimic, then again whenever The Strain crew needed a subway location.

Del Toro’s Toronto Twitter Picks

Del Toro’s never been shy about sharing recommendations with his fans, whether it’s movies, books, comics or a new restaurant, and he’s talked up a number of Toronto spots over the years. Here’s a complete list of every TO shout-out I found on del Toro’s Twitter. (The only thing that hasn’t earned raves from GDT is the city’s Mexican food which, OK, yeah, nevermind. That’s probably fair.)

The best Naples-style pizza: Pizzeria Via Mercanti on Gerrard East

The best Italian: Il Ponte on Queen East

His favourite Indian restaurant: The Beaches’ Delhi Bistro

The best ice cream in the world, ranked: Ed’s Real Scoop (#5) and Greg’s (#7)

His favourite barber shop in the world: Roma Barber Shop at Queen and Waverley (now closed)

One of the best places to watch a movie: The TIFF Lightbox7

His favourite comic book stores: Silver Snail, The Labyrinth, The Beguiling and Little Island Comics (also closed)

One of the three best8 bookstores in Toronto: Great Escape Books

His favourite café: Dark Horse (Leslieville’s Mercury Espresso also got a “quite nice.”)

References   [ + ]

1. He produced the Jessica Chastain horror film.
2. This is an A+ evil company name, BTW.
3. For some reason, this is harder than you’d think.
4. Wait. …Is Trump secretly just a big Pacific Rim fan?
5. So much so it was parodied in Scott Pilgrim vs. the World.
6. The movie’s massive haunted house was constructed in a Pinewood soundstage though—complete with a fully-functioning spooky-elevator.
7. This one kind of feels like sucking up, TBH.
8. He left us hanging on the other two.