One of my favorite new genre shows to come out in the last few years has been What We Do in the Shadows, as I’ve now fallen in love with this new group of vampire compatriots living amongst us mortals on Staten Island. Being such a huge fan of the series, I wasn’t about to miss the What We Do in the Shadows panel at the 2019 San Diego Comic-Con last weekend, which was moderated by Evan Rachel Wood, who also has some experience playing a bloodsucker on TV.
For the panel, attendees first watched the fan favorite episode “The Trial,” and then Wood was joined onstage by WWDITS masterminds Taika Waititi and Jemaine Clement, as well as executive producer Paul Sims, co-executive producer/writer Stefani Robinson, visual effects supervisor Brendan Taylor as well as series cast members Kayvan Novak, Matt Berry, Natasia Demetriou, Mark Proksch, and Harvey Guillen.
During the Q&A, the cast and crew discussed everything from creating a show (and a film) centered around vampires to the challenges of putting together “The Trial” and how it was Tilda Swinton’s idea years ago to some of the intricacies of playing vampires for the show, and so much more. Here are some of the highlights from the What We Do in the Shadows panel, which was one of the biggest highlights of last weekend for this writer.
Evan Rachel Wood: Since we all just watched it, let's talk about “The Trial.” Whose idea was this to bring all of the vampires from different films together?
Jemaine Clement: All right, it was kind of mine. At SXSW, Tilda Swinton was there with Only Lovers Left Alive and our movie was playing there as well. She said, "We've got to get our vampires together to do something."
Evan Rachel Wood: So, it was Tilda's idea?
Jemaine Clement: Yeah. And then we thought we couldn't just have us and her, we've got to get some others. So we went contacting all the vampires from across the world.
Evan Rachel Wood: Was it actually an availability thing?
Taika Waititi: Yeah, a lot of the time it was an availability thing. A lot of people said that it was just that they didn't want to do it, but I'd like to think that it was just an availability issue.
Jemaine Clement: Not available to do things that they don't want to do.
Taika Waititi: Keifer [Sutherland] wasn't available.
Paul Sims: Keifer also was busy—busy shooting something in Toronto where we also shoot this show, so?
Taika Waititi: It would have been very hard to get across town.
Jemaine Clement: Definitely. To get from that part of Toronto to our part of Toronto.
Evan Rachel Wood: Okay, and now you guys have renewed for a second season, yes? So does that mean we'll see more of the Vampire Council?
Taika Waititi: Maybe.
Jemaine Clement: If they're available.
Taika Waititi: I think the people who had availability issues might see this episode and might reconsider their availability now.
Evan Rachel Wood: Where does your interest in vampires come from?
Jemaine Clement: One night, at eleven o'clock at night, I walked into the living room in my house when I was a kid about four or five years old. There was this vampire movie on and it freaked me out. I just had nightmares about vampires for years, chasing me and me becoming a vampire. And that turned into an interest into watching lots of vampire movies. And then, Taika also watched a lot of those movies.
Taika Waititi: I didn't get freaked out, though.
Jemaine Clement: You freak out about funny things.
Taika Waititi: No, I freak out about real-world things like finances, accounting–
Jemaine Clement: I don't care about that stuff.
Taika Waititi: What are you going to put away for the future? That's my nightmare.
Evan Rachel Wood: Where did you get the idea for "energy vampires?" Although being somebody who also works in Hollywood, I think I know.
Jemaine Clement: Oh, they're everywhere. They're everywhere. We read a lot of stuff about vampires making the movies and that was one that came up a lot as a real-life vampire. But then just extending that out to what if that was a supernatural ability, to be able to do that? I feel like I'm doing it now just by sitting here, talking to everyone.
Evan Rachel Wood: So you are back to direct something soon, I think it’s called Thor 2 or something like that? So does that mean you're going to abandon Jemaine again for season two?
Taika Waititi: Yes. Sorry, that's the first you've heard of that.
Jemaine Clement: That's all right friend, we've noticed you haven't been to the writers' room again.
Taika Waititi: I'm sorry.
Jemaine Clement: It's all right.
Taika Waititi: But I still love you. Although sometimes I feel like you don't even need me.
Evan Rachel Wood: This is a question for Paul. How much of the show is scripted and how much is improvised?
Paul Sims: There's a lot of improv in it. Story-wise it is very scripted. We know what the story we're telling is. But then within the scenes, usually it starts out [with] the actors doing some version of what we've written. But I was talking earlier today about it to someone, by the time we get to the editing room, we can't remember what we wrote and what they made up while we were doing it. And so it's a mix and there is a lot of improv. I think as long as the actors know what the scene is about and what's supposed to happen, we let them do whatever they want and it's almost always good.
Evan Rachel Wood: Can you give us something about season two?
Paul Sims: Not yet. We've just spent the last four weeks in New York sitting around figuring out what season two is and we have some very funny and very good ideas, but we're just not sure about anything yet. We have to write it first.
Evan Rachel Wood: Okay. This is for Stefani. What vampire research did you do in preparation for the show and do you have a favorite character to write for?
Stefani Robinson: Oh, that's a good one. We had a ton of vampire research. We started with watching a lot of movies. The classics. And The Lost Boys. What else? Dracula.
Paul Sims: Twilight.
Stefani Robinson: All the Twilights [laughs]. We actually have encyclopedias and books on the science of vampires.
Paul Sims: Actually, a lot of the research had been done years ago when Taika and Jemaine were first making the movie, or leading up to making the movie. So by the time it came to do the show, very often when we'd pitch an idea and Jemaine would immediately know whether vampires were allowed to do that or not.
Stefani Robinson: We can ask Jemaine anything [about] vampires.
Evan Rachel Wood: Kayvan, where did the inspiration for your voice come from?
Kayvan Novak: The film. It was a kind of mix of Jermaine and Taika's with a bit of an Iranian slant. He's got Iranian in his voice, maybe a bit.
Evan Rachel Wood: This is a question for Matt. Have people started yelling "bat" at you?
Matt Berry: Only recently. I don't spend as much time in London as I used to, but when I do come in, and use the tube, that's when I hear "bat." You start to notice these kinds of things because I didn't have it before and now I have it as a regular part of my life. Good for me.
Evan Rachel Wood: Natasha, it seems like your character does a lot of flying. What is it like doing all the wire work?
Natasia Demetriou: It's really good, but unfortunately I'm going to be having no children now, which is maybe a shame, maybe not. Yeah, no, it was amazing. You do feel like a big baby, though, because you're in this harness and you cannot move. But I had this stunt double that would help get me in the jump vest and the wires, and she started bringing these gel pads to put on my bum and they were great. They felt really nice. But yeah, it was so fun and amazing.
Evan Rachel Wood: Some people were saying that some of the best scenes of the show are Nadya training Jenna. What was it like working with Beanie and do you think Nadya will be a good influence on her?
Natasia Demetriou: I think Nadya's an amazing influence on everyone. Yeah, working with Beanie was heaven because she is a stupid little baby and I just want to squeeze her head off. It's dangerous when she gets near me because I grip her too hard with my nails. But yeah, it was heaven, she was so, so funny and great.
Evan Rachel Wood: Lovely. And this question is for Harvey. Do you think Guillermo will ever be turned into a vampire for real?
Harvey Guillen: I mean, I didn't know what was going to happen at the end of season one. They kept it a secret, so I thought maybe he'd get close to it in season one. And then, you know, plot twist, so I think it's really interesting where the creative team is going with it. I'm excited to see what you guys think, should he become a vampire or follow the Van Helsing side? Vampire? Van Helsing? Vampire? Van Helsing? I don't know, though, because it's not up to me.
Evan Rachel Wood: We shall have to wait and see. This question is for Mark. How do you prepare for this role? And is the goal [to be] the most boring person in the world?
Mark Proksch: This will be a boring answer. Before I got into this strange industry, I worked in a lot of offices and I've been around my fair share of energy vampires. And this cast can really drain the shit out of you. So just being around them is tiresome. As you can tell by all the answers that came before this one.
Evan Rachel Wood: This question is for Brendan. The special effects on the show really are spectacular and it's one of the things I really love. So from script to air, how much time do you have to create a visual effect and has there been a visual effect that was the most difficult for you?
Brendan Taylor: So, we started in October and finished in May, to give you an idea. The two most difficult shots were when Jenna turns into the bat. And the Baron, when he eats a slice of pizza. In those two cases, the trickiest thing is to try and remind the animators that it's not their job to be funny, that the real humor is in the show and in the acting and in the performances. And the joke sells when our work is perfectly real and believable.
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[Photo Credit: Above photo from FX Networks.]