When the What We Do in the Shadows series was first announced, I was cautiously optimistic, since the movie was one of my favorite released in the past decade and TV adaptations rarely capture the magic of the original film. This is one of the rare occasions where the series absolutely surpassed my expectations and is one of the best shows on TV today.
A big part of that is due to the Guillermo, a human familiar who must deal with an eccentric cast of vampires that would strain any person's sanity. Harvey Guillén plays Guillermo masterfully, giving us a layered performance that makes this character instantly-relatable and likable, and I'm very invested and interested in his journey throughout the second season. In a recent interview, I caught up with Harvey to get his take on why people are drawn to the character, what it's like to work on set, his favorite moments from the first two seasons, and the importance of playing this role as an inspiration to others.
Guillermo became a fan favorite character from the very start of the series, and it’s great to see this character as such a big part of the show. Why do you think people are so drawn to that character and your performance?
Harvey Guillén: Well, I think that for the first season if you look at the storyline for Guillermo, he could have easily become just a background character that became a servant to Kayvan's character, Nandor. I always say my first season with Guillermo was reacting to everyone's craziness. Guillermo was basically the eyes for the audience. He's the only human in the household and I feel that everyone was drawn to him because they needed him to be the narrator in a way.
And so he leads the documentary crew from day one into the household, but still has duties during his work day, and he's still a working class person. He's working for a boss who overlooks him for promotion, working for someone that he may or may not be romantically wanting to be attached to or has feelings for, so Guillermo just loves from afar. There's all these elements to Guillermo that were being played in the first season just under the radar.
So it's so subtle, but it was so great the way that they wrote him because having the reveal that he's the descendant of Van Helsing in the Season 1 finale was a huge shock to me as well. I didn't know where the storyline was going to go.
I feel people are drawn to Guillermo because as someone put it perfectly, he's the people familiar. He's all of us. We're all Guillermos at one point or another, so we root for him because we always root for the underdog.
A lot of people probably think they’d be a great familiar, but in reality, especially when you have to deal with the vampires we’re presented with on the show, it’s going to be incredibly challenging and emotionally draining.
Harvey Guillén: At the end of the day, he's human. Humans have empathy and feel for one another. They don't want to cause pain to someone and they want to protect people. So with that in mind, [in episode 3 we see that] he's still a good-hearted person and he's really tormented. We saw that he's starting to break down and he's having an emotional turmoil. He has a really quick scene where he's emotional outside the mosquito collector meeting, and he just breaks down when he realizes what has happened to Jenna and how it affected the people around her.
And you forget sometimes that people who disappear and become the vampire's victim, whether it be by feeding them or by whatnot, they had families and they had a connection. And so he's starting to realize that he is part of that. As much as he's doing his job, he is part of this horrible routine that he is an accomplice to. And it's really starting to take a toll on his emotional health.
When it comes to comedies and working on set, I’m always interested in hearing about the atmosphere and what changes from the script to final form. With special guests and seasoned comedians, is there a lot of improvisation on set?
Harvey Guillén: I always say I never know what the episode's going to look like because we shoot so many variations. I'm with the audience when I watch the show for the first time because we don't see it ahead of time.
We are genuinely surprised as you are because we shoot different alternates. And basically we'll always do the scripted version, obviously. The script by itself, it stands alone and it's a great script all the time. We have amazing writers and, this season, we welcomed some new cool writers and directors as well. Kyle, who directed [episode] 203, is such an amazing director that he just gives you that freedom of improvising, which all the directors are encouraged to do because Taika and Jemaine have kind of set that little work rule.
There's a lot of improv that goes into the show. I say that every episode that I've seen is a combination, probably split down the middle, of improv and scripted because that's what makes the show so great and feel so natural. We know what the storyline is and we do the scripted version and then we do a version where it’s the exact same story with different words. So we get from point A to point B to point C with different words in between, but we always land our mark where we're supposed to go and where the story's supposed to be headed. And so at the end of the day it's a nice surprise when you do see it.
Looking back at Season 1, do you have a favorite scene or memory? Does anything really stand out from filming Season 2?
Harvey Guillén: For Season 1, the one moment that stands to me even throughout the whole season was the pilot that we shot. At the end of the pilot, I open the curtain just a slight bit after I put my master to sleep and he's just given me an award for what he thinks has been a two-year service to him, but it's 10 years. In that moment, Guillermo realizes that he may be human and he's not a vampire, but he's still powerful. And that just quick, slight moment when he just opens the blinds a little bit and the light touches the coffin just enough that it could potentially cause harm and then closes it up again, that just to me always stood out to me in Season 1. I mean, we told you from episode 1 that maybe things aren't what they seem and that was the hint right there. Looking back I was like, "Oh, we planted that seed. That was there." And they do that throughout the season.
For Season 2, the moment that I remember is pretty much the finale that's coming up. It's such a huge moment. And close to that is episode 204, which just came out. We went on a mission with the vampire hunters and it was so great to work with Craig Robinson, Veronika [Slowikowska], and all of the other hunters in that group. It was just a nice time with them and we had a great experience.
There are a lot of guest stars this season, which is pretty cool. We saw Haley Joel Osment as a zombie in the beginning of the season and I know Mark Hamill is coming up. How has it been to work with all of these actors and get to play with them in this world?
Harvey Guillén: It's been amazing. The fact that we had so many people come to play with us is just, how lucky are we? Because [it would be great] even if we got one or two of those people, but we've gotten several and they're fans of the show. This year, we welcomed Haley Joel Osment and Mark Hamill and they are both fans of the show. They genuinely liked the show, so when it came up to do the show, they were more than eager and excited. I remember when Mark Hamill came on set, we were just so excited to meet him and he looked over and just gave me a hug. He said, "Harvey!" And his daughter was there, like, "Oh, we love you. We love you, Harv." It was so nice to hear someone that’s so iconic and has this positive feedback about the work that you do and the show that you're creating with this whole ensemble. Every time, I want the new episode of the show, because sometimes I don't see the scenes that are being shot if I'm not in that scene with Laszlo or Nadja or Colin, and I'm just entertained by everyone. The cast is phenomenal and I'm so lucky to be a part of it.
It's amazing to see the reaction that the show has gotten and just how much love there is, especially online. I know you're very active, too, on social media and you’ve been doing livestream events for the new episodes. What has your experience been like with fans, whether online or at conventions?
Harvey Guillén: We had Dragon Con and then Comic-Con last year, and it was crazy to see all the fans who support the show. But the one that really touched me was at Dragon Con where we had people line up. And I had a couple of people who came up and they were Latinx, and they were like, "Thank you so much. I always feel like an outsider already being in the world of vampires and goth and that." But also being Latino was another layer to it that you don't really see in mainstream, which goes back to the whole pilot with Guillermo where he associates Antonio Banderas as an example. And so we are making a comedy, but the idea that we are telling the story as well, that representation matters and having someone who looks like you on screen can be life-changing.
And I didn't see that growing up myself. I didn't see myself represented on TV. But I decided, "Well, if I haven't seen anyone like me on TV, then I'll be the first one." And here I am. And then hopefully that opens the door to some kid behind me who's like, "He did it. Look, Harvey did it, so I can do it." And that's the goal, to have somebody who can be able to say that and then open the door for someone behind them as well.
That's really great and shows how powerful this role is. It is going beyond just the TV show itself, so yeah, that's really great.
When you were growing up, were you a big fan of horror movies and vampire movies?
Harvey Guillén: Yeah, growing up I loved horror movies. I'm a scaredy cat, but I love the adrenaline of it. I like slasher films as well, and I remember watching Scream and Scream 2. Scream was my jam because I felt like that was the scariest thing… the idea of a masked Ghost Face that could lurk in any moment outside your room and could call you.
And now looking back, it's kind of silly now because of technology. Half of those storylines wouldn't be possible now, but back then that was very much a possibility. Nowadays it's like, "Oh, that's okay. I'll just connect to my WiFi or I'll just use this app." So the ways of getting stuck in a scenario for a great horror movie are slowly being taken away, but with new technology allows for new possibilities.
Aside from What We Do in the Shadows, are there any upcoming projects you’d like to tell our readers about?
Harvey Guillén: Yeah, this summer I have a show for Quibi with Catherine Hardwicke directing called Don't Look Deeper. And that's the working title, so it might change, but that's coming out soon. Also I'm excited because Natalie Morales directed me in an episode of Room 104 for HBO. Other than that, just working at home on new projects and writing with my writing partner, Jamie Holt. That’s pretty much it.
These are definitely weird times and it sounds like you're staying sane and healthy, and I hope that continues. The world’s so different these days, but many people turn to the shows and streaming as comfort food. And it's nice that they have What We Do in the Shadows to watch and keep them laughing and entertained every week.
Harvey Guillén: I think it's so perfect. Someone said the other day that, "What We Do in the Shadows is the perfect show for quarantine because it's a show about a group of vampires who are quarantined together and how they maneuver through their days." Most of the storylines and most of the time in the show, they are in the household and they just happen to be in the house all together. So it reminds me that you are quarantined with your loved ones or the family you choose. And at the end of the day they might drive you crazy, but you would rather be nowhere else than there.
What We Do in the Shadows airs Wednesdays at 10pm on FX, and you can also catch it on Hulu or VOD providers like Amazon and iTunes. You can follow Harvey on Twitter at https://twitter.com/HARVEYGUILLEN