Everybody wants to be a vampire, right?
They live forever, they are usually rich, they can turn into bats and fly. What's not to like? Sure, you have to sleep in the day and go out only at night, but it's a small price to pay. Oh, and there's that drinking blood thing. Nothing's perfect.
For Harvey Guillén's character Guillermo in FX's What We Do in the Shadows, being a vampire is the ultimate dream. So, he has become the familiar of Nandor, one of a group of vampiric roommates, with the hope that Nandor will reward him by making him a vampire.
The premise of the show is that it is an ongoing documentary about a group of vampires living together.
There's Lazlo (Matt Berry) and Nadja (Natasha Demetriou), Guillermo's boss Nandor (Kayvan Novak), and Colin Robinson (Mark Proksh), an energy vampire rather than a blood vampire. In the middle of it all is Guillermo, the only human of the group.
Harvey Guillén: With Guillermo, he's the only straight man in the bunch. He is the voice of the audience because everyone else, they're a vampire or a warlock or a witch or zombie.
Guillén explains, "With Guillermo, he's the only straight man in the bunch. He is the voice of the audience because everyone else, they're a vampire or a warlock or a witch or zombie.
"And just as a human, I was just like, 'I am the straight man.' That's why he's so grounded, and people really connect with him, which was great. I've had such great feedback from people just saying, 'I love Guillermo.'
"I feel like that's exactly the thing that I would do, or that's the reaction I would have. It's like, OK, great. That's what I wanted it to go for. Because he looked to the camera to remind the audience. I'm like, 'are you watching this?' It's the ridiculousness of this.
"Because we know there's a documentary crew. But the vampires forget that people are going to watch this. And I don't forget. So sometimes when they say things out loud, I try to cover it. I'm like, 'no, no, no, no, just trying to always protect them.'"
Another aspect of Guillermo is that, as the only human character, he is the only one who changes and truly evolves through the series.
Guillén says, "I'm looking back at season 1 to season 2, the trajectory of his character. And the arc has been amazing. And that's all due to the writers who could have easily made it more just a quick two-joke in every episode kind of character.
"But they really dived into the idea that he is a human. And he has aspirations. And he has dreams. And he has feelings. And he has emotions. And the vampires, they don't have to change for anyone or have aspirations. They're already set in their ways because they're not dying any time soon."
Guillermo's is not an easy gig. The vampires are selfish, unaware of their human cohort, and very demanding.
Guillén says, "For vampires, what is time? I always think about the first episode where Nando gives Guillermo a gift. He thinks it's been a couple of years. And it's been a decade. And so he gets this gift for 'two years' of service. And he's like,' two years? It's been 10 years.'
"And he says, 'Really? 10?' And it's like the idea that, to him, it's like, oh, wow, I just blinked, and 10 years went by. Oh, well. And it's no big deal.
"For a human, a decade goes by, and your clock is ticking. And where are you in life, and where are your dreams and aspirations? Are you achieving your goals anytime soon?
"And it's something very scary, as I think we can all relate, being mortal, and just like, what am I doing with my life and living the best to my ability?
"And so when you start questioning that, that's when he starts evolving, when Guillermo, after the first episode, starts questioning the choices he's made, and then kind of looking into a part of him that just by nature has been presented to him, and said, 'maybe you're not meant to do that. Maybe you're meant to do this.' And you're really good at this accidentally."
Turns out, Guillermo is related to the vampire-killing Van Helsing family. Guillén says, "Whoopsies, plot twist. You're really good at killing the thing you want to be the most. And it's in your blood. Literally, it's in your blood to destroy vampires. You just can't help it.
"And yet, here we show his human side where he is loyal to this bunch. And he protects them.
"And even though he is meant to kill them, he protects them from other vampires who are trying to destroy them for what they think they did in the crimes against vampires [in season 1]. And so his loyalty is still there.
Guillén: He's human. And humans have feelings. And they have remorse. And they have a moral compass
"He could literally just step back and let them get destroyed and just move on with his life and move over to a new place or whatnot. But he doesn't because, again, he's human. And humans have feelings. And they have remorse. And they have a moral compass."
Despite his family history, Guillermo is still devoted to his master and his master's friends, even against the other vampires. Guillén says, "It's a thin line. It's like a tight rope kind of walk. I think about this all the time, because he can't be too on one side and too much on the other. It's very much a balancing act.
"And the thing goes along with his relationship with his master where people are like, 'is he in love? Does he - wait, what's going on?' It's because it's easier to be devoted to someone. And maybe it starts off as a work relationship. And then it becomes devotion and admiration. But devotion and admiration can turn into love.
"And it's a really thin line. And it's been a really great challenging role for me to be able to balance that act. And I'm happy to report I love doing it."
Getting to do the show was quite a "Hollywood story," according to Guillén. He says, "Yeah, it's the funniest story. This is a such a Hollywood story. But I went to a wine and cheese night. And it's actually true. I went to a wine and cheese night that my friend Michael, was having a couple of Januaries ago.
"And it was the five of us, really. It wasn't a big party. And I knew everyone there, except for one person. And we just started talking and whatnot.
"The next day, I got a text from an unknown number. And it was that one friend who I just met that night, Yvonne. And she said, 'hey, I think you're so funny. You should audition for my fiance's new show.'
"And I was like, 'well, I'm not falling for this trick. I'm not doing that.' She said, 'no, I'm serious.'
'What We Do in the Shadows.'
'Isn't that a movie?'
'Yeah, but they're making it into a show. But you really need to move quickly because they've been out there shooting for this role since October.' And mind you, this was January 10th.
"So I said, 'Oh, wow. I really should get on it,' you know? And it was [casting director] Allison Jones. And I just wanted to meet her. I was like, 'oh, I'm going to go meet her.'
"And then I went into the office. It was a complimentary audition. I was pretty much the only one going in that day. And she wasn't there. She was in London auditioning for my part for other vampires. And I went in. And I said, 'oh my gosh, I wanted to meet her so bad.'
"And then so Ben [Harris], the other casting associate, was there. Like, it's OK. 'Here, put this microphone on. And let's do it'. And I did it. And I remember when I was done, I don't remember that I had started. I just really fell into Guillermo. And I was just-- I didn't know how I got there.
And I looked up. And he looked at me. And he said, 'you're done.' And I was like, 'oh, OK, thank you.' And I walked down. And he goes, 'Harvey, wait!' And I go, 'huh?'
I thought he was going to say, 'hold on right there. You're the one. We can stop looking. We found our guy.' And he goes, 'stop.' And I was like, 'oh.' And he goes, 'the microphone, you still have a microphone on.'
And said, 'oh.'
And then took the microphone off. And I left, and I thought, I don't know what happened. And then I called my agent. And I said, 'I don't know if that was what they wanted.' Besides, Guillermo was 20 years older than I am.
"So I didn't think I was right for the role anyways. Because originally, when I read the script, I was like, 'oh, he's much older.'
"So I decided to make myself look older. And I was like, how would I do my hair? And how would I - so I parted my hair in the middle. And I curled it Victorian looking a little bit, a little bit in the picture that I also thought of Guillermo del Toro. Like, he had a hairdo. I was like, oh, that's kind of cool. He's a Guillermo.
"And then I did that. And then I did a little bit of that hairdo combination, of old Dracula kind of a vibe. And because he wanted to be a vampire so bad, but he wasn't part of that world. But he still had to dress up for the job that he had.
"And so he's dressing up very conservative in a sweater vest, a long sleeve. And I popped some glass out of these Harry Potter glasses that I had, and I put those on, and literally went in looking like the character that you see now on TV.
"They called a couple hours later and they said that writer Paul Simms, [executive producer] Scott Rudin, everyone, [creator] Jermaine [Clement] had seen the audition tape, and tthey all, for the first time, unanimously voted to test someone.
"Because there was like 40-60, it was 70-30. Like, people weren't 100%. They were testing other people for the role.
And then that was the first time they unanimously all voted to test one person. And they go 'yeah, you'll be testing with Kayvon.' And then weeks went by. I didn't hear anything. And then eventually, it was Martin Luther King weekend. And everyone wants a three-day holiday. And I hadn't heard anything.
"On a Sunday, a phone number kept calling me, like a 16-digit number. And I was like, who keeps calling me? I'm going to ignore that. And eventually, my sister who was with me said, 'pick up the phone.' And I was like, ugh. And I said, 'hello?' He goes 'hey, is this Harvey?' And I said, 'yes.'
"'Hey, it's Jermaine Clement. You auditioned for us. And you're the guy. We'll see you on set.'
"And this was Sunday. And then Monday was a holiday. Tuesday, Tuesday was a fitting. And Wednesday was the first day on set.
Guillén: I never thought I would say, 'I have a Hollywood story,' because you always hear these rumors of Hollywood stories. Oh, come on. Who are you kidding? But nope, I am right there.
"I never thought I would say, 'I have a Hollywood story,' because you always hear these rumors of Hollywood stories. Oh, come on. Who are you kidding? But nope, I am right there."
Guillén and the rest of the cast are also fans of the show. They especially love to watch it because, while they're shooting, they really don't get to see what's happening.
Guillén explains, "You know it's weird, because we really don't get to see them before the audience does. We are just on the same boat when it comes to viewing. The night that it premieres, you can watch it.
"And I feel bad for the cast who lives in the UK because more than half of the cast live in London. And they won't get it in the UK for like three months later. So they have to live seriously through the Americans who are posting, like people are going 'wow! Did you see that? That was insane. The finale was amazing!'
"They're like what? What happened?
"And I think it's always great to see what it looks like when it comes together, because remember, we have so many special effects, like the ghost and specifics effects with flying and whatnot. So that stuff, while you're shooting it, is obviously on a green screen or some kind of special harness or whatnot.
"But then to see it all come together, it's just like wow.
"It's just like, I know what the storyline is. And it still excites me because we did so many different variations of the script where we do a scripted version and then we do a couple of improv versions. And it's usually 50/50, where it's half improv and half scripted that makes it to the final cut.
"But you don't know which jokes will make it.
"So there's all these times that you're hoping that that one joke you really liked will make it. And sometimes it does. And sometimes you're like oh, no! It didn't! But that's OK, because this actually works better.
"But there's always everyone's favorite moments that, they will live in a vault somewhere that people don't even know. There's so many just, like, hours and hours of jokes in some kind of footage vault right now.
Since filming ended and everyone went into quarantine, Guillén has tried to keep his spirits - and those of friends and fans - up by doing a podcast. He explains, "Earlier this year, I just noticed that the energy of what was happening was really kind of taking its toll on everyone.
"My friends, my colleagues, everyone - you couldn't help it, you know? It was just like this dark cloud that was kind of over the world.
"And I decided to, for the premiere,do a Before the Shadows kind of show where we talked BTS, Behind The Scenes. That's a fun thing that week. And I was like, this will be fun, this'll be a distraction - and people keep asking us for behind the scenes pictures and stories.
"So on the first episode was just me on my phone on Instagram. And I invited Haley Joel Osment and friends who watch the show, Gloria Calderón Kellett, who's a fan of the show and a friend of mine, just talk about the show, just to have a conversation, getting excited about the show.
"It's like having friends come over for a premiere, in a way, but it was all virtual.
"And people really liked it. And the fans were really excited about it. And they asked, are you going to do it next week? And I no plans to do it. And I was like, oh, sure. But then I said to myself, if I'm going to do it, I want to do it full out. So I created a whole kind of talk show called Before the Shadows.
"And every Wednesday, we had guests. We had Jermaine. We had Paul Simms. We had Stephanie Robinson. We had Tayvon, Natasha.
"Every episode, we had two to three guests to come on and talk about their experience on the show, share some behind the scenes pictures, behind the scenes stories that you would never hear anywhere else. So people really took on to that. And we did, I think, 14 episodes of that during the run of the show.
"And if they missed an episode, they can go to beforetheshadows.com and see them all. They're all up on that website. So people are just discovering it now and be like, wow! I had no idea this happened. Wow! Is that really how that name came to be?
"People were asking about how people got their names and whatnot. It's a great - Jermaine goes in depth on how some of the characters' names are different. And he actually takes out his notes from before, from the room that he created the show in.
"He was in his home in New Zealand. And he shows us the room. He goes, 'this is where it happened. This is where the characters came to life. And these are the notes from when I was creating the character names.' And he shares them with us.
"And stuff like that was really cool, that I'm glad I did it. It started off as a one-time 'let's do this for fun and give something to the fans' for one time. And it turned into this big whole thing.
"So now I'm looking to potentially, hopefully doing that next season so I keep everyone entertained, because who knows what we'll be next year? Who knows what will happen next in 2021?"