What We Do in the Shadows Cast Talks About the Vampire Life
What We Do in the Shadows actors Kayvan Novak and Natasia Demetriou discuss what it's like to adapt a recent comedy classic to TV.
New Zealand comedians turned pop culture superstars Jemaine Clement and Taika Waititi know a good idea when they see one.
Their nose for sturdy dramatic and comedic premises has taken them from the beloved HBO musical comedy series Flight of the Conchords to honest-to-goodness Marvel culture mainstays. Clement has starred on FX’s X-Men adjacent superhero drama Legion and Waititi messed around and made the best film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe in Thor: Ragnarok (you heard me).
Now with Legion winding down and Waititi politely staying away from Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3, the pair are turning back to one of their older good ideas: vampire mockumentary What We Do in the Shadows. The story of vampires trying to adapt to the modern world while occasionally turning to talk directly to the camera worked just fine in 2014 so what’s keeping it from working again in 2019? Not a damn thing as it turns out.
While Clement and Waititi return as producers, they’ve ceded the roles of the chatty vampires to a new crop of talent. Any good comedy is only as good as it characters and any good vampire premise is only as good as its vampires. The series features three “traditional” blood-sucking aristocratic vamps in Nandor (Kayvan Novak), Nadja (Natasia Demetriou), and Laszlo (Matt Berry). It also features a different kind of vampire altogether: the energy vampire, Colin Robinson (Mark Proksch).
We caught up with British actors and comedians Kayvan Novak and Natasia Demetriou to discuss what it’s like to portray the undead, adapt a recent classic, and deal with energy vampires.
DEN OF GEEK: Can you tell me a bit about your characters Nandor and Nadja? What is it like playing these ancient beings in a modern world?
Kayvan Novak: I guess what I like about playing Nandor is that he’s kind of stiff and a bit goofy, and a bit awkward, and I feel that there’s an element of myself that is the same. I get to just magnify that, or embrace that fully without ever trying to feel that I’m being cool or having to be cool in any way. I can just be full Nandor with my hair down and my fangs in and my cape on. It’s kind of easy and it’s quite liberating, actually. I quite like it. I miss it. I’ve got to kind of look up pictures of Ryan Gosling and then try and copy what he’s wearing. It’s exhausting. I want to be Nandor, I don’t want to be me anymore.
Natasia Demetriou: I think it provided endless opportunities for me to try to funnier. Just the fact that they’ve been around for so long, and they’re so out of touch, but still think they are these powerful, almighty beings. It’s just so stupid and funny, Also she’s incredibly horny and she’s obsessed with blood, and she’s really thick, which is exactly like me. Those are my three character traits. It was so fun.
Had you guys been interested in vampires as monsters? I feel like every creative person has at least a brief a vampire phase.
ND: Mine was the Twilight books. I got deep into them.
KN: You got into that. I never really wanted to be a vampire. I kind of wanted to be Indiana Jones, or James Bond. Yeah. Ed Wood is one of my favorite movies, and I love the Bela Lugosi character in that, it wasn’t really something I ever played at. Having said that, watching (What We Do in the Shadows, the film) made me want to be a vampire.
ND: I remember seeing the trailer for the film and I was literally like “Well, they’ve done it. They’ve done it. They’ve thought of the funniest concept for a film possible. Wow. They’ve done it.” As for playing a vampire, I’m really clumsy and not vampire-like at all, so this is the perfect way to play a vampire. She is stupid. That’s my dream. So yeah, I would never have thought of playing a vampire before, because they’re like, action. They’re like Lara Croft, and I’m Lara Loft. Zara Loft.
further reading: Interview with the Vampire and the Origin of the Remorseful Bloodsucker
I think when people say they want to be a vampire, what they’re saying is “I just want to be hot.”
ND: Well that’s the thing. That’s not what I’ve ever tried. I think trying to be hot is the antithesis of trying to be funny. If you’re aware of what you look like, or you’re trying to … you can’t be truly funny.
Speaking of sexy and funny, what is it like having Jemaine Clement and Taika Waititi as producers?
ND: Hello! It was very hard for me. I was incredibly aroused the entire time. When you meet someone that you would do anything for, and you’re performing for them and they’ve hired you to perform, it makes every day just so easy. (Kayvan) had a boner the whole time.
KN: I did.
What kind of takeaways did you have from the original film? Did you think a TV show based on it was even possible?
ND: “They need to work on this, make it into a TV show, and cast new people in it.” That was my review when I saw the film. No, it was just, as I said, I saw the trailer and was like “How have these men, this sort of collective, done it again?” Everything they’ve done I’ve been such a fan of, and it was like “Oh my God, of course! A vampire mockumentary, that’s such a funny idea!” I was a huge fan.
KN: The spirit that they bring to what they do, working together, is I think what people love. (Jemaine and Taika) love what they do, and I think that runs through this incredibly, because they have each other to play off and bounce off, and make sure the other one isn’t getting too fucking indulgent. You know what I mean? They’re kind of pushing each other in the right direction to be funnier and funnier. They’ve just got such an amazing kind of New Zealand sensibility about things. That just shows, and it’s … I think that kind of appeals to us because we’re from the U.K., you know, which is the same kind of “be modest (humor).”
ND: Put yourself down.
KN: Can’t be as sharp, put yourself down, don’t be afraid to be ugly. The things that kind of British comedy do well. Grotesques. And, you know, we’re vampires.
ND: And they’re just very naturally funny people, so you’re just lovely to be around.
What was your reaction to the show’s U.S. setting – Staten Island specifically?
ND: It’s funny because in England, I know I grew up thinking of America as this magical place where the funniest best people are with the best food and the best toys and stuff. So it makes sense to me that, you know, if they were sent somewhere to conquer, it would be the U.S. because it’s this consumerist, capitalist dream. So it’s being a little stupid half-Greek girl being like “Oh my God, I want to go to America and eat pizza and see Kevin, be in Home Alone, meet Ross and Rachel.” To me it was really fitting.
KN: I guess, you know, it’s a nation of immigrants and (our characters) are the most extreme form of immigrants, they’re vampires. I guess it’s just a contrast, ’cause they’re all from Transylvania and when we met the characters from the U.K. it was English. You need that contrast, and I guess it’s a bigger, more intimidating place to live than New Zealand.
ND: I think it’s funnier to be these stupid European idiots around these American people who are just like “What the fuck?”
further reading: Y: The Last Man Ordered to Series at FX
What is it like working within the mockumentary format? It was all over the place for a long time on television, particularly American television. I’m just wondering how that informs your performances and what it’s like to just talk to the camera every now and again?
KN: It’s very informal. You don’t ever feel like you’re doing the same thing again. It keeps it very fresh. You’re not going “Same scene, different setup. Same scene, different setup.” Do you know what I mean? It’s a constant evolution of our performance. It was just captured in a very relaxed way, where you’re not even thinking about a camera, or you are, because you want to shoot a look at the camera. Other than that, you’re not like “It’s my close-up time.”
ND: They had to keep reminding us that we’re allowed to look at the camera, and we’re allowed to acknowledge the camera’s there. I think mockumentaries are such well-trodden grounds for comedies. It has been done a lot, but it is because of that informal nature, it’s such a fertile ground to be funny. There’s not this “Now you’re close-up, now you’re at this wide shot.” I just hope that the sort of supernatural element of our show gives new light to the mockumentary style, because it’s not just “We’re going to capture a mundane setting with a camera.” We’re turning into bats or we’re flying and it’s just done in that deadpan documentary style.
How did you feel about the addition of Mark Proksch’s character, Colin Robinson – the “emotional vampire?”
ND: Oh, so funny. Every time (Mark) would come in and do a line, he’s instantly winning. He’s instantly the funniest thing in this room, because it’s such a dumb character. It’s so funny.
KN: It was pretty spirit crushing.
ND: He made me corpse so much, off set!
KN: He’s basically the best thing in it.
What are you most excited for people to see in this upcoming season?
KN: Mark Proksch.
ND: Mark Proksch.
What We Do in the Shadows debuts on FX on Wendesday March 27.
Alec Bojalad is TV Editor at Den of Geek and TCA member. Read more of his stuff here. Follow him at his creatively-named Twitter handle @alecbojalad