This article contains spoilers for What We Do in the Shadows season 3 episode 3.
Things have changed for the Staten Island vampires on What We Do in the Shadows season 3 as they step into positions of power. This may not make much of a difference for Colin Robinson (Mark Proksch), whose new job as secretary of the Vampiric Council, is much like his fake job, at a cubicle in an office. But Laszlo (Matt Berry) may spend a little more in the potting shed. His love Nadja (Natasia Demetriou), is running the council, along with Nandor (Kayvan Novak), who’s familiar, Guillermo (Harvey Guillén), has been promoted to the position of bodyguard. It was easier than killing him.
Based on the 2014 feature film by Jemaine Clement and Taika Waititi, What We Do in the Shadows follows four vampires, who have been roommates for longer than anyone cares to remember, as they cope with life in the modern world. Which is not held up on the shoulders of four horses.
Nandor the Relentless was a fierce and terrible Ottoman warrior, known for pillaging villages and turning the Euphrates red with blood. Guillermo worked at Panera Bread. The bond that ties vampire to familiar is a strange one. The pay isn’t great, the hours are daunting, and they don’t get employee-of-the-month plaques. The only real incentive is the promise of everlasting life as a ravenous bloodsucking fiend, and there is something of a hiring freeze at the moment.
British Iranian actor and voice artist Kayvan Novak co-created and starred in the British prank show, Fonejacker, and also can be seen alongside Matt Damon and George Clooney in Syriana, as well as the films Cuban Fury and the Walt Disney live action remake of Cruella. He plays three different characters in Men in Black: International. Harvey Guillén acted in the movies The Internship and in Netflix’s Truth or Dare, and his TV works include The Magicians, and Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist. He earned a GLAAD Media Award his role in the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell Me What to Do” episode of Raising Hope, and made LGBTQ+ Latinx history by becoming the first queer Latinx actor to be nominated for Best Supporting Actor at the Critics’ Choice Award for his role as Guillermo de la Cruz. Starting Sept. 2, Guillén will also host After the Shadows, a new talk show following and discussing What We Do in the Shadows.
Novak and Guillén hovered over Den of Geek to speak about Nandor and Guillermo’s new job descriptions, as well as old habits, cloaks of many voices, and Van Helsing DNA.
Den of Geek: I wanted to congratulate you on your characters’ new duties. Is it more fun running vampires or running from them?
Kayvan Novak: Has Nandor run from a vampire? I guess I have. I think they’re equally as exhilarating and frightening.
Harvey Guillén: I would say fighting the vampires is exciting with all the combat when that opportunity comes up. Yeah.
Guillermo took out the entire local vampire command, but couldn’t stake a vampire council docent. Is Guillermo getting soft?
Guillén: I don’t think he’s getting soft. I think the only reason that he even put himself in that scenario is because he knew that his old housemates, because remember he moved out of the house, his old housemates were in danger. I think at the end of the day we forget that he had mostly only humans in the house. And you know, what separates us from everything else in the world is that humans are driven by emotion and have a conscience and have a heart. So he couldn’t live with himself, if he knew that they were set up by the Vampiric Council to be eliminated at this theater. That’s the only reason he goes and saves his chosen family. Even though they’re total assholes to him, he is still loyal at the end of the day. He’s still loyal to these four vampires, especially Nandor. I think that he’s not getting soft. He’s just starting to see what’s important to him and what’s worth fighting for.
Did the “Cloak of Duplication” episode come up because you were already doing the impressions?
Novak: I guess the writers had an idea. They had a sense that I was a bit of a mimic and I liked doing impersonations. And I think they decided to kind of craft an episode around that. I was slightly apprehensive of the number of impressions that they thought I could do considering I had to do all of my castmates who, although I could do impressions of some of them, I’d never done it to their faces. So it was a new challenge. Not only to learn very quickly how to impersonate them with their help, because they helped me along the way, and they told me how to deliver some of the lines. But then having to do that in front of them, it took some concentration.
Whose voice was the easiest?
Novak: I guess the easiest, or the one that I had done was Colin Robinson. Because he’s got a very specific [voice]. It’s kind of the closest to mine in a way. And the rhythms of it, very specific. Nadja’s voice and Kristen [Schaal]’s voice, I couldn’t actually do. I can only kind of do their physicality. So, the voices you hear are not my voice. They’re the voices of the actual actors. Guillermo’s voice, Guillermo’s delivery, that took a minute to kind of get into that groove. And then Matt Berry, Laszlo’s character, I’d never really tried an impression of him. And it was really more the physicality that I got into to deliver those lines in that rhythm, that really was the key in. Because you’re always trying to find the key in.
Harvey, what was it like hearing Guillermo come out of Novak’s throat?
Guillén: It was great. Because I’ve seen Kayvan do impersonations of everyone, he’s a master. I don’t think I’ve ever seen him do me in a full scene. Like he would make a good joke or mimic me and say, “Yeah, yeah, now my friend,” and he does like a caricature of my voice, which is always fun, but yeah, “you’re my best buddy,” that’s like an ongoing joke on set that he always does. But to really kind of do it and kind of really capture Guillermo’s inflections and the volume where he placed him. I was like, oh my gosh, this is great. I was in awe. Like I was like, this is great. I had to do a double take, like that’s not me. That’s wait. That’s not me. Okay.
Blade, Buffy, the Frog brothers, and now Guillermo. Guillermo is the descendant of the greatest Slayer of all slayers. Is this nepotism?
Guillén: I don’t know if it’s nepotism because I don’t think he’s gotten anything handed to him. And he’s worked really hard for everything he has, and even now being the descendant of Van Helsing, it’s still not easy. Now, it comes with another wagon full of problems and choices to be made and predicaments that he now has with his housemates. But I would love to see some of those legendary slayers and chosen ones make an appearance and guide him, maybe help him out. Maybe Buffy pops in and says, I’ll show you how it’s done. That’d be great. Or Blade comes back, Wesley Snipes comes back. We’ve already had him. Who knows? But yeah, I would love to see someone show him the ropes or take them under their wing or, he’s learning by trial and error. And I think so far he’s doing okay. So maybe he’s a self-made Slayer in his own way.
When Nandor and Nadja were introducing themselves to the rogue vampires, you are each soloing, but hitting the beats at the same time. Can you just walk me through the rehearsal of the timing?
Novak: I think to really nail a scene like that, we’re both kind of focused on the direction of, I think Yana Gorskaya directed that scene. And that was just a case of us kind of working together, but also allowing her to kind of pull us through the scene to make sure that we hit those marks perfectly. It took some practice, took a few takes, took rehearsal, but you always know you’re going to get it. And you know that if you’ve got to get something that’s a bit of a challenge to get to, you want to be in the right company. And, and thankfully, we are because we’re in each other’s company.
Harvey, when you interject objections and you break and you look at the camera, they’re like hi-hat taps, are these scripted or are you doing it strictly on an intuitive basis?
Guillén: No, I don’t think I’ve ever seen it scripted for Guillermo that he looks at the camera. I think we do, as we do a rehearsal and we have our DP and our director follow us through rehearsal and whatever feels organic in the moment, there has to be an organic beat. Right? So, if it’s, most of the time it is Guillermo, because he’s the only human in the room, aside from the camera crew. And so, when he looks at the camera crew, it’s like, oh God, you’re going to film this, aren’t you? And the camera catches that moment. And it zooms into it. It’s like, you’re not, oh no, it’s incriminating. And so, as you connect with another human. Did you hear what he said? Or did you, I can’t believe they’re talking like this because who are you going to connect with the vampires who live in their own world of lust and pleasure and feeding. They don’t care, they’re immortal, but the humans in the room are like, we can go to jail at any moment for a lot of these things. I can get in trouble myself.
So, most of the time, when Guillermo looks at the camera, it’s either out of fear or it’s either like I’m smarter than them and you see that, right? So it’s like you saw that, right? But he can never say it. So he can’t verbally say what he’s feeling. So, their face does it all for you to the camera.
Did Guillermo and Nandor meet at Panera Bread?
Guillén: We talked about this. I think the idea that, if he was working at Panera Bread, it must have been shortly after high school or something. And somewhere along the lines, he must’ve met Nandor, he must’ve come in when Panera was closing and maybe tried to feast on him? Maybe, I don’t know. The backstory I gave myself was, he convinced Nandor not to feast on him and kill him, but to service him in return to become a vampire. That’s the backstory I gave myself. But Kayvan, what do you think?
Novak: I think whatever happened there’s CCTV footage of it-
Guillén: Somewhere. Yeah.
Novak: And I think that would be the best way of revisiting that because, if they didn’t have a documentary crew following them, then they’re relying on kind of just, incidental cameras, capturing stuff. I think it would be cool.
Guillén: I think that’s cool. Yeah.
Nandor is 758 years old, and going through an eternal life crisis. Is he becoming too Americanized or does Nadja have a point about there not being anything more to existence than just slaughter?
Novak: It’s a funny one because he’s been around so long, you’re supposed to eventually just blend into your environment and be taken over by and become an American or become a Staten Islander. And for some reason they live in such an insular world that they resisted this. But now for some reason, whether it be an emotional light that’s gone off in his head, he’s decided that no, he wants to humanize himself more and, yeah, be more like the people that he kills, almost. The world that he feeds off. He wants to be part of that. And I think, Nadja, she’s the cynic she’s like, stop dreaming. Stop. You know, there’s always that person that’s like, yeah, you could do that. But there’s lots of people that want to do that too, you know? And you’re like, oh, you’re right. I better not waste my time chasing pipe dreams. There’s always that person in the room and that person, for Nandor, is Nadja.
What’s it like to act against Nadja’s doll?
Guillén: Such a diva. Yeah. Difficult. Late to set. She always has to be carried. I don’t know if it’s in her rider, but the doll has to be carried by two, like men-
Novak: Dressed in green.
Guillén: Dressed in green. Yeah.
Novak: I actually did have to do a couple of scenes where there’s a montage sequence with me and the doll and we actually got onto some really funny stuff. I was teaching her sword fighting, a bit of a spoiler, but it’s very quick. I don’t know if it made it in but I was teaching her sword fighting and then I was like, well, we might as well have a sword fight. And then she disarms me and then she chases after me and I run. But I don’t know if that made it in the cut. I just decided that would have been a funny thing to do. To be disarmed by this doll. I think Nandor has a soft spot for the doll. Obviously, it’s a cool bit of special effects that’s for sure. It’s awesome.
What will you be getting Colin Robinson for his hundredth birthday?
Novak: A new contract. You know, his management team has been slacking.
I was talking with Mark Proksch about the physical comedy and Harvey, yours is particularly perilous. What’s the choreography prep like and making those fight scenes hit their funny marks?
Guillén: Well, I think physical comedy is just as good as you know, anything we do, so I mean, a lot of us do physical comedy in the show, but you never see Guillermo really in motion to do physical comedy most of the time it’s because he’s always so put together. So even with the combat and fighting, the note that Jermaine gave me for the finale was, Harvey doesn’t know he’s been at this. All right. So he doesn’t know what’s happening. So it was more of an idea that his face is like “what’s happening?,” But his hands were coordinated and bad-ass, and that’s the way I’ve been playing him. And now that he’s coming into his own, now he’s more relaxed into his own power of Van Helsing. But it’s also funny. It’s just funny to see someone who’s like a baby duck, like learning to walk for the first time. It’s like he’s trying. And you know, so that physical comedy comes in hand.
Kayvan, can you tell me what it was like working against Aida Turturro and learning to love after, after 37 wives?
Novak: Aida was a riot, from day one. She was a fan of the show, which is always wonderful and incredibly flattering. She was so into the show, she was so into the world and into us as performers. And I think that just, she had so much fun when she was there and we had some intimate scenes. The first time you see us, she’s on her back and I’m on top of her. And that’s quite an introduction. But she just went with it, you know? And it was just a lot of fun, a lot of fun with her and yeah, we just spoke to her today actually, and she was singing the show’s praises again. And she’s genuinely so excited. She’s not keeping her cool or trying not to be a fangirl about it. She was just super enthusiastic to be there. And you feed off that. You love that.
What We Do in the Shadows airs Thursdays at 10:00 p.m. on FX.