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Interview: Harvey Guillén Talks Season Two of ‘What We Do in the Shadows’

April 13, 2020Ben MK

Although many moviegoers might know filmmaker Taika Waititi for films such as Jojo Rabbit and Thor: Ragnarok, there's perhaps no better showcase for the director's quirky sense of humor than his 2014 vampire comedy, What We Do in the Shadows. Of course, Waititi and co-star/co-writer/co-director (not to mention, fellow New Zealander) Jemaine Clement turned their cult classic into a critically acclaimed TV series for FX Networks in 2019. And now the dynamic duo is back — along with stars Kayvan Novak, Matt Berry, Natasia Demetriou, Harvey Guillén and Mark Proksch — for the show's highly anticipated second season.

I caught up with actor Harvey Guillén late last year to chat about his role as Guillermo on What We Do in the Shadows and his experience making season one, and to find out what's in store for season two.

Can you talk a bit about your journey as an actor throughout season one?

Guillén: It was interesting because we cross-shoot the season. What that means is that we might be shooting episode one and then episode four. So we don’t shoot the actual series in order. And for me, as an actor, just to get Guillermo fluid with the whole season was kind of a challenge because it would jump around. Also, [the writers] really try to keep it as authentic and in-the-moment as possible, so they don't tell you what the next storyline is. You don't know what's going on in [episode] eight that's led to [episode] nine, for example. They were really secretive about it, even with the actors.

I didn't find out about what happened to Guillermo until the season finale, so the whole plot twist — which was a great cliffhanger — took me by surprise too. I didn't find out until we were literally about to go to table read. Because you have to remember that [although] the show is a mockumentary, it still has to feel organic and real. And if you do too much ahead of time, your mannerisms might be different and your approach might be different when you're acting. But I really enjoyed it because it kept me on my toes as an actor, so that was fun.

Jemaine Clement and Taika Waititi, who of course were in the original film, play a more behind-the-scenes role on the show. But a large part of what makes the show so good is also the chemistry between the cast. Can you talk a bit that chemistry and how you came to be involved in the show?

Guillén: I would have to say [the chemistry] just came naturally, because we never had a chemistry read. I auditioned for this by accident — it was January of 2018 and they had been auditioning for three months already, and my friend who was in town from New York called me and said, "Hey, come to my brother's house. We're having wine and cheese." I almost didn't go, but I got out of my pajamas and put on some clothes and went over.

It was a small group of friends, and one of them was Yvonne, whose fiancé is [producer] Garrett Basch, who works with [producer] Scott Rudin. And she got my number from my friend Mimi, and the next day she texted me and said, "Hey, I think you're really funny. You should audition for my fiancé's new show. It's called What We Do in the Shadows." So I auditioned, and then a week went by. It was Martin Luther King holiday weekend, and on Sunday I received a phone call from a sixteen-digit number. I was like, "Who's calling me?" And I pick up the phone and they go, "Is this Harvey?" And I was like, "Yes." And they go, "Hey, it's Taika and Jemaine. You auditioned for us and you're the main." And I was like, "What?! What's happening?" [laughs]

So I really got an invitation audition. But originally Guillermo was 20 years older than I am, so I wasn't even right for the role. So even if I went though the traditional audition process, I probably wouldn't even have gotten through the door. That was kind of a cool thing because I was in the right place at the right time.

Of course, one of the highlights of the first season was that vampire council scene. Can you tell me a bit about what it was like shooting that?

Guillén: That was interesting because, again, we didn't know who was going to be in that episode. Because we didn't shoot in the same room. Tilda Swinton shot in the U.K., Danny Trejo shot in L.A., Wesley Snipes shot somewhere on the East Coast. Everyone's all over the place — there's no way you could have probably gotten all those actors in the same room at the same time. So we had to shoot with variations of potential actors that were on our list. So we had different lines for Tilda and Wesley [depending on] if they were going to be there or not. So it was really interesting to shoot that cuz we had to do several takes with different variations. And that is one of my favorite episodes as well because of all the people who are in it.

It's going to be pretty hard to top that scene. What can you tell me about the fun surprises you all have in store for viewers for season two?

Guillén: I can tell you that we've already read the first three episodes, and if it's even possible — because I loved the first season — [season two] is even better, if you can even imagine. I literally laughed out loud several times reading the script. Knowing these characters and the way they talk, they have gone up to another level. I can't believe it. It almost makes me giddy thinking about it because the writing is so good. And just imagining the liberty of improvising as well — the sky's the limit. I'm really, really excited about the storyline that they have drawn out for Guillermo this year, so I'm really excited for everyone to see that.

I know you only just started shooting season two, but have there been any memorable moments from shooting so far?

Guillén: I think for me, so far, it's just watching everyone work. I love watching my co-stars work just because I love them all. I'm a fan of them, and they are so good at what they do. So I love to just watch and support. But I'm also excited that we have such great people coming to visit this season. We have Marissa Jaret Winokur — and my first Broadway show was with [her], so for me it was like full circle. I was like, "Wow, here we are." And that's just the beginning — there's so many more to come.

Last but not least, what else are you working on? And are there any other actors or filmmakers that you would like to work with in the future?

Guillén: Natalie Morales directed a great episode of Room 104 for HBO that's coming out, and I also have Little America for Apple TV [that's] out [this] spring. So I'm excited for that. Also, I have a Quibi show [called Don't Look Deeper] that's directed by a buddy of mine, Catherine Hardwicke — who I love working with — with Don Cheadle and Emily Mortimer. And as for working with anyone specific, I would love to play with Amy Sedaris because I love her comedy and I grew up watching her. So that would be my great goal, if you will. And of course, Guillermo's goal is Antonio Banderas, so that would also be mine. [laughs]

Season two of What We Do in the Shadows premieres April 15th on FX and April 16th on Hulu.

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