Following an unexpected death, the show’s central group of vampires travels to an underground tribunal to await judgment. There, Nandor (Kayvan Novak), Nadja (Natasia Demetriou), and Laszlo (Matt Berry) stumble on a massive collection of iconic, vampiric figures in the form of actors and actresses who have played blood-sucking immortals across film and TV. Tilda Swinton, Evan Rachel Wood, and Danny Trejo are just a few of the folks who pop up playing befanged versions of themselves.
“From talking about in the writer’s room, having the very first idea, to finishing it, was almost a year-long process. When we first talked about it last April, it seemed like such a big idea that it was going to be the season finale,” executive producer/co-showrunner Paul Simms told IndieWire. “The more we talked about it, Jemaine [Clement] was like, ‘Why don’t we move it up to the middle of the season?’ Because no one expects the big thing to happen in the middle of the season.”
That “big thing” also included bringing back Clement and Taika Waititi to reprise their characters from their 2014 film that ended up inspiring the series. The pair have worked extensively behind the scenes on the series, with Clement writing and Waititi directing multiple episodes apiece. In the lead-up to the season, both wanted to preserve the surprise of when their characters Viago and Vladislav would pop up again. Making their grand re-entrance meaningful was part of the episode’s challenge.
“If I was just a fan, I would have been disappointed to get through the whole first season without them in it at all,” Simms said. “It was important for me as a fan to not have people who love the movie go, ‘Oh, they just passed it off to someone else and are trying to cash in with a spinoff.’ It was as much a labor of love for them as the movie was.”
Swinton ends up carrying much of the trial scene as the unofficial mediator between all sides. Simms was surprised by just how well she fit into the tone of the series, even while handling the extra metalayers of the joke. “She’s a great actress, but I don’t think of her being so comedic. But she just dove right in and was adding stuff left and right and being so funny,” Simms said.
Not only was it a logistical challenge to have all the guest stars seem like they were all in the same room, the show also had to make sure that the laughs also came with a legitimate way to advance the story of the series.
“We went through lots of iterations of that scene. You want to keep in every funny part that everyone did. Then we looked at it and said, ‘Hold it. Are we forgetting what the story we’re telling here is?’ So we trimmed it back,” Simms said. “There was a point in the last stage, where a few more famous vampires — I won’t say who they were — became available and we thought, ‘Do we want to do one more day of shooting and put even more famous vampires in this? At this point, it’s also too many and it’s going to slow the story down and detract from everyone else.'”
Wesley Snipes did manage to drop in on the fun, filming his part for a webcam gag that becomes part of the on-screen trial. When his contribution became a possibility, that meant setting up an intercontinental shoot.
“He seems like such a serious person, but he just was so funny and gave so many variations. I wish we could put together an extended version [with] him on Skype,” Simms said. “We had him talking to a computer, but we also had a GoPro and an iPhone camera shooting at the same time so we would have a good visual image. But the person he was talking to on the computer was Jemaine, who was in New Zealand, directing him over Skype. It was a very weird situation but it was very fun.”
If this vampire summit was a bolt from the blue, Simms promises that what the show has cooked up for the finale won’t be coming out of nowhere.
“The finale is really cool,” Simms said. “There are two stories that there have been little hints and Easter eggs and clues at that you didn’t even realize were clues until you see the finale.”
“What We Do in the Shadows” airs Wednesday nights at 10 p.m. on FX.