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Harvey Guillén Transcends Sidekick Status on ‘What We Do in the Shadows’

The actor speaks with IndieWire about Guillermo’s growing confidence, tragic love story, and shocking finale cliffhanger.

A man in a white shirt and suspenders stands next to a large candle in a room full of candles; still from "What We Do in the Shadows"

Harvey Guillén in “What We Do in the Shadows”

Russ Martin/FX

It should be one of the most famous TV casting stories out there. Two days before production began on “What We Do in the Shadows,” Harvey Guillen, now known for playing the vampires’ human servant Guillermo, wasn’t in pre-production — in fact, he hadn’t even been cast.

“It was Martin Luther King weekend, on a Sunday, and I knew they started production that Tuesday,” Guillén told IndieWire over Zoom. “I booked it on a Sunday afternoon, through Taika [Waititi] and Jemaine [Clement]. I had to call my agents and tell them that I booked it — they didn’t even call them, they called me directly and one day later I was in a fitting and the next day I was on set.”

Guillen was one of the only actors auditioned from the United States, the other being contenders for Mark Proksch’s role as energy vampire Colin Robinson. But when a mutual friend at a wine and cheese night put him in touch with Allison Jones, Guillen sent in a tape.

“I was the wild card,” he said. “That was the first time they all — FX and Taika and Jemaine and Paul [Simms] and Stefani [Robinson] and everyone had voted unanimously on actor for the character, but then I was going to have to test. And then weeks went by and I never heard anything.”

The rest is Staten Island vampire manor history. Guillén became Guillermo, the human familiar to vampire Nandor (Kayvan Novak), who turns out to be descended from vampire hunters. Over the course of four seasons, Guillermo has gone from an adorable sweater-wearing vampire doormat to a bodyguard, confidante, fall guy, and casual nightclub profit embezzler. At the end of Season 4, he’s done waiting for Nandor and the others to suddenly treat him with respect, and offers cash to an old friend outside the manor to turn him into a vampire.

A young man with glasses in a striped sweater and dark green coat looking somber in a store; still from "What We Do in the Shadows"

Harvey Guillén in Season 1 of “What We Do in the Shadows”

Russ Martin/FX

It’s the kind of snap that makes Guillermo not only a fan favorite, but the de facto moral compass and emotional hook of “Shadows.”

“Everyone can see themselves in Guillermo,” Guillén said. “He’s the only human in that group. But more importantly, he’s the only one who’s going through these everyday motions that humans go through — being promoted or demoted, losing love, having a secret, having dreams, aspirations — everything that we do as humans every day Guillermo has done in the last four seasons of the story line.”

The finale cliffhanger is not a random decision by any means. Guillermo and Nandor’s relationship with Nandor has improved, but the vampire still struggles to see past his own interests and wounds Guillermo beyond reprieve in Season 4, Episode 9, “Freddie.” Guillermo’s English boyfriend (Al Roberts) comes to visit, and Nandor is so taken with him that he commands his djinn (Anoop Desai) to turn Nandor’s wife Marwa (Parisa Fakhri) into effectively a Freddie clone. By the end of one of “Shadows”’ most perverse episodes, both Freddies have dumped their respective partners and ended up together.

“It was so sad to see that he has been such a loyal familiar to this man, to this vampire, and then for him to not even consider his feelings,” Guillén said. “Because it’s true, you would hate to be in Guillermo’s shoes, and as we often see ourselves in his shoes, that is heartbreaking. It’s like, give this guy a break already! Give Guillermo a fucking break.’”

Though it ends tragically, even the Freddie debacle is representative of Guillermo coming into his own over the years. The character’s sexuality was never stated explicitly, but understood as the writers built him out and got to know Guillen himself. They then used the year between Seasons 3 and 4 to give Guillermo a love interest and imply that he was living more openly during his year in London.

“Everyone’s coming out story is different,” Guillén said. “Being queer myself and openly queer, it was never said that that’s what the character was going to be, but it was kind of hinted at. As the years went by, we finally came to a place where the time for Guillermo to do it — and he did out of necessity.”

Two men enjoying pretzels from a pretzel cart; still from "What We Do in the Shadows"

Harvey Guillén and Al Roberts in “What We Do in the Shadows”

Russ Martin/FX

In Season 4, Episode 7, Guillermo comes out to both his human and vampire family. He does it as a distraction, to stop his Van Helsing descendant family from harming Nadja (Natasia Demetriou). The vampires couldn’t care less about Guillermo’s sexuality, given their own narcissism and sexual fluidity, and his family had figured as much. They’re more shocked that he wants to be a vampire, their sworn enemy.

It’s a cleverly subversive coming out scene, like anything else on “What We Do in the Shadows.” Guillen likes to think of it less as coming out than “letting in.”

“It wasn’t like I popped out of a box and said ‘Surprise!’” he said. “It’s never a surprise to them. They already knew, they’re just not comfortable enough to let you in,” Guillén said. “I let you in and what you do with that is up to you and it’s vulnerable, it’s very precious. I trust you enough, I love you enough to let you in on something that’s personal to me.”

It’s expected for TV characters to evolve throughout a series, but Guillermo’s arc has been particularly impressive, and one of the most gratifying parts of the role for Guillén. The character is remarkably quiet in Season 1, relegated almost to the background as he waits for his turn or a chance to serve his master. On paper, he didn’t even have a last name until Guillén asked for one, coming up with de la Cruz (“of the cross”) on-the-spot for Clement — a name that fit perfectly with the background Guillén didn’t even know at the time.

Guillén is fresh off the release of “Puss in Boots: The Last Wish” and had supporting roles in various TV shows throughout 2022, including Netflix’s “Kung-Fu Panda: The Dragon Night” and “Harley Quinn.” He’s got more “Shadows” on the horizon, but wants to do it all — rom-coms, musicals, action (he does most of his own stunts on “Shadows”).

“I like when fans come to cons and they say, ‘I didn’t even know that was you!’” he said. “That’s the whole point of being an actor: You create a new person. That is your job is to bring life to a new person. And if it’s done right, then how lucky and how great it is to feel accomplished in doing so.”

“What We Do in the Shadows” is streaming on FX via Hulu.

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