[Editor’s Note: The following interview contains spoilers for “What We Do in the Shadows” Season 3, Episode 10, “The Portrait.”]
Last week, tragedy struck “What We Do in the Shadows,” but hope springs — or crawls — eternal. After the ghastly death of Colin Robinson in Season 3’s penultimate episode, the finale reveals that the bespectacled energy vampire lives on, in the haunting new form of a toddler — though whether or not “Baby Colin” is the same creature he once was remains to be seen.
“A big part of the season we’re shooting now, Season 4, is about, ‘Is he going to inevitably grow up to be an energy vampire?'” showrunner, executive producer, and finale co-writer Paul Simms said in an interview with IndieWire. “Is he going to grow up to be exactly what he was before? Or is there a chance he can avoid that fate and mature into something brand new that’s maybe not an energy-draining form?'”
“We don’t know if he’ll be the same guy — and I don’t know that, as of yet,” Mark Proksch said. “It’s interesting. It poses some sort of psychological challenge, when I come back in character form [and have to figure out] what that will be.”
While Simms, Proksch, and co-executive producer (and finale co-writer) Sam Johnson were all careful not to spoil what’s ahead, the trio did offer a few telling details about the Season 3 finale, creature effects, and behind-the-scenes intel, including a very special “Baby Colin” gift that’s proven too disturbing to display. The following conversation has been lightly edited for concision and clarity.
First things first, what should we call this new iteration of Colin?
Paul Simms, showrunner: In the script we call him — or it — Baby Colin. But a big part of the season we’re shooting now, Season 4, is about, “Is he going to inevitably grow up to be an energy vampire? Is he going to grow up to be exactly what he was before? Or is there a chance he can avoid that fate and mature into something brand new that’s maybe not an energy-draining form?”
What drove the idea for Colin’s journey this year, kind of pushing him into this new form?
Paul: Well, part of it was our discussions in the writers’ room when we were trying to figure out how he became an energy vampire. Was he born an energy vampire? Was he turned into an energy vampire? We had endless debates about it and could never settle on any final backstory. Then we realized, ‘Well, let’s make that what’s going on with Colin himself.’ He doesn’t know how he came about. That’s what led him on the search this season.
The other [part] built into that was wanting to see Colin and Laszlo sort of become friends. But that’s so implausible — that such an annoying character and such an annoy-able character would be friends — that there had to be a really good reason for it, which we sort of secretly laid in through the whole season. It was very satisfying to hear people online halfway through the season going, “This doesn’t make any sense. Laszlo would never be friends with Colin. Why is he being so nice to him? Why is he hanging out with him?” It was very satisfying knowing that we actually had a genuine reason for it, and it was all motivated.
Mark, how did you learn about this season’s plan for Colin? Were you briefed before the season started, or finding out script by script?
Mark Proksch: Well, because of the pandemic this year, we didn’t do our traditional table read schedule. We read them all, for the most part, before we even started filming. [But] it wasn’t until a couple hours after I read the episode where I died, that my boss, Paul Simms, decided to reach out to me and let me know that I wasn’t killed off.
Mark: That’s how I found out. But I mean, I knew I wasn’t killed off. [I knew] they probably had something great in mind. A show like this is as close to a cartoon as you can get with live action. Anything can happen on our show because it’s supernatural-esque, but that’s how I found out.
Paul: I originally had this megalomaniacal fantasy of letting Mark shoot the whole season without him knowing that his character was going to die, and only telling Matt Barry the secret that [Laszlo, his character] knew [Colin was going to die on his 100th birthday]. But over the course of three days, we had table reads with all the actors of all the scripts together, and I realized we couldn’t really keep it a secret from Mark. Then when the scripts went out, I was like, “Oh shit, I really have to call him and just let him know that he’s not being written off the show and say that he’s going to have a very unusual Season 4.”
But the first audience for each episode is the actors themselves. We’ve spent so much time writing it. One of the most fun parts is when they all read it together and discover what’s happening. I did want to maintain that surprise, at least for those five people.
So after you found out the plan, Mark, did you treat filming Episode 9 as a goodbye to Colin? Or like you’d get to play him again next year?
Mark: We don’t know if he’ll be the same guy — and I don’t know that, as of yet. It’s interesting. It poses some sort of psychological challenge, when I come back in character form [and have to figure out] what that will be. I think that’s about all I can say.
Paul: We went through a lot of versions of his death in Episode 9. One thing we really wanted to make clear, since we’ve seen Colin fake his death before, is that there’s got to be something gruesome that makes [the audience] go, “Wow, he’s really dead.” That’s how we came up with Nandor basically tapping him on the head and it exploding like a pumpkin full of brain goo.
As much of a good surprise as it was, I did feel bad later in the week when I was reading some of the people on Twitter who were like, “How could they do this to us? This is too sad.”
OK, yes, talk to me about the brain goo.
Sam Johnson, Co-EP and Writer: You know what’s cool about that? The prosthetics people here at this show, [led by prosthetics designer] Paul Jones, made a head that can collapse, but it also springs back together. You could do multiple takes with it. It wasn’t like a one shot “break of a flower pot” kind of head. He built it and then filled it with slime, which is sourced from North Carolina or something, right next door from the blood people.
Mark: It’s all left over from “Double Dare” — the 1980s version, too. It has an odor.
Paul: But even in editing, as many times as I was watching it, I can’t tell the point at which Mark’s real body gets swapped out for the fake body, which I thought was cool.
Mark: But is also becoming a real issue for my career.
I hope you got to at least keep the head.
Mark: I did, but Paul Jones made me a miniature cast of my baby head as a magnet. My wife doesn’t allow me to put it anywhere.
I know it can be hard to get an early look at episodes, so have you been able to see the final version of Baby Colin?
Mark: I saw an early effects cut that Paul sent me. Other than that, I haven’t seen the finished version, not yet.
Paul: The early version he saw was a combination of three puppeteers in green body suits operating the baby, which had a stand-in head. We wanted real Mark’s head on there, digitally, [but] I think there was a lot of back and forth about how big the head should be. At one point, it seemed too big, then it seemed too small. And we wanted the right amount of wet, drippy, glistening goo on him.
Sam: There are a lot of conversations about, “Is the goo green or is there blood in it? What is the color of the goo inside Colin Robinson?”
Why is Baby Colin holding Big Colin’s glasses? This little thing crawled out of him and then grabbed the glasses off his face?
Paul: In some version, we had the baby wearing the glasses and it seemed just too corny or something. But I think it’s like that children’s book, “Are You My Mother.” [pauses] I don’t know, man. It’s an inexpressible emotional connection from whence he came or something. Boy, that’ll sound crazy.
Mark: It’s “2001!” It’s the ape throwing the bone!
Paul: Yes, use that answer. That’s a better answer.
OK, last thing: Colin said his father was “really dynamic and outgoing, kind of a RuPaul type.” Viago (Taika Waititi) warns his assistant not to record over “RuPaul’s Drag Race,” and then Guillermo (Harvey Guillén) downloads all the seasons for Nadja (Natasia Demetriou) before her trip to England. Why do vampires love “RuPaul’s Drag Race”?
Paul: That was an ad-lib from Mark that just seemed funny. But then Taika also just ad-libbed that when he was doing it, and then we added that the tape had been taped over. Then with Nadja, we thought, “Well, if you were going someplace to a new job, and you’d heard that the boss at your new job really likes RuPaul, of course, you’re going to watch every season of RuPaul to get caught up.” It’s Nadja being a smart professional businesswoman, I think. […] Also, “RuPaul’s Drag Race” is just cool.
“What We Do in the Shadows” Seasons 1-3 are available to stream via FX on Hulu. FX has already renewed the series for Season 4.