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Four vampires and a Familiar walk out of a house in Staten Island… Have you heard this one before? Hopefully, you have because it's essentially the setup for the small screen spin-off of Taika Waititi and Jemaine Clement's 2014 mockumentary, What We Do in the Shadows.
The film and the FX television series share the same name, and universe, but the small screen story features a brand-new gaggle of bloodsuckers who landed in Staten Island 100 years ago and just kinda stayed there. They live together in an impossibly Goth house, and annoy the hell out of one another. Matt Berry and Natasia Demetriou play the married couple, Laszlo and Nadja, Kayvan Novak is the ancient Nandor, from the Ottoman Empire, and Mark Proksch is Colin the Energy Vampire. And Nandor's Familiar, played by Harvey Guillén, is the extremely affable human, Guillermo, who hopes to one day be turned.
Together, the actors have already achieved their own magic alchemy, be it Nadja and Laszlo's hilarious snipping, or Nandor's fussiness over everything, or just their group loathing of roomie, Colin. SYFY WIRE collected the gang (sans Berry who was working in Europe) to reveal their audition tricks and why working for this show has been such paradise for comedians.
Let's start with how this series is born from the film, but it already feels distinct and its own thing. Did you think that would take more time?
Natasia Demetriou: It's Jemaine and Taika's thing that they do. They like make it their own. Everything they do is so distinct.
What was the spark on the page that most influenced how you approached your audition?
Kayvan Novak: When I read the script for the pilot, it was just all on the page. From it, I decided on what kind of accent I wanted to do. It just felt really good. And they were like, 'If you want to wear fangs for the audition, you can."
Demetriou: Did you wear fangs?
Novak: Yeah, I wanted to wear fangs.
Demetriou: You know, I tried to get fangs but I couldn't get any from Angels [Costumes]. They were all out.
Novak: That's where I got mine from! I got the last pair. (Smiles). I did my hair and put my fangs in, and did my audition just before my birthday. It was a lot of fun in the audition. It just felt right. It felt good and my dreams came true.
Harvey Guillén: I went in thinking that I was too young for it because Guillermo was 20 years older in the script. But that happens a lot when you go in for something that you don't think you're right for. You just go in and say, 'How about this?' And, you go in and present it with a different pair of eyes and they liked it because I'm here. And like, what I wore to the audition, exactly to the glasses and the hair, the part and tucking in the shirt, they replicated the outfit in the series.
Mark Proksch: You know, for me it was more of just figuring out the character. What do they want? Once I had that, then I started to feel comfortable enough to go off on my own a little bit and create the character a little bit more while we were filming. I watch lot of old TV and movies, so in the pilot, I'm very much Floyd the barber from The Andy Griffith Show. I lose a little bit of that through the rest of the series, but it's still there. (Laughs)
Weirdly, all of your characters are relatable despite their odd ways. What did you key in on?
Guillén: I feel like Guillermo represents all humans. We all long to move up the ladder, corporate or wherever you work at. You work hard, and you pay your dues, but sometimes you don't get what you want. Unfortunately for him, and a lot of people who can relate to him, he has to find other ways of getting what he wants because you play by the book and then it doesn't pan out. So, he's going to have to do things differently.
Proksch: There's two specific people, that I cannot name, from when I was working in offices back in the day [that inspired Colin]. It got to the point where in the mornings I had to ask them, 'I'm just not a morning person. Could you please not come by my office in the morning?' And they obliged, but boy, I mean, they really do take the energy out of you. (Laughs)
When you landed the roles, what was the biggest learning curve working for Jemaine and Taika when they directed episodes?
Novak: For me, the learning curve was working with Jemaine, who I hadn't met yet. It was how they like to work and how they are constantly thinking on their toes and coming up with new ideas. Then, telling you the new ideas and then the next day you implementing the new ideas into the next take. We were kinda running a gauntlet. I found it quite stressful, but it was exciting and new and scary.
Demetriou: There is a lot to live up to. You know, It's Jemaine and Taika. It was shocking how much freedom we had, as well. Obviously, it was very scripted, but they do a lot of improv passes. I think that was quite daunting. By the end of filming, I felt it was my second language. I knew exactly what to expect. You do a pass with the script, then you do then another pass where it's a bit looser. Then, someone comes up with an idea and they will be like, "Let's push that more." You get so used to it. Definitely at first it was quite daunting and just like that terrible thing that happens when you are told to think of something funny and all you can think about is bums. (Laughs)
Novak: Bums are funny.
Demetriou: Bums are, to be honest, are always funny. (Laughs)
What was the best comedy note you got from working on the series?
Novak: Think smaller. Do less. Not so big.
Proksch: It was lean more into the improvising than just reading [the script]. There's been times when I had to say to Jermaine, "You know, you guys wrote this really, really funny…Can we just do this?" And usually the note is, "Be even looser."
Guillén: One night, we were going on like 16 hours, and it was the last take. We were melting into our chairs, and then eventually, everyone was just like, 'This is it.' So we did it and actually I got the biggest laugh of the day. That was because you gave it your all, you know, running on fumes. You're like, 'Ugh,' and then you do it and it's hilarious.
Are you playing towards an arc with your character over the season?
Demetriou: I'm teaching Jenna to be a vampire and it's just a fun thing to play. I am the idiot in that situation. What weird 600-year-old vampire woman thinks this is a motherly role?
Novak: I think each episode was a new adventure for me to go on. I have an arc with Harvey. He desperately wants to be a vampire.
Demetriou: I feel like you have an arc! Maybe, I'm projecting but Nandor thinks that he is this big leader, and then I feel like his confidence in that gets beaten. He goes and tries to find where he is from, and I just feel your character is slowly trying to regain what you lost over the years
Novak: That's why he kills himself in the middle of season two. (Smiles)
Demetriou: And that it how I am trying to plan to get me some more screen time. (Smiles back)
Proksch: I feel like with Colin both wants to be accepted and wants them to hang out with him, and be friends with them, but at the same time, he can't. We'll be touching on a little bit of that dichotomy between him wanting to have relationships, but not being able to. I think that's something that he struggles with a little bit.
What We Do in the Shadows airs Wednesdays at 10PM on FX.