One of the many brilliant things FX’s What We Do in the Shadows accomplished in its first season was introducing an Energy Vampire into the bloodsucker lexicon. This unique predator, as embodied by the pasty-faced Colin Robinson (Mark Proksch), uses every beige trick in the book to draw the life out of unsuspecting victims. As apex drainers, Energy Vampires’ weapons of choice include ultra-detailed stories about building IKEA furniture, constantly repeated "wazzups," and the dreaded “Well, actually …” In short, Colin finally gave a name to our universal torturers.
Perhaps actor Mark Proksch (The Office, Better Call Saul) lands the character so perfectly because he admits to having a natural affinity for the person whom people are trying to get away from. “Folks who disclose too much and have no gatekeeper, those are my people that I want to really hang out with,” the actor tells SYFY WIRE. “I've always been that way, since I was a kid, so this character is just that perfect nexus of my world and what the [writers] want out of me.”
In two seasons of annoying his vampire roomies, and leaving all of his human co-workers battered husks at the end of the day, Colin always found new ways to up his game. But he achieves true, peak powers in this week’s episode, “Colin’s Promotion,” in which failing upward tests his mettle both at home and in the office.
In a socially distanced phone call, SYFY WIRE connected with Proksch about the evolution of his character, what makes him sweat working on What We Do in the Shadows, and whether Colin’s match, Evie (Vanessa Beyer), will return.
Now that you’re playing a professional Energy Vampire, has it honed your observational skills to glean potential Colin Robinson-level inspiration from real life?
Yeah, I write down stuff constantly. It'll either be a person that I've met or something I've read in a book that I want to expand on while I'm going off on an improv tangent during filming. Or a reference in a movie or a TV show, I'll write down the exact time that it takes place in the movie or I'll record it on the TV show.
With a season of the show under your belt, did the writers ask you to do anything different for Season 2?
I guess the difference from Season 1 to Season 2 is, they will give me a jumping-off point just like they did in Season 1, but they won't expand much on it. They'll know that I'll just do my thing and talk and bore people like I'm doing right now. [Laughs.]
But they've loosened the reins just a little bit. They were already very loose in Season 1 for all of us. A lot of times what happens is we'll have to tell Jemaine Clement or the director that we think what's written is funnier than anything we're coming up with. That happens quite often.
Speaking of Jemaine, he’s directed both of Colin’s spotlight episodes, “Werewolf Feud” and “Colin’s Promotion.” Does he have a soft spot for your character?
We haven't really talked about why he keeps choosing the Colin episodes, but I really, really enjoy getting to have him direct me. He's also a comedic actor, so I get double the input from him than I do from just a [standard] director. He's also a very, very funny individual, and he'll come up with stuff that I would never have thought of. You don't always get that with just a straight director. And it just makes me look so much better, to be honest with you. [Laughs.] Whenever I get an episode, and it's him, we have a lot of fun. We get along really well, just in general, for two somewhat introverted comedians. And that's not always the case. Sometimes there's a lot of silence. With him, we can sit and talk, and I really enjoy that.
How do you react when you crack open a script and you see a lot of Colin time?
I start to fret, to be honest with you. I go through the script and I write down a lot of little notes of either possible improvs or "How do I do this and not make it over the top?" Not make it too corny, or too broad. I always worry that people will get tired of the character. You don't want to become one-note. As a fan of TV, I've always despised when the writers or the actors throw the character under the bus and just indulge what the fans want based on feedback. And so, for me, it's always a balancing act when I get an episode that highlights Colin Robinson.
What moments in “Colin’s Promotion” really delighted you?
The moment where I'm going to the office, which is in the promo, and I'm sucking the energy out of people by just saying one line was really funny to me. The extras on set did such a great job with that. Any time I get to interact with my roommates is always fun. That's our favorite, when we're just in a room together and talking like it’s any roommate comedy.
The house vampires are always mean to you, but in this episode at one point I was like, “Do I actually have some sympathy for the Energy Vampire?”
I hope you're not the only one that feels like that! I mean, that's kind of what we were going for. [Laughs.]
Since the cast is so international, when do you get to do the table reads for the episodes?
All the table reads are on set, so we don't see them or even know anything about them until we read them. That's how [showrunner] Paul Simms runs it. And it's a smart move, because actors can notoriously be very input-y about their territory. I'm sure he learned long ago it's probably not best to have the voices of these actors coming in and telling you, “Oh, I don't think this will work for my character” and that type of junk. We get it a couple of days before shooting, and that's our table read. It’s when we find out what's going to be happening, which is exciting, to be honest. When you're up in Canada for three months and the only people you've talked to are the cast and crew, you're in this little bubble, so it's one facet that is still exciting for us, to find out each week what we're going to be doing.
Is it easy to break you, or are you tough to make laugh during scenes?
I'm pretty good, but I'm a generous laugher. I really am. But I'm pretty good about not breaking. All of the cast is really good with improv, but I've broken with each one of them. I think the one or two that get me the most would be Natasia Demetriou and then Matt Berry. Any time someone's angry at Colin Robinson, it makes me laugh. And the stuff they write for Matt Berry when he's mad at me, it's so funny to me.
I have to ask, Colin has a Will & Grace mug on his desk. Is that a tip of the hat to Vanessa Beyer, who was in the last season of that show?
No, that's just part of his camouflage that says, “I'm a normal person and I like normal things like the rest of you.” [Laughs.]
Have there been conversations about Evie coming back to Colin Robinson's world?
I really adore Vanessa, and we knew each other a little bit before she was on the show. I definitely was pushing for that. But by the time we got to set this year, the season was already [written]. They knew where they were taking each of our characters, and it just didn't make sense with the story arcs that we were all going on this season.
With half of this season left, what can we expect regarding the overall arcs for everyone?
We each have an episode spotlight, but the season arc is definitely focused on Guillermo and his inner turmoil of wanting to be a vampire even though his ancestor was Van Helsing. And so that's definitely the predominant story arc. I have kind of the spotlight this week, Colin Robinson, but each week they definitely service each of the characters.
Why do you think this show is resonating so well with audiences?
We're lucky because we're a silly comedy and we don't have to service too many storylines. We can just be funny. And I think especially right now, and I was saying this before the pandemic started, people want just a silly show.
What’s your personal favorite episode this season?
I really liked the “Ghosts” episode. The Mark Hamill episode is a really funny one. And then the finale is great. They really dial it up for the finale.
What We Do in the Shadows Season 2 drops new episodes on Wednesdays at 10 p.m. ET on FX, and is available the next day on FX on Hulu.