Harvey Guillén plays the lovable familiar Guillermo on “What We Do in the Shadows,” FX’s mockumentary horror-comedy series following a group of vampires living in Staten Island, N.Y. It’s a role he has made his own in many ways.
A key scene in the Season 2 finale took viewers inside Guillermo’s family home, a warm and cozy apartment with food on the stove and a concerned parent. From making sure that the prop dessert, buñuelos, were regionally accurate to his character, to the casting of an actor of Mexican descent as his mother, Guillén was determined make sure his character’s life and heritage was fully realized. He even chose Guillermo’s last name, a serendipitous decision that would tie into his character’s backstory and relation to legendary vampire hunter Van Helsing.
Here, Guillén speaks with Variety about bringing a Mexican-American character to life in the genre and what to expect in Season 3.
What was your relationship to the horror and comedy genres before your role in the series?
I’m more a fan of documentary or mockumentary style comedy [like] “Waiting for Guffman,” “Best In Show,” “For Your Consideration” — those Christopher Guest movies. Now being a part of “Shadows” has made that opportunity a reality.
You mastered the “Jim Halpert stare,” giving a perfectly exasperated look right into the camera. How did you get the timing of that down?
Guillermo is the only human in the household. So, as much as the vampires know that there’s a documentary crew following them, they forget, because there’s no consequences to their actions. He was just connecting to another human being, which is the camera.
How does it feel bringing a Hispanic character to life in a genre show?
It was a great honor to create the character from the floor up. Guillermo was 20 years older when I auditioned for him. He didn’t have a last name. And I gave him his last name De la Cruz by asking, “Can I give him a last name? I feel like he’s not whole if he doesn’t have a last name.”
One of the things I like most about the show is its fantastical production design, but I was actually really struck by the design of Guillermo’s house. I know a lot of other Latinx viewers saw themselves in that space. How did you approach those scenes?
I’m glad that you said that because that scene meant so much to people who saw themselves on screen in that moment. I have people who reached out who said, “That felt like I was talking to my mom. He said, ‘Amá.’” Even the smallest thing like when you call your mother amá, an endearing way of saying mother. You wouldn’t know that unless you yourself have lived that. To have somebody say, “Whoa, I felt like I was in a living room of somebody I know,” that means a lot to me, even down to the buñuelos.
We can say it until we’re blue in the face: representation does matter. When you see yourself on screen, you feel validated, you feel seen. And for so long, I didn’t see those family storylines. I didn’t see a brown, round and proud — as I like to call myself — kid on screen.
Something that often goes unremarked upon in the show is that these characters are all pretty sexually fluid. What’s it like to work on a show that has that sense of quiet progressiveness in its representation of queer characters?
It’s just part of their everyday life, or I guess after life. It’s normalized. Nandor and Laszlo go into a room together and finish each other off because they didn’t get to finish in the evening when they were with their respective partners.
Viewers left Guillermo on a cliffhanger last season where he’s embracing his inner vampire hunter. What was it like to shoot those action scenes?
The stunt coordinator and our producers are like, “Do you feel comfortable with doing a little bit of handwork?” And then it balloons into, “Do you feel comfortable throwing this wooden stake? Do you feel comfortable killing these two vampire twins? Do you feel comfortable jumping out of a third story window?” And it’s like, “Sure, why not?”
What can viewers expect from Guillermo’s storyline in Season 3?
I can say one thing for sure: Everyone has their limits. Everyone can be pushed to the limit until they can’t take anymore. And I think that you will see that this season with Guillermo.
If you could be the familiar to any famous on-screen vampires, who would you choose?
I would become familiar for any of the vampires in “Interview with the Vampire.”
“What We Do in the Shadows” Season 3 premieres Sept. 2 at 10 p.m. on FX.