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‘Shadows’ cast faces foiled dreams, failed businesses and a coming out story

The cast of "What We Do in the Shadows" poses for a portrait on set.
The stars of “What We Do in the Shadows”: Kristen Schaal plays the Guide, from left, Kayvan Novak as Nandor, Harvey Guillen as Guillermo, Mark Proksch as Colin Robinson, Natasia Demetriou as Nadja, Matt Berry as Laszlo.
(Russ Martin/FX)

Over the course of three seasons, the FX series “What We Do in the Shadows” has been reliably hilarious and gory, as any self-respecting vampire mockumentary should be. Season 4 kept the bloody humor flowing by taking its main characters to new heights of self-delusion, self-absorption and even a little self-growth.

Season 4 sees the roomies reunite a year after the Season 3 finale flung them around the world. Nandor the Relentless (Kayvan Novak) searches for love among his dozens of previous wives. After energy vampire Colin Robinson (Mark Proksch) died, and a baby emerged out of the shell of his body, Laszlo (Matt Berry) has embraced the fatherly urge to raise him to be as interesting as inhumanly possible. Nadja (Natasia Demetriou) thirsts to open a vampire nightclub, and nothing will stop her, even when the blood sprinklers are on the fritz. The Guide (Kristen Schaal), a Vampire Council administrator, becomes her wary partner. And Nandor’s familiar, Guillermo (Harvey Guillén), who wants to be a vampire despite his Van Helsing heritage, has become all too familiar with the group’s disdain.

Now shooting their fifth season in Toronto, most of the cast members gather by the light of the Zoom from their separate hotel rooms (Demetriou is out with the flu and catches up by phone later) to reflect on the season’s machinations.

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“The writers do a great job of mixing it up so it doesn’t feel we’re watching the same thing every time,” says Demetriou. “These characters are all such selfish, horrible people, so it’s fun to do the stuff where they’re all out for themselves. To me the most important thing about this show is that it’s a true, unapologetic comedy.”

Adds Novak, “Somehow our characters reflect our real-life dynamics, and that feeds into the show. And then Kristen turns up and just ruins it all.”

The vampire mockumentary series was a surprise Emmys 2020 comedy series nominee, but don’t look for hidden meaning behind the fun, say its writers.

Schaal started on the show’s first season in a cameo that has since evolved into a starring role. “I never know when I’ll be dropped off the show,” she says, “and I think you can see that hunger in my performance.”

The fourth season gave the Guide more of a backstory and a new role as businesswoman. “Whenever you can get a sweet arc from demons, it’s unexpected, and that’s what makes it more endearing in a way,” Schaal says. “The fun I’ve been having on the show with the Guide is knowing she is a mythological character, she’s lived hundreds of years, so that’s been such a freedom, whatever choice I make about her.”

Opening the nightclub was “easily the most excited I’ve been about a story arc to date, it allowed so much crazy stuff to happen,” Demetriou says. “A nightclub felt like the perfect fit for those characters; it’s somewhere that vampires would hang out, it’s dark and debauched, it’s horny and bad, it’s immoral at times. And Laszlo becoming like a pushy showbiz mom was super fun.”

Baby Colin grows the most over the course of the season, as Proksch’s face is superimposed over a rapidly growing child’s body, requiring him to act mostly by himself against a greenscreen. Asked if he missed the group, he deadpans, “No, not particularly,” before adding, “Of course I missed these guys. It was definitely something new for me to try out, and it was a bit of a challenge that breathed some new life into the character. I haven’t been a child in a long time, so I went on YouTube and looked up children having crying fits, and kids droning on. Paul Simms, our showrunner, sent me some audio of his kids talking about their favorite toys, and that helped a lot, getting down the timing. I wanted it to seem realistic instead of just, ‘Oh, there’s an actor playing a kid and winking at you at the same time.’”

For all his turgid swagger, Laszlo reveals his tender side as Baby Colin’s faux daddy, a job made more challenging since Berry mainly worked opposite an assortment of child actors with dots on their faces. He found it difficult “for about 10 minutes, then you get used to it. They’re obviously very nervous, because it’s alien, it’s a very odd thing for them to do, so you’re doing your best to make them not so nervous. There’s all sorts of things around, rats and other creatures, and you don’t want to add any tension, so you just sort of get on with it and make it as light as you can.”

The relentlessly narcissistic Nandor spends much of the season using a Djinn (Anoop Desai) to make a series of terribly rash wishes come true. But the worst is when, jealous of Guillermo’s happiness with his first boyfriend, Nandor turns his new wife into said boyfriend’s replica. “Going to that extreme created some scenes for me and Harvey to play that I really enjoyed,” Novak says. “I suddenly had to accept that ‘Oh, my God, I’ve hurt Guillermo, and I’m responsible, I’m nearly going to admit it to myself that I might have done something s—.’ Not quite, but just enough to make it really interesting to play.”

Over the course of the series, Guillermo has transitioned from sad sack to badass. Guillén credits Emmy-winning costume designer Laura Montgomery with aiding that evolution. “She always does a really good job of changing his look just a little bit. He’s now more comfortable in his skin, so his bodyguard outfit is more fitted. He unbuttons the top button.”

This season, Guillermo becomes even more true to himself when he comes out to his family. “Being queer myself, it was a little bit triggering when I was reading the episode,” Guillén says. “But it was a really sweet moment for Guillermo, because both his chosen family and his biological family were going to destroy each other, and Nadja was in danger, and the only reason he came out was to protect her.”

For all its absurdity, the show can be oddly touching, which is perhaps key to its enduring appeal. “In all the best comedies there is heart, and stuff to care about,” Demetriou says. “But they always manage to undercut the sincere moments with a joke.”

One such moment comes after baby Colin reverts to his former deadly dull self, and a forlorn Laszlo plays “Sunrise, Sunset” on the piano. As the credits roll, Nadja sings along with great feeling and no audible musical ability. “So that’s more emotionally worrying than it is sad,” she says. “It’s more like, ‘Oh, Jesus Christ, why does this person sing like that?’”


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