Vampires want to take over Staten Island in ‘What We Do in the Shadows’

Harvey Guillén as Guillermo and Kayvan Novak as Nandor the Relentless in FX's "What We Do in the Shadows." 
Harvey Guillén as Guillermo and Kayvan Novak as Nandor the Relentless in FX’s "What We Do in the Shadows."  Photo Credit: Jeff Bachner

In FX’s new comedy “What We Do in the Shadows,” ancient vampires lie in wait, plotting for night they can turn Staten Island into their seat of unholy, undead power in the New World — but they’re not in a big rush about it.

The series, which debuted on Wednesday night, is based on the beloved 2014 movie created by and starring Jemaine Clement (“Flight of the Conchords”) and Taika Waititi (“Thor: Ragnarok”). Fans of the original seem destined to love the new adaptation, which keeps the same basic vampire mockumentary premise, but gives a fresh take with all new characters, that are every bit as flawed, deeply insecure and as lacking in self awareness as the movie counterparts.

Our human eyes into the show’s absurd world is Guillermo (Harvey Guillén), the lone non-vampire living in the house. Guillermo is the “familiar” (servant) to Nandor the Relentless (Kayvan Novak), and he desperately longs for the day when he joins the ranks of the living dead. In a series full of great comedic performances, Guillén delivers one of the most funny, and endearing, in the early episodes. amNewYork caught up with the actor to talk about the breakthrough part.

It seems to me that Guillermo is going to be an early favorite with a lot of fans. What do you think makes him so fun?

Harvey Guillén. 
Harvey Guillén.  Photo Credit: Josue Lozada

He’s our only anchor to normality and the human world, and so I feel like everyone sees themselves in him because he is an underdog. He’s devoted so much of his time to this dream, and I think we can all relate to that. We’ve all devoted our time to maybe a relationship or a job that we hope is going to pay out, but then sometimes people don’t see you the way you see yourself, on your track.

A big driving force for Guillermo is his love of a specific vampire movie. Was that something you could relate to?

I don’t think it was with vampires necessarily, but for a while I was just really into Peter Jackson films. For Guillermo, it was watching “Interview with the Vampire” and seeing a kind of representation [Guillermo loves Antonio Banderas’ character], and I really think that representation matters. Especially as a person who is a minority, it was hard growing up and not seeing yourself represented on television, because I don’t remember kids that looked like me. I remember watching TV and there wasn’t a chubby Latino kid as a lead on a show or even as a supporting character — if they were, they were the butt of the joke.

Is this the first time you’ve acted in a mockumentary?

No — weirdly enough, I had shot an episode for “Documentary Now” season two. Growing up I was a big fan of, and just idolized, the mockumentary format. I could quote “Waiting for Guffman” all through high school and then to be in something that was mockumentary was sort of surreal and so full circle for me.

You’ve acted in several shows in the past with a supernatural bent (“The Magicians,” “iZombie”). Why do these types of roles appeal to you?

Yeah, I think that in those worlds someone like me is allowed to take on different roles that maybe aren’t traditionally given to someone like me. That’s the cool thing about sci-fi and those worlds, is that you can play anything, because there’s no rule that you cannot.

‘What We Do in the Shadows’ airs Wednesdays at 10 p.m. on FX. 

More from around NYC