Earlier this month, New York Comic Con saw the very first in-person What We Do in the Shadows panel since before the pandemic began. Showrunner Paul Simms, writers Sam Johnson and Sarah Naftalis, and director Yana Gorskaya were joined by cast members Natasia Demetriou, Harvey Guillén, and Matt Berry for the discussion with Kayvan Novak joining in via Zoom. The conversation followed an early screening of the season-three episode “The Wellness Center” and — spoiler directly ahead — since this all took place prior to the death of Colin Robinson, merely hinted at the chaos to come. We talked about the making of some of the season’s biggest episodes — “The Casino,” “The Siren,” and “The Escape” — and whether Berry had ever been inside a Best Buy before filming there.
In case you weren’t there to watch the panel in person, you can read an edited excerpt from the transcript below or listen to the audio via this week’s episode of Vulture’s Good One podcast. Tune in to Good One every Thursday on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Stitcher, Overcast, or wherever you get your podcasts.
Can we talk about Nandor’s hair in “The Wellness Center”? Because that’s a pretty big deal. How was that achieved? How did it feel?
Kayvan Novak (Nandor): About my hair? Sure. Firstly, can I just say I’m so sorry I can’t be there with you; this job means the world to all of us. My hair was just a bunch of incredible wigs by our hair designer, Tamara Howard, who just wanted me to look like John Travolta. I think that was … which John Travolta movie was it?
Matt Berry (Laszlo): Pulp Fiction.
Paul Simms (executive producer and showrunner): Perfect.
Yana Gorskaya (director): Yeah, I watched a lot of Perfect.
Novak: It was a lot of fun to give Nandor a new look because he’s had his kind of, you know, Nandor look for quite a while now. It’s nice to have a bit of a change.
To me, this is an episode that seems very important this season because it deals with vampirism as a curse, which is something Nandor even says to Guillermo at one point. Can you talk about that?
Simms: In this season, especially for Nandor, he’s having a midlife crisis, which means every 350 years or so it’s halfway through. But yeah, if anyone here watches the show, you’ll remember in the casino episode him realizing from the big-bang-theory explanation that he’s not the center of the universe and neither is our world. And it’s really put him on tilt.
Yes, it seems to have had a very negative effect. Yana, you directed this episode. Can you talk about where the idea for the wellness center came from?
Gorskaya: Well, it was a fantastic script by Stefani Robinson that, as soon as I read, I knew I needed to do and hustle in any way to try and get my name on there, too. But the wellness center — the whole, like, ’80s vibe, I think — came from Laura Montgomery, our costume designer, who showed us these incredible costumes for the background dancers that were based on this sort of ’80s vibe. It’s a really interesting idea that they’re sort of stuck in this era, and that completely informed all the production design.
Simms: And this episode is really a good example of what a director brings to it because in the script we wrote, it was that he goes to a place where there’s a bunch of vampires who are pretending to live as humans, and that was about as much as we said in the script. And we were like, Well, where are they? Is it a YMCA, or do they live in the countryside or something? And then when Yana and Laura started talking about it, it became this more ’80s Jane Fonda aerobicize vibe. And then it just went further.
Gorskaya: We watched so much John Travolta.
We end the episode with Nandor in a cage still dressed that way. Can we expect this to be a permanent change to his aesthetic?
Simms: No. But this episode begins the last three episodes of this current season, and we didn’t plan out originally for these three episodes to be such a big, major story of their own. But these last three episodes, I think, are my favorite of the season, and they all head in a direction and tell a story that is shocking and fun.
Harvey, you had another huge fight scene in this episode. Can you talk about what it’s been like to become an action hero?
Harvey Guillén (Guillermo): I mean, it’s pretty cool. That scene was really fun to shoot with Kayvan. We were laughing a lot because at the end, when we exit the room, he’s supposed to land on the left-hand side of the wall and the camera’s between us, and he would land on the right side and it’s like, Okay, start again. But that’s what makes it so fun doing the action scenes — because you have comedy intertwined with some kickass moves, and Tig Fong, our stunt coordinator, is amazing. And I like Guillermo’s badass side.
Will we get any more Nandor dancing? Some hard-core choreography?
Novak: I could do some for you right now, if you like. Oh, do you want me to?
Novak: I’m in my pants. [He dances over Zoom for the Comic Con audience.] And I’m done!
I’d really like to talk about “The Cloak of Duplication,” which was another big episode. Yana, you directed this one as well, and Sam, you wrote on this one. Can you tell me about how you approached it? Did you go into it thinking that Kayvan could do all these impersonations of everyone else?
Sam Johnson (writer): Yes. I mean, Kayvan’s amazing, and he has this whole other career that we haven’t fully seen. But he’s just an incredible impersonator, incredible mimic. So we were really excited to have a show where he brings that talent to bear.
Simms: A lot of the reviews and Twitter comments that came out, they said, “Oh, well, they obviously had Matt and Harvey and everyone do the voice.” And they were all wrong because it was all Kayvan doing it, except when it came to Natasia.
Natasia Demetriou (Nadja): [Does a funny voice.] You can’t imitate this. Sorry.
Simms: There’s no duplicating Natasia’s voice, but it was astonishing how well he did it. But I don’t know if he’s ever done it in front of the people he’s actually imitating. You haven’t seen the episode yet, have you, Matt?
Berry: I’m afraid not. It looked very good from what I saw back there.
Harvey, where do you think Nandor and Guillermo ended up after that talk with Meg? What do you feel is going on there with them?
Guillén: We were talking about that scene and how it was a great grounding moment for them to be honest with each other and to see the trajectory of their friendship and what they mean to each other, and we’re doing that scene like at four in the morning under a bridge in Toronto in the winter.
Speaking of filming at night in the winter in Toronto, I want to talk about werewolf kickball for a minute. Can you share some stories of how that was to film?
Simms: Well, I came for five minutes, and I’m like, It’s too fuckin’ cold here. I’m going home, and left the actors to do the rest. It was six feet of snow. Obviously, the initial idea was based on the baseball scene from Twilight. And then we realized, Well, it’s a bitterly cold winter. We can’t do that. Kickball would be more fun. We didn’t plan for the six inches of snow, but it made it look great.
Demetriou: Yeah, it was so snowy. I just stood looking at Matt, and there was just a pile of snow growing on his head.
Berry: But I got away lightly with that because everyone else had to run around in freezing conditions, and I just shouted “Bat!” and that was it. And then it’s visual effects.
Demetriou: No, it’s not. You do turn into a bat.
Berry: I do really, yeah. Sorry.
Matt, this is also the episode where you get a car. Your jalopy is in this episode.
Berry: I didn’t know what a jalopy was until I read the script. I’d never heard the word, didn’t know what it meant. I still don’t know what it means.
Was that a real car?
Simms: Yes, it was some kind of real old car.
Berry: Well, it belonged to Henry Ford, and it was given to him by Mussolini. That actual one. I didn’t want to sit in it, obviously, but I was made to.
I want to talk about “The Casino,” another huge episode. This episode felt very special. It’s another one you directed, Yana, and Sarah, you wrote it. Tell me about where this idea came from because it’s the first really big episode — even the opening is different. Can you tell me about what went into that?
Sarah Naftalis (writer): This was something that came up in the writers’ room. I think pretty early, we were just like, This is a perfect place to put vampires: There’s no sense of time; the sunlight is deliberately blocked so people spend all their money. How can we get them there? And then there’s always eyes out for how we could get [the neighbors] Sean and Charmaine in the mix. So it felt like a natural chance to put them on a road trip and get to see Sean and Charmaine’s marriage in action and downfall all at the same time.
Yana, when you were actually making this, it was during the pandemic, but that casino looks like life is just completely normal. How did you pull that off?
Gorskaya: Well, some of that is actually audience replacement. That’s VFX. So in like the big boxing scene, we didn’t actually have that many people. We had people kind of move around and tiled them so we were safer. And the cool thing about Atlantic City is it can feel a little bit more abandoned, and that feels right.
Was the Big Bang Theory slot machine real?
Gorskaya: It was. It’s a real thing. And they gave it to us.
Naftalis: You can watch people play it on YouTube.
Simms: Not only is it real, but for four months, we were preparing that episode, and we’d gotten all the legal clearances to use it. And then 48 hours before we were going to shoot the episode, we got a message from a legal department at Warner Bros. or wherever saying, “You can’t use that. You can’t refer to The Big Bang Theory. You can’t show any clips of The Big Bang Theory. You can’t do anything.” And we were like, Well, that’s like half the episode. I mean, there’s no way to replace it. It can’t be like a Cheers slot machine or something. And fortunately, Chuck Lorre himself, we reached out to him, and he was like, “No, that seems funny. That’s fine.” So that was very nice of him to help us.
Now, there’s an aspect of vampire life in this episode that fascinates me, and it’s that we see — for the first time in the show — them using hypnosis for monetary gain. Is that how the vampires support themselves regularly?
Simms: No, because this is all stuff that we talk about in circles to make sure we have the logic exactly correct. Because [Nadja’s] powers were drained from not getting any sleep and not having her ancestral dirt. She was not actually able to hypnotize the Rat Pack to get their money. She just screamed at them a lot, and that scared them into giving it to her.
But in their day-to-day lives, would that be how they support themselves?
Simms: I don’t think they have any idea how they support themselves. I think Guillermo takes care of it, and maybe Colin Robinson does some bookkeeping, and beyond that, as long as they have fresh humans to feed on, none of it matters.
One more vampire question is when the guy loses his head at the end, was that an accident, or is there some sort of vampire magic at work there?
Gorskaya: I always saw it as like the power of hypnosis, giving an extra punch in his punch.
Simms: And it happens more than you think, actually. I don’t know if you’re a fan of the sweet science, Anne, but it does. It is possible.
And Natasia, for “The Casino,” I’m interested to know how that shoot was for you because it looked very physical.
Demetriou: Oh, it was, but that’s the funnest stuff to do. And the guys who were the Rat Pack were so funny and so up for it. When we were doing this scene while I was being like, “Hello, boys,” they were like, [in a sexy voice] “Hello.” And it was so fun and amazing. And doing stuff with Marissa Winokur [Charmaine] and the girls, and with Anthony Atamanuik [Sean], it’s just funny stuff because they’re so different to us. So it’s like watching a sort of a studio sitcom when you’re watching them and then you go, Oh, right, I’m filming. Yeah, it was super-fun.
Harvey, there’s this great dinner scene in “The Casino” where there’s so much going on. How much do you think Nandor knows about what you were sharing at that table? Because the faces he’s making behind you as you’re talking —
Guillén: I think he knows more than the rest. He spends more time with me. I just think it’s a really great moment that Yana directed, and it was just really sweet and tender to have all the castmates and the housemates listen to him for the first time ever.
Like, really, I look across the table and seeing, you know, Laszlo and Nadja and Colin Robinson really genuinely trying to show interest, like, “Come on, spill the tea, stupid bitch” — it was nice to see him be like, Are you serious? You want to get to know me? And then he’s about to share maybe a really personal story and then Anthony comes with the “We got the dinner comped because we put glass in the piccata,” and it ruins the moment. But it also leads us to know that there’s more to Guillermo that we don’t know — and maybe we’ll find out.
I have another question for you, Harvey. There’s a new animal in this season, the hellhound. You seem to get the most face time with all the animal actors that come on the show. I was wondering if you could rank them by how much you enjoy working with them. They are Sam, the cat; the witch’s goat; and the hellhound.
Demetriou: Because he’s got an enchanted nut sack.
Guillén: The goat was the worst because at one point it was eating my costume. I remember I was talking to it and it was eating my costume, and we had to keep going because I was just talking to it and I was like, “Should I keep going, guys?” And they’re like, “Yeah, we gotta get the shot.” So it was eating my costume and then it wouldn’t run out down the hall, remember that?
I think we had to rebuild some of the set because he was eating part of the set, and the trainer, who was lovely, was with the clicker and is like, “Oh no, they do this all the time,” and just going click. And it wouldn’t go down the things, and they’re going, “Come on, you stupid b—,” just like yelling at this animal. We’re like, “Um …”
Demetriou: They were like, “We’re so sorry. There’s been problems with the goat. There was a lot of traffic this morning that put him in a bad mood.”
Guillén: So I would rate the goat first as worst. Then, I mean, the dog was great. There were two dogs, actually, so they were like the twins in Full House. So we had two of them, and one of them was really obedient, and the other one sometimes got a little distracted. So maybe that’s second place. The best one was the cat. I think the cat was great.
[The crowd cheers for cats.]
Guillén: Yeah, cats! The cat was the best one, and it was nice to hold because it was a winter day and it was warm. So there you have it.
I want to move on to “The Escape,” another very big episode. Yana, you directed this. Can you talk about the decision to bring the Baron back?
Berry: We didn’t. It’s CGI.
Gorskaya: Go, Paul.
Simms: We liked the idea of the Sire escaping, and we’re talking about the logic of “Well, if the Sire dies, all vampires die” in the writers’ room. Then we said, “But we can’t do that story because the Baron’s dead, and that would mean all our regular characters are dead.” Then we were like, “Well, I guess the Baron’s not dead.” We basically had Matt and Mark Proksch [Colin Robinson] have the same conversation that we had in the writers’ room. And it was so fun because Doug Jones, who plays the Baron, is so funny and so talented. And it was just amazing in that episode to watch him be funny in all the different ways that we had to do it to make it seem real. Like sometimes it’s Harvey hugging him, but the bottom half of it was a green screen. Sometimes it was a puppet. Sometimes he was sitting on a couch that had a hole cut in it.
Berry: The puppet is extraordinary, though, and many times I will be two minutes into a conversation with the puppet, thinking it’s him, waiting for a response, which obviously doesn’t come.
Simms: What we hope to do someday is give Doug the opportunity to act without 15 pounds of makeup all over him. Because he really is a great actor in real life.
Gorskaya: And never complains. Ever.
There are so many creatures in the episode “The Escape.” There are gargoyles, and there’s also the Sire himself. Can you talk about how you decided to make the Sire look like that? Because by the end, he’s kind of cute, right?
Gorskaya: We talked a lot about the Sire and how to make him initially scary but also fragile — and how to make jump scares — but then, in the end, to feel like this was maybe a lovable human at some point.
Simms: Part of it is the eyebrows and his frown. He looks like he’s just been beaten down, and you feel bad for him. But speaking of the Sire, there is another online reviewer who said, “Oh, the Sire, well, that was obviously all digital,” and I was like, Come on, do some research. That was a very talented stuntperson wearing this gigantic costume. The only thing we added digitally was the Sire’s wings, but he was scampering around and picking up Kayvan and all that stuff.
Gorskaya: And a very talented voice actor!
Simms: A very talented voice actor who’s a friend of the show.
Demetriou: It did have the wings, but maybe the CGI was getting them to flap.
Kayvan, can you talk about your showdown with the Sire? What was it like to face off?
Novak: Well, I was pretty kitted out in my inflatables, and I had the ice-hockey pads, I had the cycle helmet. It was pretty ridiculous. And we filmed it in … was it a Best Buy we filmed it in or a Canadian Tire?
Simms: That was a Canadian Tire, which is Canada’s version of Walmart sort of.
You guys have been tearing apart a few stores this season. There are a few stores that just get decimated by this. Is that a lot of fun? Like the toy store as well with the balls?
Demetriou: Yeah, that was magical. So that was all very fun filming it and blah blah blah, but what was really fun was resetting the balls back into the net. So like, the whole crew was around just chucking the balls, and I was like, I think I’m in heaven, just like being surrounded by balls. I mean, no pun intended.
And Matt, you got to go inside a Best Buy for one of the scenes in “The Siren.” Was that your first time inside a Best Buy?
Berry: It was. I didn’t know until you just said it that it was called Best Buy. I thought it was just a warehouse.
Simms: It was really important to me that when we wrote that part that it actually be a real store and not be like a fake TV store, like Jim’s Electronics or something. And it took a lot of wrangling.
Berry: It was very real. Bleak.
Simms: That’s because it was real.
Berry: It was in the middle of the night, and it was actually quite ghostly because all the things were there as they would be but in complete darkness, if you can imagine that.
And Natasia and Kayvan, you really got to work a lot together this season, obviously, as co-leaders of the Vampiric Council. Can you talk about how that’s different?
Novak: I got an email in the middle of the night from Natasia. I was like, “Hey, what’s up?” She’s like, “I think we should have more scenes together. I’d really love to work with you more. You’re such a great actor, so funny, such a great guy.” I said, “Let me speak to Paul.” Then we had an episode where we were just walking around holding hands. It was lovely. It was great to spend more time with you, Natasia. I don’t spend enough time with you.
Demetriou: It was so fun, like Matt said, to explore different dynamics with the characters. Because the way I am with Laszlo is very different to the way I am with Nandor. Actually, I’m just thinking, I just scream at both of you all the time. Maybe it’s more similar, but no, it was super-fun. And just the whole council thing was so funny — to have them be given responsibility, and they’re so stupid.
And in “The Siren,” Nadja has this really intense kind of emotional breakthrough. Is there going to be less yelling from Nadja? Because that’s my favorite part of her.
Demetriou: Oh, no, the yelling stays.
Simms: I think she just will feel better about the yelling and realize that it’s good to, you know, get it all out.
Oh, that’s good. Can you talk about the decision to make the Nadja doll walk?
Simms: When we started out the first season, we really scaled back our expectations. The first big stunt we did was when Laszlo slams his cape in the taxi door and the taxi drives away and drags him down the street. We were like, This is going to take four hours, and within about half an hour, the stuntpeople had it done. Every season, as we’ve gone on with the stunts and effects, we’ve gotten to the point where we’re sort of challenging them to see what they can’t do. We had no idea how they would make the doll walk, sword-fight, and all that. And to me, it looked amazing.
Demetriou: Do you want to know what it looked like before the VFX happened? It was two guys — not young guys — in green suits with the doll attached to their feet.
Simms: But you also have to picture that the green suits covered their heads completely.
Demetriou: It was the stupidest thing I’ve ever seen in my life. It was so funny.
This is also the episode where Scott Bakula makes an appearance. Was he on your wish list from the beginning?
Simms: From season one. There were two dumb jokes in season one, and one was that they almost moved to Pennsylvania because they thought it sounded like Transylvania, and I think we got that in in the Jackie Daytona episode. And the other one was the idea of them mistaking Scott Bakula for some kind of vampire because he obviously sounds like a vampire.
Were you really on the Zoom with him?
Demetriou: Oh, yeah, it was legit, and Kristen Schaal [the Guide] was freaking out because he’s her, like, heartthrob. We were actually on the Zoom call, and it was mainly just us in character. So it did feel very real — like we were embarrassing ourselves in front of this very successful actor.
Harvey and Natasia, can you talk about working with Scabby, the inflatable rat?
Demetriou: Yeah, that wasn’t CGI. That was real. And I didn’t know about it — I was like, Why? What’s the rat? There’s a big blow-up rat? And then I understood about protest culture in America, and it was a great day.
Simms: Well, the end part, when the rat is deflating in your company, it was real. There was a part you had to do, speaking of stupid-looking things — that was a guy with the tennis ball off the top of the pool noodle, pretending to be the rat.
Demetriou: Yeah, I had to pretend it was a rat, and it was a man with a pool noodle on his head. So that was good. Then we actually filmed the rat deflating, and we did one take where it really was crushing me and I was like, Don’t break character, don’t break character.
Gorskaya: Yeah, I was worried about you.
Guillén: Statue wasn’t there, right? That was the green thing.
Demetriou: Yes, she was just a green pole. And isn’t the statue based on Yana?
Gorskaya: That’s my mini-cameo.
We have a couple minutes left. We can take a few audience questions.
[The lights turn on, revealing a very big audience.]
Berry: Good God.
Audience member: Thank you, everyone, for the show, No. 1. I also want to let you all know that I’m from Staten Island as well, so I blame you guys for everyone asking me, “Are there vampires in Staten Island?” But my question is for Harvey. No. 1, thank you for your brown and queer representation on the show. Please be honest with me. How many sweaters does Guillermo actually own?
Guillén: Actually, Guillermo doesn’t own a lot of sweaters. I mean, we do a good job of rotating them. There are some really nice sweaters that look like some of them are vintage. There are some sweaters they got out of rotation that I really like. There was a season-two sweater that I think got put into a washer and it was wool, and we couldn’t use it again, so that one’s retired. But now this season, our amazing costume designer did a really cool Van Helsing twist to him with the vest and the long sleeves rolled up. So I would say he owns five, six go-to sweaters.
We only have time for two more questions. Let’s go over here.
Audience member: Some of my favorite episodes are the ones with werewolves. I was curious: If there’s any other mythical creature you can put into the show, what would you want there?
Simms: We’ve already started shooting season four, and there is an episode that we’ll be shooting in season four that Yana is directing that is the probably the most ambitious episode we’ve done as far as seeing the other creatures of the supernatural world. So you’re going to have to wait a little while for that, but it’s going to be amazing.
Audience member: Do you think there’s a possibility that we can see more of Jackie Daytona?
Berry: You’ll have to ask him — it has nothing to do with me.
Simms: You know, that was such a special episode and so funny that every time we discuss doing something else it’s like, How are we going to beat that? I think before the series is over, he might reappear. It’s very easy to do. It just takes blue jeans and the toothpick and so on.
Berry: That’s all it is. There he is over there. [Points to an audience member dressed as Jackie Daytona.]
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