Have the last few years made you sick of your job? Did you switch careers? You’re not the only one. On What We Do in The Shadows, the best vampire workplace comedy on TV, Guillermo de la Cruz (Harvey Guillén) just made a big career change after a decade of serving as vampire Nandor’s “familiar” — but not quite the one he was planning. Instead of being promoted to vampire status himself, Guillermo makes more of a lateral move: bodyguard of the Eastern Vampiric Council of Staten Island.
Despite his Van Helsing blood, Guillermo’s bodyguard is giving more Kevin Costner than Hugh Jackman, as a poster for the show’s third season winked at. While Nandor (Kayvan Novak) has been Guillermo’s boss — and barrier to vampiredom — for years, Guillermo spends most of his time saving Nandor from himself (or other vampires, or rearview mirrors on cars, or sunlight).
“Guillermo has to do some pretty gruesome things to satisfy his employer, and for some reason, we forgive him,” Guillén, who hosts FX’s postshow-interview series After the Shadows, tells Vulture. “He is the heart — because he’s literally the only beating human heart in the show. I think people really gravitate towards that.” As Shadows nears the end of its third season, we asked Guillén about Guillermo’s will-they-or-won’t-they relationship with Nandor, his Machiavellian evolution this season, and the importance of chosen family, even when that chosen family is a bunch of thousand-year-old vampires living on Staten Island.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
We’ve just left New York Comic Con, where we both saw a cosplayer dressed as Guillermo who thanked you for your representation of queer brown characters. I feel like Guillermo is by far the fan favorite right now.
I feel the love, from season one to now. Guillermo was the underdog, and he didn’t speak a lot, actually, in the first season. He was more there, being the familiar, and he spoke with his face. You could tell what he was thinking when he just looked at the camera.
We’re all Guillermo at one point or another in our lives. We’ve been in a job that we hate and we don’t get promoted, or we’re overlooked for promotion. Or maybe we can’t share the feelings we have for someone from afar, or have to navigate through certain waters with different dynamics in a household. I think everyone can relate to all the human emotions that Guillermo has.
I’m just waiting for Nandor and Guillermo to have a “sweep me off my feet” romance, and it’s stressing me out every moment that I don’t get to have Nandor and Guillermo making out onscreen. You can take this whatever direction you want, whether it’s to confirm my rampant shipping, or just share what it’s been like to watch these two characters follow similar trajectories, but in their very different experiences as a vampire and as a human.
I think everyone’s cheering for something to happen, whether that’s romantic or [having] some truth be told — what is their dynamic? And what is the bond that they have? I’m very blessed to have a counterpart like Keyvan, where we’re both so comfortable in the characters and Keyvan’s such a giving actor. We’re making a comedy, but at the end of the day, their story line is what grounds the humanity, because it’s a split 50-50 between someone who’s immortal and no longer is worried about time, and someone for whom the clock is ticking, and needs to either make a choice to be immortal himself, or to make a choice and live a life that doesn’t include this world.
It’s really a tough situation to be in, and it’s a fork in the road. Even when I’m reading the scripts, it feels very, “Oh my God, what’s gonna happen?” Because it’s a slow burn with them. And I think people are like, “No, do something! Either be together or not be together, or say something!” Or is one of you not into it? Or maybe it’s not even love like that? Maybe it’s a love between two males, and we normalize two males having affection for each other without making it sexualized? That could be a possibility. It’s just, what is it? I think everyone’s just eager to know, like, “Tell us what it is!”
When I watch the show, I pick up on Guillermo being queer-coded, but I’m also queer, so maybe I just am looking for it everywhere all the time.
It’s important to feel that you’re represented and feel that you’re cheering for a character that isn’t the victim, that their queer story line doesn’t define how tragic the outcome of their life is. Because we’ve seen that for so long in media, in the way that queer people are portrayed, and it’s very black-and-white. You’re either fabulous and the best friend and over-the-top, or you’re like, “Oh, he came out and then, tragically, they kill him.” It’s been so black-and-white for so long. That’s not the world we live in, and that’s definitely not the lifestyle and life that are led by our queer brothers and sisters.
I’ve always said, everyone in the show, the characters are queer, but the vampires, they have nothing to lose. They could chop your heart out or bite you or snap your neck. There’s no fear. The difference with Guillermo is he doesn’t talk about sexuality. He has this fear that’s been placed on him by society, this fear that’s been placed on him maybe by his culture, his upbringing. There’s fear that we all overcome to be our authentic selves, and that’s why it’s so freeing when that opportunity happens.
Will it happen for Guillermo? We’re yet to find out, and [is it] what we thought it was, or is it a different story? But besides that, it’s always important to have representation, to see yourself, because it encourages someone who might be in that same scenario to be like, “It’s okay, it’s going to be fine.” You have support, you have chosen family.
I’m really touched by your portrayal of Guillermo constantly babysitting these giant dum-dums who could kill each other and themselves at any given moment. Nandor can’t even walk out in the street without Guillermo reminding him to look both ways.
Even though [Nandor is] asking to be left alone, he still needs [Guillermo]. That’s another reason why Guillermo sticks around, that mentality of, “I want to help. He needs me, he needs me.” Being wanted is a feeling that some people long for. Some people have to be needed, so there’s a purpose for you in this world.
As much as Guillermo has his own dreams and aspirations, he’s made a monster, in the sense of Nandor being helpless. He could be “The Relentless,” because he never relents, but may not be the smartest in some scenarios, where he needs a human like Guillermo to get him out of a pickle. And that’s why he sticks around.
Remember, he walked away from the household at the end of season two, and decided to go back and save them. He could’ve left them; he owes them nothing. They think they owe him a life of immortality, because he wants to be a vampire, and they never saw that through, and they promised. So he could have been an asshole about it and said, “That’s not my problem.” He puts himself in the middle of a room of vampires to save the group of assholes that he’s learned to love and made into his chosen family for over a decade.
After being so demure in the first season, this is kind of Guillermo’s Machiavellian season — he’s reading The Art of War, he’s dropping things in people’s ears. What’s it been like to have this scheming Guillermo in the middle of Nadja and Nandor having no idea what they’re doing?
I like the idea that we introduce a Machiavellian approach to his technique, because he’s tried so many things for ten years: He’s tried to do things by the book, he’s tried to play by the rules, and he’s not getting anywhere. They say nice guys finish last, and he’s starting to realize modesty is a virtue, but in this world, modesty can hurt you. You need to speak up, you need to say what you’re owed, you need to be paid a certain wage, you deserve a promotion. The squeaky wheel gets the grease, and for so long, he’s been so submissive that they dismiss him, like, “Whatever, you’re always going to be there.” And I see that, sadly, in a lot of other professions.
Should I be worried about Guillermo being pushed to the dark side?
I don’t think he’ll change that drastically. At his core, he’s a good person. I also think that people are pushed to their limits, and he’s definitely been pushed to his. Whatever the outcome of that is, I think everyone would agree, “Yeah, I would have, too, if I was in his shoes.”
For so long, people are rooting for him, they get so mad. “C’mon, make him a vampire!” Or “C’mon, Guillermo, get a backbone. Come on!” People want him to take action, and I can say he definitely will start doing that, slowly and surely. But what are the repercussions of that?
As Guillermo’s character has grown, I’ve noticed that the sweaters are still in the mix, but I love all the little hints and nods toward Van Helsing. His hair has changed a lot. Guillermo looks very put-together in a different way than he used to.
You caught it; it’s the small details. The costume changes a little bit, his hair changes to the side. I think he was making himself look a certain way because for so long, he wanted to be perfect in that world. When the “promotion” happened, he wanted to look professional. He was dividing his want to be a vampire, and also the corporate world of “I work in an office, this is how you would act like an office, you’d part your hair like this.”
And confidence never hurt anybody. For so long, Guillermo didn’t feel confident in his own skin. The backstory that I give to him for my own purposes is that he was probably bullied in school, he was picked on, he was plus-size, he was Latinx, he was all these things that were usually strikes against you as told by society, and he literally was trying to change that. And then sometimes you have to realize that the strikes that you’re being told are against you are actually your strength, and your strength is what’s shining through. I think he’s coming into his own knowing, “These are my strengths and they’re badass.”