With ‘What We Do in the Shadows’, Harvey Guillén Finally Feels Seen: ‘We Are All Guillermos’

TheWrap Emmys Magazine: “Growing up, I didn’t see myself represented on screen and I thought it was impossible for me to be on television,” the actor said

This story about Harvey Guillén and “What We Do in the Shadows” first appeared in the Comedy & Drama Series issue of TheWrap’s awards magazine.

Move over Buffy, there’s a new vampire slayer in town. At the end of Season 2 of FX’s hit comedy “What We Do in the Shadows,” it was revealed that long-suffering mortal familiar Guillermo, played to perfection by Harvey Guillén, came from the famous vampire hunting family lineage of Van Helsing. To say that this bit of genealogy put a cramp on his relationship with his boss and his dreams of becoming an undead bloodsucker is putting it lightly.

Season 3 offered up a new glimpse of the character, one with growing confidence and prodigious protection skills that allowed him a new opportunity to prove his worth, both to the world and to himself. With Season 4 dropping in July, fans are anxious to see where Guillermo’s journey takes him next.

Tell me a little bit about Guillermo’s transition from wallflower to vampire slayer.

It’s kind of great. We’ve seen him evolve in the last three seasons and now into a fourth season. If you think about it, in the first season he was just there as our eyes and ears. He represented what the audience was reacting to in front of the camera, since we’re making a documentary. He reacted to everything that was human nature to react to, which was how ridiculous the vampires are. 

The choices the vampires make, they forget that while they have no repercussions for their actions because they’re immortal, he’s a mortal who still lives and abides by the law. He’s done a lot of things and he’s guilty by omission for a lot of things, but we root for him because he represents the everyday working person who is getting put through the wringer and having to do mundane tasks for their boss. And it sometimes feels that way when you work for a company that makes you jump through hoops. You’re like, “Gosh, you might as well ask me to commit murder.”

So when we see Guillermo, we root for him because we’re rooting for ourselves. We are all Guillermos.

Do you think in his heart of hearts Guillermo still wants to ultimately become a vampire? Or have his genetic roots muddied that fantasy for him?

In his heart of hearts, he wanted to be a vampire because he saw that as an aspirational life. Growing up, he was bullied and spent a lot of time watching old VHS videos of movies like “Interview With the Vampire.” All those movies looked so glamorous and he longed for a life that he could be excited about and proud of. For him, that meant becoming a vampire. Unfortunately, it’s not happening any time soon. He’s now spent 13 years devoted to a master who does not seem like he’s going to be making him a vampire.

But now he’s been promoted to bodyguard. And it’s great to see that he’s found that sometimes you’re more powerful than you think. He finds out he’s a Van Helsing and that puts him in a different place. He has more power than he thinks. And that’s a message to everyone. Sometimes we think we’re powerless in a relationship or in a job, but you have power. There’s power in walking away. There’s power in saying “No.” And he’s reminding all of us of that as the seasons go by.

Guillermo is not the stereotypical badass that audiences are used to seeing on TV, which is a large part of what makes the character such a delight. What have you heard from fans about being able to see someone like him on-screen?

That’s been the best part of doing this. I’ve met fans at different events or on the street, and the sweetest thing is that they see themselves in Guillermo. He’s plus size, Latinx. A lot of people who are queer associate with him, because we don’t know his origin story of sexuality. And I think that story will come soon. 

I’ve had the most sweet and caring people come up to me, in tears, saying that this means so much to them because they’ve always felt like an outsider, like they don’t belong. And Guillermo makes them feel seen, feel that they’re being represented, because it hasn’t been done on television. 

Like you said, he’s a badass. He can wear a big, oversized sweater from the ’80s. But also, don’t get it twisted, he can put on a fitted vest, tuck his pants into his boots, and slay the house down. And it’s good for kids to see that on screen. Growing up, I didn’t see myself represented on screen and I thought it was impossible for me to be on television. And then I realized that if you don’t see anyone that looks like you, then become the first.

How is it for you to be that representation you wish to see in the world?

It’s life-changing. I still pinch myself. Even today, doing the cover of TheWrap. It was just like, “Wow, this might be the first of its kind.” To be the first Latinx queer actor to be nominated for a Critics Choice Award in comedy supporting actor, we’re making history. For the next kid who sees this it says, “Your background or social status, the color of your skin, your education—none of that matters. You can be who you want to be, if you believe in yourself.” That’s the first step. You just have to believe in yourself.

Read more from the Comedy & Drama Series issue here.


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Photos by Jill Greenberg for TheWrap