‘What We Do in the Shadows’ Hair and Makeup Team Explains How They Vamp Up the Vamps

TheWrap magazine: Tamara Harrod and Sarah Milk break down their process of making the cast look so very undead

What We Do in the Shadows Season 5 episode 3
Matt Berry, Harvey Guillén and Kayvan Novak in "What We Do in the Shadows" (FX)

What happens to a vampire’s hair when he flies to outer space? Can a vampire use partially human sweat as sunscreen to safely step into the daylight? Those were two of the questions that hair department head Tamara Harrod and makeup department head Sarah Milk had to answer in the fifth season of FX’s “What We Do in the Shadows.”

Harrod has been with the series since Season 1 and Milk since Season 2, so by Season 5, they’d long since nailed the looks of the main cast of nocturnal Staten Islanders: blood-sucking vampires Nadja (Natasia Demetriou), Laszlo (Matt Berry), Nandor (Kayvan Novak) and the Guide (Kristen Schaal), plus energy vampire Colin Robinson (Mark Proksch) and Nandor’s “familiar” (human servant waiting to be turned into a vampire), Guillermo (Harvey Guillén).

“We had so much fun every year,” Harrod said, sounding wistful because the cast and crew have already wrapped the sixth and final season. “It’s been a labor of love and creative freedom.”

Harrod and Milk break down some of their favorite creations from Season 5.

Natasia Demetriou, Kayvan Novak and Mark Proksch in "What We Do in the Shadows" (FX)
Natasia Demetriou, Kayvan Novak and Mark Proksch in “What We Do in the Shadows” (FX)

Nadja and Her Mini Me

To create Nadja’s undead glamour queen look, Milk lightened Demetriou’s already fair skin with foundation, accented her eyes with green, purple and red eyeshadow and defined her mouth with blazing red lipstick. The color choice, Milk said, “wasn’t necessarily about blood. I just wanted it to be a bold lip because she’s a strong character.”

The lip stain had a pesky tendency to transfer to Nadja’s fangs (which the show’s prosthetic team creates), so Milk always did a teeth-check before the cameras rolled. Schaal’s character, by contrast, has a simpler look, without flashy lipstick or sparkling eyelids. “We wanted to make sure there was a clear difference between the two leading ladies,” Milk said. 

Kristen Schaal in "What We Do in the Shadows" (FX)
Kristen Schaal in “What We Do in the Shadows” (FX)

Nadja often styles her long, flowing dark hair in different ways within a single episode, so Harrod estimates she’s created about 100 looks for her over the years, all of which she named. (The one above is Classic Kabuki, also known as the Chrissie Snow.) When Nadja alters her locks, so does her doll companion that houses the ghost of her human form. “When we realized [the doll] was going to come back, I said in a [production] meeting, ‘She should match Nadja, no?’ And so some days the doll had three hair changes,” Harrod said, laughing.

What We Do in the Shadows
Natasia Demetriou in “What We Do in the Shadows” (FX)

Two’s a Crowd

During a Pride Day celebration in Episode 3, Nadja takes the stage to sing “It’s Raining Men.” But because both Colin’s spirit and the doll’s ghost are inhabiting her body, Colin’s face appears on the back of her head under a luscious black wig with red streaks. Harrod worked with prosthetics designer Paul Jones, who made two silicone masks that fit on the backs of Demetriou and Proksch’s heads. Then her team fit two wigs on both actors.

“It was incredibly unsettling to see both of them walking around on set,” Harrod said. “That was a crazy one, just doing the math on how many wigs we needed to make and wrapping our head around the logistics and choosing a hairstyle that was pleasing, both front and back. I’ve had to put hair on Mark every season and he hates hair so much he lost it all, okay? But he’s a good sport.”

What We Do in the Shadows
Mark Proksch and Matt Berry in “What We Do in the Shadows” (FX)

Laszlo the Lobster

“My main thing was to keep the vampires looking a little bit lifeless and muted,” Milk said. “How we achieved that was removing the blood tones, the flush, from their skin.” This was true for Nadja’s husband, Laszlo — except for episode 3, in which he covers himself with Guillermo’s sweat and ventures into the sunshine.

“We used this white, zinc-looking barrier cream to make it look like he was putting sunscreen on,” Milk said. “But then his experiment doesn’t work and he [looks] like a lobster, so we had to paint him completely red.” As with Guillén and Novak, Harrod’s team worked with the actor’s real hair. (See main photo, above.)

Nandor’s in Space

Also in Episode 3, Nandor flies to outer space. When he crash-lands back on Earth, he’s stark naked, his normally silky dark hair standing straight up, as if it could power all of Staten Island. Milk’s team covered Novak with white body makeup, while Harrod back-combed his hair and doused it with hairspray. Because he was in his birthday suit, she had to find a place to hide his mic pack. “I just opened up the top of his hair and shoved it in there, like a mouse in a hole, and pinned it closed,” she said. “I put the mic right by his temple.” (See main photo, above.)

Kayvan Novak and Harvey Guillén in "What We Do in the Shadows" (FX)
Kayvan Novak and Harvey Guillén in “What We Do in the Shadows” (FX)

Guillermo Gets His Wish

When Guillermo finally gets bitten in Season 5, his transformation into a vampire is puzzlingly slow. So the makeup team made slight adjustments, omitting the cream blush they’d previously used to give him a healthy glow. A transformation of a different sort toward the end of the season leaves him with a bushy beard and head of hair. Milk’s team created the facial hair, while Harrod’s crew attached a horseshoe-sized piece to Guillén’s real hair. “It just tucked in like a little mullet,” she said.

Benedict Wong, Matt Berry and Harvey Guillén in "What We Do in the Shadows" (FX)
Benedict Wong, Matt Berry and Harvey Guillén in “What We Do in the Shadows” (FX)

A version of this story first ran in the Comedy Series issue of TheWrap’s awards magazine. Read more from the issue here.

Larry David photographed by Mary Ellen Matthews
Larry David photographed by Mary Ellen Matthews

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