For three years, Harvey Guillén has starred in FX’s “What We Do In The Shadows” as Guillermo. The submissive, loyal and underappreciated familiar to his vampire master Nandor. However, the newly released third season shows a change in the bashful character’s demeanour as he fully embraces his identity as a member of the Van Helsing family. A clan of legendary vampire hunters. We sit with Guillen to talk about his character’s relatability, preparation for his more active role in the show, and how roles like these open doors for more marginalized actors.
Lorenzo: What was it like training for Guillermo de la Cruz’s elevated role as vampire protector? You know, you’re out here cutting through a whole AMC theatre of vampires like Swan Lake; it’s inspiring.
Harvey Guillén: It just goes to show that you can’t judge a book by its cover. You can be a badass at any size, so it’s nice to show that I can move. That I’m pretty agile and pretty flexible, and I can do all this stuff. I went to school to learn to dance – jazz, ballet – people don’t know that because they make assumptions. So it’s just a good reminder not to judge a book by its cover. And it does look badass to have someone like Guillermo, who is submissive and quiet, be so powerful. People would never expect this from him, which is a nice surprise for the audience. I love doing it. I love playing it. And I want to do more of it.
Lorenzo: No, it’s inspiring because I can count on one hand the amount of queer plus-size characters in the show who get to be a frickin’ badass, and you’re one of them.
Lorenzo: What’s your favourite horror movie monster that’s not a vampire?
Harvey Guillén: Hm, I really like the werewolf. Those classic old black and white movies Harvey Guillén: Hm, II really like the werewolf. Those classic old black and white movies had great monsters. If you just go down the list of all the universal monsters. I like all of them, not any in particular, but I guess I like the werewolf for some reason. It’s like you can’t help it – the moon is out, it’s full and it’s like, “Ok, I’m human until I see the moon!” I like that connection to the earth, to your surroundings that can turn you into a monster, which is metaphorical. I think you can have a bad day at work and, you know, you’ve had your own full moon.
Lorenzo: You were in a werewolf movie recently, right?
Harvey Guillén: Yes, I was in “Werewolves Within” which is based on the video game. And now “Werewolves Within” is the number one video game movie, so it’s fun to be a part of that. And it’s a comedy as well, so l got to play with some amazing actors in that film as well.
Lorenzo: Alright, so you were just going for like a dark universe EGOT. You’re like vampires over here, werewolves over there; I guess your next project’s going to be like a black lagoon or something like that.
Harvey Guillén: Could be, though I don’t aim to do werewolf or vampire shows. The character really has to draw me into the project, and something about it has to be fun and speak to me. So far, so good. I’ve been in the sci-fi world before with “Magicians.” I feel anything is possible in this world, and I like playing in a space where the possibilities are endless.
Lorenzo: So you were nominated for a Critics’ Choice Award for a best-supporting actor playing the role of Guillermo de la Cruz. Guillermo is constantly busting his ass for his family of vampires, especially Nandor, hoping that he will one day make him a vampire himself. But every time he thinks he’s almost there, it’s like Sisyphus pushing the boulder up the hill, and Nandor’s rejection kicks the rock back down. But Guillermo still stays, even after discovering his true lineage as a member of a legendary family of vampire hunters.
As a member of the Van Helsing family, he’s a fucking badass in his own right. Even before he knew his lineage, he was killing vampires on accident. And now that he knows he is very much born to do this, he still chooses to protect this group of vampires who never respected him. So my question is, did you have any personal experiences to pull from that mirrored this tragically parasitic relationship when you were preparing for this role?
Harvey Guillén: I always say that people root for Guillermo because Guillermo is all of us. We’re all Guillermo at one point or another. We’ve all been at a job that has overlooked us for a promotion. We have all secretly developed feelings for someone from afar, and we can’t be honest with our feelings. We’ve all been in a place where we can’t be honest with our sexuality and talk to our family. The list goes on and on.
There are tons of things that I can take from him and from my own personal life to put into Guillermo. It’s also human nature. All of those things that happen to us are what make us stronger. That goes hand in hand with the idea that Guillermo is all of us. We’re cheering for him. We want him to succeed because we see ourselves in him. If he gets slapped in the face, you get mad and want people to stop treating him like this. We’re really rooting for him in the next chapter because he’s starting to come into his own. And he’s a badass now. We’re all cheering for him because it’s us. We want us to come out on top.
Lorenzo: Yeah, it sucks because he can leave at any time, but if he does, that will ruin the entire dynamic. And he could have left before he realized he was a Hugh Jackman in the making. So most of the time, they’re just messing around the house sleeping with each other, bringing up things that happened like 200 years ago, and he just sneaks around.
Harvey Guillén: Yeah, they’ve been living for hundreds of years, so what do they care about time? All the things that matter to the vampires are lust and feeding and pleasures. So yeah, cleaning the house is not a priority because they can just wait until there’s a new person who will do it for them. That’s just something they do not do. We look at these vampires who have been around forever, and they don’t care about the clock.
Meanwhile, the clock is ticking for Guillermo. He has to decide what he wants to do with his life because it’s been over a decade, it’s been 11 years now, and he’s not a vampire yet. What is he going to do? He’s got to think of the future.
Lorenzo: So, at this point, do you think Guillermo still wants to be a vampire or do you just think he still just wants to be close to Nandor?
Harvey Guillén: I think that he’s at a crossroads. He’s devoted his life to wanting to be something that he thinks will make him happy and bring him happiness. And sometimes we do that in real life – we have a game plan that makes us think, “Okay, this is what I want, and this is how I’m going to get it, and this is the road I’m taking.” Sometimes the universe has other plans for you, and it forces you to stop looking over in one direction and look in another direction.
For Guillermo, it’s discovering he’s a Van Helsing. That he may be meant to be something greater that is even better than being a vampire, but he’s still attached to the idea of being a vampire. He’s devoted over ten years to that dream. So, he’s at a crossroads, and this next season is that journey of Guillermo trying to see what’s the best path for him.
Lorenzo: Excellent, and he’s dressing a lot better, you know. You’re giving us a good beat, I love.
Harvey Guillén: He is dressing sharper. He’s dressing more fitted if you noticed in the first few episodes.
Lorenzo: See, yeah, like clothes that actually fit his body.
Harvey Guillén: Yeah, and he’s dressing to show off his body. Before, he was just wearing frumpy sweaters and sweater vests that minimized him and allowed him to feel like he could blend into the background. In previous seasons, he wanted to blend into the wallpaper. Nandor would say, “I don’t even know when he’s there half the time.” Guillermo’s not blending into the background anymore. He’s meant to pop. He’s meant to be a badass. Our costume designer did an amazing job with his outfits this season.
You know, the fit, the pants are tucked into his combat boots. He had a fitted vest where he can hide all the stakes and the crucifixes and holy water. And the Van Helsing jacket, you know, and it’s just great. Even his hair changed. For so long, he had such structured hair with a part in the middle which would make it look baroque, you know, with the curls, because that’s the kind of vampire look he would want. After a while, he realizes, “what am I doing?” He lets his hair kind of fall to the side, the way it naturally wants to, and that’s the new look for him.
Lorenzo: Love it, love it. I want to talk about a scene in the casino episode where they’re all sitting at the table, and the crew is doing what they think is their best at being interested in Guillermo’s life. It seems like he’s almost about to reveal something very personal about himself, and then he gets cut off.
I really resonated with that scene because it just felt like every family dinner where you know there’s this one kid who’s got something to share, but they know that if they share it that everybody there is going to judge him differently.
Harvey Guillén: Sarah (Sarah Naftalis) wrote that episode, and it’s one of the funniest episodes of the season, I think. I mean, they’re all hilarious, but that moment was very sweet and endearing because, for the first time, these vampires are showing interest. I mean, that wasn’t that long ago. They didn’t know his last name. He’s been working for them for 11 years, and these, you know, for lack of a better word, these a-holes don’t know his last name. He’s been working with them for so long.
The idea that they were genuinely interested to know about him and asked him about his sexuality and that’s a tough conversation to have with anyone who questions their sexuality. And surely not one to be had with people that you don’t feel comfortable with or that are your chosen family or that mean the world to you. For him to open up to the vampires and is about to express something about his sexuality and then ironically gets interrupted because the neighbour comes over and puts chips on the table and ruins the moment, and then everyone just goes off on their day. But we notice that Guillermo has to take a moment. Like it wasn’t great, but it was a step closer to being your true authentic self. So, it was one step closer.
Lorenzo: Last question. So your name Harvey is a stage name. Your real name is Javier, but you use Harvey because your teachers could not pronounce your first name?
Harvey Guillén: Well, it was my teachers, but it was my agent who said, “What do you go by?” So, I go by Javi or Javier. “So, does that mean that Javi is Harvey in English?” I don’t know. But it was actually my agent who sealed the deal and suggested I go by a stage name. I wasn’t sure about it in the beginning, but I tried it, and I gotta say that I’m happy I did it because when I’m in a crowded room, and then someone says my name, Javier, then I know them. I know them.
They’re family. I know them personally.
Lorenzo: Exactly. So, how does it feel to be the first queer Latinx actor nominated for the best supporting actor as a lead character, who proudly says his full Spanish name every time he’s ready to beat some ass? How does that feel?
Harvey Guillén: It feels great! I feel that I get to portray a Latinx queer actor on screen, and, like, I said that what I do for work is entertain. So I love that I get to do that because that opens the door for anyone, which is the best scenario. I can leave the door ajar for someone to come into a space where you’re not typically welcomed if you’re part of a marginalized group, if you’re a minority or if you’re a plus-size person or if you’re queer.
The idea that to be in front of the camera and to do your art is already a journey itself, so if I get to do it and that helps anyone else after me, then that’s what I’m doing as an entertainer. I’m entertaining you. I’m creating an escape, but I’m also helping to open the door and leave it ajar for someone to come behind me. At the end of the day, I love what I do, and that’s what I can contribute to the world. I’m not a first responder. I’m an actor, and I can entertain you, and then I do that, and that’s my job, so I love doing it. And when I go home, I like to leave work away from home and let my family and personal life be mine.
Lorenzo: Excellent, thank you, Javi or Javier or Harvey.
Harvey Guillén: Now we know each other.
Lorenzo Simpson: Right, so can I call you Javi?
Harvey Guillén: You can call me Javi, yes.
Lorenzo: All right, Javi. Thank you so much. From me, from OffColour, the whole crew stans you.
Harvey Guillén: Oh, thank you, thank you very much, Lorenzo. Thank you so much.