20 Facts About ‘What We Do in the Shadows’

If you’re looking for laughs in your next binge-watch, you’d be hard-pressed to find something better than FX’s What We Do in the Shadows, a mockumentary horror-comedy TV series about four vampires—Laszlo (Matt Berry), Nadja (Natasia Demetriou), Nandor the Relentless (Kayvan Novak), and Colin Robinson (Mark Proksch) and their assistant/“familiar” Guillermo (Harvey Guillén)—living a mostly mundane life in Staten Island. The series, which was born from the brains of Jemaine Clement and Taika Waititi, delivers an absurdist version of the worries vampires might face in their day-to-day (non)lives in 2022.

The series is dark and hilarious and feels like what might happen if the Dunder Mifflin team from The Office worked together for 1000 years … and fed on humans. If you’re not already watching it, you should start. Right now. For the rest of you, here are some things you might not have known about the award-winning series.

Kayvan Novak and Harvey Guillén in What We Do in the Shadows.

Kayvan Novak and Harvey Guillén in What We Do in the Shadows. / FX Networks

A lot of people know that the FX series is a small-screen spinoff of Taika Waititi and Jemaine Clement’s 2014 feature film of the same name. What fewer people realize is that that movie was an expansion of their 2005 short film, What We Do in The Shadows: Interviews With Some Vampires, which starred the same core cast as the feature. Nor do they know that the FX series isn’t the movie’s first small-screen spinoff: Wellington Paranormal, a series about a New Zealand police department dealing with otherworldly creatures of all stripes, was the first TV show to air as part of the What We Do in the Shadows universe. It premiered on New Zealand’s TVNZ 2 in July 2018. (American viewers can stream it on HBO Max.)

What We Do in the Shadows treads a fine line of disbelief because it has to feature supernatural transformations while maintaining the authenticity of a documentary. That’s one reason why the show’s creators prefer to employ practical effects as much as possible and why there’s no character created entirely from CGI. “One of the movies we really talked about a lot when we were conceiving the show was Francis Ford Coppola’s Bram Stoker’s Dracula, where he went back to really doing as many effects as possible in-camera and figuring out ways to do that,” writer/executive producer Paul Simms told /Film of one of the series’s inspirations.

The cast and creators of What We Do in the Shadows at SXSW.

The cast and creators of ‘What We Do in the Shadows’ at SXSW. / Robby Klein/Getty Images

When Clement is writing for the show, he generally looks to Larry David to get into the right mindset. “One of my favorite comedies is Curb Your Enthusiasm, and I always go and watch some of that before I write anything,” Clement told The Ringer. “The three main vampires are all stuck in their ways and hesitant to interact with the modern world.” The series do share a similar mix of awkwardness and self-seriousness.

Fans of the 2014 What We Do in the Shadows movie have asked why the series doesn’t follow the same group of vampires we met there: Viago (Waititi), Vladislav (Clement), Deacon (Jonny Brugh), and Petyr (Ben Fransham). The answer, according to Waititi, was partly due to finding a creative reason to explain why that particular group of vampires would have moved to America. But it was also partly motivated by Waititi’s disdain for shaving.

“I don’t like shaving, clean shaving, my face,” Waititi told Thrillist. “I had to [do] that every day for that character. I don’t like putting makeup on. I don’t like the feeling of it on my skin. I know that sounds insane, but that was one of the reasons I was like, ‘I don’t want to be in the show.’ I hate shaving.”

What’s the worst fear to have if your job requires you to be strapped onto wires and lifted high into the air while yelling “Bat!”? We’ll give a hint: It’s not spiders. Unfortunately, Berry is squeamish about heights, so it’s a challenge for him to act natural while doing the wirework required of him in the show. “You have to look like you’re not [afraid of heights], when you’re a vampire,” the actor told Vulture. “There’s no reason why a vampire would be afraid of heights, much like a bird wouldn’t be afraid of heights.”

In the third season, the roommates stumble upon the storied Cloak of Duplication, which allows the wearer to morph into another person. As several of Nandor’s roommates use the garment to try and help him land a date with the desk clerk at his gym, Novak had to learn to mimic some of the mannerisms of his castmates and how they might act if pretending to be him. It’s a wonderfully absurd setup that’s perfectly aided by Novak’s dedication as a comedian. “I put a lot of hours into walking around my apartment in pants pretending to be Matt Berry, and I got a kick out of it,” Novak told The A.V. Club. (We’re not sure where the pants come in, but every actor has a process.)

If you find yourself wondering what the boundaries are for the vampires featured in What We Do in the Shadows—What happens if they’re exposed to daylight? Do they have to be invited into someone’s home? What’s the deal with garlic?—look no further than The Lost Boys, Joel Schumacher’s iconic ’80s vampire flick. “We stay pretty basic ’70s/’80s vampire rules, with a little bit of ’30s,” Clement told IGN. Unfortunately, one of Waititi’s favorite rules—about banishing a vampire from your village by stealing its socks, filling them with garlic, and tossing them into the river—somehow didn’t make the cut.

Matt Berry, Natasia Demetriou, and Kayvan Novak star in 'What We Do in the Shadows.'

Matt Berry, Natasia Demetriou, and Kayvan Novak star in ‘What We Do in the Shadows.’ / FX Networks

The blood and butter of the show comes from pushing the characters into profoundly terrible situations and mining the humor from their reactions. That’s why an epic task like taking over Manhattan turns into a series of city council meetings. It’s the banal meeting the mythic with dumb people in the mix. Producer Yana Gorskaya explained to Gold Derby that “being incredibly stupid in a smart way is our magic.”

The script for each episode of What We Do in the Shadows is a starting point for lots of improvisation, which is something the actors take full advantage of, whether that’s with a funny line or an awkward look. “This show has taught me a lot about often saying nothing,” Demetriou told Collider. “It’s not about one person. It’s about a room full of people, and making all of that balance and bounce off of each other. Actually, the best stuff comes from silence sometimes.”

Cree Summer and Kayvan Novak get physical in 'What We Do in the Shadows.'

Cree Summer and Kayvan Novak get physical in ‘What We Do in the Shadows.’ / FX Networks

We’re in an era of sad-coms—funny shows that come with a hefty dose of emotion—and socially-conscious comedies out to make a point. For Paul Simms, creator of NewsRadio and an executive producer on WWDITS, the appeal of joining the production of this weird little vampire show was because it was just plain goofy. “I just like stuff that’s really silly and doesn’t necessarily try to hit you over the head with any kind of deeper point that it’s going to make,” Simms told The Ringer.

The irony of filming characters who can (mostly) only exist at night is that the cast and crew end up working vampire hours to get the work done, too. Since the show is also largely improvised and requires a lot of footage, it can be an exhausting process. “We’d nap all the time,” Waititi told The New York Times of the show’s late-night schedule. “I’d see a couch and be like, ‘There’s my couch.’ Matt Berry is also a huge napper. On the sets, we’d scope out the beds. And I’d be, ‘Oh, that’s mine.’ And then I’d come in and Matt would be in it.”

The main issue with Waititi and Berry’s love of naps, according to Clement, is that beds aren’t always easy to find on the set of What We Do in the Shadows. “Usually when you have a house set, there’s bedrooms with beds. But there’s no beds on this, because it’s coffins,” Clement told The New York Times in the same interview. “There’s nowhere to sleep. So everyone’s got to really search.”

Though What We Do in the Shadows sticks to many already-established pop culture rules, one way it innovates the vampire myth is with Colin Robinson—Proksch’s day-walking “energy vampire,” who feeds on sucking the life out of a room. The idea for including this new kind of workplace-loving creature came from Clement, who told The Hollywood Reporter that “energy vampire” is “a term I’ve heard used to describe people who are difficult to talk to, and I’ve definitely been cornered by these people at parties. Those people that you feel you need to be saved from, and the longer you’re in [the conversation] the more difficult it is to get away. It was just taking that to the supernatural level.”

Colin Robinson’s presence also brings some literal light to the show by allowing for daylight scenes. “It’s a great way of having things set in the day, because it’s one of the things that drove us nuts during the film is it was night shoots and never seeing the daylight,” Waititi told Thrillist. “You end up feeling like a vampire.”

Proksch has embraced his role as What We Do in the Shadows’s resident bore—and much of the character’s dialogue comes courtesy of the actor directly. “The shame of it is that we have so much more stuff with him that we couldn’t fit in,” Clement told The Hollywood Reporter about the extra footage of Proksch that doesn’t make it into the show. “A lot of it’s not on the page, he can just do that endlessly. We were like, ‘Just say boring things to this person,’ and we never got to a point where he’d run out. He’s such a funny guy, but I do wonder how this is gonna affect parties for him.”

Season 1’s “The Trial” is a glorious, cameo-packed episode featuring an all-star lineup of actors who have previously played iconic vampires on TV and in movies. Tilda Swinton (Only Lovers Left Alive), Evan Rachel Wood (True Blood), Danny Trejo (From Dusk till Dawn), and Paul Reubens (Buffy the Vampire Slayer) are among the episode’s guest stars—all of whom make up the Vampiric Council, which decides the fate of their fellow bloodsuckers. Wesley Snipes chimes in via Skype as well, playing his Daywalker character from the Blade movies (and is even accused of being a vampire hunter).

While preparing for “The Trial,” Waititi and Clement tossed out a dream list of actors they wanted to convince to make cameos, without really believing they’d get any of them to say yes. Somehow, Cate Blanchett’s name ended up on the list, and she was apparently game to be involved. But Waititi and Clement only wanted known pop culture vampire actors, so they had to say no, with Waititi telling her: “But you can’t, because you haven’t been a vampire. Those are the rules!”

All the actors who play traditional vampires get custom-made fangs so that having two much-larger teeth doesn’t mess with their ability to deliver their lines. Naturally, when Star Wars icon Mark Hamill guest-starred in season 3 as Jim the Vampire (causing Berry to melt into a fanboy puddle), he took his fangs home with him as a memento. The props department also gifted him a dagger that his character used and noted that it was also in the original What We Do In The Shadows movie. The dagger now resides in Hamill’s mancave. 

Arj Barker stars in What We Do in the Shadows.

Arj Barker stars in What We Do in the Shadows. / FX Networks

“Werewolf Feud,” the third episode in season 1, sees the foursome get into a low-key battle with neighboring werewolves (not swearwolves), which is when we meet Arjan (Arj Barker), the leader of the local werewolf crew. If something about Arjan’s puffy jacket looks familiar, that might be because it’s a nod to An American Werewolf in London, John Landis’s 1981 classic horror comedy. Barker, with his feathery haircut, even looks a bit like American Werewolf star David Naughton.

The conversation actually happened before they even considered that the movie could be adapted into a television series. While filming the original movie, the creators cracked jokes about how you could do the same type of thing in different vampire houses all over the world. So when the opportunity came to create a show set in the United States instead of New Zealand, they were already in the right mindset. It also means that there could be thousands of spin-offs if they decide to expand beyond Staten Island.

Harvey Guillén in 'What We Do in the Shadows.'

Harvey Guillén in ‘What We Do in the Shadows.’ / FX NetworksHarvey Guillén in What We Do in the Shadows

The gang gets to meet Guillermo’s mom in WWDITS’s second season, and getting the heritage right was a big deal for Guillén, which is why he ended up making buñuelos himself. “We shoot in Toronto, so it’s not a big buñuelo spot,” Guillén told UPROXX. “The show literally had them flown in and they were Colombian buñuelos. There are different kinds, but we needed a Mexican buñuelo, and they got the wrong one. So I said, ‘It’s OK, we’re just going to make them.’ So we got a stack of flour tortillas and then we got cinnamon and sugar and some canola oil, and I made the buñuelos onset right before we shot the scene, which was very important to me.”

The source of comedy in What We Do In the Shadows is obvious, but the depth is a bit more subtle. For one, it features people who are so old that they’re cosmically and tragically bored. Beyond that, it’s constantly mining both humor and sadness from the fact that these are all people: They were once humans, and now they’re something less romantic than we think.

“Humans are so f**king stupid and boring and lazy, that given the gift of immortality, you’d never get around to doing anything,” Waititi told The New York Times. “You’d just put off everything. People that have been alive for 5000 years, going: ‘I’ve got forever to learn how to play violin. Why start now?’ Humans, they still carry on human nature into being an undead creature. All those hang-ups stay with you.”

A version of this story ran in 2020; it has been updated for 2022.

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