From vampires to musicals—though not yet combining the two genres—Harvey Guillén has launched into the upbeat realm of comedy television. The actor recently nabbed a Critics’ Choice nomination for his electric comedic timing as Guillermo in What We Do In The Shadows, FX’s vampire mockumentary. Guillén plays the vampires’ sweater-clad familiar (basically their human servant), who adds dashes in humor with subtle glances to the camera or quietly hilarious comments. Essentially, it’s the opposite of Guillén’s new role in Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist. George is loud, sweet, a little brother to the rambling Zoey. While both of Guillén’s characters struggle with their careers—coding, like vampire servitude, is hard work—the actor certainly is not. He’s graceful with his wit, embodying two disparate comedic roles (amongst others) with a distinct Guillén touch.
Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist showrunner Austin Winsberg wanted a familiar (pun intended) face to play George, a bubbly character introduced to SPRQ Point in the second season of the series. He landed on a Harvey Guillén type; which later, luckily, turned into just “Harvey Guillén” when the actor joined the show. At first, scheduling with Shadows prevented the star from joining the cast, but a shift in shooting gave him just the right amount of time to hop into George’s bright floral shirts and the coder’s swivel chair.
“As luck would have it, I was in San Francisco doing a shoot and I got the call [about the schedule shift],” he says. So he tuned in to the series, updating himself on the musical world of Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist. “The scene that I was watching was where I was at, at that moment. It was by Fisherman’s Wharf and the cross of Cupid’s Bow and Arrow. I was walking right by there and I was like, ‘Oh! If this isn’t a sign, I don’t know what is.’”
After he proved he could sing—which, as a solo in Season 2’s “Zoey’s Extraordinary Employee” demonstrates, he sure can—the role was his. Paste got the chance to chat with Guillén about this new role, what’s next for What We Do In the Shadows, and more.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Paste: It was very upsetting to see your character fired, un-fired, and then re-fired again—like emotional whiplash. By the end of this episode, do you think that George is angrier at Zoey, or would you say you’re more revved for the future opportunities for this character?
Harvey Guillén: Where I landed with him—and I talked to Austin, the creator, about this—was that he’s come into his own. He’s angry at the fact that people are playing with his emotions, getting fired and not fired again and whatnot. But I feel that it makes you, in a weird way, stronger, for lack of a better word. It really did do that for him. He’s leaving a little upset. But Zoey did say something really important to him—he will consider that conversation later, because in the moment you’re so built up and whatnot—maybe there’s something out there for you that’s better for you. Because sometimes we think we want something so badly and we force ourselves to—whether it’s a job or it’s a relationship or a friendship, you stay in it because you say, “No, this is good. I’ll make this work. I’ll make this work!” It’s not for you. It’s not for you, and the universe is like, “Get out! There’s something else for you.” Sometimes, you’ve got to stop and listen to the universe.
George wasn’t great at what he was doing, he may have fibbed or lied a little bit on his resume, and now he can’t keep up. Unfortunately for him, he’s a very sweet guy, but he doesn’t have what it takes to work at SPRQ Point. And maybe that’s a good thing! Maybe his heart belongs somewhere else. I feel that he’s a little upset, but he will find his way.
Paste: It’s kind of like the same theme as Guillermo in What We Do In The Shadows; dealing with a job that you could be moving on from or finding something else you’re better at. Is there any other advice you’d have for people who are facing a similar dilemma?
Guillén: Yeah! That’s so funny. In the job world, they are similar in that way. But Guillermo and George are so different. George is bubbly and wants to please and he’s eager, and Guillermo is calculated. He’s more structured. The recommendation or advice to anyone in that scenario is that if you know your value, you know your worth, you know you’re good at it—if a place doesn’t see that value, then you need to find somewhere else that does.
I know that’s easier said than done, especially with Guillermo being the familiar for 10 years. But he’s been the familiar because he was promised something. Also, if you’re in a position of power, don’t promise people something that you’re not going to give them. [Laughs]. “I’ll give you a promotion. In a year, you’ll be promoted.” Two years later, you’re not promoted. Whether it’s a relationship, whether it’s work, hold people accountable. Don’t make promises you can’t keep.
Paste: I’ve also read that you are super fond of the musical Annie and have a huge background with that in your acting career. And you got to sing Annie, that’s so cool! What was that like?
Guillén: I know! I was just thinking about that. I just posted on social media about that, we had the making of “It’s a Hard Knock Life.” That was one of the songs that we learned choreography. I just couldn’t believe it. I was like, “This is full-circle.” I grew up watching Annie, and I fell in love with acting when I saw Annie at six years old. I told my mom I was going to be an actor, because that’s what they were doing on TV. I was just thinking about that while we were rehearsing. Mandy Moore, who’s the choreographer, was just brilliant. I didn’t share that story with anyone on set until later, because I was going to be geeking out. But it was so weird to be doing Annie on TV, which was my dream when I was little. It came full-circle, my dream came true. I did Annie on TV.
Paste: Is there any other show that you’d like to perform? Or a song that’s in the bucket list like Annie?
Guillén: Oh yeah. I would love to do a gender-bender, I’m almost thinking switch it up, songs from Wicked. Maybe “Because I Knew You” from Wicked with Jane, Zoey. Stuff like that. Or shows that could be reenacted that I grew up watching, like I Love Lucy would’ve been cool.
Paste: I love the idea of Wicked with you and Zoey. That’s awesome.
Guillén: Austin, if you’re watching—put it in next season.
Paste: Speaking of Jane Levy, she’s like your older sister in this. What’s it like working with her on the show?
Guillén: Fantastic. We just bonded right off the bat. The first scene we shot together was the thank you scene from Episode 1, where George tells her, “Thank you for standing up for me, for what’s right.” That was the first time we just met. It wasn’t in the script that we cried, but after the first take, Jane and I were both crying. She’s such a giving actress, and she’s so open. She goes with what you give her. I knew then and there.
We kept talking, and as we got closer and closer for me to leave, I was wrapping up my story for the season and she kept saying, “I don’t want you to leave! I don’t want you to leave!” I was like, “I can’t. I have to.” It was a sweet moment. I call her “kid.” I was like, “I’ll be back, kid.” She was like, “I love you!” “I love you too, kid.” [Laughs]
Paste: You guys are both dealing with grief in very different ways on the show. Why do you think that is? How did you handle your portrayal of grief on the series?
Guillén: Well, it’s a different way, right? She’s just come off of losing her father. It’s very sensitive. George has just lost his abuela. It’s kind of that idea of: losing someone is always just painful. Period. His drive is making his abuela proud, and making those choices. If you notice, on his desk, there’s a picture of his abuela. You’ll see that in Episode 4 as he exits, when he takes all that is important to him, he makes it a priority to go for that picture. It’s just different. People deal with grief differently.
What we see with George is he not only deals with grief where he keeps it to himself, he also keeps anything that happens, anything that bothers him, he bottles it in. As opposed to Jane, where she’s slowly having conversations with other human beings on how she feels, how she’s doing. Even if it’s frustrating at times. She’s like, “Why’s everyone keep asking me if I’m okay?” That’s her process. That’s the character’s process of grieving. And with George, you could ask him if he’s having a good day, and even if he’s not, he’d always be like, “Absolutely!” He just always puts on a face, which is really painful.
I think that’s what people really resonated with him, because they’re like, “Ugh. Yeah, I’ve been there.” People ask you how your day’s going, no matter how many times we’ve said, “It’s good!” even though it’s not. We never genuinely ask someone how their day is going. We just want to brush off and go to the, “How’s it going? Okay, let’s move on.” We’re human. We really should, if we say something, mean it.
Paste: How has choreography been on this show in comparison to fight choreography in Shadows?
Guillén: Well, everything’s like a dance, right? The moves are so sharp and clean that you have to hit them, otherwise you stand out. Looking at rehearsal tapes, even if you’re off my just a nano-second, you stand out in the crowd. You have to really just remember those moments. And [fight] choreography’s the same thing. With Tick, he’s our stunt choreographer for Shadows, he’s so good about safety first. But you can’t miss your mark. You can’t do five, six, seven, on eight, if it’s on one. Because there goes your teeth. Thank goodness I took some dance classes at a young age because it really came into play.
Paste: In terms of your arc in Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist, what can we expect next?
Guillén: We originally wanted George to come back. I talked to Austin again, the creator, and he wanted for George to come back later and interact with Zoey outside of work. That was the plan and the idea; unfortunately, the schedule did not allow that, because they’re back to shooting right now. But it’s definitely a possibility that George comes back in future seasons, just because we left it open like that. He might not be at SPRQ Point, but as we know from the past, in Season 1, characters who were at SPRQ Point and left are still in the show.
Paste: Shifting gears into What We Do In the Shadows: I was rewatching some of the clips, and as Guillermo, you really remind me of Fleabag, Phoebe Waller-Bridge in Fleabag, the way she looks at the camera so subtly.
Guillén: Oh, really? I should do a British accent this time. “Cheeky.” [Laughs].
Paste: It’s so good how subtle you play it. I want to know how you play that subtlety, how much of it is improv, and do you think you would naturally react like that at all?
Guillén: Guillermo has been the most subtle character that I’ve gotten to play. Like you said, all of his moves are subtle—because he lives with vampires. These vampires are characters. They’re animated, they’re big. They’re not self aware of how they may look, or are they embarrassing themself. They just say what’s coming out of their mouth, what they’re thinking. They’re always thinking about just blood, lust, the same things. With Guillermo, he’s the only human. He has human emotions. He’s at work, so he has a demeanor to him. If you notice, he talks differently when he’s in the household. He’s always soft-spoken, he doesn’t want to make the boss angry, or any of the housemates angry, because he might get demoted another year as a familiar. What’s time to a vampire? But to a human, the clock is ticking.
His voice always is soft and quiet when he’s talking — even when he talks back to them, and he regrets it. “No more for you, Guillermo!” Then, when he’s talking to people outside of the household, if you notice with the Mosquito Hunters or people on the street, his real Guillermo voice comes out. He can be himself, and he’s talking like himself, and he’s completely at ease. And then when he’s at home, he has to go back to: “I’m at work. Keep it together.” The looks to the camera are always what I think the audience would think. Again, the connection from human to human—he won’t say it, but he’ll look at the cameras like, “Are you watching this?” He always knows there’s a camera crew and a documentary crew following them. The vampires might forget sometimes, but it’s Guillermo, the human, who’s always like, “Oh, you can’t show that. Please don’t show that to the TV, or to the crew, because we might get in trouble.” There’s consequences, as a human. As a vampire, maybe not so much. But as a human, there is.
Paste: It’s a human-to-human connection, because I’m always looking to you and being like, “Alright, what’s Guillermo thinking at this point.”
Guillén: We’re all human. We’re all Guillermo.
Paste: How did you react when you read or started choreographing that Season 2 finale?
Guillén: Well, I didn’t know we were going to have that fight scene until the first week of shooting. I got the first script, and I read it and the first page was like, “Guillermo kills a vampire in the bathroom.” It was like, “Oh! Oh, we’re doing this?” They got me with our stunt coordinator right away, and they were like, “We’re going to do fight stuff, blah blah blah. Maybe if you feel comfortable, you can do it.” We did a test trial to see what I could do, and Tig, our stunt coordinator, was like, “Oh, you’re pretty good.” And then I did it, and he was like, “I’m going to go tell the producers you can do all the stunts.” I did most of my stunts, except for one that insurance wouldn’t let me do—which was the falling down stairs on my back. Who’d have thunk it?
But yeah, I did all of my stunts. Getting to that finale was so cool. Guillermo’s such a badass, and he doesn’t even know it! Which is the metaphor that could be used for everyone: you don’t know what’s in you until you’re pushed to your limits to see another layer of yourself peel. “Woah, I didn’t know that was in me! I’m a badass.” It was really fun and exciting, and I love doing the combat stuff. I hope we get to do more this year.
Paste: So this Van Helsing storyline: phenomenal, love that. What do you hope for the future of his lineage? I know we got to meet Guillermo’s mom: is she a vampire killer? Do we get to meet his other family, do you think?
Guillén: That actually is a question I have myself. Which makes sense! Hopefully, the writers have thought about that—I’m sure they have. But yeah, where do we get this lineage from? Where does this go? Do we maybe want to dig deeper into Guillermo’s past? Who’s his father? We didn’t see his father at the household when we saw his mom. What secrets are in the household? Where did they come from? Would love to get to know more of that in this season, it would be great. To even scratch at that would be great. I didn’t even know he was going to be a Van Helsing. Anything’s possible! It definitely keeps everyone on their toes.
Paste: I’m looking forward to it. I’m wondering who his dad would be — we’ll have to see.
Guillén: I smell a great cameo!
Paste: There’s a lot of guest stars and great co-stars on both Zoey’s and Shadows. Do you have any fun stories with those actors?
Guillén: For Shadows, Mark Hamill was totally amazing. We were all anxious to finally meet him when we knew he was going to do the show. He’s a fan of the show, he actually watches it with his kids. It blew our minds. We were all waiting on one side lined up, like we’re in Downton Abbey or The Crown and we’re waiting for royalty. “Wow, here he comes!” He goes, “Harvey!” I’m just like, “Um, okay.” He knew our names! Mark Hamill knows our names.
Paste: That’s incredible. I’d be interested to see if he comes back at all.
Guillén: We do have some people who are coming back from characters that you’ve seen in the last two seasons. That, for sure, I can tell you.
Paste: Just to combine these two shows: if Guillermo was going to be singing an inner-song like Zoey’s in that epic finale, what do you think he would be singing as he took down all of the vampires?
Guillén: Oh, that’s a good one. It’d probably have to be some badass song. As he’s killing, he has a job to do. He’d probably end up singing another Britney song like “Work.” “Now get to work bitch! Now get to work bitch!”
Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist airs Tuesday nights on NBC; What We Do in the Shadows is currently streaming on Hulu.
Fletcher Peters is a New York-based journalist whose writing has appeared in Decider, Jezebel, and Film School Rejects, among other spots. You can follow her on Twitter @fietcherpeters gossiping about rom-coms, TV, and the latest celebrity drama.
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