Harvey Guillén on Guillermo Saying 'I'm Gay,' Protecting Chosen Family
Some spoilers if you have not seen the latest episode of What We Do in the Shadows.
“You want to be a vampire?” What We Do in the Shadows’ Guillermo’s cousin exclaims when the beloved vampire-killing familiar unleashes a stream of truth bombs to distract his family (with Van Helsing blood in their veins) from offing his housemate Nadja. The cousin being most incredulous at Guillermo’s longing to become a vampire is rendered more poignant by the fact the longtime familiar of Nandor the Relentless has also just explained, “[Nadja] is not my girlfriend, because I’m gay.”
For fans of the Taika Waititi and Jemaine Clement mockumentary, now in its fourth season on FX, it’s no shock that Guillermo is gay in a show where his relationship with his master has been steeped in deep affection and a bit of homoeroticism from the outset. The show centers vampires who engage in pansexual orgies on the regular and who are shrouded in cloaks of otherness by virtue of their being, well, other than alive. Guillermo’s revelation is no surprise to his cousin, mother, aunts, and grandmother either. “We don’t give a shit about you being gay. We’ve known that forever,” his cousin says as the family chimes in, “We love you.”
For Harvey Guillén, the queer actor who plays Guillermo, saying the words,“I’m gay” has been a long time coming, but it’s also a delicately crafted story that is right on time as the familiar’s stories to cover up the truth about his job living with vampires in a decrepit mansion on Staten Island are beginning to unravel.
“Here we are in season 4 and everyone’s been asking this question over and over: Is he [gay]? I can relate to that where it’s always someone else’s curiosity that makes somebody have to feel at ease. It’s always someone’s curiosity that makes someone want to feel or compelled more to come out,” Guillén tells The Advocate. “It’s either one way or the other. It’s my silence is your comfort or my answer is your comfort, and it’s always about someone else.”
“It should always be about the person who feels the time is right to share who they are if they want to share and when they want to share,” he adds.
From its inception, What We Do in the Shadows has made no meal of sexual identity. Guillermo’s master Nandor (Kayvan Novak) and his roommate Laszlo (Matt Berry) — who’s been married to Nadja (Nastasia Demetriou) for centuries — have discussed helping each other “finish.” Early in the first season, Nadja, turns — in more than one way — a hapless college student played by Beanie Feldstein. In the pilot episode, it’s established that Laszlo and Nadja have both enjoyed the sexual prowess of an ancient, sexually fluid baron.
“I love that the writers have created this world from the beginning where their sexuality was never the topic of the conversation. They are who they are. … They fuck who they want. They fornicate with who they want. It’s part of who they are because vampires have no consequences to their actions,” Guillen says. “What would it be like if we didn’t fear being our authentic selves, whether that’s [regarding] sexuality or even doing what you want and just going around the world on a vacation, you don't have to worry about money. Just living life to the fullest and all it has to offer or living the afterlife for immorality and all it has to offer is a very great message. It’s just the idea that sexuality is fluid.”
Kayvan Novak as Nandor and Harvey Guillen as Guillermo
But Guillermo has held secrets from his family that don’t involve his sexual identity, like being a vampire killer who longs to become one and who cares for and protects his family of vamps. After coming into some money from his job at Nadja’s nightclub (blood sprinklers and all), he holds an upscale dinner party for his family, thinking the vampires are out of town for the weekend. Part of the extravagance on display comes from Guillermo feeling pressure to succeed and impress them independent of his being gay.
“The aunts, especially in Mexican culture, I feel and I speak from experience, I’m assuming with a lot of families, there’s that competition where like, ‘Oh, well, my son’s a doctor. Well, my daughter’s a lawyer.’ Then it's like, ‘My son’s unemployed,’” Guillén says. “It doesn’t matter what the background of the family [is], it’s always that competition. His life became a little bit bigger and bigger, and it just got out of hand,” Guillén says of his character eventually coming clean in the episode.
While throwing his dinner party for family, Guillermo is unaware that Nadja has remained behind on another floor to have a proper “female fuck-about” with her gal pals doing the limbo and watching Mamma Mia! His family has hardly finished eviscerating the lie that he’s made his new money — Guillermo sports a Versace shirt and Louis Vuitton shoes— via a job at the railroad when Nadja turns up in the dining room. He continues the lie that she’s his girlfriend.
“Once you get the ball rolling, it’s a snowball or an avalanche effect where a little lie becomes a huge one, and then it just rolls off the back of the other lie, and then add on to that as it goes down the hill at maximum speed,” Guillén says. “Guillermo, he started off with just small little lies where he was not happy where he was professionally, so he made up the lie that he works at the railroad.”
Guillermo’s grandmother, with her Van Helsing instincts inflamed, pulls him aside to warn him that Nadja is of the undead. Before long, the family of vampire killers can’t control their bloodlust for Nadja, and they hunt her about the house while she hurls a slew of epithets at them. Finally, Guillermo jumps in and admits his lies, ending with the fact that she’s not his girlfriend and that he’s gay. The moment is more than just a coming-out. It’s an act of sacrifice to distract his biological family from targeting someone he’s clearly come to love.
“That was interesting to think that you’d [Guillermo] be willing to risk a secret that could potentially disown you from a family, a very religious family with his upbringing — that he’d be willing to let that go just to save the chosen family that he was living with,” Guillén says.
With a few episodes left in the season — What We Do in the Shadows has already been picked up for two more seasons — it’s unclear how Guillermo’s revelations will play out. Already in season 4, he’s been found whispering “I love you” to someone on the other end of the phone line. And via Nandor’s wife, Marwa (Parisa Fakhri), who the former warrior vampire commanded to like everything he likes, it’s revealed that Nandor wishes to kiss and hug Guillermo. Whether Nandor likes his familiar platonically or otherwise is a dangling question.
For Guillén, who’s also starred in The Magicians, Reacher, and Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist, Guillermo’s coming-out story is indicative of the thoughtful, socially forward writing on the hilarious comedy. It’s a multifaceted story of coming into his authentic self.
“[His] lies just really skyrocketed, and it was all because he was trying to convince himself maybe as well that he’s happy and this is the life he’s meant to lead. But that’s not the life he’s meant to lead,” Guillén says. “When you take all those things away, the materialistic, the tangible things, what really shines is the soul and spirit that you’re presenting.”
“At the core of it, Guillermo is gay, and you start with that. Start with the core, start with that light, and then work your way out.”