[Spoilers below for Season 4, Episode 7 (“Pine Barrens”) of What We Do in the Shadows]
The fourth season of What We Do in the Shadows has been a transformative journey. For the only human in a house of vampires, the Van Helsing-descendant Guillermo, the latest horror comedy episode, “Pine Barrens”, is a turning point in the form of a long-awaited coming out.
The human familiar has long desired to be turned into a vampire by his master Nandor (Kayvan Novak) and roommates Laszlo (Matt Berry) and Nadja (Natasia Demetriou). Meanwhile, through the past four seasons, he’s also been coming to terms with his sexuality in a slow-burn story of self-acceptance. “Pine Barrens” sees Guillermo invite his human family to the home of his vampiric found family in a coming out that is far from conventional. Paste spoke to Harvey Guillén, the actor who brings Guillermo’s story to life with colourful detail, about his character’s unique coming out scene, his own path to queer self-acceptance, and the uplifting portrayal of a Mexican-descent family.
Paste: How long has Guillermo’s coming out scene been in the works?
Harvey Guillén: We asked the question early on, and obviously, with the relationship between Guillermo and Nandor of “wait, is he? Isn’t he?” Even when people are asking him, he says things like he doesn’t kiss and tell. [Guillermo] moving to London for a year with Nadja opened up his world, and he comes back more confident and more sure of himself. Part of his road to understanding who he is was to have that freedom to be in a different country with different people and a different atmosphere. Not everyone gets that luxury. I feel like sometimes it’s hard when you’re growing up in a small town, religious family or different upbringing, it’s hard to completely be your authentic self sometimes because you’ve established this persona and the idea of what everyone likes you to be and what they see you as. You don’t want to disappoint them or be scared to be your authentic self. I’m glad that Guillermo is finally himself, proud and happy.
Paste: What was your first impression upon reading Guillermo’s coming-out scene in the script?
Guillén: It was like seeing a mirror to the idea of recalling my personal coming out, being queer, and how sometimes when the time is right, it’s just right. The way that it was written was so beautiful, it’s like being in the middle of two worlds. In the world where you’re accepted, the vampires have made it clear that they don’t care if you are queer, nothing’s better in life than loving, feasting, and fucking, and all of those things that the vampires love to do. On the other side, we have his family, who is literally a group of vampire hunters, and who are very religious with the household’s Mexican culture. His fear is that his actual biological family would not accept him—that was really heartbreaking for me to read in the script.
The whole scene played out in different ways, but one of the first times we did it, it was very emotional. I don’t even think we could have even used the footage because I was just a crying mess. Then the actress who plays my mom started to cry and then the whole family started to cry. They hugged me and it was a really great embrace. The edited version we have is because, at the end of the day, they’re making a comedy so they wanted to make it light but also make a great point. I think it was perfectly done.
Paste: It was interesting that Guillermo’s family had a stronger reaction to him saying he wants to be a vampire than when he says he’s gay. I presume that the uplifting portrayal of a Mexican-descendent family was an important factor to come across in the scene for you?
Guillén: It was! Being of Mexican descent, [I] grew up with a lot of machismo and negative connotations that go with being queer in the culture and community. I wanted to really show this is possible, not every family turns their back on their child. It was more of a good, aspirational story to anyone watching the show. It’s a great way to get a message across with comedy, because you’ve dropped your guard, and you’re more willing and open, so while you’re looking for the next joke you see this moment with this Mexican family who is loving and caring and may become aspirational.
Paste: We’ve watched you play Guillermo for three and a half seasons now and there’s been a slow build-up to this coming out moment. A coming out, however, doesn’t seem particularly necessary for Guillermo and the vampires.
Guillén: Absolutely. The vampires made it very clear, as hard and painful as it’s been for them to show any kind of interest because these vampires are self-absorbed and selfish, that they don’t care if you like boys or like girls. Why does [Guillermo] come back from London and keep it a secret? He’s managing a love life secretly because he would never put himself in the spotlight. Also, he’s in the middle of helping his best friend plan a wedding and Guillermo’s not the type to take the thunder away from someone. Guillermo is not sharing his love interest or story with anyone. Will that happen in the future? We’re yet to find out. The only thing he fears is the actual family knowing and after the last episode, it’s all out.
Paste: It’s interesting that Guillermo desperately desires to be a vampire and yet it is his coming out moment that sees him more comfortable in the world of vampires than ever before.
Guillén: Yeah, I feel like at this point he has so many layers to him. It’s a formula for a great character: the idea that he is still human, he longs to be a vampire but has Van Helsing blood running through his veins, and he is queer. The reason he wanted to be a vampire was to know what it was like to be a badass, to be sexy, to be desirable, to lust, to feast. He thought the only way to get that was to become a vampire [but] he’s started to realize he can be a lot of those things without ever being turned. If he does get turned, then that’s another layer that can be added that could completely make this character blossom into something we’ve never seen before.
Paste: There’s a moment in Season 3, the casino episode, where a lot of fans theorized Guillermo was trying to come out but got cut off. Do you think that was an attempt at a coming out moment?
Guillén: I do. We can’t forget, it’s a comedy, and [in that scene, Guillermo] sees he has all their attention for the first time in 13 years. They’re all genuinely curious, leaning in, and this is the moment. He was about to say it, and that’s when Sean comes over. In true fashion of our show, it’s broken with the most hilarious bit. Then we see his face and I think the audience’s speculation was right.
I think that’s what’s great about our show, it took us four seasons, almost half a decade, to tell the audience that Guillermo comes out because it is good to see this slow burn. I pride myself on playing Guillermo where we sprinkle enough of him in each season that it is linear and cohesive to his trajectory. It’s important for me to do that because we’re making a comedy, but his story is human.
Paste: If you’re willing to share, what was your coming out experience like?
Guillén: For so long, there’s always the whispers and people asking you but it’s no one’s business. There’s an old Spanish saying that translates to “what you can see, you don’t ask.” I’ve always been my true authentic self and that either worries people or threatens them. My coming out was… my mum knew I was [queer] growing up. I remember I went to Mexico at six years old and went to play with the neighborhood kids. They were like: “we’re not playing with you because my brother says you’re a mariposa (translates to butterfly).” I didn’t know what that negative connotation was, but it was referring to being queer. As I was running back, they started throwing rocks at me. One of the rocks hit my eyebrow and it gushed blood, I still have that scar on my left eyebrow. My mum knew what the negative connotation was, wiping the blood off my eyebrow she said: “Who cares that they call you butterfly, butterflies are beautiful.” I knew I was different at six and [I] wasn’t officially out until I came out in high school, even though my mother knew all along. For her peace of mind, because she didn’t know how to address family outings or ask that question, she brought up like “oh your friend Adriana is really pretty, does she have a boyfriend.” Unbeknownst to mom, Adriana was a lesbian.
Paste: How do you think this moment for Guillermo will impact the next episodes of this season and beyond?
Guillén: I’m so happy for him, such a weight has been taken off his shoulders, that now, with no fear, he can live his authentic life. He’s been putting so much of his happiness on longing to be someone else, and longing to be something else. I think that now he can look at the mirror, have a grin on his face, polish his glasses, and have a skip in his step. That alone is a huge victory because some people might not ever find that pep in their step.
This has been the one episode I’ve been keeping a secret from everyone. Just knowing it was coming, it’s like a coming out party for Guillermo. I hope this resonates with someone watching the show that might have a question of their own, for themselves or a family member, who might have not been open to the idea. I hope you open your minds and your heart to the love that surrounds you—you’re just denying the love for yourself if you don’t accept it.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Emily Maskell is a freelance culture and entertainment writer from the UK. You can keep up with her antics on Twitter: @EmMaskell
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