Kayvan Novak as Nandor in WHAT WE DO IN SHADOWS - Season 1| ©2019 FX/Matthias Clamer

Kayvan Novak as Nandor in WHAT WE DO IN SHADOWS – Season 1| ©2019 FX/Matthias Clamer

FX’s freshman Wednesday-night comedy WHAT WE DO IN THE SHADOWS is based on the 2014 New Zealand feature written, directed by and starring Jemaine Clement and Taika Waititi (Cori Gonzalez-Macuer also worked on the script). Now Clement and Waititi have adapted and are executive-producing WHAT WE DO IN THE SHADOWS for television, moving the action to Staten Island and introducing us to three new vampires, hulking Nandor (Kayvan Novak), dashing Laszlo (Matt Berry) and assertive Nadja (Natasia Demetriou). The vamps have been tasked by their master, the Baron (Doug Jones), with conquering Staten Island. From the way they’re going about it, this doesn’t look like it’s going to happen any time soon.

Paul Simms is a writer and executive producer on WHAT WE DO IN THE SHADOWS. He had previously worked with Clement and Waititi on their folk-music comedy series FLIGHT OF THE CONCHORDS. Simms previously created the series NEWSRADIO, and has also written and/or produced for LATE NIGHT WITH DAVID LETTERMAN, THE LARRY SANDERS SHOW, BORED TO DEATH, GIRLS, BOARDWALK EMPIRE, DIVORCE, and ATLANTA.

ASSIGNMENT X: Were you part of the WHAT WE DO IN THE SHADOWS film?

PAUL SIMMS: No. I just came aboard as part of the TV show.

AX: WHAT WE DO IN THE SHADOWS is seen through the eyes of a documentary crew. Can you compare or contrast this with other mockumentary series?

SIMMS: It’s a little bit like THE OFFICE, but obviously with incredible, supernatural, fantastical elements. THE OFFICE was such a great show. It is like what Jemaine was saying. Christopher Guest movies are one of the biggest inspirations, where it’s very seriously sticking to documentary rules, having characters that are a little sillier or larger than life, but playing it very straight and very deadpan.

AX: Who would you say WHAT WE DO IN THE SHADOWS is for?

SIMMS: People who like silly, stupid, funny stuff. Jemaine and I were talking. It feels like there are so many good half-hour comedies these days, but a lot of them, in a good way, are dramatic, or have re-invented the form, and in talking about this, we just wanted to go back to silliness, in a positive way, just silly, funny stuff. I would say it’s for people of all ages, but I showed it to my kids, and my daughter was horrified and in tears when the Baron [played by Jones in heavy prosthetic makeup] showed up. And I had forgotten, because she’s eight years old, I was like, “Oh, it’s funny.” And she was like, “That’s too scary.” We wanted to keep it funny, but also scary in a way that made it seem real.

Harvey Guillen as Guillermo in WHAT WE DO IN SHADOWS - Season 1| ©2019 FX/Matthias Clamer

Harvey Guillen as Guillermo in WHAT WE DO IN SHADOWS – Season 1| ©2019 FX/Matthias Clamer

AX: Your vampires have a variety of backgrounds. How did the writers collectively decide on that?

SIMMS: It came from talking about how every culture has their version of the vampire, and that’s why Nandor is more of an Ottoman Empire warrior, and Nadja is sort of a Greek or maybe [Romany] girl from a small town in Eastern Europe, and Laszlo is the flamboyant, eighteenth-century British fop. And even later in the show, in a little part, you see a traditional Chinese vampire, which Jemaine had done research about, and every culture has their own version of it. So it was fun to, instead of to just have the classic Dracula, who’s Transylvanian, to show all the different varieties.

AX: Does the Chinese vampire hop?

SIMMS: It does. I didn’t know about [the tradition of Chinese hopping vampires], until Jemaine explained it to me.

AX: You also have an energy vampire, played by Mark Proksch, who feeds on people’s energy by creating boredom …

SIMMS: There is an episode coming up where he meets what he calls an emotional vampire, who works in his office, that I think you’ll really enjoy. You’ll like it.

AX: The actors have said that they are allowed to improvise to a certain extent. If they improvise, and they come up with something that you like better than your original dialogue, do you keep the improv?

SIMMS: Oh, yeah.

AX: But if they’re improvising, and you liked your dialogue better, do you go and say, “Let’s do one on book,” or …?

SIMMS: No, because we always get a good mix. they’re always very good about starting off with the version that’s written, and then, the more takes we do, the more it goes off in crazy directions. The only time we ever reel it in is if there’s something that’s specific for a story point, like, “You forgot to mention the part that you’re angry about that.” How they mention it is not as important to us as making sure that they got the story beat that was supposed to be in the scene. But you don’t even really think about it. You just keep getting more and more stuff, and then when you get in editing, you see what works best.

AX: Is there any language or imagery you can’t use on WHAT WE DO IN THE SHADOWS, since it’s basic cable?

SIMMS: No. That was the other thing I noticed watching with my kids is, we used a lot more swear words than I remembered being conscious of when we shot, but no, I think there hasn’t been anything where they said we couldn’t do that. I’m trying to think if there was any nudity on the show, but except for Doug Jones’s genderless nudity, I don’t think there was.

AX: It seems like all of the executive producers on WHAT WE DO IN THE SHADOWS are multi-tasking. Is there anybody in charge who’s not multi-tasking?

SIMMS: No. We’re all multi-tasking. Me and Jemaine were up in Toronto [where the series is shot]. We wrote in New York and then we were up in Toronto the whole time, and then Taika, who directed the pilot, came in and directed two episodes for the season, and Jemaine directed the first three episodes of the series, but then he was there when he wasn’t directing. We all like to think like, “Oh, this is a little side project we’re doing,” but it’s a full-time job.

AX: How arced versus standalone are the episodes?

SIMMS: They’re arced enough that it’s fun for people who are going to watch the whole thing, but it’s standalone enough that you don’t need to know what’s going on. You can dip in on any episode, like old-fashioned sitcoms, and follow what’s happening.

AX: Is it structured so that it can have a second season?

SIMMS: Oh, yeah.

AX: And what would you most like people to know about WHAT WE DO IN THE SHADOWS?

SIMMS: That it’s silly and stupid in a funny, in a good way.

This interview was conducted during FX’s portion of the Winter 2019 Television Critics Association (TCA) press tour.

Related: Exclusive Interview with Natasia Demetriou on Season 1 of the FX comedy based on the film

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Article: Exclusive Interview with WHAT WE DO IN SHADOWS executive producer Paul Simms


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