How ‘What We Do in the Shadows’ got A-list celebs to cameo
It took Tilda Swinton — and a lot of creative editing — to pull together last Wednesday’s celebrity-driven episode of “What We Do in the Shadows.”
The FX mockumentary series about a motley crew of vampires (and one daywalking “Energy Vampire”) sharing a house in Staten Island featured meta cameos from Evan Rachel Wood (“True Blood”), Danny Trejo (“From Dusk Till Dawn”), Wesley Snipes (“Blade”), Swinton (“Only Lovers Left Alive”) and Paul Reubens (“Buffy the Vampire Slayer”) — all of whom played vampires in TV series and movies.
Once Swinton signed on for the episode, everything else fell into place, says “Shadows” executive producer Paul Simms. “The original idea we had almost a year ago in the writers room was that we didn’t even know what the vampires would’ve done wrong at the time,” says Simms, alluding to the episode’s plotline, in which vampires Nandor, (Kayvon Novak), Lazslo (Matt Berry) and Nadja (Natasia Demetriou) are summoned before the Vampire Council (Swinton, et al.) to answer for the death of their leader, Baron Afanas (Doug Jones).
“We thought, ‘What if the vampire tribunal had all these famous vampires you knew from other movies and TV shows coming together?,’ ” says Simms. “[Series co-creators] Jermaine [Clement] and Taika [Waititi] mentioned that they’d met Tilda Swinton at the SXSW Movie Festival — she had her vampire movie there — and they started talking and joking around like, ‘Oh, we should do something together.’ She was the first one who solidly committed [to the episode] … and I think the fact that Tilda was doing it made some of the other people think, ‘Oh, that might actually be a fun thing to do.’ I know that Evan Rachel Wood was very excited to meet Tilda on the day they were shooting together.”
Getting Snipes to appear in the episode (via a dodgy Skype connection) was the icing on the cake, Simms says. “The very last piece to come together was Wesley Snipes,” he says. “We all love ‘Blade’ so much and he was our dream person. The joke was that he would always appear on Skype; we just thought it was so funny that it’s Blade but he has a bad Skype connection.”
The celebrity cameos — including Clement, Waititi and Jonny Brugh from the original “Shadows” online movie — were shot after the show’s first season wrapped production in Toronto (it’s been renewed for a second season). “The bulk of the scenes with Tilda, Paul, Danny and Evan all came together on one day long after we’d finished the regular season,” Simms says. “It was shot in LA on a little stage in Glendale on a Sunday. We had to find a smaller LA crew to shoot it and it was shot on a very small stage with a black background. Taika [Waititi], having done ‘Thor: Ragnarok,’ had some experience working with digital effects and he and Jermaine did a lot of that in the [‘Shadows’] movie.
“The director of photography had a little chart with an overhead view of where everyone was standing in our make-believe world so that they would know which direction to look to talk to people who weren’t there.”
The rest of the episode, sans the celebrity vampire tribunal scenes, was shot in Toronto, with stand-ins and a few of the show’s writers subbing for Clement, Waititi and Brugh. “We also shot a lot of extra stuff in case it didn’t work out,” says Simms, adding that “True Blood” co-star Alexander Skarsgard wanted to appear in the episode but was in Australia and the logistics proved too difficult. “At one point, we were trying to figure out a way to get a crew to Australia and shoot him against a black background,” Simms says.
Kiefer Sutherland, who starred in the 1987 vampire movie “The Lost Boys,” was also approached.
“One of the first names that came up when we were talking about this was Kiefer Sutherland. We’re all fans of ‘The Lost Boys,’” says Simms. “I don’t know, he didn’t want to do it or wasn’t able to do it.” That didn’t stop Clement et al. from mentioning “Kiefer” in the vampire tribunal scene. “The actors started riffing on that, which was funny,” Simms says. “The door is always open for Kiefer next season. Maybe he’ll see the episode and realize how fun [the show] is.”
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