When you think great action on TV, it’d be understandable if your mind first drifts to martial arts dramas like Warrior and Cobra Kai, or a crime thriller like Reacher. What We Do in the Shadows has a counterpoint: Harvey Guillén’s Guillermo de la Cruz.
What We Do in the Shadows continues to deliver exhilarating fight sequences for everyone’s favorite familiar, the latest of which was a major part of the fourth episode of the fourth season, titled “The Night Market.”
In the episode, the gang visits a secret supernatural marketplace to help Nadja’s union-busting efforts at her new vampire nightclub. However, Nandor (Kayvan Novak) and Guillermo end up at a Night Market fight club that pits familiars against each other. Naturally, Nandor volunteers Guillermo to fight, and naturally, Guillermo easily dispatches the other familiars (but without hurting them, to the unruly crowd’s great dismay). The crowd decides to up the stakes by having Guillermo fight a vampire, eventually leading to a face-off between Guillermo and his beloved master, Nandor.
The scene takes place on multiple vertical levels, starting in a parking lot flanked by hundreds of onlookers before moving up to an elevated walkway for close-quarters combat. Guillermo flicks out his coat like an old Western duelist, shows off extensive weapons work (using a stick and a sword with an improvised trash can lid shield), and even does a backflip off of a truck. It is equally a great display of Guillén’s ability to execute complicated fight choreography (he does almost all of his own work in the sequence) and his charismatic screen presence, goading on the crowd (and Nandor) as he puts on a show.
Guillén said the sequence took four days to shoot in a factory in Toronto, and credited stunt coordinator Tig Fong for the end result.
“It was one of my favorite episodes,” Guillén tells Polygon. “It was great to do another stunt scene with Kayvan. Sword fighting was really cool.”
It wasn’t just sword fighting — Guillén also used a two-handed stick in the sequence. That was one of the more exciting parts for Guillén, and he compared Guillermo’s work with it to that of other pop culture figures.
“[Guillermo] picked up a new skill in London while he was away, and really kinds of knows how to whip the stick,” he says. “He’s like Gambit from the X-Men or a Jedi with a lightsaber. It was really fun to do.”
One of the bigger stunts in the Night Market sequence was a backflip Guillermo performs off a van. While Guillén wanted to perform the stunt himself, time concerns meant his stunt double Josh Maloney (who Guillén called “amazing” and a “great, great performer”) filled in.
“That was the one thing I really want to do,” he says. “I was like, Noooo! Put me in, coach!”
Such a thing isn't unheard of for Guillén: He is a very capable screen fighter and mover, as he’s shown in previous fight sequences on the show.
“I’m really excited for all of those scenes, because it’s like putting on a play,” he says. “You learn the choreography and you learn the steps and you have to be in the right step, because if you’re on the wrong count you can hit each other and hurt each other really badly.”
And as he tells Polygon, it's important to him to perform in these sequences himself.
“If I can do it, I want to do it myself,” Guillén says. “Because then it looks real and it’s cohesive and linear to the scene. Nothing looks worse than when you look at other shows and the stunt doubles and it’s like, That’s not the same body type or a different wig and you’re like, That’s not them, and we try to keep it... It’s a documentary! We want to keep it as real as possible.”
Novak also got a kick out of the scene, and called it a “new, fresh challenge” that was “pretty amazing.” He had high praise for Guillén’s skill and work in the scene.
“Working with Harvey again on that was awesome,” Novak tells Polygon. “It was kind of intimidating for me because Harvey, you can teach him choreography and steps and dance and movement and he just picks it up just like that straightaway.”
Guillén said the swords used in the Night Market fight were real and custom-made, and while they weren’t sharp enough to kill anybody, they were still a little dangerous, as the actors discovered when Novak got a little excited in their scene.
“One of the takes, man, I was getting so, like, into it,” Novak told Polygon. “Harvey picks up a trash can lid as a shield and I’m jabbing him with it. And then you know, it’s like, ‘Cut!’ and you’re looking and there’s like holes in the fucking shield, man. I pierced through the shield.”
Luckily, Novak’s sword missed Guillén, and no one was harmed in the incident.
“It goes to show. Jabbing your point willy-nilly, someone’s gonna get [hurt],” Novak said, through much laughter.
For more What We Do in the Shadows content, check out what the cast had to say when asked about their favorite vampire movies, books, and TV. And of course, don’t forget how Matt Berry came to shouting “Bat!,” or how recently he found out the show was a success.
New episodes of What We Do in the Shadows air on FX on Tuesdays at 10 p.m. EDT and are available to watch on Hulu.