Spoilers for the most recent episode of What We Do in the Shadows follow below.
Last night’s episode of the FX comedy series What We Do in the Shadows surprised fans with some stellar cameos from some very famous actors, but it took a lot of hard work to pull it off. When it was announced that FX was turning the 2014 film into a TV series, there was an expectation that Taika Waititi and Jemaine Clement would reprise their roles from that movie—especially since Waititi and Clement are involved in the show as executive producers and directors. And while Waititi and Clement did make their triumphant return as Viago and Vladislav in last night’s episode, they were joined by some other actors who played famous vampires.
Indeed, last night’s episode introduced an “international vampire tribunal,” and Waititi and Clement used this as an opportunity to have some fun. It saw Tilda Swinton reprising her role from Only Lovers Left Alive and Evan Rachel Wood bringing back her True Blood character alongside Danny Trejo (From Dusk Till Dawn), Paul Reubens (Buffy the Vampire Slayer—the film, not the TV show), and last but not least Blade himself Wesley Snipes.
So how did they manage to get all of these actors together, and were any reluctant to sign on for the gag? Waititi, Clement and executive producer Paul Simms spoke to EW about the star-studded bit, and Waititi revealed it all started with Swinton:
“We’d often talk about the idea of the vampires that we knew about somehow being involved. Even the fact that our vampires used to talk about them all the time. Like, it was only mentioned briefly in the film, but my character was kind of obsessed with Blade and sort of fanned out a lot on Blade. In the Unholy Masquerade in the film, he dresses up as Blade and everyone’s like, ‘No one wants to see Blade at a vampire party, he’s a vampire killer!’ So it was already kind of in there, and then Jemaine picked up on the idea that we would start with one person like Tilda and then add in all the others. I asked Tilda to do it and she was like, ‘Okay, sure.’ [Laughs] That was pretty much it.”
Clement says they then just started drawing up a list of famous vampires in movie and TV history, and proceeded from there:
“So we started with Tilda, and it was kind of her idea. We had high hopes she would turn up, even though people were skeptical. People would go, ‘Are you sure’” We were pretty sure of that one. Yeah, we had a massive list, and then our casting people went out to lots of people. I’ve seen Buffy the Vampire Slayer, the movie, but I didn’t know Paul Reubens played that character, because he’s so in disguise. I didn’t realize it was him, but we were excited to get him, because he’s such a funny person. We had to wait a while to get Wesley to agree to it. In the writers’ room, when the idea came up that someone would be on Skype, I found [that] really funny, from being in lots of meetings where there’s one person on Skype, and how disruptive it is to those meetings. So we pushed hard to get him to come. Danny Trejo and I were actually in a movie together.”
As one might expect, Snipes took a bit of convincing and they had to explain to him what What We Do in the Shadows was in the first place. They shot his scenes after they had wrapped the season, in a hotel room in New Jersey. Simms explained:
“People kept saying, ‘Well, it’s easy, all you have to do is Skype in from wherever.’ We were just worried about the picture quality being as good as it needed to be. When he finally said he would do it, initially he said, ‘Just come over to my house and do it, in Tenafly.’ Then, he was like, ‘Eh, I don’t want all this equipment in my house.’ So we rented a hotel room somewhere near where he lives in New Jersey. The funny thing about Wesley was, his people said, ‘Don’t ask Wesley to wear the dark sunglasses. He doesn’t want to wear the dark sunglasses. He doesn’t want it to look like Blade, or whatever.’ We were all warned not to do that. We had a pair of glasses on standby, but I didn’t know if I was going to have the courage to ask him to wear the sunglasses. And then, when Wesley showed up, he was wearing how own sunglasses, which looked cool, and went right into it. So there was nothing to worry about.”
There were other cameos that were discussed. Some actors passed, and some—like True Blood’s Alexander Skarsgard—couldn’t work out schedule-wise. Simms even says Brad Pitt was interested in bringing back his Interview with a Vampire character:
“I remember Kiefer Sutherland passed. Brad, we talked to his people and they were very open to it, but by then we were so full up with vampires, we never really followed up. Which is kind of rude of us, and maybe a mistake. But that’s saved something for season 2. And Tom [Cruise], I don’t even think we tried. It was one of those things where we went out to a lot of people, and once we got the people that we had, we were very happy with it. There were a few people who did want to do it, and then scheduling-wise it just didn’t work out. I can’t remember if [Robert Pattinson] was one of them. I do remember Alexander Skarsgård was really very open to doing it, but he was in Australia at the time. We almost sent someone to Australia to try to shoot him, but the schedule didn’t work out. As it is, I wish we had more time with each one of those, so if we got more, it would have been even less time for everyone. But we’re open for anyone for season 2!”
One Oscar-winner actually did want to do it, but Taika Waititi said no because she’d never played a vampire before. That was, of course, Cate Blanchett:
“For some reason, Cate Blanchett was on the list. I think maybe people got confused. I don’t know why she was on their lists. I was like, ‘Cate, have you ever played a vampire?’ She was like, ‘No, but I’d love to.’ I was like, ‘But you haven’t?’ ‘No.’ ‘’Well then you can’t be in the show.’ [Laughs] She was like, ‘What? I want to be in it!’ I said, ‘But you can’t, because you haven’t been a vampire. Those are the rules!’”
It’s amazing they were able to keep all of this under wraps, and I can only hope this bit gets revisited in Season 2. Can you imagine Brad Pitt and Tom Cruise turning up for a one-scene gag in an FX comedy series about vampires?