Vampires descended onto New York Comic Con on Sunday for the much-anticipated What We Do in the Shadows preview and panel event for the upcoming small-screen adaptation of Jemaine Clement and Taika Waititi’s 2014 cult comedy. While they proved plenty scary with blood to spare, the fanged undead brought in the laughs, too.
The sold-out audience at the Hammerstein Ballroom in Manhattan was treated to a screening of the series’ first episode, which is due to premiere on FX in 2019. The screening was followed by a talk-back with Clement and Waititi along with executive producer and writer Paul Simms. While Clement especially remained tight-lipped on the surprises in store this season (he wrote the series in full as opposed to sharing writing credits with Waititi as they did for the film), we’ve broken down the eight quick facts gleaned from their conversation with moderator and Rolling Stone critic Alan Sepinwall. Catch up below.
To hear Clement tell it, there was never really a plan to adapt or reimagine his film for the small screen until powerhouse producer Scott Rudin (who is attached to the small-screen adaptation as executive producer) saw the movie and reached out to him directly.
“Scott Rudin saw the movie and asked us to develop a series idea and pilot. It seemed like a good opportunity for me, because it means I wouldn’t have to pitch it. It would already be approved,” Clement said with a laugh.
“We’d just basically steal from a lot of things that we liked and put them in our movie and then take credit for it!” Waititi joked.
More specifically: Staten Island. While the 2014 film (pictured above) follows vampires Vladislav (Clement), Viago (Waititi), and Deacon (Jonny Brugh) living together in their native Wellington, New Zealand, Clement decided for the series, he wanted the documentary crew to follow vampires living in the United States.
“We wanted the idea that the vampires had been — maybe 200 years ago — sent to conquer America, but had sort of lost their way and forgotten,” Simms said. “They’d gotten to New York, and that’s where the boat dropped them off, and they never went any further and before they knew it, a lot of time had passed.”
“We discussed a lot of different cities,” posited Clements, “[but] can’t be L.A. — too sunny.” Detroit was also a possibility, but they didn’t want to step on the toes of Jim Jarmusch’s Only Lovers Left Alive.
Much like the movie, the series follows three vampires who live together: Laszlo (Matt Berry, pictured above in Toast of London), Nadja (Natasia Demetriou), and Nandor (Kayvan Novak) — the former two are husband and wife. Also living with them is a fourth vampire named Colin Robinson (Mark Proksch), who’s an “energy vampire.” Instead of blood, he sucks the energy out of his victims by boring them to death with mundane anecdotes and bad jokes. The office is his feeding ground, but his powers also work on his vampire roomies.
“We hadn’t thought about anything like that for the movie,” Clement said, “but when I was reading about different kinds of vampires, there was one that people mentioned as a real type of vampire that exists and that we all come up against.”
While tonally akin to the feature film, the pilot episode that screened at NYCC proved to be a different story entirely. The main action is put into motion when our central three vampires receive notice that an ancient leader vampire named the Baron is coming to pay them a visit from abroad, purportedly to see how conquering America is going. Nadja also fans a extramarital crush on a human who she’s convinced is a reincarnation of an old flame — one that she incidentally decapitated in the bedroom.
There’s also quite a lot of attention paid to the vampires’ familiars, particularly the sweet-but-fumbling Guillermo (Harvey Guillen, pictured above in Syfy series The Magicians). Laszlo has been his master for the last 10 years, and he hopes to one day be rewarded for his service by being turned into a vampire himself. He’s a bright spot of innocence in this household of bloodsucking murderers — even though he helps in this murders along the way.
“When I was writing the pilot, I was thinking that they’re all murderers, so you need someone to balance that,” Clement said of the character. “He’ll have to wrestle, of course, with that idea when he becomes a vampire — if he does — he’ll have to do those things, too.”
Simms also teased that this series won’t just stay on Staten Island, but will venture out in Manhattan, as well; in fact, there’s going to be a whole episode dedicated to the subject, with Laszlo, Nadja, and Nandor coming face to face with some other unwelcome vampires.
“They sort of think that Staten Island is all of New York or maybe even all of America, but there’s a whole story where they go into Manhattan for the first time to meet the Manhattan vampires, who are a little bit cooler than they are,” he said.
“Jemaine really doesn’t want to give anything away,” Simms said, chiming in. “But I think if you watch the show, you’re going to be very satisfied.”
“Only if something really disastrous happens. It has to be of incredible import,” Clement said of the possibility of his Vladislav popping up later on in the series.
But Waititi did confirm that their new FX project does indeed take place in the same world as their film: “We’re creating a universe to rival that of Marvel,” joked the director of Thor: Ragnarok.