In 11 Questions, The A.V. Club asks interesting people 11 interesting questions—and then asks them to suggest one for our next interviewee.
Harvey Guillén is ready for his closeup. That’s true both on screen—Guillén currently co-stars as downtrodden vampire familiar Guillermo on FX’s What We Do In The Shadows, a role that’s about to take a major turn when the show returns for its second season on April 15—and in real life. He’s been a busy working actor since his early twenties, with recurring roles on ABC Family’s Huge, MTV’s Eye Candy, Nickelodeon’s The Thundermans, and Syfy’s The Magicians before landing his current gig. But in recent years Guillén has also emerged as a charismatic advocate for Latinx and LGBTQ+ representation in media. But perhaps the most charming thing about Harvey Guillén is how genuinely friendly and considerate he is, as The A.V. Club learned when he went out of his way to make Mexican hot chocolate for the press corps on a What We Do In The Shadows set visit last fall.
That’s not to say he doesn’t enjoy a bit of drama from time to time, however, as he revealed when we called him at home in Los Angeles in advance of What We Do In The Shadows’ season premiere. He just prefers to watch other people fight on TV—at least, when he’s not pursuing his twin passions of acting and travel. And candles. He’s really into scented candles.
Harvey Guillén: I was just talking to my sister today about candles, actually. I like the combination of vanilla and amber.
AVC: So you’re a candle person?
HG: I know what I like! A candle sets the tone, for meditation or just a mood. When you walk into a room and it smells like cookies, you’re like, “Oh! I like cookies!” It lifts you up. So I feel like scents are very important.
AVC: What mood does amber and vanilla set?
HG: Relaxing and at ease.
HG: My first concert was No Doubt, and I listened to the Rock Steady album so hardcore, because Gwen Stefani got me. The Rock Steady album was nonstop playing at least for my senior year.
AVC: Do you still have it all memorized? If you put it on now, could you sing along?
HG: Oh yeah, even the songs that weren’t on the radio that only a true fan would know. [Laughs.]
AVC: The No Doubt deep cuts.
HG: It was either that, or I was listening to a musical. The musicals were timeless, so I would be listening to an old recording of Company, or something like that. And Wicked had just come out, so I was blasting Wicked on my way to school as well.
HG: I don’t know if I want to believe in aliens. I just want to make sure that if they are out there—and, I mean, they are out there—we’re cool with them. We know they’re out there, they know we’re here, we know they’re way advanced, so let’s keep it chill, just let our little planet survive, we don’t mean any harm.
It’s like a bully at school that might be in a bad mood that day. Not that the aliens are bullies—if they’re hearing or reading this, I don’t think they’re bullies in any way, so please don’t take what I said to heart, Mr. Alien. [Laughs.]
But I feel like, they’re bigger, they’re tougher, and I just don’t want to be in their way in the hallway. It’s like, “Mr. Alien, your hair looks really nice today, here’s my lunch money, please let me get to class.”
HG: I know the first time I was really hopeful. I’ll flip that question and make it hopeful, because when Barack Obama was elected, it was my first time where I thought, “Wow, things can change. Things are going to be better.” And then the recent administration flipped that on me again. So, yeah, it was good vibes and positivity on a roll for a while, and then recently it’s just been—it’s been a ride. Stop this ride. I want to get off!
AVC: Your baseline is disillusioned, so a moment of feeling hope was more notable?
HG: That’s the thing. I hope you don’t mind that I reversed the question.
AVC: You did answer it by basically saying, “All the time, except for this one time.”
HG: Yeah. It just—it seems more hopeful when you put it the other way.
HG: Probably my sister. Because she’d never ask questions. [Laughs.] She’s ride or die. It probably would gross her out to do it, and she would have questions of course, but she’d be like, “Okay, here’s what we have to do,” and she’d ask questions later.
That’s the person you need when you’ve got a situation that needs handled; who are you going to go to unless it’s family? People always think you can trust anyone who’s close, but no, you can really only trust family. They know you better than anyone.
HG: I’ve had some pretty cool ones, if I may say so myself. Let’s see—one year I went as my friend Nikki Blonsky from Hairspray.
AVC: Oh my God!
HG: Yeah, I went as Tracy Turnblad, and I think I did a pretty good job. I won a costume contest—I don’t remember where it was, unfortunately. But it was up there. It looked exactly like the movie, to the point where even Nikki was like, “Yeah, you killed it.”
AVC: Were you nervous to dress up like her in front of her?
HG: No, because you know what happened? I was shooting a show with her at the time, and we had become really close. The movie had just come out a couple of years prior to that, and I couldn’t think of a costume, and a being a person of size it’s hard to find a costume that’ll be like, “Oh, you nailed it.” Every time I go out in the Lara Croft from Tomb Raider outfit, it’s not received as well, you know? [Laughs.] I’ve never done that.
But it was perfect timing that we became friends right before that. Would I be hesitant if I didn’t know her? I don’t know. I think it was getting her blessing that made me feel like, “Oh cool, I can do this.” Imitation is the best form of flattery.
HG: I would say somewhere tropical. I like the beach, I like the ocean. I’ve never been to Thailand or Fiji or anything like that, but it would be nice to live somewhere tropical and still get to go to work and it wouldn’t matter. Maybe in the future, teleporting to work would be easier and you could just live anywhere. I like to travel a lot, so maybe I wouldn’t call one place home. I’d spend six months in France, all these different spots.
But I definitely would love to live on some kind of island, a secluded area where you go to work and it’s work, and then you go home and it’s a completely different world. It’s nice to separate the two.
AVC: I’m glad you brought up teleporting technology, because when I picture this scenario in my mind, that’s how I picture it.
HG: You can live here in Venice, or in Santa Monica, where you have the beach. And that’s nice. But it’s not somewhere isolated—somewhere you might not have a next-door neighbor nearby, so it really feels like you’re on your own and you can decompress. In Santa Monica, you’re still part of the hustle and bustle. So we’re going to need to get to work on that teleporting machine, please.
HG: I used to live in this apartment complex where all the boys would hang out together, and someone had stolen their brother’s Playboy magazine—actually, I don’t think it was even as classy as Playboy. Playboy was the classier version of what this guy had. It was detailed.
And I remember seeing that for the first time and I was like, “Whoa, what is that?” And the guy said, “That’s what you do when you have a girlfriend.” And I was like, “well, okay, that’s not happening, so...” It was just like, “no thanks.” But I remember that, because all the boys were so excited about it because they were being bad, you know? And then that same year, we had to watch this video [at school], but the video was very toned down. And I was like, “That’s not what I saw.” The video’s all, “your body and you,” and “your body’s going to change,” and I was like, “We’re focusing a lot on me and not talking about what those boys showed everyone.”
But yeah, those were two opposite things, and either/or, really. I’m sure now you’d find out because of the internet. That’s way faster than some kid who stole his brother’s magazine.
AVC: Somebody stealing a porno magazine, or even finding a porno magazine somewhere, is such a generational thing. It’s pre-internet.
HG: Tangible evidence that you were looking at pornography is kind of out the door now. Also, I feel bad for those porn companies that have gone out of business because no one’s buying tangible porn. We should really start a charity for them.
AVC: Maybe it’ll come back, you know? It’ll be trendy.
HG: With these germs? In this day and age? I don’t know. But we will start a charity for them. Help us find a means to help the ones who have the means to help themselves.
HG: I will constantly, forcibly educate my friends that travel is the only thing you can buy that makes you richer. I have a really strong opinion about it. When people are like, “Oh, I don’t need to travel,” I’m like, “No, you really do!” Not right now, of course, but when it’s safer.
The experience of being a different culture and different part of the world and the food and everything—I have friends who sometimes say, “Well, I’ve been around in the United States.” And I think you have to travel out of the bubble. You have to see what’s out there. You might say, “We have everything here.” And I say, no, you have to really make an effort to understand how other cultures live. Is that petty? I don’t know if that’s petty, or just naggy, because I won’t take no as an answer. [Grits teeth] “Get on the plane!” [Laughs.]
AVC: When we met on the What We Do In The Shadows set visit, we talked briefly about how he had both lived abroad. And I feel that changed the way I saw the world in a fundamental way, for the better.
HG: I totally agree with that. I was living in Japan for 13 months, and I came back completely different. I’m glad it happened right out of college, too. I came back and I was like, “Wow, life will never be the same!” I had a whole new respect for people who live abroad, and who travel, and I want to continue to do that. It definitely changed my life. Maybe that’s why I’m petty about it. I try not to be like, [snotty voice] “Well, I’ve traveled overseas,” but to have more of an encouraging attitude.
HG: Reality TV. [Laughs.] Something appeals to me about reality TV when I’m having a bad day, because I know it’s not scripted, but it’s so bad, it’s good. It’s like, no matter the day you’ve had, it could always be worse, because someone could pull your wig off while you’re on vacation in Greece. Things could always be worse.
I, for one, love the Housewife franchise, because it really shows me that just when you think things are getting tough, it can always be tougher.
AVC: “Things could be worse, someone could pull your wig off while you’re on vacation in Greece.”
HG: Someone make that into a shirt, please.
AVC: I was thinking a throw pillow.
HG: Probably not. I wouldn’t want to know, because I know I’d be paranoid about it. Even if it was years and years—hopefully years and years—in the future, I would still be like, “I don’t have time!” I live every day to the fullest that I can that day, and if I die tomorrow, I have no regrets, as opposed to living with fear. I hate the idea of living in fear.
Those last couple of years when you knew that the timer was running out would be pretty rough, I think. You couldn’t even enjoy yourself. It would taint the last memories that you had, and—nope. I’d rather not.
12. Bonus 12th question from Isa Mazzei: If you could wake up tomorrow fluent in any language besides the one(s) you already speak, what would it be and why?
HG: I tried to learn French in high school. I took one semester of it, and then I tested out of a foreign language because I spoke Spanish and wrote Spanish. And I have regretted it ever since. So, if I could, French, just because it sounds so dramatic when you’re speaking. It makes everything sound so important, and I want to sound important speaking French.
AVC: And what would you like to ask the next person we interview?
HG: Let me see—what cartoon, would you say, instantly takes you back to your childhood?
AVC: And what’s your answer to this question?
HG: For me, the cartoon that takes me back would have to be The Simpsons. Something about it just always so nostalgic for me. I can associate an episode to where I first saw, it or a time in my life, or a season. I think Jessica Lovejoy should come back!