One of the ‘wow!’ moments in Taika Waititi-Jermaine Clement’s bonkers-as-fudge supernatural mockumentary seriesWhat We Do in the Shadows happened in ‘The Trial’ episode where the show’s goofball vamps — Nandor (Kayan Novak), Nadja (Natasia Demetriou) and Laszlo (Matt Berry) — are on trial for a heinous crime.
They’re being judged by a cabal of bloodsuckers played by Tilda Swinton, Danny Trejo, Peewee Herman, Wesley Snipes and Evan Rachel Wood — all of whom have played vampires on TV and in movies. Meta and mental, their cameo was the Mount Everest of gleeful surprises. How on Earth are the showrunners ever going to top that?
Enter: Mark Hamill.
In ‘On the Run’ episode, which premiered last Thursday (May 14), the 68-year-old Star Wars icon dropped in (quite literally) as an ancient vampire — who also goes simply as Jim (don’t ask) — with a drawn-out score to settle with Laslzo, forcing the latter to go on the lam. Hilarity ensues, naturally.
“When they sent me the script, I was fully expecting to play a member of the city council, a next-door neighbour, or somebody working in the Department of Motor Vehicles,” recalled Hamill to a group of journos over the phone.
The chance to play a vampire on the show allowed him tap into his two loves: horror movies and Monty Python. He credited his children for introducing him to what would become one of his favourite movies, 2014’s What We Do in the Shadows, starring and co-directed by Waititi and Clement, which inspired the TV series spin-off.
“I loved the fact that they take the vampire mythology and break it down into such relatable elements,” Hamill said. “I remember [a scene] where they’re preparing to go out for the night, and since they can’t see each other in the mirror, they did sketches of one another to show what they look like — who thinks like that?”
And it was Hamill’s love for the movie and TV show on social media which caught the producer’s attention. “I was tweeting, trying to get people who follow me to at least sample the show,” he said of his online cheerleading. “My goal was not to get a part on the show; it’s just for it to be renewed.”
For What We Do in the Shadows EP and co-showrunner Paul Simms, Hamill was born to play a vampire. He told Entertainment Weekly, “[Mark] seemed perfect for the part because he has the gravitas to play an ancient vampire rival, he’s not afraid to be silly, and he knows a thing or two about extended fight scenes.”
Even though Hamill has played a fangster before for (he voiced one on the animated series Mina and the Count), What We Do in the Shadows, er, marks, the first time in his 40-year plus career that he got to dress up in Count Dracula-type regalia.
“The wardrobe and hair people really help you, as with any job, understand your character in a way that you can’t always get from the script,” he explained. “The wardrobe is very, old-world, sort of – it has a gravitas to it.”
The in-demand voice actor maestro then shared an anecdote on how he came up with Jim’s ghoulish accent. “I remember being fascinated as a kid with the way [vampires and monsters] talk,” he said. “I had a little audio tape recorder I got for my birthday one year and I would tape Boris Karloff and Bela Lugosi” and look up about them at the library.
He continued, “Here I am, nine, 10 years old, walking around the house, ‘(in Dracula’s voice) ‘Listen to them….’ My mum would say, ‘Yes, honey, that’s a very nice Dracula impression, but do you know that imitating Dracula is not going to help you in life when you have to go out and get a job?’’
“Thirty years later, it all pays off!” he laughed.
While the wardrobe and makeup helped Hamill to get into character easily, he had a tough time staying in character because most of his scenes were with Berry, the British comedian who plays Laszlo. “He’s got mad improve skills,” Hamill said. “I don’t whether he thought of his [ad-libs] beforehand or they just came to him.”
Either way, Hamill had trouble keeping a straight face when the camera was rolling. Even though he got to ad-lib, he was happy to just to stick to the script. “I didn’t really have any hesitation about doing it as written,” he said. “[But] they’re very encouraging and open and I think it gives it more of a documentary feel, because it flows so naturally.”
Does he have a wish list of TV shows to guest on? “I’m much more content being the audience,” said Hamill. There’s no pressure when you’re just a viewer, he reasoned. “When I accepted a part, I said, ‘Uh oh, now I’m part of the show’. There’s much more pressure. You don’t want to go and ruin something you like!
“I don’t really have a bucket list per se. I don’t really know what it is I want to play, but I know what I want to play when I see it. And that’s what happened with What We Do in The Shadows. Like I said, when I read the script, I went, ‘Oh my gosh, I’m going to be a vampire. What a thrill!’ It’s something I really wanted to do, and I hope you enjoy it as much as I did making it.”
What We Do in the Shadows airs Thur, FX (Singtel Ch 310 & StarHub Ch 507), 10pm; same day as the US. It's also streaming on Fox+
Photos: TPG News/Click Photos, © 2020 FX Productions, LLC. All rights reserved.