This piece contains spoilers for FX’s What We Do in the Shadows
What does an action hero look like? In the ’80s, action heroes had over-muscled bodies. Their glistening sheen and machismo beat many a cartel baron and evil sci-fi villain. The ’90s followed suit, although women were occasionally physically strong too, with forearms that could split a log and biceps with more cuts than a deli. Even teen heroes like Buffy were rigorously fit and slender, fitting the “ideal” vision of beauty and health. The ’00s were full of military “heroes” as Hollywood responded to another American war on the Middle East, but in 2008 that all began to change as the modern superhero introduced a new muscled hero with a highly unrealistic body type carved by the now notorious Marvel Studios regime. Action heroes have rarely looked like us—that is until What We Do in the Shadows‘ Guillermo de la Cruz.
A vampire slayer like no other, Harvey Guillén’s brilliant and kind hero has become the heart and soul of FX’s Emmy-nominated What We Do In the Shadows over the past two seasons. In a vital twist from the original film that inspired it, Jemaine Clement‘s TV adaptation introduced a core human familiar who wanted nothing more than to be a vampire. Guillermo seemed to be an unassuming and underappreciated young man, tied to the Staten Island nest by his connection to Nandor. He’s been serving the vampire for ten years. But in hindsight there are plenty of nods to Guillermo de la Cruz’s true nature. In fact, in the very first episode we see him consider the sunlight that shimmers over his master’s coffin. But Guillermo is loyal and kind. Something other than Nandor, Laszlo, and Nadja’s sassy retorts had to inspire his journey to action-heroism.
So what takes Guillermo from wannabe Armand (of The Vampire Chronicles) to fabulous vampire slayer? Well, he discovers he’s Van Helsing’s descendant. But like everything else about Guillermo, the real answer is something much more compelling: love. That’s at the heart of who a slayer is, always. Even after years of neglect, Guillermo feels a need to protect Nandor and his roommates from regular undead assassins. You could easily argue that the series’ fanged stars wouldn’t be around to appear in their own documentary without Guillermo’s protection.
— Harvey Guillén (@HARVEYGUILLEN) June 11, 2020
It’s not just Guillermo’s motivations that differ from the average action hero, though. It’s Guillermo himself, a Latinx hero who’s just as efficient at slaying monsters as Blade or Buffy. Guillén owns most of the series’ most impressive action sequences. Whereas the awesome practical vampire stunts are usually played for laughs—like when Laszlo yells “BAT!”—it’s no laughing matter when Guillermo’s involved. From his early days as an accidental slayer to the second season’s seasoned killings, Guillermo is electric. We rarely get to see plus-sized characters living good, authentic lives—lives that their weight doesn’t define. But to see a bigger character getting to be a hero, having the chance to fight, throwing themselves through windows, and taking down multiple evil creatures all while looking cool feels like a revelation.
There’s also the fact that What We Do in the Shadows is an incredibly queer show. Multiple characters have relationships with characters of multiple genders, and no one questions it. Co-showrunner Paul Simms recently confirmed that every character in the show is pansexual. That means Guillermo is a queer hero as well.
Guillén identifies as queer too, so it’s a rare moment of true, complex representation that also happens to be a whole lot of fun. The most exciting thing about Guillermo is that his story is just beginning. FX renewed What We Do in the Shadows for a third season, and now that his vampire friends know the truth, Guillermo will no longer be working alone. Guillén deserves all the accolades for his charming turn as the reluctant hero turned total badass (he should have received an Emmy nomination). It’s the actor who imbues Guillermo with his gravitas, empathy, and kindness, and who did the work to become a killer action hero.
As a queer disabled plus-sized person, genre storytelling has always been a space I’ve looked for myself in. But I’m usually looking for the other; the unintentional recognition or spaces and allegories that I can fit myself into that were never purposefully carved out for me. But Guillermo is intentional; he’s unquestionably a hero, unapologetic in his power and realness. And I am so grateful that he exists.
Featured Image: FX