Harvey Guillén is Slaying Vampires and Stereotypes

Written by | Entertainment

Harvey Guillén became an instant fan favorite when FX’s runaway hit What We Do in the Shadows hit TV screens in 2019. Challenging the norms of what made a star a star and what an action hero looked like, he became the media’s darling as they were able to anchor headlines on Latinx, LGBTQ, and plus-size descriptives. As each interview and new role would show, Harvey is much more than the labels assigned to him.  Whereas most actors sit back and enjoy the success of two-time Emmy-nominated TV show, Harvey’s hustle has led to several notable TV appearances, action films, and voice-over projects. In the space of just a couple of years, Harvey has gone from being a fresh face in Hollywood to presenting at the Golden Globes alongside one of his co-stars, Salma Hayek. He is a verified quadruple threat – singer, actor, dancer … vampire slayer.

This past winter, the true picture of his success came into full view as passengers on the New York City subway were met not with one, but two, side to side, billboard ads for Harvey’s work – Comedy Central’s Cursed Friends and Dreamworks’ Puss in Boots 2. Harvey had no clue what Shadows would do for his career.

It’s funny because when I shot the pilot, I had such a good time, and the chemistry was so good between all of us as characters that I was sure we weren’t going to get picked up. The rule of thumb is if you love something, it usually never gets picked up. It got picked up, we did one season and then I was just so happy that we got to do a season, and then we got a second season. Most of the show has been done during the pandemic, so it has been kind of an escape for people during a really crazy time. But I never thought it would be something that would catapult me to the next level. And I never thought it would be something that was going to be the biggest, the next best thing, or whatever. My mindset was: I get to work on something that’s so fun and how lucky am I that I get to do it. Now we’re on season five and so yeah, the stuff that’s come with has been the cherry on top that I never even could have imagined.

Harvey is quick to point out that even though he found the spotlight from doing Shadows, he was not an overnight success. Before playing Guillermo, he had a stint as an unlikely superhero on Nickelodeon’s The Thundermans as well as appearances on Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, iZombie, The Good Place, and The Magicians, not to mention all his theatre work from youth. He is playful about the media’s newfound crush, don’t let his boyish looks fool you, he’s been doing the damn thing for a while.

I’ve been working at this for years. It’s just that you just discovered me so in your world, you made a discovery, you discovered this actor out of nowhere. The reality is that I’ve been here, you just never knew because I wasn’t in anything that you liked, watched, or were interested in. And suddenly, I’m in something that’s your favorite thing and it’s like, “Hey, that actor, I, I just discovered this new actor, he’s really great. He’s going places!” It’s kind of funny when you think about it because you’re always somebody’s favorite from something. In the last couple of years, we’ve done cons and whatnot and it’s so funny to see who likes me from what. But people tend to forget, and just know that this business is fickle – one second you’re in and the next you’re out. And the rollercoaster’s ups and downs are tremendous and it’s just funny, you know?

He is the media’s darling. He charms in every interview he is in. He makes time for small podcast interviews as well as big media opportunities. With a pal next door attitude in real life, he exudes comfort and joy on screen. Even his name, taking the stage name Harvey after his teachers couldn’t pronounce “Javier,” elicits an aw-shucks, Jimmy Stewart likeability.

I stayed true to myself from the beginning. People have brought to my attention recently that I’m still the same guy. Even when you were busing tables, you’re still the same guy when you were hustling, or you’re still the same guy when you were auditioning and doing children’s theater – like you’re still listening. I tend to stick to my craft and give it 150% and hope it is well received. For the most part, I think that’s what it is – I haven’t changed. People can read you to filth and they can see when you’re honest, when you’re not, and when you’re phony.

Another part of Harvey’s life that keeps him grounded is his family and friends. If you follow Harvey’s social media you know that he is literally around the globe from one week to the next, a different project month after month, a different voice-over booth week after week. So, when does he find the time for loved ones?

You’re always on the go, but you make time when you can. I surround myself with great people. My best friends have been my best friends since fourth grade, and they have nothing to do with the industry. You make time for the people you love and for the things that are important. I know that being busy is always a good excuse and being busy is great. I’m busy, busy, and blessed, but you also have to keep grounded. It’s always important to squeeze those important relationships in and to keep that cohesive and linear connection to the people you were friends with before you got to this place.

Photo by Jen Rosenstein

The focus on Harvey has shifted. Media is now talking about his acting rather than just the headline-grabbing labels. Sure, he’s Latino. Sure, he’s gay. Sure, he represents body inclusivity. But now, let’s talk about who Harvey is.

I think the media started focusing on that obviously from the get-go because I came into a world that was not the norm for someone who looks like me, right? And so, people are like, what is this? What is this new thing coming into our vision? That is not the norm. It is a topic of conversation. I like to think that over time it has changed and that’s not new and different – it’s the normal now. You now can see different body sizes in all kinds of shapes and heights and people of color and backgrounds – that should be the norm. For so long, it was very cookie cutter, and it was pretty much the same over and over.

We knew what a starlet looked like, and we knew what a leading man looked like. And suddenly, only in the recent decade or so has that been shifted into, why the fuck can’t a round, brown, and proud actor be a lead or be the focus of attention or be your desire? Why can’t they be lusted over and be a sex symbol? It never made sense because we let Hollywood control that narrative. Now there are way more people who are stepping out of that shadow and into the light and saying, “No, I’m just as good. I’m just as valuable and I’m just as talented and I’m not going anywhere.”

I wouldn’t be here if I was just a one-trick pony and you just saw me as the round, brown, proud guy. The cream rises to the top, and you can actually stand by your talent – either you have the goods, or you don’t it. I know that I’ve trained, and I’ve worked hard to get where I’m at. If I wasn’t good enough to stay in this business, I wouldn’t be working. They forget that. The narrative that was controlled and said earlier was just to focus on body, focus on race, and focus on that. And now we need to take that away. Can we focus on doing the work? Oh, it’s actually good work! Oh, people are acknowledging it and it’s getting nominated and it’s getting acknowledged. As an actor, you don’t do it for the accolades, but it’s good to know that you’re stripping away those ideals that were focused on before and really focusing on the work and noticing the work is good.

As for the roles that Harvey has been playing, he refuses to be pigeonholed into playing gay characters. Typecasting is a surefire way to limit any actor’s career.

I made a conscious decision to do that. I know what Hollywood was going to do – I saw it happen to other people. I’ve seen it happen to other queer actors. They say, “Oh, you’ll work, but you’ll always be this one trick pony and you’ll always be the go-to token queer character.” That really bothered me because I know those actors are more talented than playing one role, but they had a choice, right? You must do what’s right for you at that moment, at that time. I decided I can’t get typecast into just one thing because then that says to everyone, isn’t he great at playing that one thing and isn’t that great?

Some become complicit and content, presenting themselves in one way because it’s a paycheck. After a while you’re getting paid to play something that comes easy to you and in the end, you hate it because you’re not challenged. Don’t get me wrong, those roles are fun and fabulous and I love it when I get to play them too. But I’d also like to remind everyone that we’re all performers and actors who want to challenge ourselves. We want you to take a risk on us playing that role that you never would’ve imagined we could play. I’ve done that in the last couple of years, like in Reacher playing a medical examiner with a Southern accent who is Latino, which is rarely seen on television. Where do you see that on television? So, I push myself to do roles that are not conventional. Like kids’ animation where I use my voice – that’s an art. I pride myself in taking on different roles and people respond, “That was you? Oh, that’s right – that was you. I didn’t even recognize you. If you didn’t tell me, I wouldn’t know!” I love hearing that. That is my job as a performer – to create a completely new life.

Even though the LGBTQ community has recently rallied around the actor, that was not always the case. Harvey oftentimes felt like a stranger in his group.

For the longest time, I felt like I wasn’t in with the crowd. I wasn’t in with the cool kids of the queer world, and I wasn’t on covers of magazines. The community itself had kind of taken notice of me but not acknowledged and said, “yeah, he’s one of us.” They were more like, “oh, hey girl, you’re over there.” It wasn’t a welcoming thing. There was never a spread or a cover about “Harvey Guillén comes out” or anything like that. There was never a big hoorah because traditionally, as much as I hate to say it, even in our community, we do judge each other on body shapes and sizes. Even in our queer culture, it was like, “can we put him on the cover? He doesn’t have a six-pack.” For so long, even our community was discriminating against us in that way. It was unfortunate because I was like, I’ve been here, I’ve been a part and I’ve been loud about being proud of who I am.

Just recently, because of the accolades and success of the show, more a nd more outlets and more people are like, “Yes, one of us! Yaas! You go, girl!” But I was here two years ago, it wasn’t like just out of nowhere I came out. Sometimes the whole community is just shining its light somewhere else, sometimes they’re not even aware of your work. They haven’t come across it yet because they are focusing on queer work and whatnot. Since I’m not playing queer back-to-back, then I’m not completely in your peripheral. If I’m not in front of you, then you don’t know me, obviously. So, it’s been a challenge, but I think in the last couple years with the work that I’ve done and sprinkle myself all around, everyone is aware now!

I always make a joke that the community loves everyone – “Love is love. EWWWW! Except you, fatty!” That’s what it feels like sometimes. What are we saying? What is our chant? Love is love if it looks a certain way? Being a person of size, it’s hurtful because that sucks, you know? I get it. I get that people have what they are attracted to or sexually drawn to and that’s fine. Different strokes for different folks. But we can’t say, as a community, that we’re inclusive when we exclude certain bodies because they don’t look like what the “majority” of our community fawns over.

In a milestone for his character, Harvey’s Guillermo came out to his family in the last season of Shadows. Though his sexuality was hinted at, it was never fully addressed. Of course, as any good Latino gay man does, he came out during a family dinner. Latin drama and all. But his family was more upset that he wanted to be a vampire than they were about his queerness. The scene was a perfect culmination of moments from Harvey’s personal life, making it real for the character, and the mission of the show’s creative team to get it just right.

I think the time had come. Remember that Guillermo had a lot of things that he was keeping from his family. A lot of secrets have piled on. That kind of translates over to us as humans that sometimes a little white lie becomes bigger than we could ever imagine. A little secret becomes detrimental to you and others. It just became too much.

I love when people ask, “When did they come out?” It’s funny because, for the most part, people know who they are. They don’t come out to you. They let you in. They get to a place where they feel comfortable enough to let you in. What you do with that information is up to you. Sometimes people take that information and destroy someone’s life, or they take that information and use it against that person. That’s unfortunate because they felt so comfortable letting you in and you took what was so vulnerable to them and personal to them and used it, Hopefully, most use it for positive. But if you use it for negative, then you’re a piece of shit. It’s not coming out. It’s “letting in.”

What We Do In the Shadows – courtesy FX

The writers [on Shadows] are very inclusive. We work together on issues like that and the family stuff, the Spanish dialogue, the setting and how important it is for things in the household and the language used to feel very authentic, especially for Guillermo, who is from Mexican culture. With the coming out story, I remember when we talked about it and they said, “we’re doing it, we’re doing it this year, he’s coming out.” And the way that I read it, it was so funny and beautiful, and the director worked hands-on with me and wanted to make sure that this felt as authentic as it could to Guillermo, but also for me, it was cathartic.

People have their “letting in” and everyone’s personal letting in story is different. For me, it felt so weird because I had to do this on camera. It felt so vulnerable. The characters in this scene, my Mexican mom, are like real characters in my real life. I could literally remember that day. It was very close to me. How many people get to relive a moment in their life that they can relate to and convey that into a scene that will live forever on film?

Disney? Check. Presenting at the Golden Globes? Check. Curvy action hero? Check. Working with Latin greats Antonio Banderas and Salma Hayek? Check. Harvey’s not done checking boxes. He will co-star in the Blue Beetle film, released under James Gunn’s vision for the DC cinematic universe. This film marks the first time a Latino superhero leads his own movie. The cast is largely from the Latinx community.

It’s a huge deal to be a part of this – the cast alone, this director who’s brilliant, and the writing, I mean, when I read the script for this film, I couldn’t believe it. I was just like, wait, what? These are conversations that could easily be had in my household. We make references to things that are very much anyone who was part of the Latino community who grew up with your ‘tias y tios’ – all of it is in the script. It blew my mind because of the way it was done. It is so great because it was so inclusive. If you didn’t grow up being Latino and in that world, it doesn’t matter – you are being introduced. We hold your hand through it. And you’re going to be blown away because stories like this were never told before – and now we’re telling it. If you have lived anything similar to the story, you will have an instant rapport and think, oh my gosh, I’m on screen – my life’s on screen, my family’s on screen, I’m on screen. That’s such a big thing for me as an actor to be a part of because it’ll live forever, this movie will live forever. If you never knew about Mexican culture or Latino culture, this will be a great introduction with superhero involvement. Obviously, because you know we have Blue Beetle, who is the main character, that itself is already entertaining. But the family and the culture are what really kind of drives the story, which is so great.

Harvey’s positivity, optimism, and work ethic are not an act. He is the real deal. Hopefully, his attitude and thoughts can inspire other members of the LGBTQ community – in entertainment and beyond.

My biggest wish would be that we become more supportive of each other in any way we can. I always say, if it wasn’t me, then I’m always glad it was somebody in my community, one way or another. A feather in one of our hats is a feather in all our hats, you know? And that’s what I love. So, I would hope that for our community, we really do support each other and try to help each other in any way we can. Whether it be writing or producing and casting our brothers and sisters and recommending them.

Last modified: February 1, 2023