Harvey Guillen Talks 'Zoey's Extraordinary Playlist' and Covering Britney Spears (Exclusive)

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Zoey's Extraordinary Playlist
Sergei Bachlakov/NBC/Lionsgate

What We Do in the Shadows star Harvey Guillen almost missed out on Zoey's Extraordinary Playlist. A scheduling conflict brought on by the pandemic forced Guillen, best known as the sweet, loyal Guillermo on Taika Waititi's FX series, to say no twice. But in the eleventh hour, the filming schedule for the upcoming season of Shadows was pushed back, allowing him to play in the Zoey's world for a bit. As Guillen describes the roller-coaster experience booking the job, it was "kismet."

"I was really bummed because I went to school for musical theater," Guillen shared during a recent phone interview with ET ahead of Tuesday's episode, a crucial one for his character, lovable new SPRQ Point tech guy George. "The character is so different from Guillermo and it would be fun to play that if the time allowed... As luck would have it, they were still in the middle of debating who to cast. I got on a plane the next day to Vancouver and quarantined 14 days and spent all fall and early winter there. The cast is amazing and just to be in that environment of musical theater lovers and supporters, it was great. Playing George was such a treat."

Guillen, who's currently prepping to go into production on season 3 of What We Do in the Shadows in Toronto, admittedly only started watching Zoey's once he signed on the dotted line for a multi-episode arc. It just so happened he was in San Francisco, where the show takes place and filmed parts of the pilot in. "While I was getting my third no out of the way," he joked, "I was in San Francisco for a shoot. Because I had just read the sides and the story of the character, sometimes that's all you need. I was already sold on what the character was."

He immediately pulled up the first episode on his phone to familiarize himself with the world and found himself walking through the city's iconic landmarks featured on the show as he was watching it. Kismet. "There's a scene in the pilot where they stand up on Cupid's [Span, a famous sculpture of a bow and arrow along the Embarcadero], and that's exactly where I was walking," Guillen mused. "I look up and I'm like, 'Wait, they shot here! This is where they shot! So I told my sister. I was like, 'If this isn't a sign that I should do this, I don't know what it is.'"

When Guillen's George was introduced in the season 2 premiere, he filled the SPRQ Point void left by Max, who chose to start a new restaurant app on his own. Bubbly and friendly, George shared a sweet moment with Zoey on his first day when they shared a hug, marking the start of a shared bond between the two. In Tuesday's episode, however, Zoey is faced with a tough decision when she's tasked with streamlining assets due to the company's financial struggles, aka letting some employees go.

"Sometimes we can't tell what someone is going through emotionally and internally. As much as people put on a smile or a happy face, there are real human emotions in there that could be heartbreaking. With George, I really liked that as much as he is going through some things and also mourning a loss of his own, he doesn't show it. He's the new kid at the new workplace," Guillen said. "It was just the idea that he's putting on this facade to protect himself. Better to put on this mask and pretend everything is OK, but when you find out internally he's trying to fit in and he feels really out of place. Following the first number that we see him singing, 'Don't Cry Out Loud,' it's glorious because it really does showcase that humanity in all of us."

Speaking specifically to Zoey and George's hug, which felt like a collective hug for its audience, the 30-year-old actor revealed it was the first scene he filmed on his first day on set. 

"I'd never met Jane before and something just clicked. She's a wonderful actress; she's very giving and she's grounded. We weren't meant to cry in the first take and after, we were both crying and it was so natural and organic. It was this feeling of these two characters completely needing each other in that way," Guillen said. "Zoey needed that hug just as much as George, and it was something that they gave each other. It's this human contact and understanding, which was beautiful. And yeah, a lot of people have said on social media, 'I felt that hug. I felt it over here.' It was nice to have my scene with Jane like that because, again, I think the world of her."

Guillen was enthusiastic about one number in particular in the upcoming episode -- and it's Britney Spears-related. "I sing Britney Spears in the fourth episode. I won't tell you what song, but I get to sing Britney Spears on the show and I'm really looking forward to it," Guillen teased, crediting choreographer Mandy Moore for creating a "fun" musical number for him to perform. "The Britney Spears song embodies everything. When George starts singing the Britney Spears song, it's his moment of coming into his own and his own strength and it's very empowering and it's wonderful, so I really liked that."

Because of the pandemic, the Zoey's cast has been kept in a tight bubble in Vancouver when production is on. Guillen recalled bonding with the cast almost immediately when he arrived in Canada.

"What's great is that we're in a bubble. We became a family together. We all get tested every other day. You can't come to set unless you are checked off by your physician in the morning and it says you took the test the day before and the results came back, so I actually felt safer going to work then I would in L.A. going to the market because you don't know people around you and you have to be really careful," he said. "Going to set with fellow actors who are all accountable for their actions. They all go to work, go home, they're quarantined and they're taking tests, you can actually mingle with them. You can actually have dinner with those people because they become a giant bubble and a safety net for you. It was nice to be able to do that with a cast."

"When I first talked to them, we went to dinner together and Skylar [Astin] and I took a boat around the harbor, which was lovely. We made a joke, 'We're engaged! I said yes!' and it was an ongoing joke and people really thought we'd got engaged! I was like, 'No, he has a wonderful girlfriend. It's a joke,'" Guillen shared. "I celebrate Dia de los Muertos on November 1 and I wanted to share the experience with the cast. So I had a Dia de los Muertos party where we all got our face painted and to introduce them to that tradition was wonderful. They all came over and we had drinks and food and we made authentic Mexican food and whatnot. It was nice because you get to share that with someone. You still can enjoy each other's company and bond. That was one of my favorite memories; seeing everyone in their face paint was wonderful."

Looking ahead, Guillen is brimming with excitement to get back into the nutty world of What We Do in the Shadows, especially after a bloody cliffhanger which left his character, Guillermo de la Cruz, the only one left standing after he goes on a murderous rampage. "We left with such a big cliffhanger for season 2 that it's really exciting. We actually have a table read today. We had a table read yesterday for the first two episodes and we're going to have a team read for next two today. It's already looking fun and looking like it's going to be a new adventure."

As for what Guillen's learned about himself during the pandemic, there are two things he's taken away.

"That I'm actually pretty good on my own. I don't mind alone time and getting time to write and read because my job is surrounded by people and interacting with people. Sometimes I'm like, 'What would it be like to not do that every day?'" he said. "I learned that I need to have a home to have a garden. I live in L.A., and during quarantine, you couldn't leave, so I was just in a tower. I learned I need a garden and I think I need maybe a pool, something I can walk out on and feel grass in my toes. The small things that you were taking for granted because you were able to go to a park or go to the beach before. Who knows? We're going in the right direction and things are getting better, but I didn't want to see a potential round two then not be prepared."

The interview has been edited for length and clarity. 

Zoey's Extraordinary Playlist airs Tuesdays at 8 p.m. ET/PT on NBC. For more on the series, watch below.

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