(Editor’s note: The following contains spoilers for Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist, Season 2, Episode 4, “Zoey’s Extraordinary Employee.”)
On the latest episode of the NBC series Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist, entitled “Zoey’s Extraordinary Employee,” Zoey Clarke (Jane Levy) was attempting to choose happiness while still struggling with grief over the loss of her father. But having to fire a handful of SPRQ Point employees would take away anyone’s joy, and it results in the otherwise upbeat Zoey wanting to drown her sorrows and make a very ill-advised drunken phone call.
During this 1-on-1 phone interview with Collider, actor Harvey Guillén talked about how he came to be cast as SPRQ Point employee George, playing a role that show creator Austin Winsberg specifically envisioned him for, how his musical theater background helped him on Zoey’s, working with a choreographer like Mandy Moore, tackling a Britney Spears song, and what he imagines is next for his character. He also talked about Season 3 of the FX series What We Do in the Shadows and his hopes for Guillermo.
COLLIDER: I loved this episode and want to cry tears for George.
HARVEY GUILLEN: I feel for him. He ends in such a triumphant moment of realization. It’s a thing within us that we have to realize that we’re meant for other things and better things, and sometimes that means taking initiative.
Image via NBC
When I spoke to show creator Austin Winsberg recently and asked him what made him see George in you, he told me that when he started to conceive of that character, he had actually asked the casting director to find a “Harvey Guillén” type. Did you know that you were basically the vision for this role?
GUILLEN: No, I had no idea. It’s so funny because he asked the casting director to find a Harvey Guillén type, so they went to my reps and instead of offering the role, they were worried because it’s a musical show and they wanted me to put myself down on tape singing a song. (My reps) were like, “What is this for?” They said, “It’s for a musical and these are the dates.” So, (my reps) said, “No, he’s gonna be shooting Shadows.” So, we said no, the first time. We said no to the audition, in general, and I was like, “That’s a bummer because I would love to do it.” It was conflicting with Shadows because, at the time, we were gonna be shooting in the fall. And then, they came for a second round and said, “Are you sure he can’t do it? He won’t put himself on tape?”
Because they kept insisting that I put myself on tape, I felt like they wanted me to do it, but they weren’t asking me to do it. They were asking me to send a tape, which I’m not above. I’ll send a tape in. But I was like, “I can’t do it. The schedule won’t let me.” I think they thought that I was playing hard to get. They were like, “Can he please put himself on tape? Just put himself on tape now.” And then, as luck would have it, at the last minute, I was doing a shoot in San Francisco and we got the schedule for Shadows, and there are so many movies parts and people weren’t going to be available until early this year. So, we actually ended up having the fall available to do other stuff, (my reps said), “Okay, he can do it,” but they still wanted me to send a singing tape. I was in San Francisco walking around, so I was trying to get into the idea of the show. I hadn’t seen it, so I was watching the pilot and there was this scene where Jane was at Cupid’s bow and arrow by the bridge, and that’s where I was walking by, and I was like, “If this isn’t kismet, I don’t know what it is.”
I can’t imagine anybody else that could have played George, so I’m glad it worked out.
GUILLEN: The funny part is that I would have wondered what the Harvey Guillén type would have ended up being and who they would have ended up going with. I would have been like, “Oh, they picked that guy.”
Image via NBC
Being an actor can be a real struggle. How does it feel to know that the creator of a really cool show was envisioning you as a character in the world that he’d created?
GUILLEN: It’s so surreal. It’s only happened maybe twice before, where friends who are actors or who are in casting sent me a breakdown that said, “Looking for this character that’s funny, and this or that. Think Harvey Guillén.” And I’m always like, “What?!” And also, weirdly, those are projects that I never went in for, which blows my mind. Would I have gotten it, if I’d auditioned for myself? Would I go in and say, “I’m here for the Harvey Guillén part,” and they’d tell me, “I don’t think so. Not right enough.” It’s weird. I became friends with Austin and he’s wonderful. We hit it off and he’s a fan of Shadows. We talked about the character and the levels because we didn’t want to make George one-dimensional, and he’s different than Guillermo in Shadows. He has his own mannerisms and his arc is different, but there’s also a lot of similarities that both characters share. George is bubbly, bright-eyed, bushy-tailed, and eager to be your friend. Those are the things that Guillermo doesn’t do as easily because he’s always in work mode.
It seems like Guillermo and George would like each other and be friends.
GUILLEN: I think so. Absolutely, they would totally be friends, but they’d be like opposites attract, in a way. If they were twins, George would be the bubbly, eccentric extrovert and Guillermo would be an introvert.
After doing two seasons of What We Do in the Shadows, what was it like to go do Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist while you were waiting to do the third season?
GUILLEN: It was a nice, different hat to put on. In between breaks, you do projects. I did a movie that I shot in New York, during the beginning of winter last year, right after we wrapped Shadows. That was fun because it was totally different, as well. It’s just nice. Between breaks, after Season 1, I did Room 104, and that character was nothing like George or Guillermo. It was this ‘90s almost punk kid in high school, and they get a room, that’s Room 104. That was totally different. It’s grunge, and his mannerisms were different. He’s a ladies’ man. It’s nice to play different characters. As an actor, you thrive for bringing to life these characters and making them believable.
Zoey’s is a show that makes me smile while I’m crying.
GUILLEN: That’s really hard to do.
Did you spend a lot of time thinking about the tone, while you were doing the show?
GUILLEN: You absolutely think about it. That’s why I watched the first season to get the tone. Every show has a vibe and rhythm, and what’s linear about the episode is that you have to be playing the right notes. If one note is off, it doesn’t fit with the song. You really do have to look at it that way. When people come to play with us on Shadows, they have to get the tone of the show and how it’s a mockumentary. The way that we set the jokes up, or the way that we just live our lives, is different than Zoey’s, which is a musical with heart. You have to know how to blend in with the machine that’s already in motion. Zoey’s was so amazing and welcoming that it was easy to just seamlessly blend in and do my job. Otherwise, it could be a disaster to go to a different show and not be able to blend in with the tone.
Image via NBC
You’ve talked about how you went to school for musical theater. How did your musical theater background help you with something like Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist?
GUILLEN: My background helped me with Zoey’s because of discipline. In theater school, there’s that whole saying that, if you’re early, you’re on time. If you’re on time, you’re late. If you’re late, don’t even bother showing up. You have to learn your steps and learn your notes and be able to go off-book. A musical moves really quickly. We have rehearsals, of course. Mandy Moore is an amazing choreographer, and she’s so great and patient with people who may not be dancers. I don’t consider myself a dancer first. In musical theater, you always say, “I’m a triple threat,” but there’s an order to that. It’s either, “I’m a singer who acts and moves well,” or “I’m a dancer who can sing and do a little bit of acting.” There are different formulas. For me, dance would definitely be the last. I can move really well, but that’s only because I took years and years of dance and training. Now looking back, I’m glad I did because that would have been a totally different chair dance that we did on Zoey’s.
Was it intimidating to be singing in front of that group, especially knowing that they’d already been doing it for a season?
GUILLEN: It wasn’t intimidating because there were so welcoming. I didn’t have any scenes with Mary (Steenburgen), but she’s a legend and she was so lovely and nice. The only thing that I regret is not having any scenes with her, but who knows? Maybe in Season 3. Everyone was so welcoming. Jane (Levy) and I hit it off, from the get-go. Actually, our first scene together was the last scene of Episode 1, where George tells her, “Thank you for sticking up for me.” The script didn’t say that we cry. It just said that I ask for a hug, and that was it, but we did the first take and were both teary-eyed. We fell into the scene and characters so well that we really felt it. People were saying, “Oh, I felt that hug through the screen.”
I feel like if you’d had more time on the show, Mo could have really brought George out of his shell a bit. Do you feel like George and Mo would have been friends?
GUILLEN: Absolutely. I think that’s actually a great idea. We never got to do that, only because of time. I had to wrap right before the holidays to go back home, and then go to Toronto. Austin had the original idea of bringing George back for Episode 8. He wanted to pop him in and have his story continue, but unfortunately, schedule-wise, that wouldn’t allow for this season. But it always leaves the opportunity for next season, so maybe he does come back and talk to Mo. Actually, Alex Newell was the first person I told that I was doing the show. We’ve been friends for years, but we never worked on anything together. We finally worked on a show together, but we’re not in any of the same scenes.
Image via NBC
How is the experience of working with a queen choreographer like Mandy Moore? What’s it like to have to learn a song and dance number under such time constraints, but also under her?
GUILLEN: She makes it so welcoming to try. Even if you make a mistake, you don’t feel like, “Oh, God, I’m such a bad dancer. I’m terrible at this.” She and the whole team of choreographers are so welcoming that I never felt, if I messed up a staff or anything, that it was bad. They’d correct you and tell you that you were on the wrong count, but she’s so loving. That was probably the part that I was looking forward to the most, actually working with Mandy, because her choreography is just amazing. Some of my favorite scenes this season are scenes that I’m literally just dancing part of someone else’s song, not even my own song. The chair scene was amazing. And then, I had “Stronger” by Britney Spears. That was my all-time favorite, of course. I just loved playing in the show and dancing. It was all fantastic. She never made me feel intimidated. If anything, it made me want to learn and do more. I want to continue to dance.
Talk to me about tackling Britney Spears. It seems scary to take on a song like “Stronger,” but is it a bit easier to cover a song like that, as a guy, since you can’t be directly compared to her?
GUILLEN: For me, when Austin told me that I’d be doing Britney Spears, I was like, What? That’s awesome!” It’s such a gender-bender. You rarely see boys do that song, which was great. All of George’s songs were gender-benders. He did “Don’t Cry Out Loud,” by Melissa Manchester, and then Britney Spears, which I like. I like when females try traditionally male songs, and males try traditionally female songs if they can do it. Melissa Manchester is pretty high key. I was really proud of myself. Our music director was lovely. He was like, “Oh, my God, that’s great. I thought we’d bring it down another octave for you, but you can actually do it.” I’m a first tenor, so I could do it. That was nice. But taking on Britney was exciting and nerve-wracking, at the same time, but I gave it my all, so I feel like I did it justice. I hope that Britney is proud. Britney, are you proud of me?
What are you most looking forward to with Season 3 of What We Do in the Shadows? When did you learn that you would end up where you are now?
GUILLEN: We shoot out of order and they won’t tell us how the season wraps up because sometimes the season finale isn’t even written until closer to when we’re shooting it. They have an idea, but they’re closing in on the actual scenes and lines. It was a doozy. We’ve switched it up this year and we’re reading all of the episodes back-to-back before we start filming, so we’ll have an idea of what the season looks like, which is so helpful for me. I can only speak for myself. Last year, because Guillermo’s storyline was linear to every episode, it was a little confusing to shoot out of order. The first week, we shot a fight scene, and then the next week, we shot Episode 205. We skipped five episodes and we were shooting a scene in a car, where he was driving the car. I was like, “Why does he have a car, and why is it covered in blood?” They were like, “Oh, we can’t tell you.” I was like, “Wait, you can’t tell me?” And they were like, “No, we can’t tell you.” I was like, “But I’m the actor who’s playing the character.” And they were like, “Yeah, but we can’t tell you.”
So, the whole crew would know what was happening because they needed to build the set and the costumes, but they couldn’t tell the actors. I think it’s a rule of thumb because that’s how they did the movie. They didn’t tell the actors what the movie was about. They had a script, but they never told the actors the lines. They just got to set and improvised. But it’s a little bit different from the show. With a movie, you have 90 minutes to wrap everything up. In the show, you have 10 episodes where you’re trying to make everything cohesive, but you can’t do that unless you know why you have a car that’s covered in blood.
What do you most love about who Guillermo is now and where he is, at this point in his life?
GUILLEN: The thing I love about Guillermo right now is that he’s coming into his own. For so long, he’s been waiting for approval and letting someone else dictate his happiness and his status. He’s started to realize that it’s within him to be greater than what he thought he was possibly able to be. For me, that’s a great storyline. For me, that’s a great moment because people can relate to that. People sometimes stay in a job or a relationship that’s not healthy for you, or that’s toxic, or you’re not climbing up the ladder and you’re overlooked for promotions. At the end of the day, you have to stop and realize, “Why am I doing this? Am I doing this for them, or am I doing it for myself? If I’m doing it for myself, am I happy here? What can I do to make it better?” So, I really do love where we left off with Guillermo. He completely owns his family lineage, when he says, “My name is Guillermo de la Cruz,” at the end of a finale. These people didn’t bother to memorize his name. They can’t even remember his first name, let alone know his last name. The vampires are so self-absorbed that they couldn’t even bother to think that this person might be a threat who lives in the house. The thing is that we don’t know how powerful we are and how much power we have within us until we stop and see ourselves in the mirror and really accept what we see.
Image via FX
Do you have your own personal wishlist for what we’ll still get to see with him?
GUILLEN: Yes, I have my personal wishlist. I would love to dive into where his lineage comes from and on what side. We met his mother and I’d love to see more of this family. I would love to see more of an adventure and fight sequence. He’s proven to be a bad-ass and I would love to see that more. I’ve always said, being round, Brown, and proud is seen as strikes against you, but I think those are strengths. Those strengths should be completely shown off.
At the same time, have you thought about what George might do next in his life, once he leaves SPRQ Point?
GUILLEN: Yeah. I was talking to Austin about this and it seems like the sky’s the limit. Maybe he goes off and gets another job. Maybe he’s not good at SPRQ Point, but he is good with technology, just not really as a coder, so maybe he opens up his own small company and develops a new app that becomes an overnight success and he becomes an overnight millionaire. And he realizes that would’ve never happened if Zoey, who he sees as a sister, didn’t let him go twice in one day. She fired him twice, in one day. Sometimes you need that little push. It might seem like the end of the world, in the moment, but in reality, it’s the best thing that’s ever happened to you. I really do believe that for George. I feel like it’s the best thing that could have happened to him because the world is waiting for him.
I just want him to find his happy place.
GUILLEN: Me too, and I think he absolutely will.
Image via NBC
You’ve done three really great shows, with The Magicians, What We Do in the Shadows, and now Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist. On their own, each of these shows is fantastical, but each inhabits very different worlds. What do you most enjoy about this path that your career has been on recently? Is it anything like you imagined, when you thought about being an actor?
GUILLEN: I’ve been so fortunate to work on three shows recently that are so beloved, and for different reasons, from sci-fi to musical theater. When I envisioned myself as an actor, that is what I envisioned. I envisioned doing everything. I envisioned not just doing one thing repeatedly, over and over. I can say that I’ve been fortunate enough to do different things, just in the last few years. That’s so lucky because that’s not always case. I’m very blessed and very thankful that I get to do projects that I’m excited about, that are different, and that our beloved. I’m very, very lucky.
Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist airs on Tuesday nights on NBC.
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About The Author
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Christina Radish is a Senior Reporter at Collider. Having worked at Collider for over a decade (since 2009), her primary focus is on film and television interviews with talent both in front of and behind the camera. She is a theme park fanatic, which has lead to covering various land and ride openings, and a huge music fan, for which she judges life by the time before Pearl Jam and the time after. She is also a member of the Critics Choice Association and the Television Critics Association.
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