KAYVAN Novak is lamenting the fact that it might now be too late for “crossover no one ever asked for but everyone would love” – vampire comedy What We Do In the Shadows meeting long-running Aussie soap opera Neighbours.
Novak, who plays the bloodsucking Nandor the Relentless in the acclaimed TV spin-off of Taika Waititi and Jemaine Clement’s 2014 film of the same name, grew up in the UK as an avid Neighbours fan and its impending demise has left him feeling sad.
“I haven’t watched in 30 years but I just liked that it still existed,” he says from his London home.
But the thought of elaborately cloaked, heavily accented Nandor apparating on to Ramsay St as a last-minute addition to the roster of famous guest stars to hang out with the Erinsborough gang is lifting his spirits.
“I mean, that would be awesome,” he says with a laugh. “But I’d have to go back to Neighbours in the ’80s and hang out with Des and Mrs. Mangel. Actually, I’d probably become good friends of Mrs Mangel. Mrs. Mangel is the new dark lord and we must obey her. Reboot – come on, make it happen.”
In its three seasons so far, cult hit WWDITS has itself become a magnet for guest stars, desperate to enter the hilarious and bizarre world of Novak’s Nandor and his Staten Island vampire housemates Laszlo (Matt Berry), Nadja (Natasia Demetriou), Colin Robinson (Mark Proksch) and the human familiar-turned-vampire-killer Guillermo (Harvey Guillen).
Despite being only peripherally involved in the show now, Waititi and Clement return sporadically to reprise their roles from the original film, and other big names have included Dave Bautista, Tilda Swinton, Evan Rachel Wood and Wesley Snipes. But for Novak, one name stood above the rest for his hilarious appearance in season two, as Jim the Vampire, who shows up at the share house to collect a centuries-old debt.
“I mean Mark Hamill just stands out because not only is he a legend, but he was a fan of the show,” says Novak. “He kind of out-fanned us trying to out-fan him. It was like a fan standoff. ‘Oh, I love you Mark, you’re amazing – I love Star Wars’. ‘No I love you, this is my favourite show’.
“I remember being very nervous meeting him, and when I did in the makeup trailer and was pinching myself, and he was just the most lovely human being. He was just so warm and just wonderful.”
Novak says returning to the set of WWDITS for each new season has become his “happy place” and says the bond between cast mates now reflects the on-screen family dynamics of the characters, making for an easy chemistry that lends itself to improvisation and invention. But it wasn’t always that way. Novak initially felt the weight of cult film and living up to the example set by Clement and Waititi acutely.
“I didn’t think I’d make it past the pilot to be honest,” he says. “Especially after the first day – I was pretty much in tears. I was so upset. I was messing up, it was my first day on set playing a vampire and you had Jemaine Clement and Taika Waititi, who have been playing vampires for so many years and know how to do it so much better than you.”
But four seasons in – and with two more seasons already confirmed – he says he now has found Nandor’s “groove”. After going through something of an existential crisis in the third season, Novak says that his undead alter-ego is still looking for love in all the wrong places (now with the help of a genie) in the new episodes – without any great success.
“He’s still the same old mopey Nandor,” says Novak, with a laugh. “Bipolar, not knowing what he wants, not knowing who he wants, which is great to play. I do enjoy that melancholy side to him. It reflects my own.”
Novak says he takes comfort in the fact that Nandor is more than 700 years old and is “still as clueless as ever”, something he believes viewers of all ages can relate to.
“I love hearing words of wisdom from people who’ve had a lot of experience and it’s always heartening when they say, ‘I’m still learning’,” he says. “Because you think at some point in your life, you have to know it all – and some people actually convince themselves that they do – but those aren’t really the kind of people I like hanging out with.
“I like hanging out with people who just have a sense of their own fallibility, and vulnerability, and stupidity, and they’ve embraced that and it’s okay. We can all take ourselves a little too seriously. So be more centuries-old vampire and enjoy your life. And don’t worry, it’s okay to f— up.”
Novak and most of his castmates will this week head to the global geek-fest that is San Diego Comic-Con to meet some of the show’s hard-core fans. He admits to being startled in the past be some of the lurid fan-art from the so-called “Nandermos” who are desperate for Nandor and Guillermo to hook-up romantically (“once you see that fan art, you can never unsee it”) but says it’s up to the writers as to whether that will actually happen.
“The ones that know just can’t get enough of it and there’s a lot of cosplay, and people dressed up as characters in the show,” he says of the famous fan convention.
“I remember my first Comic Con in 2019. I was just wandering around with Harvey and we spotted two people that were dressed as Nadja and Laszlo. We thought we’d make their day and just kind of go hang out and wait for them to notice, and they didn’t notice a damn thing, man. They didn’t know who the hell we were.”
What We Do in the Shadows, Thursdays, 8.30pm, FOX8 and On Demand, and now streaming on Binge.
Originally published as What We Do In the Shadows star Kayvan Novak on Neighbours, Nandor and why it’s OK to f— up
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