Mark Proksch Watched Kid Meltdown Videos to Prep for 'What We Do in the Shadows' Season 4
Proksch's energy vampire Colin Robinson is undergoing a growth spurt after being reborn at the end of Season 3.
Whenever Mark Proksch's energy vampire Colin Robinson would enter a room in the first two seasons of the FX mockumentary What We Do in the Shadows, the quibbles between the rest of the characters would sink to groans. Of course, that was by design; Colin Robinson feeds off of others' boredom, preparing long, tedious speeches at Staten Island city-council meetings and hovering around office cubicles droning on about absolutely nothing.
Then, in Season 3, a suspicious, unlikely friendship formed between Colin Robinson and the horny pansexual vampire and local volleyball enthusiast Laszlo (Matt Berry), confusing the rest of the housemates—Nadja (Natasia Demetriou), Nandor (Kayvan Novak) and his familiar Guillermo (Harvey Guillen), all distracted with Vampiric Council politics. Turns out, Laszlo discovered (accidentally—he was looking for erotica in the house's vast library) that an energy vampire's life span maxes out at 100 years. Colin would die any day now, and Laszlo wanted to give him a last hurrah. But his death was not the last we'd see of Colin Robinson: A baby crawled out of his previous form's rib cage, with Proksch's head superimposed on top of it.
An entire year passed in the show's timeline between Season 3 and Season 4, and we return to the crew's mansion with Laszlo watching over Baby Colin Robinson, who eventually becomes the main attraction of Nadja's vampire nightclub as a cabaret singer. "I mean, you turn a main cast member into a baby. That can go one of two ways, and it's either going to work or it's going to be absolutely the end of the show," Proksch told Thrillist over the phone. Considering the series, one of the best comedies that's been airing over the past three years, was just renewed for a fifth and sixth season, their wild experiment was a success. Proksch explained the burdensome technical process of creating Baby and Tween Colin Robinson, how trawling YouTube helped him to enter the headspace of a kid, and what's to come in the rest of the season.
Thrillist: I read that showrunner Paul Simms was like, "Oh my god, it was a nightmare trying to figure out the logistics" for Baby Colin Robinson. But for you, I'd imagine you're just popping in and out when they need you and not really dealing with the mess.
Mark Proksch: Yeah, the nightmare for them was definitely in the execution of the effects and knowing that they are going to have me come in at a later time to do the acting. And so all the coordination of that was a total nightmare, and some early examples of me on Colin's body looked not up to snuff. That was really complicated for them.
For me, the issue came once I become a little more talkative: How much can I improvise? Can I improvise? Because I do a lot of improvising on the show after we do a few takes of what's written. What's written is usually, nine times out of 10, way better than anything we come up with, but it's something I love to do. It was very hard to be able to get in any improvisation as the small child. Those were a lot of the limitations and a lot of the disappointment for me, but there was absolutely no other way we could have done it. What would be the other option? Me being up there the entire time, sitting off to the side and throwing in some ad-libs? That would only have slowed production down, and I think it would've been a disservice to the other actors. So this was the best way to do it, and hopefully it's still funny to people.
I was curious about that, if you were able to even crack off a joke that wasn't in the script. But because of those limitations, you're not really able to work on the same plane that all of you are used to, knowing that the show is very much based on improv-ing and ad-libbing.
Yeah, absolutely. And then you have to factor in, okay, you're a child. What Adult Colin and what my references are are certainly not what a child would know. What's the best I can improvise as a child without making him syrupy sweet? Because the last thing I wanted was for Colin to be cute and to come off like a Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen type. Finding that balance was hard for me, and while I was doing it, I was on green screen. And so I didn't have any of the actors there, of course. We'll see if I executed that. That's not for me to say, I guess.
Did you listen to the audio track that was already recorded? Were you on the set while everybody else was shooting, reading your lines?
Yeah, I had the track while I was filming my green screen. Otherwise, I was not around really much. Off and on. I came up there every couple weeks for a week or so for tests and to go over some of the scenes with the other actors and such—mostly Matt [Berry], because Colin's been paired with Matt the last couple seasons. It was a little more of an elaborate process than I had imagined, and it was a little more challenging than I thought it would be, as far as keeping the character in the realm of Colin Robinson.
You'll see as we move forward, he has quite the growth spurt this season, and so you see him at another couple stages of development. Those, obviously, I was on set for. That became really enjoyable for me to reinvent how Colin is and how he would behave as a tempestuous teen and as a tween.
Obviously, he is not growing at a normal human pace. In a year, he already looks like a toddler, and can speak like he's 12 or something. And then an episode later, he's up there doing a cabaret song and dance. Was it explained to you how that works?
I mean, the logic of it is: Who gives a shit about logic? It's a fantastical TV show. We don't need to explain too much. And frankly, the mythology of an energy vampire hasn't really been laid down before, so we can invent a lot of the story or the mythology of an energy vampire. Now it's set in stone going forward that every 100 years they crawl out of the belly and they grow up in a season of television, so that was pretty freeing. As far as playing him in different stages, I did think about it quite a bit. I went on YouTube and I looked up a lot of videos of children going on rants and teens going on rants about stuff and tried to hone in on that and how Colin's take would be.
Were there any videos in particular that really hit it home for you, or topics?
Teen meltdown and child meltdown. I hit pay dirt when I looked that up. I would look up child Legos, technical talks, and then teenage breakup videos. That's not foreshadowing of any story or anything, but I wanted to hone in on their emotion. I found it very, very helpful because it's been almost seven years since I was a teen. I'm joking. It's been quite a while since I threw a temper tantrum as a teenager.
I also want to talk specifically about the scene at the very end of Episode 3 when teen Colin Robinson is doing the whole cabaret song and dance at the vampire nightclub.
On any other show, "Hey, we're going to open up a nightclub," your heart just sinks. With this show, it's like, "Oh, I want to see what they do with that."
Absolutely. When you were reading the script for Episode 3, was the song selection in there? Was that something that you got to choose?
No, it was in there. Even in the earliest draft that I saw, it was Cole Porter's "Rap Tap on Wood," and I think that was in there because [writer] Paul Simms really enjoys that song. But he didn't understand—it's probably the hardest Cole Porter song to sing because it changes pitches. It changes time signature during the song. Because I sing all the songs in the show, I was given them pretty early on so I could get them down and figure them out. And then adding the dancing, I had to be able to mimic the moves for when we're doing the green screen. And I'm not a song-and-dance guy, let me tell you. But again, it was fun and exciting and something new to try with this character. I was really excited when I saw in the scripts early on that Colin gets to sing and dance. The naivety of it all, I think, worked really well.
Not to be too much of a spoiler hound, but what happens towards the end of this season, especially the dynamic between Colin and Laszlo? Does it become more of this classic parent-child-teen relationship where everybody's pissed at each other and grow out of it?
Without spoiling much, Colin's grown at a rapidly fast pace, and so it's getting his emotions under control. A typical human has quite a while to try to adapt to their emotions that are new to them. When you're a toddler or a teen, you have a few years to get through it and figure out why you're having these emotions and how to get them under control. I would argue if you sped that up to within a season, it's even harder to grasp what you're going through and why you're changing so quickly. I think with all teenagers, you have a part of you that wants to still be a child and doesn't. You don't want to grow up and be an adult because you're leaving the safety of the innocence of childhood, but there's also that other part that wants to be an adult now and go off on your own. Those two emotions are battling.
And in a parent figure, or as close to a parent figure a vampire can be, I think you'll see all the dynamics that you would see in a normal family relationship, not just with Laszlo, but with others of the other characters, too, because it is a family comedy. It's Friends or Seinfeld, any of that. I think that having that group of people to play off allowed the writers to venture into all sorts of territories with Colin. I think it was very, very smart how they did it. I think it's just one of those shows that you're lucky to get on in a career and that people really do enjoy. That's all you can try to do. If you're a fan of it, then you hope others will come to it. I've based an entire career around that.