FX’s hit vampire comedy What We Do in the Shadows wraps up its fourth season on Tuesday night, and much of this year’s show has been centered on the literal growth of Colin Robinson.
Mark Proksch plays Robinson—who ages rapidly from a baby to a teen this year—and the fact that he’s responsible for so much of the season’s success is even more impressive when one considers he never intended to be an actor.
“I didn’t come to Los Angeles until I was like 32, and I had never planned on a career in Hollywood,” Proksch told Newsweek. “I didn’t do any acting in college or anything like that. It was always just goofing around with friends. So, I fell backwards into it.”
Proksch came to L.A. to write scripts, which he still does. Before acting came to him, Proksch said he worked in “several financial offices.” That background gave him the tools he needed for Colin Robinson—an energy vampire who feeds off negative emotions rather than blood. Office work, coincidentally, was also what he was doing up until he landed a recurring role on The Office.
That NBC comedy’s enduring success means teenagers still often approach Proksch because of his portrayal of Nate, which he said is “flattering, because I’m 10 pounds heavier and 10 years older. The fact that they can even recognize me is nice.”
Of course, Proksch is now mostly recognized for What We Do in the Shadows, though he also gets noticed by quite a lot of Better Call Saul fans. (He played the recurring character Daniel Wormald on the Breaking Bad spinoff.)
“The Better Call Saul fans are always a little more serious or may not be familiar with the comedy stuff I’ve done. So that’s always interesting,” he said. “And the Shadows fans are usually people that like a little left-of-center comedy, a little darker humor.”
Between those three high-profile roles were some other important acting jobs on Proksch’s résumé, including A Merry Friggin’ Christmas. Though the film itself is somewhat forgettable, it is notable for being one of the last projects Robin Williams filmed before his death.
The late comedy legend was “better than you would think,” Proksch said. “He goes above and beyond what you hope even. He’s an incredibly generous laugher.”
“He would take us [the movie’s cast/crew] out for dinner all the time….I got to sit next to him during dinner, and he would answer every single question that I had,” Proksch said. “He was just really generous. At the time, I had just finished filming a pilot, and he wanted to see it. You’re always kind of reluctant when a hero of yours is like, ‘Hey, let me see that.’ I sent it to him, and he was so kind and generous about that.”
For Colin Robinson, Proksch is able to draw on his considerable improvisational skills. He noted that showrunner Paul Simms has said What We Do in the Shadows is around 60 percent written and 40 percent improvised. Fortunately, Proksch has a long history of improv, going back to childhood when he’d go to the local shopping mall and perform in character.
Before he had his break in Hollywood, he also embarked on a strange project where he’d prank local morning news shows. Posing as Kenny “K-Strass” Strasser, Proksch acted as if he were a yo-yo master/environmentalist who entertained people with his tricks. The only problem was Strasser didn’t seem to possess any actual yo-yo skills, which made already awkward interview segments even more uncomfortable (and hilarious).
Proksch called Strasser an “arrogant idiot” who “knows that people are inherently nice, and they’re not going to stop him, so he can go on and on.”
Along with his strong improv skills, another key element in Proksch’s comedy is his Wisconsin accent. When asked if he understands the inherent funniness of a Midwestern accent, he answered, “I do. I do, because I hear it.”
“Before Fargo the TV show came out, I auditioned for it. After I auditioned, the casting directors said, ‘Okay, that’s nice, but can you tone down the Midwest accent? They don’t want people doing it over-the-top,'” Proksch said. “Honestly, I was like, ‘Oh my gosh, this is my voice. I’m not dialing it up at all.’ And yeah, I didn’t get hired for that, obviously. I think my accent was too real for them.”
Proksch isn’t required to tone down his accent at all for Colin Robinson, but he is required to tap into old memories for playing Robinson through different periods of his life.
“I wanted to make sure I did not cheapen any of those stages by winking at the camera and letting the viewer know that adult Mark knows that he’s playing a kid,” he explained. “I really wanted it to place as straight as possible and as realistically as possible.”
Proksch continued, “Otherwise, I do think you would be jumping the shark if it was just the adult Mark with his head on a child and talking exactly how I talk now. I think it would have been a cheap gag that would have worn out very quickly.”
The Season 4 finale of What We Do in the Shadows airs September 6 at 10 p.m. ET on FX.