Stu from What We Do in the Shadows might just be my favorite character in any comedy movie – or perhaps any movie, period.
What We Do in the Shadows is a mockumentary following the lives of four vampire roommates in Wellington, New Zealand. We get to see their everyday lives as they prepare for an annual event called the Unholy Masquerade and as their newest member, Nick, adjusts to his new life as a vampire.
With Nick comes his human friend, Stu.
Stu serves as a perfect comedic straight-man, and is well-loved by all the characters in the movie. The entire cast goes from wanting to eat him to loving him as a dear friend.
There’s also this really subtle recurring gag where Stu is asked what he does for work and he goes into detail about “geo-databases,” and how what he does is IT and isn’t IT. When Stu tries to explain this to the other characters, they don’t really pay attention or get it. It’s not something you’d notice on first viewing, but I’ve seen this movie a handful of times now and that particular gag always makes me laugh.
But just as funny as the character Stu is the story of the actor who plays him – Stu Rutherford, who works as an IT analyst in New Zealand. Rutherford was a roommate to co-director Taika Waititi, and had formerly worked as a production assistant on some of his smaller projects.
When the directors were producing the short film which would later be the basis for the feature film, Rutherford was at first involved pretty much just as an elevated extra, but more or less acting as himself. Later on, as the feature film was coming together, the directors expressly warned Rutherford not to take any acting classes but instead to literally just be himself. And it worked; co-director Jemaine Clement said “Stu is exactly like his character: always helpful, always willing to lend a hand.”
Another thing about the whole thing that amuses me is that Rutherford didn’t exactly have an idea of just how big a role his character would end up having. This was partially caused by the fact that the movie was filmed as many improvised segments, and the directors had approximately 125 hours of footage. When Rutherford’s co-workers asked him about his part in the movie, he downplayed it, saying that he had a fairly small part. But later he was later informed by those same co-workers – to his surprise – that he was important enough to be on the movie poster.
What I find particularly great about Stu (the character) is just how true to life he is, in a few ways. We all have a friend whose job is just so esoteric that when he or she starts describing it to people they try to boil it down to something simpler. And we all have a friend whose just so polite and kind in a quiet way that we kind of deify him or her for being so wholesome.
In that way, Stu ends up being the emotional center of the movie. (I’ll issue a formal SPOILERS warning, but I’ll bet no one who hasn’t seen the movie is reading this.) He incites (and ends) a fight at the Unholy Masquerade, just by being so appreciated by his friends that they would fight their own kind to save him. In the movie’s last scene, the vampires and the werewolves are brought together by Stu.
At the end of the day, there’s something to be learned from What We Do in the Shadows; be friendly, quiet, and helpful. Be like Stu.