Being Human Interview: Sit Down With Sam Witwer
Being Human, Syfy’s re-imagining of the BBC series of the same name, has proven to be equal parts a faithful adaptation and a slew of welcome surprises. First approaching with caution, fans now openly embrace the series, which stands on its own. The premise follows three twenty-something roommates living in Boston—with the added bonus of being a ghost, a werewolf and a vampire—trying to maintain a normal life amid their supernatural circumstances.
Sam Witwer (Smallville, Battlestar Galactica) plays Aidan, a 257-year-old vampire who constantly struggles against ever present bloodlust to keep clean of his formal lifestyle. I had the chance to chat with Witwer about balancing the many sides of Aidan, whether or not he’s seen the British parent series, and what’s coming up as the season winds down.
How did you first get involved with Being Human? Were you a fan of the original?
I actually came aboard just per the usual audition methods. They sent me a script. I read about four pages and then just closed it because I didn’t see why we really needed another vampire show. I didn’t want to be a vampire. And that was going to be it. I had actually written an email to my agent turning down the audition and a friend of mine contacted me online and she goes, “Are you turning down Being Human?” And I’m like “ah, yeah.” And she’s like, “Are you crazy? What are you thinking?” And then she starts educating me saying okay look, it’s based on this British show. Did you read the script? I said well, sort of and she said how about you do your job, you’re an actor, read the damn script. She sort of shamed me into reading the script and when I did I felt very, very foolish and sheepishly wrote an email to my agent saying I want to go back in for this, because the script was really, really wonderful. Then they sent me a second script, which was just as good, and I was hooked. At that point I saw the first episode of the British series and loved that and then realized I can’t watch this show anymore if I want to do this. I don’t want anything to unintentionally pollute the way I would play this. So I went in, auditioned, and had a meeting with the director and the two producers where we all talked about what this show could be and how we saw it. When you read a script, you see something in your head, but there’s no guarantee that everybody sees it the same way. I just wanted to make sure that we were all on the same page and they wanted to make sure I was on the same page.
I always think there’s no point to being on a vampire show unless you get to have killer flashbacks. So far we’ve only seen Aidan in colonial America. Will we get to see him in other periods?
Yes, we do go into some flashbacks. We spend a good deal of time there. The colonial America thing was very brief and we end up spending more time in other time periods. We learn different things about the character and that his viewpoints weren’t always as benevolent.
The show hinges on the chemistry between the three roommates. How have you and Sam and Meaghan worked to build that chemistry?
When we were all screen tested together, we instantly bonded. As far as I was concerned, it was clear it needed to be Sam Huntington and Meaghan Rath. I thought they were really fantastic actors. For whatever reason, it just seemed like we all understood how to work with each other. It’s interesting how we got each other’s rhythms and we understood how we could play off each other. Thankfully the producers agreed. The good news is that we really get along. That chemistry extended to our friendship to the point where the producers were advising us to tone it down. We were shooting early episodes and they’d say okay, you guys are really enjoying yourselves, listen you guys don’t know each other that well yet…we’re building to that. It’s funny because you usually get the opposite.
Aidan goes through so many shifts in each episode. One minute he’s this feral, hunter vampire and the next he’s battling his addiction, then the protective older brother to Sally and supportive best friend to Josh. What are your favorite parts of Aidan to play? How do you relate to a character with so much going on?
It’s actually a wonderful thing about this character and it’s part of the reason why I felt so foolish to have thought to turn this down for a moment, because this is an irresistible character. I really, really love playing him and I love the fact that he goes through some major stuff but still, at the same time, there’s some room for levity. That’s just something I haven’t had a chance to do that much, to keep certain things light and have funny moments. I’m frequently impressed with how Anna Fricke and Jeremy Carver can fit humor in situations that I would think might be too grim or serious to have a humor or that the humor would undercut the drama of the situation, and that’s just not the case on this show. I’m very grateful the tone we established and their intent and their talent in terms of these scripts has been so consistent. In terms of the character, it’s really wonderful. I really like the funnier moments, those are a lot of fun to play. At the same time, the character is kind of the dramatic, grounding force of the show. He’s kind of the glue for the three roommates and he really anchors the show in this place. Sam Huntington goes off and him and Meaghan make it a really fun show. I really do enjoy the character and there’s a lot of challenges in terms of trying to figure out how to play this. Essentially, the biggest concern for me is we’re talking about the metaphor of drug addiction. That’s my thing, if we’re talking about real things, and the audience will relate. If we’re just talking about genre things, some people will enjoy that but others won’t necessarily. I think so long as science fiction is thoughtful, and genre stuff is really anchored in some form of reality, you’re doing something about the human condition, then we’re good to go. Thankfully, throughout the entire first season, we hit that pretty hard.
How have you felt about the fan response to the series?
I am thrilled! [laughs] I was really expecting a major backlash, I prepared myself. People were really sharpening their claws before we aired.
I think they were, yeah.
Yeah, they were really getting ready to lay into us. I told Sammy and Meaghan, Sarah and Mark, guys don’t listen to anything you read online. It’s going to be just a bunch of angry people, but some people are definitely going to enjoy this. When we started airing, they really warmed. They didn’t come after us the way we thought, I mean some have, but most really didn’t. We’re hearing a lot of positive stuff now that we’ve been on for a little bit, and people have a feel for what our show is, it’s gotten really positive. I’m really surprised, actually. I think everyone was right to be concerned about what we were doing to their beloved series. I think they were right to be concerned. I always think the audience should give something a chance, no matter what, but I get their hesitance. I’m just grateful that they have given us a chance.
One of my favorite parts of the show is the opening voiceovers, and the last few have been about characterizing monsters, or what makes one monstrous. Do you think of Aidan as a monster?
I view him as a man battling addiction. That’s my take on him and that’s always the way I try to play him.
What about Bishop and the other vampires?
I look at those guys as my old drug buddies who I can’t hang out with. I know Mark [Pellegrino] looks at Aidan as a wayward son. When you’re working with metaphors, doesn’t have to be entirely consistent to one metaphor. For example, the vampire thing we play is a cross between heroin addiction, or some other substance abuse, and sex addiction. There’s a little bit of both in there. That’s definitely always my aim.
Have you heard anything about a season 2 pick up?
We’ve heard nothing but encouraging things. We haven’t heard officially yet, but we’ve heard some encouraging buzz.
What can you tease for us about the final episodes coming up?
I can say that for viewers of the British series, you’re going to think that some things are going one way and you’re going to find out it goes quite differently. That’s something we take a little pleasure in.
I’ve noticed that a lot on the show, you never know exactly where it’s going to twist.
Yeah we do that a lot. The good thing is, I don’t think it’s arbitrary. We have the benefit of having this wonderful show in the BBC series to watch. By the way, I haven’t watched it yet, but I have the Blu-ray here and am planning on burning through it. We do have the benefit of their experiences and the benefit of their producers relating those experiences. For example, talking to our producers and saying here’s what’s worked for us, here’s something that didn’t work so well, and here’s sort of the pitfalls you need to avoid. They’ve been really fantastic in helping guide our series. It’s really kind of a wonderful partnership. As I understand, they’re really getting a kick out of it. They’re getting to see the music they wrote played by a different orchestra, arranged differently. It’s fun to get feedback from them, I know our episode seven was a big episode for them they really enjoyed and had a lot of fun with it. The good news for them is it’s a win-win. If we end up completely flopping and failing, they’ll still continue to be successful. If we’re successful, they’ll only become more successful because we will transmit a bigger audience over to them, a bunch of people who are curious to the origins of this show. I think it’s wonderful and well deserved and really awesome to be part of a show like that.
Being Human airs Mondays at 9/8c on Syfy.