On SyFy’s re-imagining of the popular British television series Being Human, premiering on January 17th, actor Sam Witwer plays Aidan, a seemingly young man who has worked as a nurse in a hospital in Boston for the past several years, but in reality is an over 200-year-old vampire that is trying to sustain himself by not killing humans. While at work, the normally closed-off Aidan meets Josh (Sam Huntington), whose own future was hijacked the instant he was turned into a werewolf. The friendship the two have formed leads to a new sense of normalcy for them both, and they decide to be roommates in a place that they discover is already inhabited by the ghost of its last resident, Sally (Meaghan Rath).
During a recent exclusive phone interview with Collider, Sam Witwer, previously known for his work as Doomsday on The CW series Smallville, talked about how proud he is of his work on Being Human, what it’s like to play a vampire that’s over 200 years old, how quickly he bonded with his co-stars, and his hope that viewers will tune in and give the show a chance, since it is quite different from the original. Check out what he had to say after the jump:
Question: How did you originally get involved with this show?
SAM WITWER: I auditioned. As I understand it, I think the casting director, Deedee Bradley, contacted my agent and said, “Why haven’t you sent Sam Witwer for this?,” because she cast me in Smallville. I know that she was involved with getting me out there. When I received the script and they were saying, “Do you want to audition for this?,” I don’t know what I was doing at the time that made me so lazy, but I originally didn’t read the script and just misjudged it. I thought, “Oh, it’s just another vampire thing. I don’t really want to do that.” And, a friend of mine basically tapped me on the shoulder and said, “That’s Being Human, though.” And, I was like, “Yeah?” She said, “But, it’s Anna Fricke, Jeremy Carver and Adam Kane involved as producers. Are you an idiot? What did you think of the script?” And, I was like, “Well, I didn’t read it.” Frankly, my job is to read scripts. She shamed me into doing my job, and then once I did, I have ever since thanked her profusely because it would have been the biggest mistake of my life to not audition for this project. It was me being an idiot, briefly, and one of my friends pulling me out of it.
And then, I auditioned and, shortly after the audition, the process began. After the first time they saw me, we all sat down and had a talk about what the series was, the way I saw it and the way they saw it, and it turned out that we all saw the same type of series. As wonderful as those scripts are, there’s a bad version of those scripts waiting to be made. You could definitely mess it up. In fact, you could mess it up very easily because you’re dealing with all these different elements, with the comedy and the darkness and the drama, and all of that, and figuring out how to balance it to make it work. It could be too campy or too serious. Thankfully, when I saw some of the episodes that we had done, after having shot them for several months, it was really cool because it was the series that I saw in my head. It was like, “Yeah, this is what I thought we were doing.” I really owe a great debt of gratitude to Jeremy Carver, Anna Fricke and Adam Kane for having the talent to be able to execute these lofty goals that we had. They really did a great job.
Did you have any hesitation in signing on for a role that you could play for a number of years?
WITWER: Big time, yeah. I’m hesitant anytime someone puts a contract in front of me that has two-year options. When I started seeing the episodes, that’s when that was really important to me. You’re shooting it and you’re in the trenches for awhile and you think you’re getting good stuff, but they do own you. You did sign on for as long as it goes. Once I started seeing episodes, I was very, very happy about that decision because the working environment is so pleasant, the crew is so great, and the cast all gets along incredibly well. So, between all that, and the episodes being something that I feel that I can be proud of, I was very happy to have signed on for however long we are fortunate enough to go. The audience has to lock into it, and hopefully they do, but I would be happy to play this character for a few years.
Did you decide to watch any of the original series, or did you decide to stay away from it?
WITWER: I’m looking forward to seeing the original. I saw the first episode and, once I recognized how good it was and how good Aidan Turner is in that role, I really wanted to stay away from it while we shot our season. I didn’t want to subconsciously mimic anything that he did.
With the original series being so popular, do you think it helps the show that it already has a built-in interest, or is it more nerve-wracking because you have something you actually have to live up to?
WITWER: People think of the Battlestar Galactica remake as one of the best television series ever made. If you take away the sci-fi, it’s still one of the best series ever made. No one remembers that, when that show came out, there was a tremendous backlash and everyone was saying, “Oh, it’s stupid. Starbuck is a girl now. What is all this?” Everyone was really angry, at the time, because of the original series. We’re going to get something similar, when we air. At least, that’s my prediction, but I could be wrong. There are going to be a lot of people who just talk shit, and they’re going to be very angry that this was done in a North American way at all. I’m more concerned with what people are going to be saying a year from now, or half a year from now, once it’s settled in a bit. My feeling on it is that I don’t think people are going to not enjoy the show that we’re making. It’s up to them to decide whether the British version is better or worse. We owe the BBC version and the cast, crew and creators involved, a tremendous debt of gratitude because we have this goldmine that we can just use to mine from. We have 13 episodes to do what they did in 6, and we have all these wonderful opportunities, and that’s because of their hard work and talent.
What I hope is that, if we’re successful, that helps them. That’s going to bring a bigger audience to them than they ever would have had alone, and I don’t think there’s anyone that could dispute that. And, the good news for them is that, if we go out there and fail miserably, they’re still going to be as popular, if not more popular, than they were before. I think it’s a big win-win for the British series. For us, it would be nice to say that we can count on the British audience coming over to us, but I don’t think we can. I just don’t think they’re going to readily accept it that quickly. You’re going to see people playing, not the same characters, but versions of the characters that they know and love, and they’re going to have a hard time accepting that, and that’s fine. Don’t tune in, if you really think it’s going to be that terrible. But, the simple fact of the matter is that nothing that we’re doing is going to negate what the British series has done.
The British series is already there. It’s done. If you want to experience a very, very similar story from a different perspective, and you loved the British series, then tune in. The fact of the matter is that the two shows, from what I could tell in the one episode that I saw, are very different and the characterizations are different. You can’t just hand a British script to American actors and have that come off. We go in different places with the plots, and we go into more detail on some of the things because we have the luxury of time. We have completely different concepts on these three people, so for that reason alone, it’s worth watching. You get completely different perspectives on the same issues. But, it will be whatever it is. I can’t wait to watch and support the British series. They really deserve the lion’s share of the credit for this concept. If we’re successful, we owe them tremendous gratitude and thanks.
Did they change the names of the characters to help it feel different from the original series?
WITWER: I think they would have done it anyway, but that’s one of the benefits of doing that. These are not the same characters. Don’t think of them as the same characters. There are a lot of similarities, but for example, Bishop is not Herrick (from the original series). Not in the slightest. He’s not the same guy.
Because this version has more than twice the amount of episodes in Season 1 than the British series had, are you using those extra episodes to expand the storylines or are you adding new storylines as well?
WITWER: Both. We go into a tremendous amount of detail about certain things that they touched on, and we also do certain storylines that they didn’t do at all. It’s really fun like that. We also take some of the same storylines in different directions. At certain points, where you might expect one thing to happen because you saw the British series, the opposite might happen. We messed with that a little bit, and it’s never arbitrary. We do it for very good, dramatic reasons.
Do you see this as more of an homage to the original than a remake?
WITWER: There are certainly elements of homage. For example, my character’s name is Aidan (after Aidan Turner, who plays the vampire in the original series). If you want to do justice to the original, you can’t avoid doing a little bit of that. But, at the same time, we’re trying to do something that would be worth watching, if you were a fan of the original. If it was just the same, it wouldn’t really be worth watching, nor would it be worth doing.
Do you get to collaborate on new ideas for your character at all?
WITWER: Jeremy Carver and Anna Fricke are wonderfully collaborative. We’ve all been in open dialogues since the beginning of this whole project. I’m happy to say that they’re very open to hearing suggestions. Those two are incredible writers. They pull off stuff that, if someone told me, in concept, some of these things they wanted to do and that they’re going to pull off humor, I’d say, “No, that doesn’t belong there. There’s no way. You can’t pull off humor in that situation without it being campy and not taking the situation seriously.” But somehow, they figure out a way to fit in all those elements – the gravity of the situation, along with humor. They are just tremendous writers, so the good news is that, when we receive a script, it’s already in great shape. It doesn’t really need much help. So, when we have our suggestions, sometimes it’s a little detail here or there, or a little bit of a different perspective on something, but they’re very open to that. As long as you get them the idea early enough, they’ll incorporate it, and that’s always really fun. It’s fun to feel like you’re part of a team. They trust us, we trust them and we all do our jobs together. Hopefully, that creates compelling television. I think our showrunners are tremendously talented and I’m so lucky to be working with them.
Are there things that involve your character, or are there specific episodes, that you’re most looking forward to viewers getting to see?
WITWER: There’s too many to name. There are projects that I’ve done where I’ve looked over the script and looked at the challenges and wondered how I was going to pull something off, or wondered how it was going to go, or wondered how I could bring something that people hadn’t quite seen yet. You try to keep reinventing the character to make it interesting, but one of the things you’re not guaranteed, as an actor, is that you’re looking forward to playing this scene or that scene. That’s not always a given. Sometimes you’re doing a job where maybe this wouldn’t necessarily be your favorite television show, but it is someone else’s favorite television show, and you still have to really throw your heart and soul into it. The cool thing with Being Human is that there are countless scenes that I’ve read in the script where I’ve gone, “Wow, I really can’t wait to perform that,” or “I’m looking forward to that scene,” or “That’s going to be really difficult and challenging, but I’m really looking forward to it.” There’s hardly a moment that I would say is wasted, with my character. I feel like I really had some strong stuff thrown at me, in terms of what I was supposed to perform, so I’m psyched.
How do you see Aidan? What type of guy is he to you?
WITWER: That’s a very interesting question. He acts like a modern 20-something, 21st century, 2011 guy. Well, he also acted like that in the ‘70s, and he acted like that in the ‘50s, and so on and so forth. He’s had to hide what he is. He’s had to be invisible and blend in, so he’s learned how to do that. He’s morphed, over the years, while at the same time, accruing wisdom that he’s learned about life. The wonderful thing and the fun thing about this character is that, if you go with the metaphor, this guy has been in a drug haze for most of his life. Now, he wants to go clean and stop doing that, so you can imagine that a 200-and-some-year-old guy wouldn’t be very easy to impress, he might be a little bit stoic, he might be a little bit quiet and observing, and he would be over everything. It would be hard to get a reaction out of him. And, having been in stasis, emotionally, for all those years, and having not really dealt with things in a human way, to come out of that drug haze, after living your life in it, the world would be a tremendously frightening place, and you would have emotional reactions where you would least expect them.
That’s really one of the fun things about this character. He may be displaying something to people, or to Josh (Sam Huntington) or Sally (Meaghan Rath), that shows them a version of himself that he feels like they’re prepared for and that he’s comfortable to share. But, if you get Aidan alone and he’s by himself, sometimes you see what he’s really feeling, and he’s freaking out and doesn’t know how to deal with these things. His emotions are all fresh, like a very, very young person, because he hasn’t been dealing with them and really looking them in the eye. He’s always used the drug to deal with things. Not to mention that, but if you go with the genre stuff, he’s been a sociopath and a complete maniac, and now he’s really choosing to look these things in the eye.
Is that why he is so torn up over what happens with Rebecca in the pilot?
WITWER: What happens with Rebecca (Sarah Allen) keeps coming up and giving him tremendous guilt for having hurt this person. He’s wracked with guilt. He hasn’t let it go, and it’s still playing on him. It doesn’t go away until Episode 2, when something happens and you realize it’s taken to the next level. I love that. He has some funny moments and he’s dealing with it. He can smile at Josh and he can be whoever he needs to be for whoever, but if you get him alone, all he can think about is what he did to that girl, and that’s really wonderful. Throughout the season, you get to see more and more of how much he’s lying to his roommates to try to maintain this facade of who he thinks they want him to be, and never really opening up to anyone, except for very few people. He keeps to himself and barely handles it. In fact, in some cases, he doesn’t handle it.
Do you think that moving in with Josh will gradually help him cope better?
WITWER: Later on in the season, he has some major problems and he finds out that, emotionally, he just can’t cope. He’s not equipped to cope. He doesn’t have those tools that a person who is sober would develop, so things send him over the edge pretty frequently, but he tries to hold it together. Basically, he asks Josh to be his roommate because he realizes that he can’t do this alone. He doesn’t say that to Josh because he doesn’t want to display that, but what’s really going on with him is that he realizes that he needs to be watched, he needs help and he needs someone who’s going to keep him straight. If he lives with this guy, maybe they can help each other that way.
Are there favorite qualities and characteristics in Aidan that you really enjoy playing?
WITWER: One of the things that I really enjoy – and you see it more around Episode 7 – are the comedic beats. I actually get to be the funnyman in an episode later while, at the same time, still maintaining the tense situation or the sadness. I get some funny moments to play, and I really, really love that. When I was in drama school, everyone always thought that I was going to go off and try to be on Saturday Night Live or do comedy, and I’ve gotten nothing but drama. So, Being Human came along and I really am mostly the straight man, but as time goes on, I do get to throw out some jokes and be light-hearted, at times. It’s not so much in the first two episodes, but you see it later on, and that’s been tremendous fun for me. At the same time, this character gets extraordinarily dark, and sometimes really mean, and sometimes at the edge of despair.
You couldn’t ask for a better character to play because I get to go to all those extremes. And then, if there’s a flashback where you meet the character in a different era, like the ‘50s or the ‘70s, I get to play a completely different version of the character, who’s in a completely different place with different attitudes and opinions. It’s really a dream job, when it comes to that. It’s never stale. This character could be dealing with life-and-death situations, and pain and suffering beyond belief, but then there are all these other dimensions where he can actually be funny or ironic, on top of extraordinarily serious situations. When you think about it, that’s very realistic. I’ve been in situations where, in the midst of really hardcore events in my life, I made some ridiculous off-color joke that was in horrible taste, but made people laugh. Seeing the humor in the midst of the most grim circumstances is one of the elements of the show that I enjoy the most, and makes it a lot more fun to watch.
What has it been like to work with Sam Huntington and Meaghan Rath, and share this experience alongside the two of them?
WITWER: When me and Sammy and Meaghan sat in a room together, it was immediately apparent that this was the group that was going to get cast. There was just something about everyone’s energy, where we understood exactly where our performances need to sit, opposed to each other. Sammy knew when to come in and say something off of my timing, which I knew because Meaghan gave me an opening to say something else. It was just this weird voodoo where we immediately not only knew how to work with each other, but liked each other a lot, just from the get-go, and really enjoyed each other’s performances immediately. Especially in the earlier episodes, we were taken aside by producers and directors and told, “Listen, you have to tone down the chemistry. You guys don’t know each other well enough yet. The chemistry you’re bringing now will be great toward the end of the season, but not now. The rhythms can’t be this established. There needs to be little stilted moments. It can’t be this smooth yet.” It’s funny because you usually get the opposite note. The director usually comes up and says, “Okay, remember, you really like each other.” But, they told us, “You guys like each other too much. You need to be more wary. You don’t know each other that well.” We had to work on that.
But, after they live with each other for awhile, we had permission to finally bring more of Sam Witwer, Sam Huntington and Meaghan Rath to those characters, so Aidan gets progressively funnier and Josh is hilarious. The cool thing about the funny stuff that I have to do is that the show isn’t reliant on it. Sam Huntington is really the comedic genius of us three, and so is Meaghan Rath. Those two crack me up so much. I’m the dramatic anchor of the trio. Those guys really impress me with the things that they can do that I can’t. It’s really just so much fun, and we like each other so much. It’s like having an adopted brother and sister, and it happened immediately. It takes me awhile to get to know someone and get comfortable with them, so to be comfortable with them so fast was a real treat.
I should also say that Sarah Allen and Mark Pellegrino are absolutely part of that group as well. There was an instant connection between all of the actors that was bizarre. It doesn’t happen on sets often. We’re all going on vacation together. I immediately really liked Mark and we got along really well. Same deal with Sarah. We’re ridiculously close, all of us.
Is it challenging then to remember that none of you can touch Sally, since she’s a ghost?
WITWER: That has been a problem, yeah. We’ve nearly blown brilliant takes with that whole rule. There was a scene recently where Meaghan touches a real person for the first time, and she was so excited. It’s really funny.
Was it difficult to get used to talking with fangs?
WITWER: No, the fangs were very easy, and so were the eyes. I’ve had contacts put in on various jobs, so this wasn’t a problem at all. The vampire transformation is really easy. The guy that has it rough is Sam Huntington because he’ll be in make-up for four hours and he can’t sit down. He has to stand up and hold his arms out to the side because they have to apply stuff to his chest and torso. Early in the season, he did a 19-hour day, and then he had four hours to sleep, and had to do another 20-hour day after that. That guy, with those prosthetics, definitely had it the worst. Out of the hat, he picked the worst monster to be. Meaghan and me are pretty low-maintenance monsters.
Did the work you did as Doomsday on Smallville, and the exposure you had to sci-fi and genre fans through that show, help to prepare you for the attention that you’ll get for Being Human?
WITWER: Smallville was a really awesome opportunity. I can say, probably with certainty, that this job wouldn’t have happened, if it weren’t for the opportunities I had on Smallville. That character was going through something very similar. He was dealing with being a monster and not wanting to be one. On this show, because I’m #1 on the cast list, we get a lot more opportunities to explore all the different facets of that type of problem. But on Smallville, Davis Bloom didn’t really have a sense of humor. He didn’t have time, but Aidan does.
In terms of the fans, I really hope that genre fans dig this because I’m one of them. The Force Unleashed gigs were nerve-wracking because I didn’t want to let down any of my fellow Star Wars fans. With Smallville, I didn’t want to let down any of my fellow Superman fans. I actually don’t have much of a connection with the vampire genre. I never really had a particular love for vampires. But, the fact is that we all draw from the same pool of fans. I really would like to do service to these extraordinary situations. With anything sci-fi, if you do it okay or not very well, it’s the worst thing in the world. It’s just cheesy and awful. However, if you do it really, really well, it’s the coolest thing in the world. If you do an extraordinary job of giving gravity to those extraordinary situations, than science fiction and those types of genres are way cooler than what you can do in a lot of traditional genres.
You just get more opportunities to tell more daring stories, in terms of the metaphors. There are things that Aidan goes through, later on in the season, in terms of him having some form of relapse. The type of stuff that we do, they had to censor quite a bit of because we really went far with it, but they would have had to censor it even more, if it was me just going for it with heroin. It would have been something that the censors would have been very uncomfortable with. But, if you take it out of that and say, “No, he’s a vampire and it’s a blood thing,” then you can literally do the heroin freak out, very literally on the screen, without having the censors cut it out.
Are you hoping to balance this with film work between seasons, if the show goes on for awhile?
WITWER: Yeah. I’m very much a fan of doing a gig and moving on. Being Human would be an exception to that because it’s such an exceptional show. I’ve actually been in situations where I’ve turned down a lot of money to continue on, in certain shows, or to do something that would have lasted years when I didn’t even like it. I didn’t want to be in any one spot for years, unless I really believed in it, and I really believe in Being Human. But, the wonderful thing is that I still will have the opportunity to do stints on various gigs and move on. That is absolutely the plan. I want to just play around in the six months between the seasons.
Right now, I’m just trying to balance it out with getting sleep back. By the end of it, we were exhausted. We’re all burnt. Right now, I can’t even think about work. My agent and manager are coming to me with these wonderful gigs and they want me to audition, and I haven’t had the heart to audition for anything recently because I’m just too burnt right now. But, I’ll be ready to get back into the swing of things soon.
Do you have any dream roles you’d love to do?
WITWER: I recently got to do a period piece with David Strathairn, called No God, No Master, that was fun. I would love to do more period pieces. That would be a lot of fun.
Do you have any films coming out that your fans should keep an eye out for?
WITWER: There’s a film that I did about a Star Wars/Star Trek geek, who loses everything in the recession and decides to join the mafia, so he has to go move in with his mom in her basement, back in Chicago. We shot that in Chicago. That’s called The Return of Joe Rich, and it should be interesting. I’m the title character, Armand Assante plays my mafia uncle that I try to get in with and Talia Shire is my mother. It’s a fun indie. We’ll see how it comes together. I haven’t seen it yet, but I’ve seen pieces of it. It was definitely fun to shoot. Other than that, there’s some other projects that I can’t talk about just yet, but there’s stuff coming.