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Interview: Being Human's Sam Witwer - Part 1

Last week, Sam Witwer of Being Human (Syfy) was kind enough to take time out to talk to the press about his role as the vampire Aidan in the North American adaptation of the popular U.K. series. He also spoke a bit about some of his other roles, which have included Battlestar Galactica, NCIS, Smallville and Star Wars: The Clone Wars.

If there’s one thing to be said about Sam Witwer (aside from his excellent collection of scifi/fantasy roles), it’s that he’s got plenty to say about his part in Syfy’s Being Human. Witwer shared some interesting insights about his character Aidan, but rest assured, he teased quite a bit but seemed to go out of his way not to spoil anything major with regards to what’s to come for the remainder of Season 1.

One of the things that really makes the British version of the series work is this great chemistry between the cast, and I was wondering how well do all of you guys get along?

Ridiculously well. In fact, on Sunday morning we’re all - the cast - pretty much the entire main cast and Mark Pellegrino and Sarah Allen, we’re all going to Hawaii together. So, I don’t know if that answers your question, but yes, it was an instant thing with me and Sammy and Meaghan, and also Mark and Sarah. I’ve been in a lot of casts and this was probably the one that really gelled the most. And in fact, it went so far that we had the producers take us aside on a few occasions in the early episodes and said, “Listen, we’d like you to tone back the chemistry,” where you usually get the opposite note.

You usually get someone saying, “Okay, remember you like each other and this is a funny moment,” but in our case I think our timing was a little bit too sharp for their taste. Because one of the things - I’ve only seen one episode of the British series and I stayed away from it after I enjoyed immensely because I didn’t want to get - unintentionally mimic anything Aidan Turner was doing because I thought he was wonderful.

So, but one of the things I remember is you start with those characters in the apartment and they’re bantering and they’re fun and they have all that timing, and you really started with them there. Well, what we wanted to do was show the journey of how they get to that kind of place, so it wouldn’t make sense. In fact it would feel quite sitcommy if we already had all that timing and all that - and all that banter, because no, Josh and Aidan aren’t entirely comfortable with each other and they don’t know Sally at all.

So, for realism sake, they said, “No, really we want you guys to work into this,” and around halfway through the season they kind of just said, “Okay, do - we’ll do whatever you want. Go for it. We’re - you’re entertaining us. Go.” But I think the note was absolutely right because you do want to get a sense of - especially for Aidan’s journey, a guy who was keeping so many secrets from everyone, including Sally and Josh, he couldn’t warm up too fast to these two.

And so, I thought it was a really good note and I’m glad they gave it to us for the sake of storytelling, to be a little bit patient.

Well, it sounds like its working though. So tell me also, in what ways are you most like and least like your character of Aidan?

Well, I’m a little bit more of a goofball than Aidan is I think. He’s a little bit more cool and collected and I supposed that comes from him being a little bit older than I am. He’s 250-something years old, so I’ll give him that. We look a lot alike. I’ll give him that as well. We virtually look exactly alike, me and Aidan. We’re about the same height. He’s a little bit faster of a runner than I am, but I also play video games better than he does. So, there’s a lot of similarities, a lot of differences.

No, but really I think what I related to in this character was the fact that he was a man of conscience and I loved that. I really loved that at the core of this guy who’s been really a terrible person for the past 200 years there was a conscience at the center of all that, and I liked how the script dealt with those issues.

How do you feel Aidan stacks up against the other vampires on TV and in film right now?

Oh, you’re going to be very disappointed in me, sir. I have not seen the other vampires. I don’t know what they’re doing. I haven’t seen any of the shows. I haven’t seen any of the Twilight Series. In fact, someone said, “Hey, so you guys sparkle?” And I’m like, “What?” “Do you sparkle?” I’m like, “What do you mean, do we break into dance numbers and use jazz hands? What do you mean?” And they’re like, “No, like the vampires in Twilight.” And I’m like, “I don’t know what that is.”

So, really if - I don’t if I have an original take in it. I heard from a few people that I kind of do, but I’m just kind of crossing my fingers and doing my own kind of unpolluted take on the vampire thing. Because really the last real exposure I’ve had to it is Béla Lugosi from back in the day, and that movie I’ve seen a lot of. But, that’s it. So this is my take, and so I guess if I got it wrong it’s entirely my fault.

Well, just a second ago you mentioned Aidan Turner from the British series...

Yes, assuming - again, I thought was doing a really interesting job, which is why I really had to stay away from it, but I have a little bit. I just bought the bought the Blu-ray and I’m going to watch it. I was very excited to get my hands on it.

What I wanted to know was, is your name Aidan, is that intention or is that just coincidence?

Well, you know what’s funny is it was - it started as a coincidence. It started as a - basically they wanted a name that had a certain bit of history to it and an old school feel, so they went with Aidan and discovered immediately afterward that, yes, Aidan Turner played the role. But, they kept it that way, and this is the intentional part because they thought, “Well, isn’t that entirely appropriate? We like that name and we like that series. And we’re here to do honor to what they’re doing and to create something that compliments what they’re doing, so why not? Let’s keep it.”

You mentioned somebody asked you if you sparkled or not. How does Aidan walk around in the daylight?

Well, it’s uncomfortable, but it doesn’t necessarily harm him. The way that we play it out is, and I think I actually talked to Sally about this in, I think, Episode 3, but the vampire is just like every living thing on this planet have evolved that early on they may have been Nosferatu or one of those early on visions of the horrible pharaoh vampire, and as they’ve gone on they’ve adapted. So, yes, they can actually walk around, but they don’t necessarily like it, which is why you see our vampires wear sunglasses a lot in the daytime. It isn’t that we’re trying to look like we’re in the Matrix, we actually need them.

You have your band, Crashtones, are we going to get to hear them on Being Human at any point?

What’s funny is I haven’t pushed that at all. I don’t know, I mean my - I would love to. I’d love to hear it. My music is weird. My music, I mean, some of it is little bit excessful, but a lot of it is very strange and doesn’t conform too much to what people are doing out there. I guess I always doubted whether it would have any play, so now - I’ll talk to Adam Kane about that and I’ll start pushing it. I’ll start pressuring them. I mean, there’s some other stuff that I’m working on now, some of the music that I’m working on now could definitely fit in there. But, yes. Thank you for asking me and thanks for planting that idea in my mind.

Could you talk about how you got the role on Being Human?

Well, to talk about how I got the role is to have to face how feeble minded I can be at times. Basically, I get this script, right, and well ten scripts, I mean Episodes 1 and 2 they presented both of those. And I flipped through the first three pages and I see that I’m playing a vampire and I go, “Eh, I don’t want to. I don’t want to.” And not necessarily because I have anything against vampires, but I also don’t necessarily have a particular love for the vampire thing, and more than anything, there’s just so much of it, you know? It’s absolutely everywhere. And I thought, “Well, I don’t want to do it. Do we need another vampire show? I don’t want to do that.” That was the end of it.

I contacted my agent and said, “Yes, I’m not going to go to that audition.” And then, a friend of mine, (Laura Terry) who is like - may as well be part of my management team, she’s helped me out so much in my career. She’s a good friend of mind and she just happens to know everything about what’s happening in the business everywhere. She just is a - I don’t know, a network of information finds its way through here. She’s like a database.

She contacts me just on a whim. She goes, “I had a bad feeling today. Did you turn down the Being Human audition?” And I’m like, “Yes.” And she’s like, “Okay, you read the script, right?” And I’m like, “Oh, I mean, yes. I mean, I read three pages.” And she got very, very angry at me and she goes, “All right, do me a damned favor, would you - how about this, I have an idea. Why don’t you do your job and read the script. Be an actor for a change and do what actors are supposed to do and actually make an informed decision.”

So, she shames me, right, and then I sit down and I start reading the script. And then I became even more ashamed because I’m reading this amazing script, which I just at first glance, because I’m going through Page 3 and I’m like, “Yes, see I don’t want to do it.” And I’m around Page 10 and I’m like, “Yes, he’s still a vampire. I really don’t want to do it.” And then, around Page 15 I’m like, “But, what’s going to happen?”

I just became very invested in these characters and in Aidan in particular, and the way I felt about it is I’m like I find Aidan easily the most interesting, okay, I’m biased of course, but I mean found him to be the most interesting to me personally. And then I read the second script and it was consistently excellent, and I just fell in love with the project. And then, she hits me with Episode 1 of the British series and I watched that and I’m like, “Okay, I’m an idiot. I’m a real idiot.”

So, hat in hand called up my agent and said, “Hey, I said I wasn’t going to go to that, I’m definitely going to that. I’m absolutely - I’m in fact already there.” Just like the kids lined up for Star Wars Episode 1 outside of the audition place, so I was really just excited to audition. And then after that, I went in and read for them and, so there’s this long audition process, but it started with just one audition.

After that, because anytime someone puts like a contract in front of you that could last several years you get a little bit nervous, and so I wanted to know like what is this - how do you guys see this show? So, we all got together, me, the director, and the producers, we sat down, we had a meeting and just talked for an hour about what we saw this show. Like how we saw this show, how we saw it shot, what it was shot on, how the sound design worked, and how are the characterizations, and how you see the humorous fitting in against the drama, and all this stuff.

We had a huge discussion, because I feel like as wonderful as those scripts are they’d be very easy to mess up, and you could really get them wrong. And they really talked a good game, and then fast forward a few months and actually when I started seeing the episodes they actually had the talent to pull it off. So, I was - I’m kind of in awe of our production team. I think Adam Kane and Jeremy Carver and Anna Fricke are geniuses, especially with how - I mean as you see in the later episodes, and you haven’t - we haven’t gotten there yet, but the show gets a lot darker than where we start; a lot darker. And the people were saying about Episode 4 like, “Oh, the show’s starting to get really dark.” I’d be like, “No, no, it hasn’t yet, not at all. You guys have no idea.”

And the thing that I just keep being - that I’m impressed with consistently is how they can put humor in against how dark the show gets, and to not undercut the drama with the humor. So anyway, that was a long answer to your question.

Going back to the kind of character that Aidan is, I love that he’s such a good guy, and everything with Josh and Ray, I just wanted to know where you see their friendship. If it’s coming out of - just unscathed, and how is it that he’s so easy going with werewolves because he brings Ray to Josh at the hospital. So, it says a lot about Aidan’s character that he’s just such an outstanding kind of guy.

Later in the season you’re going to see context for how vampires truly feel about werewolves. You’re going to see a lot more of that. It’s one of the things we sometimes don’t necessarily explain a lot of things. And I actually like that about the show that there are very specific rules about how all of this stuff works and we all talked about it on the set, but then we don’t necessarily go out of our way to have an exposition paragraph, you know?

In movies, you’ll see two guys and they’re like, “We’ve been best friends for ten years and you’re telling me that,” you’re just like, “Why would you say that? You don’t have to - we know. You’ve been best friends for ten years. Get on with it,” you know? And we don’t actually have a lot of those moments where we explain what everyone knows. And therefore, the audience has some room to interpret, which I think is wonderful, but as for Ray and Josh, and does our relationship get frayed by the Ray thing, it does a little bit. And in fact, it gets frayed by a lot of things throughout the season. It’s because Ray is telling Josh some truths actually about the nature of vampires, and while Aidan is an outstanding guy, he is in fact one of these people that fit into the category that Ray is describing and he still has a lot of these traits.

I mean, if you watch closely there are certain moments where you can see Aidan - like for example, in the beginning of, I guess it’s Episode 4, there’s a moment where Aidan is in the bookstore and he sees a - the woman who’s ringing people up and there’s a moment where he’s working out how he’s going to do this. How he’s going to lure her, how he’s going to this, how he’s going to that, and how he’s going to dispose of the body and all of that. He’s working it out like a chess game. And only at the last minute does he go, “Whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa, that’s not - no, that’s not what I’m - I’m trying to do the opposite.” But, he’s being doing these things for 200 years and the very nature of our vampires are to be deceptive, not necessarily to each other, but to everyone else to hide what they are, to hide what they’re feeling, to hide everything.

Aidan lies a lot to his roommates, all the time in fact. Throughout our entire season he is constantly lying to just about everyone, and you only see what’s really going on with that character when he’s alone or when he’s with certain company. And what I love about that is that it really reinforces the metaphor that we make no secret that we’re actually discussing. No secret about the fact that we are discussing addition, we are discussion a man who is battling drug addiction and trying to stay clean. And bringing Josh’s friendship with Josh is a friendship of desperation. He has no one who could support him except this guy. And so they move in so that they can kind of watchdog each other, but the fact of the matter is he still doesn’t share with Josh half of what’s going on. And I think that people could definitely relate to that. Something that’s going on in their life that they feel like they can really turn - they can’t turn to anyone for it, and they keep that secret and they hate themselves for it.

Our whole mythology for vampires is all based around that metaphor, everything that we’ve done. In fact, even the casting of vampires has been about that. There’s a scene in a later episode where there’s a big gathering of vampires; giant. And we looked around, me and Mark Pellegrino, and we’re just applauding their casting choices because it wasn’t a bunch of dudes and women in like black leather pants and long trench coats. It was a woman who a mother, and then a guy who looked like a school teacher, and a kid who looked like just an average college student. It was just people. It was just normal people and the point being that any one of these people could have a problem with addiction and hide it from the people that they’re closest with. I thought that was fascinating.

In the last episode, the whole thing with Rebecca to me was really reminiscent, sort of like of a Sid and Nancy-type kind of relationship where they’re like failing and struggling and you’re trying to help her and she’s sort of dragging you down, but you keep trying to help each other. And it was like very much about two - almost like two drug addicts, but you know, they’re blood addicts, you know, trying to help each other out and she bails on you, but then - you know, I’m - I was wondering, in preparing for the role for Aidan did you look a lot at - into like that addiction and like how did you prepare for playing that kind of a thing?

Yes, to answer your question, you’re hitting the nail on the head. That’s all we talked about. Me and Sarah Allen that’s all we ever discussed was drug parallels and addiction and all that, and that was what the producers wanted. So, everyone is on the same page about this metaphor. We even blocked the scenes and shot them in such a way that they were suggestive of other things. I’ll just kind of leave it at that.

But, because there’s definitely all kinds of stuff going on there, including a very strong sexual element, the tragedy of what happens in that episode and what happens in the episodes following that episode is that she’s sincere in her intention to beat this and so is Aidan. But, they both have the same problem, and therefore maybe they’re not the best people to support each other because if one goes down the other one’s going down with them. And the other problem that Rebecca has is that she is also surrounded by - because one of the things that people maybe didn’t necessarily synapse with is that the first episode takes place over a month. Our Episode 1 is one month. When we catch up with Rebecca she was turned almost immediately after she died, right?

And then, for a month she was forced into this really messed up culture and society where if you look at it from a genre point of view she was forced to murder a lot of people and she was forced to take part in a lot of really messed up things, so she’s out of her mind by the time that we catch up with her in Episode 2. But, from a metaphor point, she was thrown into this drug thing and has been heavily involved in it for a month straight before Aidan can have any influence. So, Bishop isn’t working on her hardcore, and of course he’s working on her because he knows that this could be a lure to bring Aidan back into the fold. So...

We’re talking a lot about addiction, part of the themes about addiction is that, as a guy that’s trying to recover it seems like the character of Aidan is experiencing a lot of stuff for the first time. It’s sort of like new to him because he’s clean but there’s also going to be this theme of backsliding a lot, you know? Despite the fact that he has these friends and he has this good situation, he’s going to backslide. So, like the other characters that you’ve been known for playing, is this character like Darth Vader, like The Apprentice, like (David), but - is he just doomed to fail? Is he just going to be a failed character? It’s going to be a failed redemption story?

That is a very, very interesting question. First of all, you’re hitting the nail on the head when it comes to how new things are to him, because I’m trying to play him and you’ll see a lot more of this as the season goes on, I’m trying to play him like this is all ridiculously new to him. That this is going clean with something that has occurred to him in the past and he’s tried on a few occasions, but this is the first time that he’s really made a go of it and had any real success. And because he’s been a drug case for 200 years he doesn’t have the tools that you and I have to deal with humanity on humanities own terms. So, he’s been relying on the substance abuse to get him through. So now we have what is in very strange ways - I mean on one hand he’s a very wise old character who’s accrued a lot of wisdom, and on the other hand he’s a kid who has not developed - he’s not developed normally.

And his emotional state is extremely volatile and he tries - and which is why he tries to keep cool so much. He tries to maintain this very low key veneer to try to contain all the stuff that’s going on inside, and you’ll get to see more and more of that as the season goes on, in terms of backsliding and is he destined to fail?

In terms of ultimately is he destined to fail? That is a question that we will answer by the end of the entire series. But in terms of the season, yes, we do see some failures and we do see some moments where, yes, he starts backsliding and it’s some pretty ugly stuff. In fact, there’s one scene in particular, and I wish I could tell you about it because I’m very excited about it. (But, I remember) producers and the director being very excited with what were shooting while at the same time saying, “God, I hope we can get some of this through censors because it’s really not pleasant,” you know? The metaphor was hitting a little bit too true and I was going a little nuts, and they were saying, “Hey, you’ve got to be careful.”

One of the things that I played with with Aidan is that I felt it’d be interesting if in the first two episodes the only real joy you see this guy experience is when he goes back to the blood den. That’s the only time that we really see him experience true joy is when he’s back in the fold messing up. Every other time he’s kind of grim and quiet and this and that, but when you see him go back to the blood den and take that first drink he’s actually laughing for real and he’s actually really feeling wonderful for the first time in a long, long time. So, scary, scary stuff.

I guess maybe a lighter question is some vampire fans are known for being a little bit passionate, is a good word for it, has there been any conversations or have you received any fan reactions about, I don’t know, Team Aidan Turner verse Team Witwer, or (get attention to where you)...

I haven’t read anything like that. Is there such a thing? I wouldn’t know.< I remember there was something - there - I saw some people wearing Team Aidan Versus Team Josh shirts, which I thought was hilarious. When someone explained, by the way, I didn’t really know what that meant up until I’m like, “That’s cute. What is that?” And they explained to me the whole Twilight thing. I’m like, “Oh, that’s cool.” So...

Do you have any actual supernatural interests? I mean aside from being on the show as a vampire with a werewolf, you know, and a ghost, do you buy into any of it? Do you - are you fascinated by any of the supernatural pursuits?

I’ve always been fascinated by supernatural mythology, definitely; ghosts and such. But, I mean I don’t know that I necessarily believe in them, but I certainly love reading about it. It’s really, really fun. Then, in terms of my interests in terms of genre stuff, I have a broad variety of interest when it comes to genre television and film. I’m a hardcore Star Wars guy, love Star Trek, love all that stuff.

You’re obviously known for doing The Force Unleashed video games, and then recently the Son on The Clone Wars of Star Wars. Do you prefer Sci-Fi over fantasy or I mean, which do you think is more of your - you know, where you would see yourself ending up in in the end? Is it more Battlestar, Star Wars, Star Trek, or is more this kind of thing?

Sam Witwer: Well, what’s funny is that Star Wars isn’t really Sci-Fi. Star Wars is more of a fairy tale. Star Wars is fantasy really, with Sci-Fi trappings. For me, so long as the subject matter, in terms of what they’re really talking about, is interesting everything else is really just fun window dressing. The vampire thing for me is ridiculously interesting because of the topic of discussion; the whole addiction thing. The Star Wars thing is interesting to me because it’s an entire discussion about morality. And, I think the reasons why people lock into these things and why they stick around for years and years and years, so there’s really is some substance there.

The fun thing about doing genre, be it Sci-Fi, fantasy, whatever, is that you can have these discussions and sometimes go extraordinarily far without censors coming down on you. We’ve shot a few scenes in Being Human that if we had even hinted at a needle being present the whole scene would have been shut down with the way we were shooting it.

And for example, Battlestar, their Season 3, almost the entirety of it, is quite literally shot in terms of -it’s a discussion about the Iraq War and a lot of things surrounding it. And they shoot it pretty literally, and it looks very similar to what was happening over there and I love that stuff. I love that people can go even further with the trappings of throwing a ray gun in there and suddenly people are thrown off the scent. But, in terms of the audience, which his very intelligent, they’re not. They’re not thrown off the scent at all.

When you’re dealing with werewolves, vampires, ghosts, other supernatural elements, things can get very cheesy very quickly. Was there anything really worried about, you know, any kind of tropes that you were kind of concerned about or glad that the show has avoided with any of those kinds of creatures?

Never once that I read a script where I was concerned that we were cheesing out, thankfully. I’m very, very happy to report that. The scripts were consistently - there wasn’t a bad script in the bunch, and I was happy about that. So no, we actually steer clear of that somehow.

I’m a big fan of the British series, but also of your sort of redux of it. I think you’ve got such amazing chemistry. I really wanted to know though, even though, you know, Aidan is a dark guy and we’re - you know, he’s lying to his roommates and his friendship with Josh is strained, you know, upcoming episode is all about some pretty big reveals for Sally and Josh. I wanted - do you think that your characters are going to become more bonded because of this or more torn apart because of the revelations?

You see both. You see both, absolutely. They rely on each other more while at the same time certain revelations and I think I’m not spoiling too much by saying that there are moments where Josh and Sally pickup on the fact that Aidan is not being honest with them, and that doesn’t do much for their relationship. I think one of the themes of the first season though is how these three people resolve their relationships with each other, in terms of working together or apart, because as you see we are quite a bit apart in these early episodes. We are kind of wandering off on our own and exploring these problems and in most cases, in fact maybe in all cases, failing miserably.

I think one of themes is, are these people going to learn to start working together on this or are they just going to continue to flounder out in there - out in the wilderness by themselves?

There’s like a moment where this is kind of the moment, you know, especially for Sally who finds out kind of more about her fate and Josh about his background and stuff. This is kind of the time where they either can become friends or just be roommates, you know?

Yes. Well, and the thing is is that it’s not as if Josh and Aidan would be friends if they didn’t need something from each other. They’re really not two compatible personalities quite, so we’ll see how that goes.

I thought it was really interesting to bring Josh’s family into the series early on. Will we see anymore family members pop up (while they’re) (unintelligible) Josh or, you know (anybody)...

Yes. I hope I’m not spoiling too much by saying absolutely; totally. And in fact, you’re speaking about one of my favorite episodes from our season.

On Smallville you played a human (sitonese) and a beast, and now (you’re cast) in the same on Being Human. Have you taken anything from the role of Davis Bloome and applied it to Aidan on Being Human?

That’s a very good question. Davis didn’t necessarily have Aidan’s sense of humor, and you see definitely more of Aidan’s sense of humor as the series goes on. But, they are in a very similar position, Davis, I think, kind of slid out of control faster. But, I suppose the answer would have to be yes that I had some experience playing the - I suppose I’ve played a lot of characters that have kind of a duality.

Darth Vader’s apprentice, the Starkiller character in The Force Unleashed games had the same problem that he - his nature was to be a very good person, but his nurture was very different. Having been raised by Darth Vader he was trained to be this assassin and he had to find his way out of that. And Davis was a very conscientious person, but when he blacked out became Doomsday, and that’s no good. Aidan was a man of conscience who was turned into a terrible sociopath for 200 years.

So, I don’t know why they keep hiring me for these things, but clearly I must have troubles and problems that I’m not looking at or something, and that they see. I don’t know.

For more of Witwer's thoughts on Being Human, read Part 2 of the interview here. Being Human airs on Monday night at 9 p.m. ET on Syfy.

Kelly West
Kelly West

Kelly joined CinemaBlend as a freelance TV news writer in 2006 and went on to serve as the site’s TV Editor before moving over to other roles on the site. At present, she’s an Assistant Managing Editor who spends much of her time brainstorming and editing feature content on the site.