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Sam Witwer interview

The star of the US remake of Being Human tells us all about the show.

Sam Witwer

Sam Witwer is an American actor with an impressive list of credentials to his name. The 35-year-old has appeared in hits shows including Angel, Star Trek: Enterprise, Dexter and Bones.  His breakthrough role was as Davis Bloome aka Doomsday in the eighth season of Smallville.

Since 2011 Sam has starred as vampire Aidan Waite in the US remake of Being Human. The show is finally coming to the UK from April 11th on Watch.

We recently caught up with Sam to find out more about the show, discuss the similarities with the UK version and to talk about his career so far.

How are you today Sam?

I’m good. It’s a nice morning here and the weather’s good. I’m alive so it’s good!

It definitely beats the rain that we have in London at the moment…

Oh really? Yeah that’s unusual for London isn’t it? (laughs)

Let’s talk about Being Human USA. In the US you’re already onto the third season but here in the UK we’ll be seeing it for the first time. Tell us about the show.

It’s a reimagining of your show. We approached that with a great deal of humility, respect and deference toward the original material. Me and my cast members stayed away from watching the BBC version until we finished shooting the first season. At that point I bought everyone the Blu-ray boxsets and we’ve all since become fans of the show. I really love the BBC original.

The idea was to create a companion piece. The BBC version is fantastic and wonderful, and has such a huge fanbase over here but it also has a very different sense of humour. There were other things you could do with that situation which is why Toby Whithouse and Rob Pursey were contacted with the idea of doing an American version.

What people are going to see is a version of the story of the first season of the BBC show except it’s going to be expanded a little bit. The original had 6 episodes and we do that same story in 13 episodes. We take a little bit more time with certain aspects and go off in a few surprising directions based on the characters being essentially different than their UK counterparts. They were never intended to be the same people but just three different people in the same situation.

You play vampire Aidan in the series. What do we need to know about him?

He’s about 260 years old which puts him about 100 years older than Aidan Turner’s character Mitchell in the BBC Being Human; that was one of the ways they wanted to differentiate this guy. It puts him in a different light immediately. This guy was an American Revolutionary war soldier and he’s been living the life of a socio-path/maniac/murderer…a really bad, bad guy. Not until recently has he decided that he can’t live like that anymore and he’s tired of being a bad guy. He’s trying to go clean.

The whole concept of this piece is that the vampire phenomenon is a thinly veiled metaphor for drug addiction. You have a guy who is trying to stay away from his old drug buddies and trying to go clean. He meets this other guy who is a werewolf, newly turned and doesn’t really understand that phenomenon, takes him under his wing and they decide that they want to make a try of being normal guys and move in to an apartment. They happen to move into a haunted house and that’s where they meet the ghost.

Being Human USA

What’s the dynamic like between you and your co-stars Megan Rath and Sam Huntington?

Well (laughs)…it’s not that different to the dynamic that we have off-screen. The first time I ever met Sam Huntington was in the audition process. He sat down next to me and I guess the light was gleaming off my hair or maybe I had too much product in it or something (laughs) and he sits down, looks at me and say ‘are you going grey?’ right in front of the producers!  I was like ‘erm I don’t think so!’ and he said ‘oh yeah sorry!’ and he could see that I wasn’t but he’d already said it in front of the producers. I said ‘thanks for doing that here pal, I appreciate the concern’ so I immediately started giving him grief and we started joking around and laughing. The producers saw that and that’s very much the relationship that those characters develop.

I find him funny and Aidan finds Josh funny but he’s also quite annoying and irritating. Once we had got our little group together, Megan Rath comes into the audition at some point later on in the process and is so excited to meet us with a big smile. That’s precisely what happens in the script. We happened to have the exact relationship that they were writing for already.

We ended up having a degree of chemistry that the studio and the producers asked us to tone down for the first five or six episodes. It was interesting because we’d seen the first episode of the BBC series and there was a wonderful chemistry there so we though that’s what they wanted. They hired us for our chemistry so let’s do that. We would have this comedic timing and this fun banter and rapport but the producers said, quite rightfully, that we couldn’t do that as our characters don’t know each other that well yet. We said that in the BBC original they had that but they pointed out that in that version there was a different cast in the pilot than in the rest of the series. We don’t really know during that first episode how well those characters know each other; we just know that they know each other and they have this rapport. With our characters we track how long they’ve known each other so we have to honour that otherwise it’s going to feel like a sitcom.

They were right. To play it realistically, under our circumstances, you have to honour what the audience is seeing. That was one of the first of many differences that started creeping in to our situation.

Having that chemistry between the three of you, does it make it easier to get into your characters and naturally interact with each other?

Oh absolutely yeah. A lot of who we are slips into those interactions (laughs). Season 3, which we’re airing right now in America, there’s a lot of ad-libbing and a lot of stuff that doesn’t appear in those scripts. Our showrunner encourages us to add them into our scenes. They just get weirder and weirder the scenes.

It sounds like you have a great time making the show…

It’s interesting. A lot of people say ‘we have a wonderful cast’ and there are lots of wonderful casts out there. I’ve been privileged to be part of shows that have a very happy cast. For example Battlestar Galactica had a very happy cast where people generally got along. Being Human, we don’t just get along, we go on vacations together and hang out when we’re not shooting. We are extraordinarily close and that’s a really fun element to turn up to work and there’s two of your best friends waiting for you and you get to spend the whole day with them. It’s a pretty great job for that reason. Megan Rath and Sam Huntington are the reason to show up to work

That’s a good reason. It’s better than going into a job where you can’t bear the people you work with…

(laughs) which does sometimes happen unfortunately!

What first attracted you to Being Human and made you decide you wanted to be a part of it?

I received the script and read three pages in, saw the word ‘vampire’, closed the script and just wasn’t interested. I didn’t want to do it. It’s not necessarily that I have anything against vampires per se. It’s more that there’s like 53 vampires out there on TV right now and I don’t know that we need another one. That was it. I turned down the audition.

Then I got a call from a good friend who’s very knowledgeable and knows what’s going on in Hollywood. She said, ‘did you turn down the Being Human audition?’ and I said, ‘yeah’. She said, ‘did you read the script?’ and I said, ‘yeah’. She said, ‘no you didn’t, you didn’t read the script’ and I said, ‘yeah…’ (laughs) then she said, ‘read the script, that’s your job! As an actor it’s your job to give the material a chance and figure out what you want to do and not do. How do you do that without reading a script?’

She shamed me into reading the script. Once I got through that first one I went straight to the second one being ridiculously intrigued. By the end of reading those scripts I very humbly asked for an audition (laughs). I’d already turned it down so I humbly asked and said ‘I’d like to be involved in this audition process’.  The moment I understood that it wasn’t as much about a vampire, as it was a recovering heroin addict – that’s the story they’re telling through the vampire metaphor – I became very interested and I thought that was really cool. At that point I hadn’t heard of the BBC series so it was all very new to me.

Being Human USA

The BBC series has just finished here in the UK so the timing of the US remake arriving here couldn’t be better really…

Yeah it’s interesting. The intention for our show has always been, for fans of the BBC series, that it would be a fun companion. Rob Pursey, one of the creators of the BBC series, came to visit us on set and I was having a conversation with him about this. I said, ‘it’s interesting Rob if we fail here it doesn’t affect you guys at all. You’re doing fine and it’s still brilliant. If we succeed we’ll send a bunch of viewers your way and your ratings will increase. The brand will have a wider audience.’ Rob kinda smiled and said, ‘well that’s the idea isn’t it?’ (laughs). We talked about the win-win nature of the deal for the Being Human BBC series but he was quick to point out that he wouldn’t be on set with me if he didn’t feel the American version was working. Fair enough (laughs).

I’ve always looked at them as companion pieces. I have friends, and I’ve certainly talked to fans, who watch and enjoy both series and I think that’s correct. There are always going to be people who like rivalries. They root for their favourite sports team but then there’s always a rival for that sports team. If they say I like Star Wars then they say I don’t like Star Trek. They think that you can only like one and not the other. That’s not the world that I live in; I watch Star Trek and Star Wars. There’s no competitiveness between the two shows. I have a reputation for being objective about what my show is doing and you kind of have to, or at least try to, so you can improve and know what you’re doing wrong. There are things that we do better than the BBC version and there are things they do better than our version. I think it’s worth watching both of them. Especially as with our show, the more and more it goes on it diverges from the BBC version. By the second and third seasons we have no storylines in common.

That’s a good thing that the show takes the original idea and then finds its feet in a different way taking along the audience that watched the original version…

Yes and that’s important. You can’t just redo it and offer nothing new. It wouldn’t be much of a companion piece if that’s the way we approached it.

Looking at the roles you’ve played so far in your career you seem attracted to the dark and challenging roles like Davis in Smallville. What do you like about these roles?

With Being Human and the audition, and I wasn’t aware of this until after, they came looking for me because of Davis Bloome. The casting director Being Human was also the casting director for Smallville. As I understand it, and was told later, they went through hundreds of guys and were having a hard time casting Aidan. They wanted to cast Aidan first before they cast the other roles. During that process the casting director Dee Dee Bradley said, ‘hold on we’re trying to cast an actor who can play the idea of a monster who doesn’t want to be a monster. I just cast a guy who is doing something like that’. That’s when I got sent the audition. They actually came looking for me.

Davis Bloome in a weird way is a kind of prototype version of Aidan. A humourless prototype I might add. There wasn’t a lot of time for Davis to have a sense of humour about what was happening to him whereas Being Human is actually quite funny. It’s interesting how it all came about.

Is it nice to get the opportunity to take the lead role in a series?

Yeah that was fun. I’d just come off of doing a couple of independents where I had the lead role in one and the second lead role in the other. I was getting used to this idea of doing leads. That was certainly one of the draws for doing Being Human. They were offering me a lead role and I’d get to put my stamp on my own series. It was certainly alluring.

Slightly off-topic but we hear that you’re passionate about role-playing video games. What is about them that you love?

I’m a big gamer altogether right. We’re talking table top games, video games or board games. I think it’s just a more adult version of playing cops and robbers like you do as a kid with your friends. Me and my friends that I grew up with, there’s about 8 of us, we’re always gaming in one shape or form or competing. When we’re not together we’re getting together on Xbox Live and playing Left 4 Dead with each other. It’s just what we did growing up and we see no reason not to continue it. We get a great deal of fun out of it.

The other aspect of it frankly is that you put a lot of effort into these games and it occurred to me as you become an adult some people fall away from this because you get busy and have a job and a career. I was preparing for running an RPG with my friends and I was working really hard at it. I thought, ‘I’m working really hard here and it’s kind childish’ then I realised that I’m basically doing what I do for a living. I work in storytelling and create stories and all this weird fun stuff. I’m doing that kind of thing but I’m just not getting paid. Actually that’s cooler because it means I like it and enjoy stories (laughs).

Look at where video games have gone. It’s so story-based these days. If you look at the Star Wars: Force Unleashed game it’s one of the first to get a Writer’s Guild award for its script. It’s different mediums of storytelling but a lot of the same principles apply. For me that’s key. I love it, I do it for a living and when I’m not doing it for a living I’m doing it on my own time. Even the music I write is storytelling.

Back to Being Human USA now. Why should our readers tune in to Watch when the show begins this month?

Let me think about that. I would say if you love the situation and you’ve already become attached to two different casts – well three if you include the pilot of the original Being Human – what’s a fourth cast huh? (laughs) What’s a fourth group of people to add to that illustrious lists of vampires, werewolves and ghosts? We’re your cousins from across the pond and this is how we handle that type of adversity. It’s all fun and we’re all in this together.

Being Human USA starts on 11th April at 9pm on Watch.

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