Being Human Postmortem Q&A: Sam Witwer on the Series Finale, Stage Blood, and "Being an Idiot" On the Set
Being Human found its door on Monday night after four seasons of monster-roommate adventures, and after watching the bittersweet-yet-satisfying series finale, I jumped on the phone with Sam Witwer—a.k.a. the man behind tortured babe-magnet vampire
Aidan Waite—for an in-depth chat about the circumstances that led to Being Human’s end, his plans for the future, Star Wars, the perils of stage blood, and more. Here's what he had to say...
It’s always a little bit of a disappointment, even when a
show ends on a high note like Being Human
has, for fans to say goodbye to a series that they really loved and cared
about. Do you have any words of comfort for them?
The timing was good and it was no one’s fault, really. There was some really unpredictable stuff that happened with the budget that was really no one’s fault. Everyone was really taken aback, like, ‘What do we do?’ and the budget went down and we all discussed what to do, the cast and the crew, and we decided to do 13 episodes and end it on our terms, 13 episodes and end it well. And the other thing is that the writers were staying away from the stories that the British series had done and they’d been staying away from the stories that we’d done, and you know, they did 37 and we did 52—that’s a lot of stories between a vampire, a ghost, and a werewolf.
The whole thing, really, is that it’s always been a modestly
budgeted show and, I think, it’s always been a better show because of that.
Under these circumstances, everyone really had a chance to step up and
contribute in a way that was really non-traditional for an actor or for anyone, really. I mean, where else would I have the opportunity to write a piece of
music and say ‘Hey, put this in an episode,’ or run off and shoot
the second unit just on a whim, or write a scene, or do any of those things;
these producer-like duties because we just didn’t have a lot of people on set.
And that’s a good thing, because what
it does is make everyone really involved and really invested and it really
became our show. So, at the end of
the day, this is the scale that the show was really designed to be on. It was
never meant, as far as I’m concerned, to be this seven- or eight-year show. I never felt that way. It was
always a smaller-scale, almost independent film-type series that was intimate
and about these people and if you want to stay true to that, it’s got to be
small, it’s got to be about four years.
Now maybe we could
have squeezed a fifth in, but we were really playing with fire at that point. I
can’t thank Syfy enough for caring enough to let us end like we did. There was
a lot of discussion and they might have said, ‘You know what? Do a fifth.’ And we
didn’t really know what that was gonna look like.
That’s definitely important. I think some of the surprise at the cancellation kind of came from the fact that the writing was good and the ratings were good, so… what? What do you mean it’s canceled? You know?
That’s the thing, look, I think Syfy was just doing their due diligence. They’re running a business and if the ratings are up, they do need to consider whether there is another Being Human-type thing coming later on. They have a responsibility to that. What would have been best for fans would have been for Syfy to tell them earlier so that the entire last season could have been a celebration. With that said, I can’t stress enough that Syfy actually saved us and I’m not at liberty to discuss the details but it was a very unusual situation that Syfy was put in, and I do want to stress that Syfy actually saved the show under these very unusual circumstances. That should be made clear. Syfy actually stepped in and did some very unusual things to save the show and then as a reaction, we said, ‘Why don’t we just end it at four seasons?’ There was some real cooperation there. [The network] did not like the idea of leaving fans high and dry and believe me, if they had not lifted a finger, we would have been done after three no matter what the ratings said. It was just that strange situation, and through Syfy’s clever maneuvering we were able to do it. The only compromise was that the budget went down.
Given that you had the advance notice and there was time to write an actual ending to the story, what was the intention behind the finale? Did you approach it with the aim to wrap everything up neatly, or was there the hope that the show had other options in the future?
If we had been asked to do a fifth season, the only idea we had on the table—the only idea—was that we would reboot the characters and put them in completely different situations. They weren’t even going to be the same characters.
Yeah, but that was our only choice! The story of Josh, Nora, Sally, and Aidan is done. It’s done. So it would have been the same actors and maybe the same character names, but it would have been a standalone story. That either would have worked or it would have fallen flat on its face.
It’s like, in terms of getting people to come and play with
us [read: guest-star] for not a lot of money, we had to go to people who already
liked us and worked with us and unfortunately, we killed them all off. So, that
was another reason for a reboot. You know, we could bring back Mark Pellegrino
or Amy Aquino.
What was it like
working on a genre show like Being Human,
where the fans are so vocal and passionate about the show? Going forward in
your career, do you think you’d rather do something different?
I don’t really have an intention either way. I actually did
a pilot for CBS that was very good, and it wasn’t picked up, but it was very
good and it didn’t have vampires or monsters in it at all. I did a few
independent films. It’s just that the stuff that seems to be catching, for me,
is genre. Now, as for going forward, I couldn’t guess. There was something
offered to me a few years back that was on a vampire show and I said no
because I just didn’t want to do a vampire thing. I said ‘Nah, that’s
not something I want to do.' And then, you know, just a short time later I’m on
Being Human and I stayed for four
years. So you never really know and you
never know what’s going to catch and for me it’s really about the script. I can’t
say ‘No, I’m not gonna do genre,’ because what if the genre stuff is really
good? Then I’ll certainly want to do it and the good thing about genre stuff as
far as actor career longevity is that the fans who see something they like are
about 15 times more passionate than your average television audience and
they will never, ever forget if they see something they like.
The other day I was out for a publicity thing and it’s kind
of interesting, Being Human has
really picked up its fanbase lately, I think probably from Netflix and Hulu, and
I get recognized now more than I ever have, and there were people coming up and
I assumed they were all for Being Human
but then this dude came up and said, ‘Hey, I really appreciate what you did on Battlestar [Galactica]' and I was like, 'What? I was barely on that show!' I mean,
I was a regular in theory but you know, I didn’t show up much in the end. And
this guy was like, ‘Yeah, but I really, really liked that,” and I was just
like, 'Okay!' These fans really recognize you and I’ve gotten a lot of credit for
Battlestar. That’s what
these fans are like, and let me just say, when I say ‘these fans,’ I’m one of
them. Whenever I see someone do honor to something that I’m really passionate about, I don’t forget it. They’ve done a
service for me. It’s like, ‘Hey, you cared about this thing that I care about
and you did a really good job.’ So, yeah, I really understand that mindset and
you know, if I end up in more genre projects, I don’t think it’s going to hurt
me—provided I do a good job.
That’s the other side of it, if you do a bad job, the fans will not be shy about how much they hated what you did. For me, the pressure was on with Being Human for a different reason, because, you know, it was the first time I was being signed up as the guy, right? But the really big pressure things for me were Star Wars: The Clone Wars and Smallville because it was like, if I didn’t do something the fans liked, they were going to remember it. You really don’t want to mess that up and with Smallville, I mean, as soon as I was cast the fans were angry. They were very, very angry. But as soon as we started filming, the comments started changing and they were like, ‘Hey, he’s okay,’ and they were ready, they were so ready to just destroy me, but I managed to dodge that bullet.
I guess Being Human
was sort of the same thing because the British fans just hated us, but when we
started airing they were merciful. And
the Star Wars gig, you know, with
Darth Maul, the fans hated me for like a second and then once everyone saw what
part that played in the larger picture, they were okay. You know, you get
little tastes of what would happen if you messed it up; little tastes of just
how bad it could get for you on the internet.
The internet is a tough place.
Yeah, but the fans, I understand why they’re like that. They just don’t want to see someone mess up something they care about. Who would? And I’m not naming names, but you see it, actors who just don’t give it their all because they didn’t like it or they didn’t care that their material was an established branch or an origin story or a book adaptation or whatever and you can tell that it’s just a paycheck for them. That’s really horrifying, because there are millions of people counting on them to do their job and thousands of actors who would die for that job and who would respect the material and do a better job and understand that this is important to someone. It’s really on you [as an actor] to research it and learn why it’s beloved. If you don’t understand that, then you’re not the person to play the role.
Do you see yourself doing more Star Wars in the future, or more voice acting in general?
All they would have to do is call me up. My relationship with Lucasfilm is very friendly and continues to be since the Disney acquisition. I can’t get over the kick I get at being welcomed into the building. I mean, I was a giant Star Wars fan growing up so, you know, to even walk into ILS or stay at the [Skywalker] Ranch, these are things that I never thought would happen in my life. So, that opportunity, to do voice acting, but to do it on Star Wars, that’s like saying ‘Hey, we’re going to give you a thousand dollars but only if you let us give you a million dollars.' I’m like, yes, great, absolutely, we’ve got a deal. Those guys, all they have to do is call me up.
It’s also been such an honor to work on the last George Lucas-produced Star Wars. That’s something that’s really special to me and I know was special to the entire cast and crew. We were really proud to have worked on the final sentence that George had to say before handing the reigns off to Disney. That’s really something.
Going back to Being Human: First of all, stage blood—does it come off with soap and
That stuff is designed to come out and not stain the
costumes too bad, but the thing is, it does
stain your skin. If you watch the series, I don’t remember exactly which
episode it is, I think it’s in the third season, maybe the second, but I’m
pretty sure it’s the third, where you can see my lips are really red and we did multiple takes over and over again and you
know, we had the stage blood there and the only way to combat that is to rub
shaving cream into your lips.
I know! And luckily later on they discovered that they could just take fruit juice and add a little food coloring to it and for the parts where I’m just drinking the blood and getting it on my face, we could do that.
From an effects standpoint—ghost, werewolf, or vampire—who do you think had the hardest time existing on the screen?
Josh, Sam Huntington, he had the lion’s share of the
makeup, especially in Season 1. Later on they did digital stuff. Once you
establish the werewolf transformation you don’t have to show it in its entirety
every time, but I mean, that guy had whole-body prosthetics where his entire
torso was covered. In Season 1 he did something like two 18-hour days
with a five-hour chunk for makeup. It was insane.
I had quite a few makeup turns as well, this season, but
really in the last two seasons, and certainly the old-man makeup in the
finale. It was more elaborate than it looked. The whole notion was to make it
look natural and Eric [Gosselin] really made it look subtle, but it was more
involved than it looked. I think it’s a great credit to Eric that no one knows
that. I mean, it looks natural, but I had prosthetics on my forehead and my
chin, deepening the wrinkles around my eyes, just deepening everything up.
Leaving Being Human, what is one of your
favorite experiences from working on the show?
[I apologize in advance if the hilarity of the following anecdote doesn’t quite survive the conversion to written word, but trust me, when Witwer tells it, it’s priceless.]
This is gonna sound bizarre, but you know, you’d show up in
the morning and you’re really tired and we all had this sort of call to
acknowledge one another and someone came up with it during Season 1, and you’d
just go ‘Eeeee.’ We’d make this weird
sound and that was our way, our call of the wild, to let everyone know there was
a cast member here. And you’d be tired, you know, in your trailer thinking you
don’t have it in you to do another day, and then you’d hear ‘Eeeeee!’ And you’d respond, ‘Ee?’
And they’d come back with, ‘EEEEE!’ and you’d say ‘EEEEEEEEEEE!’ and it just
kept going in this chorus as all the different cast members joined in and it
was, it got you ready to go, it was like saying, ‘Alright, let’s go to work,
let’s do this.’ That was the wonderful thing with this cast that when they
showed up, you could never be in a mad mood with those guys. You’d always be
like, ‘Oh god, oh no, are we doing this again?’ And after, you’d hang out a little
longer than you would normally because these guys are your friends and
they make you laugh.
The great thing was that the producers also really
understood this. Like, how funny do you want this show to be? Because if you
want it to be funny, we need to have diplomatic immunity. We have to be allowed
to be idiots on set. And there were a few times when we all got sat down
and they were like, ‘Listen, the director, the guest-director is a little bit
weirded-out and he doesn’t know how to handle you and you need to tone it down,’
but more often than not, they went back and said, ‘Look, you have to let them
do their thing. Are they getting their work done? Do they know their lines?
Yeah? Well guess what, their being idiots on set actually makes them funnier on
camera soooo… sorry.’ That was part of what made the show. Yes, we were all very
professional, but we also kept each other laughing. Otherwise we’d lose energy
and it wouldn’t be as much fun. You know?
You gotta do what
Yes! Right! It’s like, in a classroom, we’re the goofballs sitting in the back of the room just feeding off each other, and that was important because the main characters on Being Human were actually friends. Some of those relationships, I think especially the relationship between Aidan and Nora, evolved gradually, and I think that was a reflection of me and Kristin [Hager] getting to know each other. You were seeing real stuff. We didn’t have to create those friendships. If anything, the pretending, it was pretending you didn’t like each other for a second. And I think that was important. In the end, it [Being Human] ran for as long as it should have and it went out as it should have. It went out entirely on the note that it should have and I think it went exactly to the scale it was meant to. It was a small show about these core characters. It was never designed to be like an eight-season thing. That’s not Being Human. If Being Human was a movie, it would be a small, independent movie about people accepting themselves and love that never quite gets there but it’s there anyway. I love that with Sally and Aidan, the audience gets to experience what a love between those two would be like, but Aidan never really does. I think that’s wonderful. I think there’s really something beautiful about that and about Sally in Season 1, you know, her mission was to solve her murder and then she solved it and she got her door and then she gave it up to save Aidan and the mission changed, her reason for being changed, and I think it’s great how these things work out, looking back at those critical moments, how everything was sort of planned.
For more information about Sam Witwer's mad musical skills check out this video with Being Human composer FM Le Sieur about their excellent collaboration, as well as the official page for the Crashtones.
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