Q&A: Sam Witwer on “BEING HUMAN’s” Fourth Season & More
Who could have predicted that television would’ve been such a boon for the genre? Ten years ago, horror on television was virtually non-existent, or at best unabashedly campy due to the restrictions of standards and practices that butchered any fright film that made the transition to TV. Yet as censorship has become more relaxed and horror grows further and further into the eyes of casual audiences, horror seems to be everywhere on the small screen, whether it be on gory premium cable programming or brooding broadcast series.
One of the series at the forefront of this current movement is the longstanding BEING HUMAN, the Syfy Channel adaptation of the hit British supernatural series concerning a coexisting vampire, werewolf and ghost. In the US version, the resident vampire has been Sam Witwer, whom horror fans would recognize from roles in DEXTER and THE MIST, and who has portrayed Aiden on BEING HUMAN for each of the show’s four seasons. With the premiere of the fourth on the horizon, Witwer spoke to FANGORIA about BEING HUMAN, working with Frank Darabont and how Aidan’s dark past will impede his bright future…
FANGORIA: The fourth season of BEING HUMAN is about to debut, and the third season just hit DVD as well. Without spoiling too much, what do you think may be the biggest change that fans should expect from the third and fourth season?
SAM WITWER: Well I’ll say this: there are things I’m allowing myself to do in performance that I had held back on in the previous three seasons. I don’t want to go too much in specifics, but we’re under some circumstances where it’s time to bring out certain things. One of the things I can tell you is that is that, eventually, we will get way more of a taste in Aidan’s past villainy. We hear about it a lot and we’ve seen him do awful things, but he always has a sense of regret. We don’t really know what this guy was like under different circumstances and we get some really interesting tastes of that this year. It’s pretty disturbing and pretty bad.
We really do build up what this guy’s problem has been for 200 years. And like I said, we’ve hinted at things and alluded to other things, but we make it explicit this year. Like for example, why was he so obsessed over the whole thing of people having their deaths in the hospital and him thinking it’s beautiful and wishing he could have the same thing? Well, why not? At one point in season one, a priest asked him, “Why haven’t you offed yourself?” And we get to actually answer that this year, definitively. We always kind of knew the answer, but now we get to let you guys in on it. We also see how badly Aidan is hurting this year. So I was definitely thrilled to come back into season four and to see that the writers and I have been in a lockstep in terms of what we thought needed to happen to the character this year.
FANG: Well, there was that moment at the end of season three that hinted that someone would come back to haunt him. So as an actor, are you happy to have the opportunity to explore his past and play him a little darker?
WITWER: Yeah, definitely. I mean there’s definitely a lot of momentum, perhaps the most momentum I’ve ever had going into a season, because he’s had some major things happen. He had everything that happened with Kenny (Connor Price) and he had everything happen with Kat (Deanna Rice), and then his wife (Katharine Isabelle), or ex-wife, or whatever she is, shows up. What’s really wonderful is that we get to coast into the season with those things already having gained speed and momentum.
The fun with the Aidan character this year has been really to try to pump up both sides of this guy. In the beginning episodes, I’ll tell you right now, Josh (Sam Huntington) isn’t in them that much. Well, he is, but the guy is stuck being a werewolf and Aidan is trying to help manage that. Because Josh is gone, Aidan is trying to take a little more of Josh’s responsibilities. So he’s cracking a few more jokes and you’re definitely going to see a more human version of Aidan, which is part of the fun of doing the show for four years. You get to see this character evolve and come to a point of where he’s almost getting there.
But as he’s ascending and reaching for what it is that he wants, we also pull very hard on the other side with the dark stuff, and it is extremely dark. So the Aidan character is both funnier and more dangerous this year, which I thought was great. I feel like he’s definitely jagged and rougher on the edges this year, in a way that is a little bit unpredictable.
FANG: One great thing about Aidan is that he really, desperately wants that human normality but keeps being pulled into vampire affairs. Do you think, as an actor, playing that kind of vampire appeals to your sensibilities?
WITWER: Well the thing for Aidan in BEING HUMAN is, I have to remember that this guy is like a drug addict. That was always the center of the character for me. That’s been my ultimate aim with this character: to be a big metaphor for drug addiction. Never has that been truer than this year, I’m happy to say.
FANG: Do you think the vampire aspect has been challenging as an actor, considering he’s a timeless character who has to adapt his behavior to different time periods?
WITWER: Well, that’s a fun thing. We determined early on that Aidan would talk like the contemporary man, which said to me that it’s always an act. Wherever he was, at any point in time, he was acting like a 25 year-old at that time, so I always sort of had to modify who Aidan was and what he was doing. By the way, when you don’t know where the season is going, you don’t know exactly what it is you’re looking at, and you’re kind of making some guesses.
I feel like with ‘70s Aidan, I had a pretty good feel of what that would be. ‘50s Aidan, I felt we should make him this wrench-wielding jerk. You‘ve got ‘20s and ‘30s Aidan and for each, you’ve got different modifications of this guy and I had a theory, whether it worked or not, that the further you went back, that thing was better for the vampires then. I tried to put an air of certain refinement and elegance to the character that things were going well.
It wasn’t until all of Suren’s (Dichen Lachman) disaster in the 30’s that everything fell to crap, they were all disbanded and they were all forced to seek out these depressing day jobs, so that’s when Aidan was progressively getting more and more angry. If you follow the through-line for all these characters, all these Aidans, it does tell a pretty interesting story. We do know the events that take place that drive him to different versions of who he is. Certainly, I’ll put it to you this way, as an actor it never gets boring.
We’re almost done with the series and there’s even stuff where I’m like, “Well, I have no idea what the hell I’m going to do there.” Big, big character work. The thing is I’m a theater-trained guy so I like these challenges, and if it was a film, you’d have time to really develop the character and figure out who he’s gonna be, but in BEING HUMAN’s case, you’re busy shooting every day. You’re concentrating on the current episodes and when that next episode comes, you maybe have like a day in your apartment on the weekend for the character, where you’re developing what you hope will work for this new version of the character.
So it’s endlessly challenging and I think, sometimes, I’ve met the challenges better than some others, but it is what it is. It’s all done on such a breakneck schedule that you’re just kind of winging it the whole time. But this year it’s interesting, since we’ve kind of pulled out all the stops and we’re just kind of going for it in an almost reckless way, to be honest. I think that by the end of the season, we’ll definitely feel that stuff is just going crazy.
FANG: In terms of the show itself, of course it’s an adaptation of the British show BEING HUMAN, but at the same time as an actor, it has to be a little bit concerning since after the third series of the British version, the show entirely wiped their cast clean before coming to an end this year. I know that the American and British shows have gone down different paths, but do you ever feel that that finality is looming over the American show?
WITWER: Well, we’ve already shot like 50-something episodes now so far. I think we’re shooting our 51st right now. And they have done, in their entirety, like 38, I think. So we’ve already done more episodes even though they’ve done more seasons. All those seasons are distinct, different stories, so they’ve done more stories and we’ve done more episodes.
I don’t feel a sense of competition. I don’t feel a sense of anything but awe in what they’ve been able to accomplish. I’ve told [series creator] Toby Whithouse this and in fact, he wrote me a nice email congratulating us on staying true to what he thought worked about the original. I’m a huge fan of the entire franchise, if you can call it that. If you’re a fan of this stuff, you should get all the box sets for all the seasons of all the casts.
I mean they’ve had two different casts. We have had one. Between the two, you have all these interesting stories about a werewolf, vampire and ghost with a very specific mythology, you know? It’s our mythology that we share with our British counterparts. They’re like our cousins, although they’re really like our forefathers that breathe life into our project. However, if you’re asking if people are going to die this year, you just never know, man. They very well could. You could see some shocking stuff.
FANG: I wanted to touch upon some of the other horror projects that you’ve done over the course of your career. Of course, I’d like to talk to you about your first horror film, THE MIST, which is coincidental as it was Frank Darabont’s first time helming a horror feature. What do you most remember most about that experience?
WITWER: The entire thing was fantastic. It was really great. I went from being intimidated by Mr. Darabont, to learning to work under that environment, to collaborate with him and understanding how collaborative he is. Now, years later, I’m very, very close friends with him. Really, the most valuable thing about that project is the people that I met, you know? Greg Nicotero and David Scott and Frank, and through Frank, I met Drew Struzan, and they’re all friends I gained just by having met them on that project.
I think my proudest moment on THE MIST, because I was a little bit younger then and my ideas weren’t as good—or at least I threw out more bad ideas than I do these days, so for a while, I was pitching all kinds of stupid shit to Frank—I eventually said something to him that was good. See, in the script, my character is pounding on that glass window, after having been stabbed and beat up by everybody, and he was pounding to be let back into the store. But he’s now in THE MIST, so he turns around and sees the monster, turns back to Bill Sadler’s character, he says “Please,” before he gets pulled out in the mist and a spray of blood and guts hits the window.
That’s what was scripted. And I said to Frank, “You know, I want to pitch something to you.” So I acted out the scene, and I’m like, “Okay, I’m bleeding and I’m leaning against the window,” and I think Frank said, “This movie has been such a fun horror film up until this point,” so I said, “I think this is the moment that it shifts and I think that we’ve had enough blood and gore, don’t you think? Now, it needs to be about consequence and guilt.” Although that’s exactly what he wrote and I’m telling the guy what he already knows, but I’m like, “In the case of spraying blood on the window, I think we’ve seen that. I think what would be fun is if I’m holding my guts, there’s blood all over my hands, I can just lay my hand on the window and say ‘Please,’ and then it pulls me out into THE MIST and there’s just a bloody hand print on the window for the rest of the film.”
To my surprise, Frank’s said, “That’s it! We’re going to do that.” I’m like, “Oh, really?” and he said, “Yeah, that’s a better idea. Let’s do it.” That’s kind of the genius of Darabont; he’s experienced enough to know when he’s getting a good idea. He was also patient as hell on the nine bad ideas that I pitched to him. It was pathetic, man. He gives me a break for this because he doesn’t remember all of the bad ideas I said to him, and some of them are ridiculously bad.
It speaks well of this man that he would humor this young actor, who’s very excited to be there, to listen to an idea that ended up being useful for the film. He’s like that. He knows his stuff so well that he can tell you pretty quickly whether it’s going to be a good idea or not and I love that. I’ve learned a lot from him because of that.
FANG: That’s the general consensus from a lot of actors about Frank Darabont and that’s really cool to hear that you brought that idea to the table. Did you find it difficult to get to that emotional spot to prepare for that intense, last confrontation in THE MIST?
WITWER: It’s hell. It’s hell, man. It really is. I mean, it’s very, very difficult to do that and anybody doing that for hours and hours, just staying in that place for all of that time. So those were exhausting days, for sure.
FANGORIA: One last thing that I wanted to touch on briefly is that you worked again with Darabont for a small part on THE WALKING DEAD, which was later revealed to be a set up for a major part in a Season 2 episode detailing the “Battle for Atlanta”, which was scrapped when Darabont was fired. Were you glad to be part of THE WALKING DEAD and its legacy, even though your character’s back story was never told
WITWER: It’s funny, since I’ve signed autographs of my zombie, which I think is hilarious because I was never really on the show. It’s too bad that we didn’t get to do it, because Frank and I were really excited about doing BLACK HAWK DOWN with zombies. It was going to be really, really fun. It’s too bad. Frank actually detailed what that story was supposed to be on Ain’t It Cool News a while back.
Frank and I have been trying to work together again for a long time. Originally, I was going to be on THE WALKING DEAD as a regular, but we couldn’t really work it out with scheduling. I was always working on something else, and then the same thing happened with MOB CITY, so we just keep missing opportunities to work together, which is frustrating. The good news is that I see him a lot. The good news is that we hang out. The bad news is that I surely would like to work with the guy, especially now that I’m much more experienced than I was when I worked with him the first time.
You can catch Witwer when BEING HUMAN oremieres on Syfy this Monday, January 13th at 9p.m. EST.