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SDCC 09: Being Human Creator and Cast Roundtable

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During the San Diego Comic-Con we had a chance to sit down with Toby Whithouse, Russell Tovey, Lenora Crichlow, and Aidan Turner, the creator and stars of “Being Human”, a witty and thought-provoking look into the lives of three twenty-somethings and their secret double-lives … as a werewolf, a ghost, and a vampire, respectively.

BBC America's Being Human at Comic-Con

If your cable or satellite provider doesn’t offer BBC America, then you are missing out. “Being Human” has extremely appealing cast members and a dark quirkiness that’s sure to attract fans of monsters and the supernatural. Whithouse describes the development process for the show as “circuitous and quite frustrating at times.” It was originally conceived as a comedy about three people who bought a house together, a premise he found excruciatingly dull. So he started writing in-depth bios on the three leads: Mitchell, the recovering sex addict; Annie, the agoraphobic; and George, who compartmentalized every aspect of his life and had severe anger issues, but was still very much human. The script itself was going nowhere. At the same time Whithouse was developing a romantic comedy about a werewolf. He saw a correlation between Wolfie and George, and the other beings naturally fell into place shortly thereafter.

Aidan Turner of Being HumanThe actors discussed how their dark sides reflect their human counterparts and how they prepared for their roles. Turner, who portrays the century-old vampire Mitchell, said, “The blood is his addiction, and that is his affliction. [But] we all know people who have had addictions, whether it’s gambling or drink or sex … anything really. So I guess there is that sort of archive of material out there for research. But the script really does it for me. I didn’t need to go to any rehab centers to see how drug addicts were dealing with their things. The essence of the show is about these guys who are struggling and have their problems and torments. You can relate to these characters and feel empathy for them.

For Tovey, aka Wolfman George, “it comes from the writing, and the writing is really good. The problems of the three characters are deeply rooted in reality.” Ms. Crichlow, who is cursed with wearing the same wardrobe for the duration of the show’s lifespan since Annie is frozen in time, summed it up logically with, “Really, there’s only so much research you can do when you’re playing a supernatural … There’s no field work. What’s lovely about our characters is they’re not good at it yet, especially Annie. She doesn’t know what it is to be a ghost. I get to go on the journey with her.

Toby Whithouse, creator of Being HumanLest you think “Being Human” is all about moping, emo creatures of the night bemoaning their fates à la Anne Rice — “red waistcoats and all that” as Whithouse described it — you couldn’t be further from the truth. One positive to come out of the one-year time gap between filming the pilot and getting picked up by BBC Three was that Whithouse had time to fine tune the tone of the series, particularly in his depiction of the vampires. He stripped them down and made them more mundane and familiar. After all, what’s more chilling to think of than vampires operating within society undetected as police officers and hospital workers with easy access to an unlimited blood supply?

With regard to the mythos and backgrounds of Mitchell, Annie, and George’s alter-egos, Whithouse explained that he cherry-picked the bits of lore and legend that best suited the story he was trying to tell, citing how “Let the Right One In is different from Twilight is different from Interview with the Vampire.” He mentioned how his production crew were none too happy when he decided Mitchell can’t be seen in mirrors or on film. Annie’s ghost, too, has been given leeway with regard to her abilities and interpretation. “So long as you don’t give them wings,” you can get away with a lot, joked Whithouse.

Just like their human counterparts, supernatural beings require a hierarchy in order to keep those lower down on the totem pole in line. In “Being Human” vampires form the superior race due to their ambitious and predatory nature. Werewolves are volatile and unpredictable so need some looking after. But, as we’ve seen time and time again, no creature is as threatening as man, and Whithouse revealed that it is indeed humans who are to be the big bads of Series 2 (which begins shooting in a few days and will have an 8-episode run as opposed to Series 1’s measly 6). As he’s been writing the scripts for the new season, Whithouse has tried to keep the show’s enormous success and recognition out of his mind, but he knows they would be nowhere if it weren’t for the tremendous public outcry when BBC Three initially passed on “Being Human” after airing the pilot. Supporters drafted online petitions and wrote letters and emails demanding its return.

Lenora Crichlow of Being HumanBy the time “Being Human” was commissioned by the network, two of its stars (Andrea Riseborough and Guy Flanagan) were no longer available, leaving Tovey on his own to cautiously feel out Crichlow and Turner once filming resumed. After about a week all his worries were gone, and they became known as “the trio”. It took the fans a little longer to come around, but after a while the qualms were forgotten, even among the most hardcore early supporters, and now even Toby Whithouse can’t imagine those parts being played by anyone else.

Getting back to those parts for a bit, the actors were asked what type of evolution their characters are experiencing over the course of Series 1. Turner’s Mitchell is on a “journey of greater understanding with no quick and easy answers.” After surviving over 100 years, he lives in the moment and is just now beginning to look toward his future. Annie is striving for self-empowerment. She can be seen by other supernaturals all the time, but her interactions with humans are limited to those moments when she is most confident. And George? Well, George is still human and will age and die while Mitchell and Annie will go on forever.

Russell Tovey of Being HumanWhich brings us to a topic our readers are surely curious about: George’s transformation scenes. I’ve seen a few and can state they are quite well done and effective. Aidan concurs with a description of Russell’s dedication, “Man, there was so much screaming … for hours and hours. He was giving it everything.” Tovey adds, “Being a werewolf, you have to show the pain of it, and if it didn’t look real, it would completely ruin it. I knew the pressure was on to give it a million percent, so I did.

Whithouse succinctly summed up the crossover appeal of a show like “Being Human” that expertly melds drama, comedy, and horror as follows: “Real life doesn’t have a genre inasmuch as you can have a normal, mundane situation, but that doesn’t rule out something happening that’s incredibly comedic or incredibly horrifying.

As we wound up the interview, mention was made of an Americanized version, to which Whithouse responded, “If they can recreate the spirit of it, keep the humanity of it, and actually never forget it’s ultimately a character-based show as opposed to a supernatural show, it’ll be fine.” To which every person in the room replied, “Riiiiiiiiiight.

BBC America's Being Human at Comic-Con

You can catch all six episodes of Series 1 of “Being Human” on BBC America Saturday nights (if you missed it last week, Episode 1 reruns at 8:00 PM ET on August 1st with Episode 2 immediately following at 9:00 PM ET). It’s also available On Demand, and on the official “Being Human” site there are prequel webisodes for Mitchell, Annie, and George along with song downloads; a history of vampires, werewolves, and ghosts; and a breakdown of the “rules” of being not-so-human.

Debi Moore

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Thelma Is Fantastic and Now You Can Watch the Opening Scene

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One of this year’s most beautiful and subdued horror films is Joachim Trier’s Thelma (review), which opens in Los Angeles tonight. To give you a bit of what the film is like, The Orchard have released the opening scene, which shows a man and his daughter hunting in the bleak Norwegian winter. When they come across a young deer, the true intentions of this trip become apparent…

Having seen Thelma, I can tell you that it’s truly something special. It’s a slow burn, to be certain, but it plays out gorgeously, resulting in a film that has yet to leave my mind.

Related Story: Exclusive Interview with Thelma’s Joachim Trier

Locations and tickets for Thelma can be found here.

Synopsis:
Thelma, a shy young student, has just left her religious family in a small town on the west coast of Norway to study at a university in Oslo. While at the library one day, she experiences a violent, unexpected seizure. Soon after, she finds herself intensely drawn toward Anja, a beautiful young student who reciprocates Thelma’s powerful attraction. As the semester continues, Thelma becomes increasingly overwhelmed by her intense feelings for Anja – feelings she doesn’t dare acknowledge, even to herself – while at the same time experiencing even more extreme seizures. As it becomes clearer that the seizures are a symptom of inexplicable, often dangerous, supernatural abilities, Thelma is confronted with tragic secrets of her past, and the terrifying implications of her powers.

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Award-Winning The Child Remains Playing Tomorrow at the Blood in the Snow Festival

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The award-winning supernatural thriller The Child Remains, which has been on the festival circuit, is returning to Canada to play tomorrow night at the Blood in the Snow Film Festival in Toronto. Tickets for the screening, which is at 9:30pm, can be found at the festival’s website.

The film has won awards in festivals across Canada as well as Best Foreign Feature at the Unrestricted View Horror Film Festival in London, UK.

Described as The Shining meets Rosemary’s Baby meets The Orphanage, the film stars Suzanne Clément, Allan Hawco, Shelley Thompson, and Geza Kovacs. Directed and written by Michael Melski, who co-produced the film alongside Craig Cameron and David Miller, The Child Remains is aiming for a Canadian theatrical release in Spring 2018 and a US theatrical release in October 2018.

Synopsis:
An expectant couple’s intimate weekend turns to terror when they discover their secluded country inn is a haunted maternity home where unwanted infants and young mothers were murdered. Inspired by the true story of the infamous ‘Butterbox Babies’ and their macabre chapter in Canadian history, The Child Remains is a twisting supernatural thriller that emphasizes story and suspense over shock and gore.

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Tony Timpone’s Elegy – AFM: A November to Dismember

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It used to be that the toughest thing about visiting the global cinematic bazaar known as the American Film Market was squeezing in as many movies as humanly possible before your eyes exploded like Cameron Vale’s in Scanners. At this year’s 38th annual AFM, held November 1-8 in Santa Monica, CA, I watched 17 movies in five days. Don’t be too impressed. That’s a big drop from past years, where I’d see as many as two dozen films during that span.

This year marked my 21st AFM jaunt, and change has been in the air for some time at this industry confab. Two screening days have been shaved off the program, and theater screenings have lost the 5pm and 7pm slots. Much of the Z-grade schlock has been whittled away and there does seem to be a higher level of product on display. No longer does every other movie star Joe Estevez. Now it’s Nicolas Cage! Sales companies feverishly hawked Cage’s VOD-bound Primal, The Humanity Bureau and Looking Glass, in addition to a plethora of cute puppy and sappy Christmas cable-ready movies.

So where’s the horror, you ask? You can still discover it at AFM, but 2017 offered a disappointing allowance for the most part. To put it into perspective, the opening day of my first AFM in 1998 yielded John Carpenter’s Vampires and Spain’s Abre Los Ojos (remade as the mediocre Vanilla Sky in the US) back-to-back (not to mention The Big Lebowski from the Coen brothers). For 2017, I did not see one film as good as those (well, maybe one…). Not a total washout, mind you, as I’m sure you will add a few titles to your watch list after perusing my AFM 2017 screening report.


I Kill Giants:
A lonely teenage girl (Madison Wolfe) defends her coastal town from invading goliaths in this somber tale directed by Denmark’s Anders Walter and written by Joe Kelly from his graphic novel. Not exactly a feel-good movie, I Kill Giants deals with bullying, depression, isolation and terminal illness. It intersperses the somberness with some excellent FX scenes involving the giants, who emerge from the surf and dark woods to taunt our young heroine. Not only is I Kill Giants too downbeat for my tastes, last year’s underrated and underseen A Monster Calls covered many of the same emotional beats much more eloquently and movingly than here.

** 1/2



Errementari:
Spanish helmer Alex del la Iglesia (Day of the Beast, Witching & Bitching) produced this Terry Gilliam-esque dark fantasy, about a cursed medieval-age blacksmith and his battle of wills with a demon out to claim his soul.

Directed by Paul Urkijo Alijo, the movie is like a Hieronymus Bosch painting come to life. Its climactic trip to Hell stands out as a highlight, pitchforks and all, as do the superb practical makeup FX.

***


Bad Samaritan:
A parking valet (Robert Sheehan) at a ritzy restaurant borrows the patrons’ cars to rob their homes while they’re eating in this thriller directed by Dean (Godzilla) Devlin and written by Brandon (Apt Pupil) Boyce. As he rummages through the house of the arrogant Cale (former “Doctor Who” David Tennant, cast against type and looking like a less seedy Charlie Sheen), valet Sean discovers an imprisoned woman, the waiting victim of the rich serial killer. The cops don’t believe the robber, but the bad guy catches onto him and soon begins destroying Sean’s life and those around him. Though Bad Samaritan builds some good suspense and remains moderately gripping, Devlin (late of the embarrassing Geostorm, which Irishman Sheehan also appeared in) is no Hitchcock. And at 107 minutes, the movie overstays its welcome.

** 1/2


Anna and the Apocalypse:
Christmas, teenagers, music and zombies… Anna and the Apocalypse has it all. As the snow falls and Yuletide cheer builds, a living dead outbreak hits the quaint British town of Little Haven. Can teen Anna (Intruders’ Ella Hunt) and her friends make it to their high school auditorium for presumed safety? Well, they’ll try, singing and dancing (and bashing in undead heads) along the way. OK, so the movie’s cute and a raucous scene of zombie mayhem in a bowling alley scores a strike, but the problem with Anna is the songs just aren’t that memorable. Where’s Richard O’Brien when you need him?

** 1/2


Incident in a Ghost Land:
Writer/director Pascal Laugier took our breath away with his vicious Martyrs in 2008, but 2012’s underrated The Tall Man garnered little notice. Packing a ’70s horror vibe, his latest recaptures some of Martyrs’ uncomfortable female-inflicted brutality. Two young sisters and their mom head to a remote family house, which is soon invaded by two ruthless psychos. Though the story echoes Tourist Trap and High Tension, Laugier pulls the rug out from us at a key point and takes us down an even darker path. I wish the villains had a little more depth here, but In a Ghost Land has enough shock and thrills to satisfy fright fans.

***


Cold Skin

Cold Skin:
Laugier’s fellow extreme Frenchmen, Xavier Gens, terrorized us with his Texas Chainsaw Massacre pastiche Frontier(s) in 2007 and explored postapocalyptic horror in The Divide (2011). Now he tries his hand at a Jules Verne-style creature feature. In the early 20th century, a weather observer (David Oakes) arrives for a year-long assignment at an isolated island near the Antarctic Circle where he meets the misanthropic lighthouse keeper (Ray Stevenson). A race of pale-skinned fish people dwells in the seas and raids the island at night in several bravura action set pieces, their motive unknown. The real threat here may be Stevenson, who keeps one of the creatures as a pet/sex slave. Gens plays the story like a fable, but ultimately I had a hard time warming up to Cold Skin. Where the movie succeeds is in the creature FX and photography departments.

***


Let the Corpses Tan:
French directors Hélène Cattet and Bruno Forzani won over the horror arthouse crowd with their giallo tributes Amer and The Strange Color of Your Body’s Tears. Their latest flashy exercise tackles the much-loved Italian Spaghetti Western genre, but relocates the story to modern day and a Mediterranean hilltop villa. A gold-robbing gang holes up in the scenic, sun-drenched location, with a woman artist and her friends get caught in the crossfire when two cops arrive. The filmmakers do a fine job of paying homage to Sergio Leone and Ennio Morricone here, but we’re talking style over substance. None of the characters really pops, and the whole thing grows a little tiresome. Fans of Cattet and Forzani and arty shootouts will still dig it.

** 1/2


Downrange:
After the weekly US shooting sprees of Vegas and Texas, this was the last movie I wanted to embrace. A group of friends find themselves stranded in the middle of nowhere after a sniper cripples their car. Said sniper then begins blasting away at the college kids in graphic fashion, brains splattering the asphalt in gruesome close-up. Director Ryûhei Kitamura (The Midnight Meat Train, Versus) does some flashy camera things, but the movie is so damn mean-spirited that it just left a bad taste in my mouth. The lowdown on Downrange: the story’s not very plausible nor the characters very likable.

* 1/2


Ghost Stories:
Just when I gave up on AFM 2017, the last movie screening I attended turned out to be not only the best genre film of the market but one of the best of the year period (IFC releases Ghost Stories next April). Supernatural debunker Professor Goodman (Andy Nyman, who co-wrote and co-directed with Jeremy Dyson) examines three extreme hauntings which just might make a believer out of him. Adapting their successful London play, Nyman and Dyson riff on past British horror anthologies Dead of Night and the ’70s Amicus flicks, but with a modern sensibility. Ghost Stories achieves its scares with class and distinction, as well as terrific makeup FX and a memorable supporting turn by The Hobbit’s Martin Freeman.

This one will send you out singing too; the “Monster Mash” plays over the end credits!

*** 1/2


So even though this year’s AFM was a bust, you will likely spot me canvassing those comfy Santa Monica theaters (kudos for solid projection, luxurious seating and friendly staff at the Arclight, AMC, Broadway and Laemmle) again next fall. On the market and festival beat, hope springs eternal!

For more information on the AFM, go to www.americanfilmmarket.com.

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