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.
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.
The 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.”
Lest 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.
By 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.
Which 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.”
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.
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