Sam Witwer – who plays the vampire Aidan in the US version of Being Human – is a bit of a geek, and he doesn’t mind admitting it. Hell, he seems to like positively flaunting it (as you’ll discover).
Which makes the fact that this interview happened at at time of great turmoil in the annals of geekery so much more bizarre. Because not only does S FX interview Witwer the day after the UK version of Being Human ’s final ever episode, but literally during the course of the interview – in which we talk about him voicing for Darth Maul for Star Wars: The Clone Wars – news breaks that Disney has cancelled that show as well. Not that either of us know it at the time, but it’s the first thing somebody tells me in the office when I put the phone down; presumably Sam Witwer is being told the news too. Weird.
But that was later. Here’s how it started…
SFX: Yesterday saw the very last episode of our Being Human broadcast.
Sam Witwer: “Indeed and I hear it was great.”
It was a bit of a stunner, yeah. Did you realise that our Being Human was coming to an end?
“I didn't know until someone told me earlier. Five seasons, I think that’s a good number. You know, I can only speak for myself, but if I were to have my way, about my own show, we would go five seasons as well and that would be it. That, I think, would be ideal, because you don’t want to overstay your welcome. You want to have the ideas to continue to be fresh and not have it become stale.”
But you get a lot more episodes in a season than we do; by the time you’ve done five years you would have done, how many hours?
“115 or something… Something like that. Yeah, we do 13 a season. I find 13 is just right. I think you don’t want to go much further than that if you want to maintain a quality factor.”
Did you ever check out the British version?
“Well, when we started doing our version the actors had made a deal. We decided that we were not going to watch the British version because the characters needed to be new; the characters needed to be who we created them to be. We didn't want to unintentionally mimic anything that would effect the way we approach these characters.
“Now, once we had finished the first season I bought everyone the box-sets and we went to town, we went crazy. We really had a good time watching it. To be honest, I did see part of one episode before I signed on to my series and so I had a tremendous amount of respect for what it was that they were doing. But I didn't become a fan until we had shot our first season, and we watched the whole of your series. I had a great, great time watching it. It was really, really fun. Not just fun to watch them tackle the same material, but seeing how the characters differed from ours.
“They are, in fact, different characters, and that is the driving force between the differences of the two series. You have characters that make different choices and so, while fans of the BBC show will be watching this season one and going, ‘Okay, but I know how this all turns out’, don’t be so sure. Because at key moments, different characters will make different choices and certain plot lines turnout a little bit different.
“We wanted to make sure that there were enough little twists in there to keep the BBC audience interested, while at the same time staying true to the blueprint of their show. And then past that when we get to season two, we go entirely in a different direction. There will always be some overlap, but for the most part of the series, do diverge and do their own thing.”
“E very time we do a flash back I have to reinvent the
character; he’s a very different guy depending on
what era you find him in. ” Sam Witwer
“ [Laughs] You know it was actually the opposite, I opened the script and I read the word ‘vampire’ and my first reaction was, ‘Oh, like we need another one of these guys!’ So I turned down the audition.
And a friend of mine who’s very, very knowledgeable about what’s going on in town and what’s good and what’s not, she calls me up and goes, ‘Did you turn down the Being Human audition?’ I go, ‘Um, yeah…?’ And she goes, ‘Did you read the script?’ And I’m like, ‘Yeahhhh…’ And she goes, ‘I bet you didn't listen, do me a favour – read the script. That’s your job as an actor to read scripts right now so why don’t you do your job!’
“And I’m like, ‘Okay, alright, fair enough.’ And when I started reading it I felt very, very foolish because it was so clearly wonderful and what got me about the vampire character was that this isn't a vampire, this is a heroin addict that’s trying to go clean. That’s what they’re saying with this character. The vampire thing is being used as a metaphor for drug addiction.
“Then beyond that you have the fun of what it’s like to be 260 years old, why he does what he does and asking yourself really fun questions. So, for example, I’d ask the executive producers, ‘Do you want me to give you the sense, in his vocal patterns, that he’s 260 years old?’ And they said, no we just want you to talk like you do, talk like us, talk in a contemporary way. So you do that. They ask you to do it, you do it. But then you have to make it make sense.
“So you go to yourself, ‘So why is he talking this way if he’s 260 years old and he’s talking like he’s 25? Okay, it’s a cover,. He doesn't want anybody to know he’s a vampire so he must blend into the world that he lives in.
“But then at the same time, if that’s true, every time we do a flash back I have to reinvent the character. He has to walk different, he has to talk different, he has to do everything differently and he’ll have a bunch of different opinions – all to blend in with the time he’s in. So that has proven to be one of the more fun things about the show. That he’s a very different guy depending on what era you find him in.
“If you line up all the flashbacks sequentially, they tell a very interesting story. About this guy and his progression and what’s happened to him and how he’s evolved, so it’s really fun.”
Next page for the taste of blood and much Star Wars geekiness…
The heart of the show is the relationship of you three as house sharers. But, could you and Megan and Sam share a house? Would you drive each other mental, would you get on okay?
“Believe it or not, if we shared a flat, it would look very much like in the show. Because that relationship that you see on screen is in fact based on a relationship that we have in real life. It just worked out that way. It’s probably the reason why they hired us three. I mean, the moment Sam Huntington sat down next to me at the auditions… There were the producers and they’re sitting down, watching me very closely and Sam Huntington walks in the room, sits down next to me on a chair and looks at me. And he looks at my hair and he goes, ‘Are you going grey?’ Right there. ‘Are you going grey?!’
“And then he looks closer and I’m like, ‘Hang on…’ and he looks closer and goes, ‘Oh no, I think it’s the lighting.’ And then I said, ‘Hi, Sam Witwer, nice to meet you…’ And then we just started giving each other grief; at least I started giving him grief. And I managed to look over at the producers for a second and they were just fascinated, they were just watching us and going, ‘Woah, what are they doing?’ because we just started bickering, immediately… but also laughing while we were doing it. I thought it was hilarious that that was the first thing he said to me.
“So we’re extraordinarily close, and we’ve actually gone on vacations together and we hang out on weekends when we’re not shooting. Any scene where we’re all together or some combination of us, that’s our favourite stuff to do. And that’s the heart of the show.”
“ I sucked down bags and bags of this thick, minty
toothpastey material and you’re telling me it took
you a year to come up with fruit juice ? ” Sam Witwer
This is something we always ask everybody who’s on a vampire show – what does the blood taste like on your show?
“Minty. It tastes minty.”
I’ve never heard that one before.
“Yeah the stuff that we used in our first season was this minty, thick, slightly toothpastey material. You can eat it, but I don’t recommend it. It’s a little bit nasty and I’ve certainly drank down enough bags of that stuff to tell you. Then in the second season of our show we got to a point where, at the beginning of the season the prop people came up to me and said, ‘Listen, we think we made a little bit of a breakthrough in our idea about the vampire blood.’ And I said, ‘Oh really? What’s the deal?’ And they’re like, ‘Well, it’s fruit juice now, except with some food colouring.’
“And I sat there just staring at them, like, ‘I sucked down bags and bags of this thick, minty toothpastey material and you’re telling me it took you a year to come up with fruit juice?’ Fruit juice! So that’s what it is now, in terms of the stuff that I drink its fruit juice. In the first season I had to earn it. I really had to earn that fruit juice by sucking down toothpaste.”
Moving on from Being Human , you’re also the voice of Darth Maul on The Clone Wars , aren’t you?
“Indeed, I am. Basically the Darth Maul gig came about because of The Force Unleashed , the Star Wars video game. And Dave Filoni over at The Clone Wars , I guess, had played some of Force Unleashed and thought that he could use me.
“ I started adding little elements of Darth Vader or The
Emperor or Darth Maul, depending on the line – who it
sounded like the most. ” Sam Witwer
“So he brought me in to play this character in the third season called The Son, and The Son was a three-episode arch where George Lucas gets super mythological. It’s sort of like that cave on Dagoba where Luke sees that vision of Darth Vader, except it’s a whole planet of that stuff, where they’re having visions. And Obi Wan bumps into Qui Gon Jinn, played by Liam Neeson in these episodes by the way. So all these different things happen and Liam Neeson shows up and my character shows up in these three episodes and as you watch the episodes you realise, ‘Oh this character is the living embodiment of the dark side of the Force.’ So [laughs], no pressure there right.
“Anyway, I asked before I played him, ’Is this character going to sound too much like the Starkiller character from Force Unleashed ?’ And Dave Filoni said, ‘Listen, I’m not concerned with that because Starkiller – your character from Force Unleashed – he had a real connection with the dark side of the Force. So if you can hear a little bit of his voice in there that’s okay with me.’
“He said that at the end of one of these sessions and then we went home and we were to record the next episode the next day and I started thinking this is interesting. If that is indeed true, then we should be able to hear all of the villains in this character’s voice. So I started adding little elements of Darth Vader or The Emperor or Darth Maul, depending on the line – who it sounded like the most. When I started doing that Dave Filoni was like, ‘I think I know what you’re doing and keep doing it.’ Then he said, ‘Furthermore, there might be something for you down the road,’ and I just figured, ‘Oh that will be a Bounty Hunter or something.’ And then I later learned it was Darth Maul.”
You say that so casually.
“Yeah, he just called me up and said, ‘I need Darth Maul, can you do that?’ And I said, ‘Uh, okay, sure.’[laughs] I mean there’s only one right answer to that question and that’s a yes.”
So are you a big fan, then. Do you love all this stuff?
“Oh certainly. You know, I’ve done a lot of different work in different areas, but it seems like the work that is most remembered to be more successful is the genre stuff. That’s just fine with me being a huge fan of these things myself.”
So you were a fan beforehand; it wasn’t just because you’ve found success in this genre?
“No, no, I was a huge fan of all this stuff for years. I mean especially Star Wars . I think we were all just kind of born into it; we didn’t really have a choice [laughs]. Like we all just kind of woke up one day and became sentient and wondered, ‘Why do I know all the words from that movie?’ We never asked for that, it was just kind of given to us.
“But I’ve discovered that a lot of film makers and producers and people that I respect, people that I’ve gotten to know, are also huge, huge fans of this stuff. I mean I’ve become very close with Frank Darabont over the years and he has The Discovery from 2001 , the actual model, this huge reproduction, this beautiful reproduction that like 8-feet long of that space ship in his office. And he’s got a model of the Spinner from Blade Runner and all kinds of really awesome stuff that shows his enthusiasm for this type of genre stuff.”
What’s your favourite piece or collectable that you own, then?
“Well, that’s a good question, alright. I’m gonna get super geeky on you right here. I was always a huge Star Wars fan but when I did The Force Unleashed , basically they gave me a lightsaber. They were like ‘Here a lightsaber.’ And once I got it into my house I thought, ‘It looks very lonely here just this lightsaber, I’ve gotta get something else.’
“Well, what else. What else you got? And it turns out that LucasFilm has quite a lot. So I have these Gentle Giant Mini-Busts that are made of my head scan for Star Killer, so that’s kind of interesting. But the coolest thing I think is this Darth Vader helmet that hovers above my computer. That is just really, really cool. It’s like an exact replica of what they shot with in the original film. So I think that’s probably the coolest thing that I have on display in my man chamber as it were. My man cave. [laughs] The rest of the house has to look normal, but then you have one spot where you have all this cool stuff. I also have a replica of the inner armature of the King Kong stop-motion puppet and I think its just really cool.”
Oh, the 1933 one?
I didn’t know you could buy things like that.
“The real one is actually down the street from me, the actual stop-motion puppet. All the latex and stuff has long since rotted away but the actual metal armature they made it out of is down the street at a guy named Bob Burns’ place [ Bob Burns is a film historian and collector – ed ]. And this is a replica made off of that.”
I’m genuinely impressed. I’d love something like that. Right one more question before I let you go then. Since you’ve outed yourself as a Star Wars geek, are you – like the rest of Hollywood – on the phone to Disney trying to get a part in the new Star Wars trilogy then?
[Laughs] “Yeah. I mean, boy I would be honoured just to audition for it. JJ has an amazing casting director, whose name is April Webster and I’m certain she’ll be used for this and that gives me a great amount of confidence in them. Because, for God’s sake, they recast Captain Kirk and Spock and Bones and it worked. It felt like those characters and I never would have thought that was possible.
“And they also did a version of Star Trek that was filled with all that charm and humour that we love from those characters. So looking at that, I have a great deal of faith in JJ’s ability to do a Star Wars film, especially with George Lucas backing him up. And Dave Filoni from The Clone Wars is also in that room with them. So there’s a lot of really smart people working on it.
Finally, do we know for sure whether there’s a series four of Being Human yet?
“We are working out a bunch of details but if we have our way it will be a little bit more ambitious than just a season four. Well stay tuned. Everything could fall apart and nothing could happen or we could get our way and the fans will be very happy with what we announce. You, you know, we’ll see.”
• Being Human USA begins on 11 April on Watch