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Interview: Sam Witwer on “Being Human”, “Dexter”

Sam Witwer

Sam Witwer

Out of all the genre shows on television, there are few that capture such the grey side of the supernatural as well as BEING HUMAN, which offers the morally complicated existences of a vampire, ghost and werewolf in a much bigger world than they could have imagined. Never shying away from darker material, BEING HUMAN also retains an inherent charm, one that’s further exalted by the excellent cast on display. Now, returning for the fourth season, Sam Witwer, who portrays the popular, fanged and distraught Aiden, speaks to Diabolique about the show, what is confronted on the fourth season and his roles on THE WALKING DEAD and DEXTER…

DIABOLIQUE: What do you think it is about BEING HUMAN that gives it longevity without resorting to graphic brutality?

SAM WITWER: I’ll tell you what I think works about it. We’re a drama, and terrible things happen all the time in this drama, but I think it’s the humor that keeps the show going. I think the way that we do it keeps audiences engaged. I think it’s the fact that we play the humor seriously and we’re not going campy with our performances. We’re not doing the sitcom thing; we’re actually playing it very seriously and somehow managing to make it funny.

I really want to attribute most of what I’ve learned to Sam Huntington and Meaghan Rath. When I came to the show, I didn’t even know how to do that [kind of comedy]. If you asked me to be funny, like “over the top” funny, I can do it, no problem. When I went to college, everyone thought that I was just going to be a comedian and that’s all I did. Then I got out of college, and every role I was getting is this heavy dramatic role. So I cut my teeth working on these dramas and BEING HUMAN comes along, and there’s my opportunity to be funny, I just didn’t have the experience and I’ve just absorbed a lot Meaghan Rath and Sam Huntington.

This year, I can make jokes land at will, which is really nice, and I can do it in a subtle way where I’m not sitcomming it up or being hammy, which is just fun. It’s nice to walk away with a new skill set you didn’t have before you took a job. And I will say this, I don’t think it’s quite a spoiler, but it’s a nice little hint: We fully get to explore the changes between the season one characters and the season four characters. The difference is quite startling. Huntington and I had to study a little bit of what we were doing with, but the fact is those are different guys.

With season one, I was very, very subtle and internal and Huntington was very, very big and external, and we’ve both slid towards the center. I think I’m still the more the internal guy and he’s still the bigger guy, but we’ve both slid towards each other and I think we’ve learned a lot from each other. So it’s fun to talk with him and go,”‘Okay let’s take a glimpse at those characters for a little bit. Let’s go back to what we were doing when we started.”

That really illustrates to you how you’ve changed as an actor, especially when you’re doing a scene and there’s all these comedic targets of opportunity and moments where you can adlib something funny. You’d normally adlib something funny and add to a moment, but then you look at your lines and say, ‘You know, I wasn’t doing that in season one.  I didn’t know how to do that yet so you can’t do that here.” You’re just restraining yourself trying to give a different flavor of the same character. That’s something that hasn’t necessarily come out, but I don’t think I’m spoiling too much. You might see different versions of the character, so there you go.

DIABOLIQUE: After having done three seasons of the show, do you have any input over the creative direction of your characters? Is there a camaraderie amongst the cast to make sure everyone stays in line with their characters traits?

WITWER: Yeah, the main cast is extraordinarily close. We’re all very, very close friends. We all love each other and we’ve been on vacation together when we haven’t been working. We’ve done all kinds of crazy stuff. So we’re always together and completely locked in to what each other is doing, so we work together very, very well. The writers, to be honest, really didn’t have a lot of contact with us for the first two seasons, so anything you wanted to get in or any concern that you had was a little bit challenging, since you had to get across to the writing offices in L.A.

So that was always a huge challenge, but now in seasons 3 and 4, it’s completely changed and we’re talking to them all the time. We’re in constant contact so what you find is a way more cohesive show. You’re finding that the writers are thinking what you’re thinking and you’re thinking what they’re thinking. Just really firing off each other in a very fun and collaborative way. So, it’s not entirely accurate to say that we’re just helpless and show up and say our lines. In fact, it’s not accurate at all. The writers encourage us to adlib and they encourage us to take things and run with them.

We have a surprising amount of creative control on this project. The writers have learned that the cast are not ego-minded maniacs. We have learned that the writers are not stubbornly married to all kinds of stuff and that they’re actually really creative and fluid people that can adapt to situations. We’ve all learned to trust each other. That’s the sort of thing you get when you’ve been working with someone for a while, so we all actually really like working together. While we never see them, we certainly talk to each other a lot, and we hang out when we’re in the same city. BEING HUMAN has become this real creative outlet, to be honest. The things that are going up on the screen, we’re pretty invested in, because we really do feel like we’re in on the creative process.

Witwer on "Being Human"

Witwer on “Being Human”

DIABOLIQUE: Considering you’ve played a vampire for four seasons, is there anything particular this season, in terms of mythological aspects of the vampire, that you’re getting to do now that maybe you haven’t previously been able to do?

WITWER: Oh, you better believe it. We make a few things explicit and clearer about what it is to be a vampire and what the problems are. And through it, we get to explore some very interesting ideas that we all explore in everyday life. There’s one particular aspect that we all deal with in life: it’s death. It’s one particular aspect we all wrap our brains around. When we are young, we don’t really give it much thought. As we get older, we see our friends die, we give it more and more thought. We have experiences that color our perceptions of what that is.

We have opportunities this year to explore [death] from many different viewpoints. From a faith viewpoint, from a nihilistic viewpoint, or from an agnostic viewpoint, the different characters have different takes of what death is based on what their condition is. So I’m not going to go any further into it, but there’s an effective use of metaphor to open up a dialogue about that in our season.

DIABOLIQUE: That’s really fascinating considering how far the series has touched upon death in previous seasons.

WITWER: You know, that’s the thing. Speaking of collaborations, this is something [producer/writer] Anna [Fricke] and I have talked about for a while. I had some thoughts on why Aiden hasn’t offed himself, so we all went into the writers room and talked about what the definitive answer was. I love it and I also love how it’s revealed as well as who has to reveal this sort of Achilles Heel that vampires have. We definitely have a lot of fun with that. For me, although I suspected it as much, once we crystallized it in the show, it gave me a hell of a lot to play. So, that’s the good news.

DIABOLIQUE: You were also briefly involved in THE WALKING DEAD as a zombie that was intentionally set up to have a backstory in the second season. Unfortunately, due to Frank Darabonts firing, that never came to pass. Hypothetically speaking, since AMC is developing a spin-off prequel series to THE WALKING DEAD, if they ever decided to revisit that storyline or character, would you consider reprising that role? Would you rather not since Frank Darabont is no longer involved?

WITWER: It’s really hard to say. I think I would edge away from it. I also don’t think they would be terribly interested in bringing me on there because I wasn’t entirely diplomatic about how I felt concerning the Darabont thing. I don’t think it was a time for diplomacy either. I think someone needed to be honest about what was going down. I doubt that would happen, but I do have friends on the show, so that’s the other part of it. It’d be like, “You know, I get to work with this guy, this guy and this guy, and these people that Frank wanted to stay on the show.” I wouldn’t say never but I would be surprised if they wanted me, to be honest with you.

Witwer on "The Walking Dead"

Witwer on “The Walking Dead”

DIABOLIQUE: Of course, before BEING HUMAN, you got one of your first major roles on a genre show: DEXTER, as the first season’s major red herring. How did you come a part of that project? What attracted you to that demented role?

WITWER: I didn’t know what the role was [beforehand], I was just called in to play a computer nerd. That was it, just a scrawny little computer nerd. I wore loose-fitting clothing and bought glasses and tried to passed myself as that becauseI really wanted the part. No one had ever given me the opportunity to play something other than a muscle-bound thug. That was all I was ever getting called in for, which was very frustrating for me. So when there was an opportunity for a scrawny computer nerd, I really threw myself at it. I dressed the part, looked the part, changed my posture, slumped a lot and walked around differently. Thankfully, I fooled them and got hired to play that role, but at the time, it was just some smartass computer nerd. It wasn’t until I saw a later scripts that I was like, “Oh, they wanted me to be Kevin Spacey from SEVEN. Okay, alright, fine. Let’s do this!” So I was definitely enthused that they had the faith that I’d be able to scare people enough to get the scent off the Ice Truck Killer, because people had to believe it was me for a while. So I was very happy about that. I was like, “Okay good. They think I can act.” DEXTER did me a huge favor. Once that aired, I was called in for anything. People would not bar me from any kind of audition after that. Before that, I was only auditioning for muscle-bound thugs. After that, it was for anything, which I loved.

DIABOLIQUE: Do you have anything else coming up? Have you had any discussions about possibly doing anything for the STAR WARS universe now that they’re doing EPISODE VII after you made a major imprint on the FORCE UNLEASHED video games?

WITWER: You know, you never know. You never know with any of that stuff. There’s things that could happen that might not happen, and not just about STAR WARS, I’m talking about anything. You never really know until you’re eating off the craft service table. Right now it’s fully engrossed in BEING HUMAN and then whatever comes next is what comes next.

Witwer on "Being Human"

Witwer on “Being Human”

BEING HUMAN debuts tonight, January 13th at 9 p.m. on Syfy Channel. You can also follow Sam Witwer on Twitter: @SamWitwer.

About Jay Plainsafe

Jay Plainsafe is an amateur filmmaker and critic, dealing primarily in the realm of the absurd. He’s an advocate for the cult film in-theater experience and believes the VOD landscape has allowed incredible distribution to reshape the horror genre. He’s currently working on his first television pilot script and is not on any social media… yet.

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