Tuesday, January 18, 2011

An Interview with the Cast and Crew of Being Human

Photo by Jill Greenberg/Syfy 

Last night Syfy premiered Being Human, a new series that is a reimaging of a show of the same name currently on the BBC. Fans of the original are cautiously optimistic about the American version of the story about the ghost, the vampire and the werewolf who live together in a Boston brownstone and just try to be human. So on top of trying to stand apart from the U.K. series, the cast and crew are also tasked with the challenge to be different form the rest of the super natural shows on the air. In a recent conference call we spoke with two of the show's stars Meaghan Rath and Sam Huntington along with the producers Anna Fricke and Jeremy Carver about these challenges.

Setting Being Human Apart from the U.K. Version

The most obvious challenge for the producers of Being Human is to set it apart from all the other vampire, werewolf and ghost shows out there. Anna commented, "I’m the first to say, I’m a huge fan of all of those shows. I pretty much follow all of them and this show definitely has the elements of genre that you love. But I think that what sets this particular version apart, and what we’re proud of, is that really at the heart it is a character-based relationship show. You don’t have to be a fan of any sort of vampire movie or show or any kind of genre show in particular to still watch this show because, at the end of the day, it’s about their relationships and what’s happening with each other on a very human level. When we talk about these characters, we talk about they all want what all of us want, which is to sort of be normal, to embrace humanity and they, like all of us, are fighting the monster within only they are fighting real monsters."

Supernatural Challenges

Meaghan plays a ghost who is stuck in the apartment that the vampire and the werewolf rent. One restriction of her role is that, as a ghost, she cannot touch anything nor can she leave the house. Anna said this made for an interesting story to write. She related, "That is part of her journey throughout the whole season. How does she come to terms with who she is and what she is and how does that relate to her physical capabilities? So that is something that will be a story point throughout the season. What she can do and where she can go? And the way we always talked about Sally as a character is her abilities to transcend her current ghost form is very tied to emotion. So as she comes more to terms with things she will be able to be more physically capable."

She continued that the physical limitation of Sally being invisible also helped with the character development. She observed, "I think that the whole being invisible aspect of Sally really helped with this feeling, the emotions, of what she’s going through. What I like about her so much is who she was in her life. She was someone so passionate and involved and someone who really wanted to make a difference. And she’s still that same person in her death, but everything is stripped away from her. She has this longing to be involved and help people and now people can’t even see her and she can’t even touch anyone. So I think the whole supernatural aspect of that really helps to get into her mindset."

Sam found the same to be true in developing the role of the werewolf Josh. He stated, "It’s like the supernatural element of each of the characters is what forms who they are as, for what it’s worth, people. Josh is defined by who he has become and it affects every part of his life. He’s ostracized everyone who is special to him and now he’s become this introvert and he’s careful and he’s hypersensitive to his surroundings. And so it affects how you play it. You put yourself in the shoes of the character and what they’ve gone through. And I think that’s what’s cool about the show. It’s what makes it more human. You really try and literally put yourself in these people’s shoes and it makes it actually kind of easy."

Meaghan described why the role appealed to her and how it has developed over time during production, "It is a really, really challenging role first because Sally just seems like a real person. She’s going through so much… She starts off one way and ends somewhere completely different. And as an actor it’s something so exciting to be able to do and it’s been amazing to explore all those different sides of myself. And then there’s the physical limitations of it. The fact that Sally can’t touch anything, touch anybody, which is also challenging because for me, especially when I get really into something and I get passionate and I get to talking, I’m a physical person. I'll touch somebody and the fact that I can’t do that you really have to rely on the emotion and the words that we’ve been given. And that’s what’s been really exciting for me actually."

Being Human On-Set Chemistry

Sam credits his fellow cast and crew with getting him through the demands of his role. He revealed, "I’ve been looking for a role like this my entire career because it’s so challenging, because it was so three-dimensional and so interesting. And so, yes, it’s been really hard. The hours were really tough, but luckily we were working with each other and we love each other so much and we got each other through it. We had an unbelievable crew and unbelievable creative people behind us. So as challenging as it’s been, it’s been the love of my life for my career… I have kind of a love affair with this show. So my wife and son, they’re okay, but the show for my career and as an actor this has just been tremendous."

Meaghan also acknowledged her fellow actors and how pleased she is by their on-screen and off-screen chemistry, " I think what’s amazing is that for the three of us actors, the energy between us in life is very similar to the energy of the characters. And I often feel like the Sam’s are my older brothers, which is like Sally’s whole situation. They’re very protective of me and it’s nice. I feel very safe all the time with them and they’re the best scene partners you could ask for. I never have to worry going into a scene with either of them that something won’t be there. And if there’s anything that I’m worried about beforehand I know that if I just sit there with them in the moment it will all work out because they’re so talented."

Meaghan Rath and Sam Huntington on Researching their Roles

Typically part of the journey for an actor creating a new role is research, particularly when the character is so different from one's own life. Meaghan admitted that she did not do a lot of studying up on ghosts. She divulged, "I’m a big believer in ghosts myself... As a matter of fact, the first house I ever lived in was haunted and… my parents are into that too, so I’ve been bred on that my entire life. But as far as research goes I really was experiencing everything for the first time with Sally. She died six months ago at the beginning and she doesn’t know what’s going on. And so it’s appropriate that I too am now finding my way and figuring out what I am. So I was just going through it as she was."

Sam also confessed he kept the research to a minimum for similar reasons, "Josh… got turned into a werewolf two years ago, and so he’s going through a little bit more. Obviously he hasn’t come a long way in those two years. He’s just been biding his time until he really doesn’t know what’s going to happen. So as far as the research, yes, I looked a little bit into werewolf lore and ultimately I think what we’re doing is really original and so I was looking at Josh as a character more than the genre aspect of him. A lot of it was the wonderful material that we were given and just working that and forming that into what I thought that the character was and luckily it was not hard because I’ve always felt very close to it."

Sam Huntington Fear of Nudity

One aspect of Josh's character that took Sam a little getting used to wash the required nudity. He said, "Literally, I think it’s the first paragraph of the first episode of the first script, Josh stands naked in the woods. So I pretty much knew going into, even the audition process, that this was something that could be a reality for me. And, to be honest, it was terrifying, but in all seriousness kind of liberating and it got really easy after a while."

He added, "There’s certain tricks that you can employ to hide your good parts or, mediocre parts in my case, but you just kind of get used to it. And the other thing that actually came into play was the fact that I was so comfortable with everyone on set, it was across the board that it was like standing naked in front of your buddies… It got really normal oddly. So, yes, at first there were a lot of nerves but those actually got squelched very, very quickly… I think it actually also adds a lot to the vulnerability of the character, so I think I was always actually kind of happy when nudity was the case because it helped me. It really helped me be more vulnerable. So that’s a huge part of it and an important part."

Being Human is Not Your Average Supernatural Drama

So what makes this vampire, ghost and werewolf different than any other the other supernatural’s floating around our TV sets? Jeremy clarified, "For most vampires there is no conflict at all. They’re a vampire and humans are humans and that’s just the way the world works. And I think where a conflict for a vampire like Aiden comes into play is he wants to be something less than what he really is. From the vampire point of view a human is less than a vampire, right? So Aiden is flipping that around and saying, 'Well, I think being human is more than being a vampire" and so thus comes his conflict. This guy who is trying to constantly fight what is, essentially, instinct. And he’s got to fight that every moment of every day and we play with that very much in addiction metaphor, which we carried throughout the season."

He continued with a similar explanation for the werewolf. "You’re seeing a character of Josh who relates to being a werewolf maybe how other werewolves we may or may not meet might relate to it. And it’s very much tied into who Josh was when he was a normal human being, which is rather insecure, rather uncomfortable with himself and his place in the world. And to add to the fact that on the 30th day of every month he suddenly becomes something other-worldly is a tremendous, tremendous burden for him to bear."

Carver also said what makes the show relatable for most audiences is the inner monster in all of us. "There are fairly few humans, particularly in their early to mid 20’s, who don’t have some aspect of themselves that they don’t consider to be monstrous in some way and are constantly struggling to overcome this, choosing rather to share or to hide this monstrosity with friends, lovers, etc. And so in that regard, I don’t think that struggles between a vampire with a conscious, a werewolf and your typical 20 something human being are really as far apart as we might think."

For other Syfy series interviews check out:
Colin Morgan and Bradley James Return to Camelot
An Interview with Haven's Emily Rose and Syfy's Mark Stern

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