"Being Human" Is The Little Genre Show That Could
Being Human star Sam Witwer discusses the sacrifices that the show's actors and crew made in order to make the show's final season possible — and why the end is bittersweet.
The first thing fans mourning the end of Syfy's Being Human should know is that the series could have continued on for another season past the April 7 finale. The second, more important thing is that a potential fifth season — much like ghost Sally brought back to corporeal life — would have been a rapidly decaying shell of its former self. With a tighter budget, the cast and crew of Being Human had to make the fourth season the show's final one in order to maintain the standard of quality that they held dear.
The end of Being Human may be bittersweet, but it's exactly what the show needed to go out on top. As Sam Witwer, who plays resident vampire Aidan Waite, explained, this was a decision born out of genuine love for the series.
"We all sort of felt each other out to see how we felt about it, we went to Syfy and said, 'Listen, we can give you one more good [season]. Anything more would be disastrous, would not be a good show,'" Witwer said. "So we asked for permission to end the show in the fourth season, because we all cared way too much about the show to see it go down in flames in a fifth season. They agreed that we could do that, and I really applaud them for being sympathetic to our creative interest there. It's not a very usual thing that a corporation gives a shit."
To say that Being Human had a limited budget is perhaps an understatement: This was a high-stakes supernatural drama on a basic cable network. And while intentionally bad CGI schlock may work for Syfy's original movies (like Twitter favorite Sharknado), Being Human was a bit more grounded in reality — albeit a preternaturally enhanced reality with vampires, werewolves, ghosts, and then some.
Between the third and fourth seasons, Being Human's already slim budget was reduced, leading to an important conversation between showrunners Jeremy Carver and Anna Fricke, and Being Human stars Witwer, Meaghan Rath (Sally, ghost), Sam Huntington (Josh, werewolf), and Kristen Hager (Nora, another werewolf). How much further could Being Human go with limited funds?
"We don't ever really have a sense for how much the home office understands how difficult the show is to make, because everyone says their show is difficult, right?" Witwer said. "But we really meant it. The budget that we had, even to begin with, was very modest, very scant, and we had to improvise and kind of pull rabbits out of our hats in order to do the show."
When Syfy agreed to let Being Human's fourth season be its last, emotions were mixed: On the one hand, the writers had an opportunity to end the series, characterized by complicated character arcs and intensely fraught relationships, on their own terms. On the other hand, the show would be over, a decision that was kept from viewers until February of this year.
But as sad as it was to say good-bye to Aidan, Witwer acknowledged a sense of relief as well. Being Human was a tremendous amount of work for everyone involved, with the cast and crew consistently going above and beyond to make the show happen. The series was very much a passion project — and with a minuscule budget, passion can only take you so far.
"To put it in perspective, have I spent my own money on the show? Yes," said Witwer. "Have I done forced calls that never went on the books to help the budget? Yes, I have. Has Sam Huntington put up an actor at his house? Yes. Like all kinds of things that you don't really hear about unless you're doing an independent movie, those are all the things that we had to do to make the show. Did I take a camera crew out and shoot second unit and shoot a scene that I directed myself? Sure. Were we constantly improvising and calling in favors and having people work for less money than they're worth? Yes."
(When asked for comment, producer Irene Litinsky clarified, "Everyone who worked on Being Human gave 110% effort, and the production followed normal scheduling practices, which did sometimes require and receive special efforts from some of the cast and crew. Such scheduling adjustments are often preferred and frequently requested to achieve an earlier release at the end of a work week and all are compensated accordingly.")
"These are all the things that you only have in a situation where people really care," Witwer continued. "We were prepared to do that for a year. We couldn't do it for more than one."
When they weren't quietly helping out behind the scenes to keep the show going, the cast of Being Human was developing the chemistry that made the well-received drama — adapted from Toby Whithouse's BBC series of the same name — a success.
As the guilt-ridden Aidan, Witwer became a sort of straight man to Huntington's high-strung werewolf Josh. Sally, played by Rath, served as something of a younger sister to them both, and Hager — as Josh's love interest Nora — rounded out Being Human's supernatural family when she became a regular in the second season.
It's hard to imagine the series, which quickly established itself as thematically linked but distinct from its British predecessor, without the dynamics of the cast. But Witwer almost wasn't part of the project at all, relating that he nearly passed on Being Human without a second thought.
"When I first picked up the script, I read three pages, read the word 'vampire,' and put it down," he said. "I didn't want to do it. Because I felt like, there's too many of these assholes out there. Why do we need another one?"
Witwer's not wrong: Aidan's pale, brooding demeanor does, at times, feel like Buffy's vampire soulmate Angel. And his guilt over years of murder and mayhem puts him in line with Paul Wesley's Stefan on The Vampire Diaries. But what distinguishes Being Human from other genre series is the emphasis it places on its characters' human lives over their supernatural conditions. On the surface, Aidan may look a little Edward Cullen-y, but his struggle is far more relatable.
"It wasn't until someone forced me to actually read the script that I realized this was a wonderful story about addiction," Witwer continued. "That was the chief goal, to portray that metaphor through the vampire thing."
While Witwer believes that telling a story about addiction has remained his primary focus, Aidan has developed throughout Being Human's four seasons. At times, he has been lighter and less penitent. In other moments, he has seemed more monster than man. His relationships have also shifted — after some subtle hints at unresolved sexual tension, Aidan and Sally have finally acknowledged romantic feelings for one another.
As the series approached its conclusion, Witwer was clear with the writers about where he hoped to take the character.
"What was fun about this year was taking the gloves off," Witwer said. "I've always been holding back performance-wise because you want someplace to go, so this year was about not holding back, especially at the end of the season, to really just go for it — to make Aidan more human than he'd ever been, to make him funnier than he'd ever been, and to make him more dangerous than he'd ever been."
The writers were amenable to Witwer's suggestions, underling the fact that Being Human has remained a collaborative creative process from beginning to end. With an undertaking this massive, it's no wonder that everyone wants a say.
"It's nice when the writers trust you enough to know that you're bringing something of value to the table, that you're not wasting time," Witwer said. "So long as you're doing what they've asked you to do, anything extra is fun. At the end of the day, when you're doing a show that demands this much of you, and the budget isn't huge, you've either gotta love it or you don't do it all."
In an alternate timeline — much like what Being Human has explored in its fourth season — Witwer never became Aidan because he was starring on AMC's The Walking Dead instead. In reality, he was up for a lead role but ended up not being available. (Witwer did cameo as a dead soldier in the pilot, a role he was going to reprise — a living version, that is — until AMC scrapped those plans.)
Although Being Human and The Walking Dead are both genre series, being a lead on the latter would have changed Witwer's career trajectory immeasurably.
"I think about that a lot because the show ended up being a hit, and I could have briefly worked with one of my close buddies, Frank Darabont, and that would've been a great series regular role," Witwer said. "But the thing about it is, I only would have honed what I already know how to do well. I would've become better at that, but I already knew how to do what Walking Dead was asking of me. Being Human asked me to do a bunch of stuff that I didn't know how to do."
As Witwer continued to stress the amount of work everyone was required to put into Being Human, he also praised the series for the creative freedom it allowed everyone involved. While the role of Aidan let Witwer stretch himself as an actor, the writers were also receptive to his input when it came to the direction the character — and the show as a whole — would take.
"I was doing it for a creative opportunity," Witwer explained. "If I wanted to kind of come up with a scene, [they'd] allow me that opportunity, so long as I wasn't messing anything up or stepping on anyone's toes. The whole key to putting yourself out there like that is letting people know that they can say no to you … So long as you keep your ego separate from the process, people tend to tolerate a lot of interesting discussion."
There is always a compromise when it comes to television: In choosing Being Human, a show with a modest budget and all-hands-on-deck mentality, Witwer worked — by his own estimation — harder than he ever had before. But in doing so, he was able to explore and challenge himself more than he would have been able to do on another series.
Network leads may get paid more, Witwer noted, and they likely get more sleep — but they don't get the same opportunities that he and his cast mates have had.
"It takes a toll on you, but the fact of the matter is, when you're working with that sort of independent film budget, it's all those creative opportunities," he said. "That's really rewarding. To come up with a crazy idea that when you pitch it to people, people go, 'Well, that's not gonna work.' And you go, 'Well, can I try it anyway?'"
"The most valuable thing on Being Human," he continued, "is taking that creative ownership. I really feel like, yeah, I got to really grow in that way."
The fourth season of Being Human proved particularly taxing on the cast and crew.
"By the end of the season, I was getting four hours of sleep a night and I lost about 22 pounds," Witwer said.
But the strenuous filming process reflects the "kitchen sink" perspective with which the writers and actors approached the show's last season. Knowing this would be the end of Being Human, the writers were determined to do everything they had always wanted to do but that Syfy had resisted, simply because so many of these ideas would change the series irreparably — transitioning Aidan and Sally from pseudo-siblings to lovers, for example.
There's no coming back from the major events that close out Being Human — but for the first time, no one is worrying about what to do next season.
"We wreck the car this year," Witwer said. "Every year is like a car: You take it out, you get some dings, but you put it back in the garage until the next season. And this season we smash the car into the entire neighborhood. There are pieces of the car laying in the middle of the street. The car is on fire. And then when it pulls into the garage, the garage explodes. That's the way we've treated this season."
Just over the course of the final season, Aidan has reunited with his long-lost wife Suzanna (Katharine Isabelle), reconciled with his vampire "son" Kenny (Connor Price), and consummated — at least in one timeline — his will-they-or-won't-they relationship with Sally. It's been a lot for viewers to take in, but even more daunting for the actors inhabiting these characters.
But even as he enjoys his free time now that Being Human's action-packed final season has wrapped, Witwer speaks fondly about the unique experience the show afforded him.
"It was a really good gig," he said. "Hell, man, it was the first time that I've been under contract and haven't tried to get out of it. And I've been under contract three times. That should say something. There were definitely moments, trying times in Being Human, but we always solved it, whatever the problem was we always solved it."
After 52 episodes, Witwer is confident Being Human told a complete story and, in the process, transformed him as an actor. That may not have made the work any easier, but for Witwer, it's a good reminder that it was worth the occasionally soul-sucking effort.
"You get more sleep when you're not working," he conceded. "The character was always challenging. The character was endlessly compelling. They never softballed me. They never gave me stuff that was easy to do. It was always hard. Always. And I appreciate that."