Creator/Executive Producer Toby Whithouse Interview BEING HUMAN
by Christina Radish
Posted: August 9th, 2010
Being Human is a witty and dramatic look into the lives of three twenty-somethings and their secret double-lives, as a werewolf, a vampire and a ghost. They struggle to live normal lives that blend in with the human population, despite their strange and dark secrets.
After the death of vampire leader Herrick at the end of Season 1, the supernatural friends hoped that they could get on with their lives, but quickly learned that an even greater danger was lurking within the very human world of which they so desperately want to be a part. Religious zealots Professor Jaggat and her cold-hearted colleague Kemp have discovered the existence of vampires, werewolves and ghosts, and are determined to carry out brutal experiments and destroy them, with consequences that will be devastating to everyone.
Although Season 2 has not yet finished airing on BBC America, Season 3 is already well into production in the U.K. In a recent interview, creator/executive producer/writer Toby Whithouse talked about the intense emotions of Season 2, what can be expected in Season 3 and that the threat will come from within. He also discusses his thoughts on the American version that will be going into production soon. Check out what he had to say after the jump:
Question: You have such a powerful finale in Season 2 that it leaves you wanting to see Season 3 right away. Was that intentional?
Toby: I was really pleased with the season finale, in particular. I think it’s one of the best episodes we’ve done. Everything about it came together really beautifully. The script, the performances, the direction, and the art direction and design of that last episode was absolutely amazing. I remember when I wrote that, I deliberately didn’t give myself much time to write it because I knew that what it demanded was a real pace and I had to write it quickly to imbue it with that speed. I was really thrilled with it. I think the performances were amazing.
Having this cast, did it change how you envisioned the season finale? Did you write specifically for them, as actors?
Toby: I don’t know specifically how, but the cast we’ve got are four of the best actors working on television. It’s impossible now to separate them from the characters, in my mind. I try to write every line within the specific voice of the actor. For example, Annie’s death doesn’t have a drop of blood in it, but it’s one of the most horrific scenes in the history of Being Human. There’s something about it. And, the performances of everyone in that scene, including Donald Sumpter who played Kemp, and Adrian Schiller who played Hennessey, were just absolutely terrific. That episode is bonkers.
Many British shows are willing to kill off a main character that you’ll never see again. How do you feel about that?
Toby: What’s good about doing something like that is that it means, from an audience’s point of view, you’re off the map. They think, “Well, god, if they’ve killed this person, then they can do anything.” That’s the thing. If you are confident as a viewer that they’re not going to kill these people off because they’ve been contracted for seven years, then it takes a slight sense of danger out of the process. I also like it because it keeps the actors on their toes as well. I try not to hold it too much over them, but I do like to remind them that they should think of me like an angry, vengeful god. But, the work speaks for itself.
Does the BBC ever give you any input on the show, or do they ever tell you that there’s anything you can’t do with it or the characters?
Toby: Even though the show is very successful and popular in the U.K., it goes out on a digital channel, on BBC3, so our audience is comparatively small. It is the true definition of a cult show. But, we are given an unbelievable amount of creative freedom and latitude by the BBC. If we were on BBC1, the main terrestrial channel in the U.K., I don’t think we would be given that liberty, quite rightly, because there are different pressures and BBC1 shows have to fulfil a different thing. But, on our channel, we are given incredible freedom. I, personally, am allowed an extraordinary amount of creative liberty with the show, and so it allows us to tell these very complicated stories and do quite surprising things. Often, in the U.K. particularly, people keep saying, “Oh, you must be desperate to get onto one of the main channels.” Actually, personally, I’m not because I know that then there would be a great level of intervention. We’re blessed with immense trust by the BBC, and that’s to the benefit of the show.
As the creator of this show, how do you feel about the American version that’s being done?
Toby: The notion of the American version came up so long ago. The thing about television is that the process is so unbelievably slow. It was mentioned after Season 1 went out in the U.K. To be honest, I was like, “Yeah, I’ll believe it when I see it,” because that’s one of those things that gets floated about lots of different shows. So, I was sceptical about it. And then, gradually over time, it’s become more and more assured.
My involvement with the American show is very minimal, but I can honestly say I’m not too bothered about that because we’re half-way through filming Season 3. I’m still writing Season 3. Consequently, that’s a 24/7 job, just getting the U.K. version right. Also, the other thing is that the SyFy guys understand the American TV marketplace better than I do, so I’m more than happy to let them get on with that. The other thing is that, personally, I’m looking forward to sitting down and watching the show as a fan, as opposed to the originator. I’m quite excited about it.
What hints can you give about Season 3? Will it pick up right where Season 2 left off?
Toby: I think that, narrative-wise there are a couple of weeks between the seasons. In Season 1, the threat was supernatural, in the form of Herrick (Jason Watkins). In Season 2, the threat was human, in the form of Kemp (Donald Sumpter) and Jaggat. And, in Season 3, the threat comes from within.
How big of a part is Herrick going to play in the third season?
Toby: I can’t tell you that. Herrick does feature very much in Season 3, but the question is, “Is he the Herrick we remember?” That is the question.
How far ahead do you plan out the show?
Toby: It’s very difficult in the U.K. The way they do things in the U.S., if you have a show, you’ll option your actors for five, six or seven seasons. In the U.K., we just don’t have the financing to be able to do that. And so, there’s always a slightly nail-biting, nerve-wracking moment, as we get to the end of each season and think, “Who are we going to have?” We’ve got this extraordinary cast and we’re very blessed that they’ve come back for three seasons, but it’s impossible to plan any further in advance than that.
Every time we start a new season, the negotiations begin again. To be fair, perhaps in a typically British way, we didn’t have any expectation of what the show was going to do. When we made the pilot, we didn’t even know if we were going to get a series. And then, to get it recommissioned, and then recommissioned again, took us all a little bit by surprised, and we all got a bit flustered and didn’t know what to do with it. Then again, I bizarrely quite like working within limitations. The thing is that, particularly writing genre shows in the U.K., it becomes a process of adapting to limitations.
Do you have any specific examples of limitations you’ve had to overcome?
Toby: For example, when we did the pilot, one of the first decisions we had to make was how we were going to do the werewolf transformations. If it had been in America and we had a much bigger budget, we would have gone with CGI, but we didn’t. The budget for the pilot was squeaky, shall we say. That meant that the only real way we could do it was through prosthetics and animatronics. In retrospect, I’m so pleased that we did it like that because what it means is that the creature actually exists and the transformations happen.
When I’ve written episodes of Doctor Who, when it comes to the monster chasing somebody, it’s the Doctor and the companion, running down the corridor, being chased by a guy with a stick and a tennis ball on the end. Whereas, when I see the rushes of Being Human, we’re actually looking at the werewolf and it just looks real. However good CGI is, there’s some kind of indefinable quality that it loses. In looking at a transformation scene in the rushes, the way that the light falls on the creature, it’s the same light on the trees and the woods around it, and it just looks so much better. That was a budgetary decision that we turned to our advantage and made a creative editorial choice with.
Similarly, the way that we do Death in Being Human is that we have a door. Everyone said, “Oh, god, that’s so clever. You have a door. Of course, it’s Death’s door. What’s behind the door?” The reason we did the door was that it was all we could afford. It was what we had in the prop’s department. But, that is the tradition of British high-genre writing because we never have the budget. I’m so used to working within constraints like that, that when we sit down and think, “Okay, we’ve got these members of the cast, but our budget is so tiny,” so you have to sculpt the storylines accordingly.
It would be lovely to have a much bigger budget and be able to afford bigger and better things, but the thing is that you rely on character. The bedrock of Being Human has to be characters. I would hope that even if, suddenly, we had a huge budget per episode, the foundation of the show, and the thing that actually makes it what it is, is character. Character is actually the cheapest, yet most effective way of telling a story.
You recast some of the actors from the pilot. What was the decision behind that?
Toby: By the time the show actually went from pilot to series, the options on the actors had run out. With Andrea Riseborough, who played Annie, her star was very much on the ascendant, at the time, and so we lost her. But also, the other thing is that the pilot actually served the purpose that pilots are meant to serve, in as much as it allowed us to look at the show and say, “Okay, great. The concept works, the interaction of the characters works, but we’re not so sure about this and that.”
What we felt with the pilot was that we’d kind of nailed everything, apart from the way we handled the vampires. The intention of the show has always been to make everything as realistic as possible, which seems strange, given the preposterous nature of the show. The ambition has always been to tell a very realistic story, but the vampires made it feel like you had literally walked into a different show. The vampires were all leather and lace. Mitchell was almost talking in rhyming couplets. Suddenly, they were waistcoats with frills. So, when we went to the series, that was one thing we absolutely wanted to look at again, and it was in no way a comment on the actor who played Mitchell in the pilot, or on Adrian Lester, who played Herrick. We just want to go in a different direction.
I think it’s actually more telling in the character of Herrick. We got Jason Watkins in, who is obviously just a very different actor, and what we liked about Jason was that there was something much more normal about him. Adrian is an incredibly charismatic, good looking guy, and with Jason there was that banality of evil, which he nailed absolutely extraordinarily. Jason gives such a chilling, awful, terrible, horrifying performance as Herrick, and it’s all so gentle and light, and he dances over the dialogue. I think he’s absolutely mesmerizing. What Jason does so beautifully is that he has this bounciness about him, and he’s much more of a political manoeuvre. On the face of it, he seems so harmless. In a stage direction for Herrick, I said, “It’s all placid on top, but there are dark shapes under the water.” That’s the thing with him. There’s an agenda with Herrick, all of the time, and Jason’s performance was absolutely thrilling.
Will there be more supernatural elements added to the show?
Toby: Over the years, people have said to me, “Oh, god, you know what you need to put in your show? You need to put in a witch. Do a witch. Do a zombie. Do a fairy.” They can move in next door. And, I must admit, there was never a policy decision that we wouldn’t have any other creatures. We just couldn’t really think of one. And then, we’d say, “Why don’t we do a leprechaun?” The thing is, if you’re going to do that, you have to do it in a Being Human way. You can’t have a guy with a ginger beard and a hat. You have to find a way of doing it where it fits in with the story, and we’ve never found a way of doing it. In Season 3, for one night only, there is another creature, but it’s not a leprechaun. The reason we decided that we could do it was because we thought of the Being Human way of doing it.
How far into Season 3 will that character show up?
Toby: In Episode 3.
Both Annie and Mitchell have this relationship with death, in some way. Is that what keeps them connected?
Toby: Yeah. Because we end Season 2 with Annie trapped on the other side and Mitchell declaring he’s going to go get het, there’s a moment at the beginning of Season 3 where they’re discussing this and George is nervous about Mitchell doing this, and he says, “This is life and death that we’re talking about. These things shouldn’t be messed with.” And, Mitchell says, “Me and Annie are already dead. It doesn’t get more messed with than that.” There is a connection between them, on the basis of that.
Also, there’s the fact that both of them are going to exist forever, in the state that they are. The notion of this screaming eternity in front of them is a terrifying prospect. There’s something about that that unites them.
Perhaps tragically, there is also an element of Mitchell that would fit into Annie’s relationship history. She’s not exactly made good choices, so why not go for a 120-year-old mass murderer? It’s the next logical step, after dating the guy that killed you. Annie is a character who always looks for the good in another person. Whatever Mitchell has done, there is still an enormous vein of decency, kindness, compassion and humanity within him, and Annie responds to that very well.
Mitchell can experience physical love, but how far can Annie go?
Toby: They kissed once. All I can say is, watch Episode 4 in Season 3. All will be answered, or maybe it will just be answered with more questions. But, it will be addressed in some kind of vague way.