Syfy's 'Being Human' stars on striving for the normal within paranormal

Three young 20-something roommates sit around the kitchen table of their rented fixer-upper house. They don’t eat the food in front of them, mainly because one isn’t interested and the other two can’t; they commiserate about life - but mostly death. He is undead and she is dead, and the cursed third wishes he was.

This is what it’s like Being Human for the vampire, ghost and werewolf characters on the Syfy network’s newest hit, a remake of a British show, and if you think living a normal life is hard, try a paranormal one.

It’s a gimmick: three supernatural roomies trying to get along in the real world. It is the kind of gimmick likely joked about over horror movies and booze, but which then coalesces into a serious idea.

“That’s what makes our show different from all the other genre of vampires/werewolf/ghost shows,” says Meaghan Rath, who plays ghostly student/fiancee Sally – and who incidentally joined the Ghost Hunters for last Halloween’s live investigation of Buffalo Central Terminal.

“Our characters aren’t necessarily embracing their supernatural powers. And it’s, like, you can take away that element of the show, and the story will still be as compelling because it’s about these people trying to retain their humanity.”

OK, so it’s an effective gimmick.

After all, when British TV channel BBC Three premiered the series in January 2009 with more than a million people viewing, the resulting success led to two more seasons (Season Three concluded its run in the UK March 13 and on BBC America tomorrow night). After the show made the leap across the pond to BBC America in July 2009 it garnered a fast following stateside for being, to quote horror Web site, “a powerhouse of good old fashioned horror that played like a completely supernatural version of Three’s Company.” By October the same year, it was announced Syfy would be remaking it.

Part horror, angsty Gen-Y drama and dark comedy, the series revolves around the trio as they attempt to regain their lost humanity while also struggling to evade the forces that took it in the first place. But neither “remake” nor “re-imagining” quite captures Syfy’s Being Human, which premiered in January with an impressive 2 million viewers. Now set in Boston, the show is Americanized and tweaked, but stands on its own as an equal – and is for some, superior – to its predecessor.

Rath – who previously starred in the Canadian sitcom The Assistants - views her version of the show as an “homage” to the original, although she only saw a few episodes to avoid being too heavily influenced by her British ghost counterpart, Lenora Crichlow. But Sam Huntington (Cavemen, Superman Returns), who plays dropout premed student and werewolf Josh, agrees with Rath’s sentiment.

“I think the world of the British cast and thought about that everyday - and how to honor them and respect them - but I think ultimately what we’re doing is exactly that, is honoring them.”

Sam Witwer (Battlestar Galactica, Star Wars: The Force Unleashed) is the male nurse and 257-year-old vampire Aidan - named after Aidan Turner, the Irish actor who plays the vampire on the BBC - adds he hopes the show is part of what he jokes is the “circle of television” where “whatever we end up doing honors what they’ve done and brings a bigger audience to them, and in turn perhaps their audience supplements ours, and it’s a big happy family.”

“Big happy family” is an apt choice of words for Witwer since the three actors have a remarkably sincere chemistry with one another. They often finish one another’s sentences and instead of trying to one-up, they joke, poke fun at and support each other as close-knit roommates might.

“Every single day I go to set, I am so excited to be there working with these guys,” says Huntington, who adds that his castmates and crew elevates his own work.”

“We like being around each other,” says Rath, and Witwer chimes in that they get along so well they’ve “actually gotten the comment from directors to tone down our chemistry, which I’ve never heard that comment before.”

Also part of the Human family is Sarah Allen as recently-turned vampire Rebecca, Alison Louder as Josh’s sister Emily, and the show’s recurring heavy, head honcho vampire Bishop, played by the same Mark Pellegrino who played the godlike Jacob in Lost and Lucifer in Supernatural.  These characters vary slightly from the BBC series; Josh never had a sister onscreen and Rebecca stuck around longer than her British version Lauren.

“In the beginning of the first episode, I inadvertently turn a girl into a vampire,” says Witwer, before joking,

“Hey, guys, you can’t blame me. She’s beautiful.”

“But that character is a lot larger of a character and has much more influence on my character than the British version. She’s like a legitimate love interest, whereas in the British version, from what I understand, it’s not quite that way.”

Huntington says the changes, which may upset some fans of the original, is a good thing and “helps the audience kind of understand his [Josh’s] journey. And it informs who he is.”

Witwer goes on to say the variations from the Being Human is both necessary and beneficial for the new series to stand on its own.

“There’s a lot of things that where we’ll take maybe an idea that they have and expand it into entire plotlines. And of course, there are other things that go in completely different directions because they didn’t have the screen time.”

For instance, the vampire world became more diverse. In addtion to the inhuman Human family of Pellegrino’s Bishop character, Rath lets slip “they’re introducing this new sect of vampires that wasn’t in the British one.”

The vampires here are stripped of a glamorous veneer and are themselves very Americanized - and quite different from the fangers of Twilight, True Blood or the Vampire Diaries who are prone to wearing leather dusters. Executive producers, showrunners, writers - and married couple - Jeremy Carver and Anna Fricke (who worked on Supernatural and Everwood, respectively), say they were aiming for “urban, working class” New England vampires, which is part of the reason Boston was chosen as the show’s setting.

Bishop turned Aiden during the Revolutionary War and Bishop himself came over as a settler originally from Europe to basically make his way in the new world as a vampire, you know, seeking sort of new territories to hunt,” says Carver. “So Boston has proven very well to sort of tie into sort of tying our vampires coming over to the founding of America.”

“If you’re familiar with the sort of New England mindset which is sort of a more hardscrabble, modest mindset, that is very much the sort of way our vampires assimilate into society,” and is why they hold down day jobs and interact with humans.
Star Wars: The Force Unleashed II
As far as Witwer’s vampire goes, he’s a reformed sociopath trying to break his bad blood habit by not feeding off the living. The character is the latest in a line of dark characters like Davis “Doomsday” Bloome from Smallville, and both Darth Vader and a Sith apprentice in The Force Unleashed video games.

“I get a lot of guys who have damaged psyches, I guess,”

Witwer then jokes the casting directors for the damaged psyche characters must say, “He just looks like he’s a guy with problems.Let’s hire him. He’s got problems, right? You have problems?” To which he’d reply,

“Yeah, if it gets me hired, sure.” However, he adds, more seriously, that the common element of all his “dark” characters is that they are good people by their nature, but have been put in circumstances that take that out of them.

But Witwer has clearly had deep thoughts about his role as recovering vampire.

“The fun about the character, I think, is he’s rediscovering his humanity,” he says.

“He’s seen everything ... but the fun about it is if you were in kind of a drug haze for a long formative period of your life and you came out of it, the world would seem like a very, very scary place, and you would have emotional reactions in the most unexpected circumstances.”

If Witwer’s Aidan is the damaged psyche of Being Human, Anna Fricke says Huntington’s werewolf Josh is the heart.

“He is the most human,” the producer says. “He sort of has the most to loose. We really needed someone to have that vulnerable and heartbreaking quality but who was also funny, you know? And Sam really brought that to the floor. He was really - you feel for him immediately.”

For Huntington’s part, he embodies the character’s odd sense of humor, but enjoys how introverted Josh is. Fairly new to the werewolf curse,Josh is afraid to change and hurt others, so he runs from humanity.

“He turned into a werewolf two years ago, or got turned into a werewolf two years ago, and he’s going through a little bit more. Obviously he hasn’t come a long way in those two years; he’s just kind of biding his time ... he really doesn’t know what’s going to happen.”

As far as the metamorphosis, a werewolf transformation has always been a point of special effects pride in Hollywood, and Being Human doesn’t disappoint. The character goes through exceptional pain while changing, but begins with the actor nude in the woods.

“It’s really, really disturbing to watch the transformation.” Adds Huntington, “The wolf itself is very different than anything you’ve ever seen” and he says there was much discussion about what was taking place internally during the change, which informs he performance. Still, he says, the nudity makes the viewer feel bad for Josh.

“When he’s turning into a werewolf, he feels so exposed,” says Huntington. “He’s so, so, so scared, and I think that the nakedness really, really hits that home. You know what I mean? It really makes you feel uncomfortable for him.”

Unlike the centuries-old Aidan, Rath says Sally is coming to terms with loneliness, her death and her journey towards resolution, instead of “running around haunting people.” Rath thinks Sally is more like Josh because her character is also in a new situation - which is why she didn’t feel compelled to research ghosts.

“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 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 sort of going through it as she was.”

But the ghost (and guest ghost hunter) says,”They could not have picked a better person.”

“I’m so into that. I love everything with spirits and ghosts.”

Rath even claims to have her own background with ghosts from her childhood.

“I used to live in a really haunted house, the first house I ever lived in – I left when I was three years old. We had this ghost, and there was a grave in the backyard and my parents would tell me that every night they would hear someone walking up the stairs at the same time ... But it was a good energy. It wasn’t threatening.”

The ghosts hanging over Being Human have also been kind so far, but any time a popular show is remade, the specter of the original haunts the new version - especially when the original is still on the air with a devoted fanbase. Huntington jokes that if anyone questions “how dare he” remake their beloved show, he’ll throw it right back at them.

“I’m going to make them feel really uncomfortable. I’m going to throw it right back at them and be like, ‘Those pants don’t match that shirt.’” He adds, though, the American show is different and awesome, but “I’m a fan of the British show, you know what I mean?”

“So I understand that ... it’s a lovely, amazing, original incredible show. So I want to say, like, ‘I’m with you. I love that show too.”

Having also appeared in the remake of Battlestar Galactica as “Crashdown,” Witwer says both show can be enjoyed on their own after a “burn-in process.”

“No one talks anymore that when Battlestar came on, that there was this huge fan backlash because Starbuck was a girl and all this crap,” he says. “Now we just remember, ‘Oh, everyone loved Battlestar. It’s like, ‘No. No, we didn’t.’ They didn’t. So I’m fully prepared for whatever they want to throw at us."

So far none of the actors have met their counterpart but would like to because, as Witwer puts it, “We owe them a debt of gratitude in a big way. Huntington adds he’d love to meet British werewolf Russell Tovey and the others to “just like Skype with them or at some point just talk to them - even if they hate the show, I would still love just to hear and meet them.”

Meanwhile, Rath jokes the two teams could either fight - “Meaghan wants to fight everybody,” says Huntington -  or “there would be a tear in the time-space [continuum].”

Huntington suddenly agrees and offers, “a hole might open up in the universe.”

Witwer’s take: “Just fight them.”

Although a fight between these paranormal characters might be expected, it’s obvious watching the actors portraying them that, on and off camera, the show has a lot to offer about Being Human.

Being Human's Season One finale airs April 11, 9 p.m., on Syfy