A Chat with Aidan Turner, Russell Tovey, and Lenora Crichlow of “Being Human”

One of the most consistent pleasures of the TCA Press Tour for an Anglophile such as myself is the opportunity to get the scoop on the latest UK imports to arrive on BBC America. In 2007, I was introduced to “Jekyll” and “Torchwood,” and in 2008, I very quickly fell in love with “Gavin and Stacey” and “Primeval.” This time around, the picks to click were “The InBetweeners” and “Being Human,” and although I’ll be waiting a bit to offer up my conversation with the folks from the former, I’m running a bit late in posting my chat with the cast of the latter. “Being Human” actually made its BBC America debut when I was still in Pasadena, but now that I’m playing catch-up, I wanted to share with you the lovely courtyard conversation that I had with the show’s trio of stars: Aidan Turner, Russell Tovey, and Lenora Crichlow.

Join us now as we embark upon…

Bullz-Eye: So when you guys were pitched the series…I mean, I’m sure you get this all the time, but on the surface, it sounds almost like it could be a Saturday morning cartoon.

Aidan Turner: That’s what I thought it was, actually. I thought I was going to do a voice over for a cartoon.

BE: Really?

AT: No. (Laughs) But I hear you.

BE: Were you familiar with Toby (Whithouse’s) work beforehand?

Russell Tovey: I was, personally. When it was pitched to me, I thought it sounded terrible, so I said yeah. (Laughs) There’s a few shows in England that are actually kind of not very good. They’re fun for students, but they’re not, like, credible, really. I thought this could be something like that show, just with a bit of sci-fi put in. In my head, it didn’t really compute, but in reading it, you realize it’s more than that.

AT: I mean, I hadn’t heard of Toby at all. I was aware there was a pilot when my agent pitched it to me…which was a funny phone call, because I kind of couldn’t believe what I was hearing. It was, like, the most obvious idea in the world, but you think, “This just can’t work.” But then the brilliant thing…and Toby’s such a brilliant writer…is that you read it and suddenly, almost from the get go, it’s original and it’s real and it’s steeped in this sort of truth, this beautiful world of realism. It just seems to work. Russell was part of the (original) pilot, but I made a decision not to watch the pilot. I don’t know why, really. I just…well, it didn’t work, first of all, and I thought, “Maybe that’s a sign I shouldn’t do it.” Yeah, so…I don’t know. Then it just turned over, and it just all worked. And then I met these guys, and they were cool, and we got on so well. And the whole team just works together so well, the crew and everybody. It’s just a joy, it’s an absolute joy.

Lenora Crichlow: Same story, really. Even now, when people who haven’t seen the show come across the show and I’m explaining it to them, I find myself halfway through going through what it’s about, and…it actually sounds quite off-putting. (Laughs) I’m looking at their faces, and I can read that they just think it’s not their cup of tea. I can totally understand, because when it was pitched to me, I thought a bit like the boys: “Oh, this just sounds ridiculous.” It’s only when you get into the meat and bones of the story and the characters that you realize there is something there for everybody, everyone. I suppose that’s what gives it the difference. The sci-fi element…it can only happen as a result of these very human issues and traits and relationships. That’s what makes the difference.

AT: I think that, with the show, people are surprised because the idea does sound ridiculous, but that’s the beauty of being a part of something like this. It’s that, immediately, when people see it, they go, “Oh, okay, I get it now. It’s not what I thought it was going to be.” So I think we’re lucky we have that element, because it gets people from the beginning, you know?

RT: The themes to me sounded American in its concept and scale. I think that’s why our first impression is, “Yeah, if this was America, it would be okay, but in England, we can’t compete.” There hasn’t been a massive track record of hit shows that have got something so kind of “out there.” My first instinct was that it sounds brilliant but it will never, ever come to fruition of what you really aspire it to be. But, however, it has and it can compete with your American shows, which is such a great thing for us. Respectfully to your shows, they are like the top of the pyramid. They are the icon that we look to, to get inspired. People are saying this show is kind of comparable to that and can be put in the brackets with that. What an honor. We’re just absolutely over the moon.

BE: I think there’s almost a “Buffy” feel to it at times.

RT: Yeah, great. And “True Blood,” people are saying. I mean, none of us have seen “True Blood.” Have you seen it?

LC: No.

AT: No, I haven’t seen it.

RT: But we know that has gotten massive reception, a massive audience, and we’re being compared to that and compared to “Buffy.” That’s great for us, we’re just so chapped.

BE: Well, I’m sure the phrase “British ‘True Blood’” is going to be thrown around a lot, because on that show there’s a shape shifter, there’s vampires, and other sordid types of characters.

(At this point, my wife – who had been traveling from Virginia to meet me at the press tour – arrived at the hotel after a highly extended ride on an airport shuttle van and joined us in the courtyard. Fortunately, I had forewarned the trio that her arrival was imminent, and as proper gentleman, Messrs. Turner and Tovey immediately leapt to their feet.)

RT: This is Mrs. Harris?

BE: This is Mrs. Harris.

RT: Hi, Mrs. Harris. How are you doing?

AT: Hello. Hi, Mrs. Harris.

LC: Hi, Mrs. Harris. Welcome. Pull up a chair.

Jenn Harris: I was the last drop off.

RT: Oh, my goodness.

AT: Well, you made it.

LC: You’re here now, that’s the important thing.

BE: And for the record, she has seen the first episode, and she loved it, too.

AT: Oh, fabulous.

JH: It’s awesome.

LC: Oh, great.

RT: Cool.

BE: Yeah, it’s funny that you say that about the British and the American shows, though, because between “Dr. Who,” “Torchwood,” and “Primeval” recently, British sci-fi is actually on a real roll at the moment.

RT: Do you like “Primeval”? Did that do well?

BE: I do like it, yeah. I don’t know how well it’s really done here, but it was pitched to us at TCA last year, and I was a fan right out of the gate.

JH: We enjoyed it.

BE: So did either of you guys approach your iconic monster roles with any particular forethought as far as other vampires or werewolves from the past?

AT: Yeah, I don’t know. It’s weird: you can do all this research, you can watch the movies and read the books, but at the end of the day…it’s not even a choice you make to be original, it’s just sort of something that happens. I don’t know if you can play up to any sort of idea of what people have of a character. I think that’s where you’re going to make a mistake. What you really do…and maybe it’s a cliché to say, but, you know, the writing is so good that it sort of does it itself. It does, the character…it’s an easy transition, you know? You just kind of slide in and, yeah, the script does do it for you, and the characters just evolve through Toby’s writing, which is just sensational.

RT: Your only research would be basically what other people have created, because these aren’t real life things. I mean, a ghost possibly exists, but vampires and werewolves don’t exist. You’re basing what you think your performance should be on what people have done before, based on something that doesn’t exist. What you do is treat it like a human being, like with the writing, and then that’s…

AT: It’s the essence of the show, isn’t it? Which is so lovely. That’s what makes it really deep, is that these guys want to be human, they want to be…

RT: It’s fresh, and we’re rewriting the rules.

LC: I think the biggest research for…well, not the biggest research, but a huge part of the research for us is just on our characters. Essentially, that’s what they are. The werewolf, the ghost, and the vampire side of each of our characters is quite…it’s something that we are quite objective about at times. For me, anyway, my biggest research was, who is Annie? Before I dealt with Annie as a ghost, it was more, “What is she like?” And then the ghost element is just as beguiling to me as it is to her. Do you know what I mean? So that journey is something that you can just play with. Because, I mean, there’s only so much research you can do to play a ghost or a vampire, really. Essentially, Russell had to play George.

AT: It’s great we don’t have to play the supernatural. It’s by proxy that these people happen to be yadda, yadda, yadda. But we don’t have to play it, which is great, you know? It’s just the people, the real people.

BE: So, Lenora, does Toby have a rules and regulations guide for your character? As far as, like, the clothes, which I’m sure you’ve heard about more than once.

LC: Oh, yeah, the clothes… (Laughs) Annie can’t change. Her clothes do kind of adjust slightly with her, but I’m not quite sure where that rule came from. It came from his mind, I think.

AT: I think budget. We didn’t have enough money for your costume change.

LC: I think it was the budget. It was BBC Three we started on, let’s don’t forget that. So one, the budget, but two, it kind of actually makes sense and it all adds to Annie’s frustration, or adds to her sort of being trapped. The house is completely like a prison, almost, and that’s like her uniform. Her costume actually becomes very much a part of her character, and that is when we see it morphing and stuff like that, is when she’s feeling differently.

JH: And it keeps coming back. Like, there’s one episode where she’s fixing her hair and she’s totally changed, she looks totally different, but then she walks out and she looks the same.

LC: Exactly the same. Or she gets a bit more confident, and maybe she will shift a layer, but then it’s very soon back and she’s wrapped up again. And it’s an aid. It’s become sort of a thing that even though, yes, I’ve got one costume, it’s something that the costume designer has been able to help me use and play with, to kind of just sort of all add to her ghostliness.

BE: Well, I guess along the same lines, but for all of you, what’s your favorite aspect of your character to play?

LC: I love Annie’s energy. I think she’s always looking for the bright side, and she’s positive. And for a ghost and someone who’s dead, she’s really, really optimistic. And I like that energy about her. She’s always able to…

JH: And a little sneaky.

LC: A little bit. (Laughs)

JH: But in a cute way.

LC: In a very cute way, yeah.

AT: Well, I think with Mitchell, he’s just…he’s flawed, you know? He’s a troubled soul, and he’s an addict, you know? He wants to be a good person and he wants to live a life that he considers, you know, moral. And he wants to address those issues, as opposed to someone like Herrick, who just doesn’t care anymore, you know? He wants to completely embody what he represents, and he’s happy with that journey, too. But I think Mitchell just wants to get on a positive road. So, essentially, you’re dealing with someone who’s incredibly flawed that wants to take the right road. So I guess it’s his courage and his bravery and his…yeah, yeah, it’s interesting, you know? It wouldn’t be as interesting if I was playing a vampire that was just after the blood lust all the time. That would get incredibly boring, you know. This is a huge journey for Mitchell, and it will always be a struggle. You know, if we go to Series Three, I can bet he’d still be struggling with it. I don’t think it’s ever anything that he is going to completely overcome. So that’s interesting, and it’s cool to kind of play somebody that’s always teetering on possibly falling back off the wagon again and stuff. You know, it’s exciting.

BE: There’s a Britishness about it, too, in that he’s kind of going, “I really feel bad about this, but…”

AT: Yeah, yeah. “Let me apologize, I’m a vampire.” But that’s what makes him real. We all know people like that, you know, that have those kinds of problems and issues, and they deal with them. So we have to feel different about it, and it’s just complex. There’s so much there to play with Mitchell, you know?

RT: I like George’s neurosis. I think it’s fun to play, and I like the fact that they allow me to just go up and down the scale tonally in my voice. He’s just a great stuttery, nervous character, and as an actor, to play somebody who’s kind of a bit twitchy is…it’s rewarding.

JH: You want to help him, but you don’t know how.

RT: Yeah, he needs help, completely.

BE: You had a great spotlight in the second episode with one of your fellow werewolves. Was that fun to play against somebody who was going through the same kind of things and yet knew more about it than yourself?

RT: Yeah, yeah, it’s great. I mean, every script we read is just…before we get it, like, you start and we don’t know what’s happened at the end of the show. Like, we’ve only read one and two and three. You just get so excited about what’s coming up, and that’s fresh. Yeah, it was brilliant, and Dean Lennox Kelly is a wicked actor. This story line…it’s just great dialogue that you don’t really get as an actor a lot. It’s a rarity when you’re given something and you’re getting these words to say, which you love saying. And the scenes, which you completely go, “Oh, I love this.” I really like the dynamic, and you work with people you love. It’s just a gift. This show is a complete gift, basically.

BE: Are the transformations a pain?

RT: Are they a pain? Sometimes.

AT: Quite literally, sometimes.

RT: Yeah, I have to wear contacts, and I’ll have the makeup put on. I’ve got very sensitive skin, so it flares up every now and then. And my teeth…yeah, it’s a long process, and I’m screaming my head off. But, again, that’s rewarding. The compliments I have had on them, the transformation stuff, has been great. And also Philip, who did the animatronics and puppetry of it all, is brilliant. So that again…I think that’s such an important aspect of the show, is the transformations. You don’t really see…you see Annie sort of disappearing towards the end, but…Annie is constantly there, Mitchell has teeth, and your eyes are done on CGI.

AT: Yeah, but it’s so rarely. We’ve only done it a couple of times, which is great, too, because we don’t rely on it. We don’t play on it. Again, it’s just something that you sort of feel as you watch the show, it just has to happen. It’s not something like you get bored of seeing or you feel like the show is trying to show off. Essentially, it comes down to the characters. That’s what’s so beautiful about it.

RT: The way our transformation is, is like completely exposing, and they wrote it as that. So if I went half-heartedly, if I was, like, going “ahhhhh” while doing it, I think it could really shift the balance of the piece. Do you know what I mean? You have to commit to it and go for it, because every bone in your body is breaking and all your insides are changing. And it’s the most immense pain you will ever feel. If the audience doesn’t believe that, then I think that’s failure.

JH: Was it crazy watching it?

RT: Was it what?

JH: Was it crazy watching the transformation onscreen?

RT: It’s weird when you watch it back on the monitor because we have…you can have playback there, and I like doing that. (To the others) Do you like doing that? Yeah, I like watching back afterwards to judge and say, “Oh, yeah, I got away with that.” But they have these two heads, these animatronics heads. So there’s me and there’s one that’s more like me, but they can push bits out. And then there’s another one which is like me, the final wolf. So when you watch it back on the monitor, you’re, like, “God, yeah,” and then you’re, like, “Oh, that isn’t me I’m watching.” That was really weird. Yeah, it is strange. I think my mum finds it strange, doesn’t like it. There’s a scene where I get…probably a spoiler, but I get beaten up, and Mitchell rescues me. That’s how he and George met. George has been attacked by a load of other vampires, and Mitchell broke it up, and they became, like, this codependent friendship/relationship, like “The Odd Couple.” I get beaten up in this scene, and my mum said, “I can’t watch you, I’m almost really upset.” Because, basically, she sees…you know, I’m in character, and I think, “Mum, it’s not me, it’s George.” But she sees her son getting the shit kicked out of him, and she doesn’t like it.

BE: In the first episode, the vampire attack out in the alleyway was pretty gory. Did you hear back from viewers or BBC Three about the goriness?

AT: Well, this is what you were just talking about. It’s that scene, isn’t it?

LC: No, no.

RT: That was a different one.

AT: Oh, right, yeah. Well, yeah, that was pretty gruesome, yeah. Yeah, (Annabel Scholey) did an amazing job. I remember that.

RT: She was great.

AT: She was amazing. No, we didn’t hear back whether anything was too gory. I think that they are the boundaries we can push on the show. I mean, naked bodies as well. And, Lenora, you get naked a bit too. I don’t know if there are any boundaries for this show. Maybe next season will get completely crazy with that.

RT: It’s suspected, I suppose. The audience would expect to see blood and guts.

AT: And loads of it, and that kind of thing. But I remember watching that on the playback and being quite moved, actually. She was amazing in that scene. It was actually a tough day to shoot that one as well, we were pushed for time and stuff.

RT: Yeah, we shot that scene in like 15 minutes.

AT: That’s right. But it’s fine because the blood tastes really good. It’s minty. Treacley and sweet.

BE: And, lastly, who is the coolest person you’ve heard from that’s a “Being Human” fan?

RT: Alan Bennett liked it.

LC: Stephen Fry.

AT: Stephen Fry! I’m a huge fan of Stephen Fry. I love him. He’s a man of incredibly high intellect, and if he likes our show, I think that’s a huge thumbs-up for us. So, yeah, I think that was a big one for me.

LC: Absolutely.

RT: Russell T. Davies is right here.

LC: Oh, gosh, yeah Russell.

RT: He loves it, so that’s always good. A lot of writers have said they’re fans. You don’t really realize who’s seen it because you just do these shows and they go out and you don’t realize who’s watching it. But if someone I run into like that goes, “Oh, I’ve seen it and it’s great,” you’re, like, “Wow, I really respect you, and that’s really lovely. Thank you.”

LC: We’ve had an incredible response from people within the industry, which is always, I think for actors, where you really start to feel, you know, touched by those compliments.


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