Home SF+ Horror Being Human – Writer Toby Whithouse

Being Human – Writer Toby Whithouse

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Russell Tovey, Lenora Chichlow and Aidan Turner © BBC

Writer Toby Whithouse’s unique drama Being Human looks into the double-lives of three characters, George (Russell Tovey), Mitchell (Aidan Turner) and Annie (Lenora Chichlow) – a werewolf, vampire and ghost – trying to ‘live’ normal lives despite their dark secrets.


How did this concept come about?

Russell Tovey, Lenora Chichlow and Aidan Turner © BBC
Russell Tovey, Lenora Chichlow and Aidan Turner © BBC

I’ve always been a sci-fi fantasy fan ever since I was a kid. The development process for this show was very circuitous and very frustrating. It started off as a straight drama about a group of college graduates who buy a house together and, consequently, I was hired.

Because we had a lot of difficulty finding a story for this, I suggested rather in a kamikaze fashion, ‘We could always turn George into a werewolf,’ and then it just seemed like a natural progression to give way to characters where we were already pointing, that Mitchell could become a vampire and Annie could become a ghost. That’s the condensed version of a process that took about two years. And it was incredibly fortuitous that it happened to be happening at a time when vampire stock is very high.

Why do you think vampires are so intriguing to people?

I genuinely don’t know. I wish I did know because then I’d be able to predict what the next fad is going to be. I think they’re iconic character, I think they’re aimed at a particularly teenage and adolescent audience, and I think there’s something about the kind of isolation and disenfranchisement that you inevitably feel as a teen that makes the vampire, who is remote and beautiful, an appealing image [to them].

Was the show easy to cast?

The original cast line-up in the pilot © BBC
The original cast line-up in the pilot © BBC

We had a pilot in the UK which Russell was in. Then we recast when we went to the series. Lenora was the first and only person we saw for Annie. We saw endless people for Mitchell. I admit I would be sent the discs because I didn’t have time to go to the casting. I would be looking at them and making written notes.

I used to be an actor, so I should have more understanding, but I was writing, ‘No, fat, stupid, looks like a big midget. Then when I saw Aidan, I just wrote, ‘This is Mitchell,’ because there he was, absolutely complete and fully formed. In terms of the chemistry between the actors, you just never know how it’s going to work. It was the most unbelievable good fortune, when the three of them were put together, instantly they just fell into place, and it was as if the relationships and the friendships had existed for a long time.

George’s werewolf transformation is reminiscent of American Werewolf in London, was that a big influence on you?

Werewolf transformation © BBC
Werewolf transformation © BBC

Yeah, undoubtedly. I think also what was interesting about that film tonally was the mixture of horror and comedy. No one had seen anything done like that before. Horror films had been horror films, and comedy films had been comedy films. So tonally, I think that was an influence.

Why didn’t you do the transformation with CGI?

In regard to the prosthetics and animatronics, when we did the pilot for Being Human, one of the first decisions we had to make was how we were going to do the transformation scenes. The budget for the pilot was tight, to say the least. And so consequently, we just couldn’t afford to do CGI. I think had we had an extra couple of hundred thousand [pounds], we probably would have gone down the CGI route.

So the choice to do it through animatronics and prosthetics was more budgetary than any kind of decision about a kind of identity for the show. Having said that, I think it was incredibly fortuitous. It’s just so tangible and real, and I’m incredibly pleased we went that route.