George is a mild-mannered and geeky guy who works as a hospital porter – but for one night a month, when the moon is full, he turns into a flesh-hungry, predatory werewolf. Starring as George in BBC America’s new dramedy Being Human is Russell Tovey, who leapt to international acclaim with his role as Rudge in the West End and Broadway productions of the play The History Boys and its subsequent film adaptation. Co-starring with Tovey in the series is Aidan Turner, who plays a vampire named Mitchell and Lenora Crichlow, who portrays Annie, a ghost.
I spoke with Russell about his unusual role, on the terrace of the Langham Hotel in Pasadena, California, during the TV Critics tour.
Can you talk about the process of doing the werewolf make-up?
The longest bit was getting the casts done, you’d go under this plaster for 30 minutes at a time with only your nose holes clear, You do three or four of them where you hold different facial poses in them, and then when the actual day comes it takes about 40 minutes to put on and about an hour and 10 minutes to come off. I’ve got incredibly sensitive skin.
Are you claustrophobic, because I wouldn’t have been able to do that?
I didn’t think I was. I thought I was absolutely fine. I said, ‘Yeah, do it,’ and then suddenly after about the third one I was panicking inside and they kept asking, ‘Are you alright?’ And I said, ‘Yeah, I’m fine, let’s just get through it.’ You suffer for your art, don’t you?
Do you have to do it again now that Season Two is starting?
Oh God, I hope not, I think I’ve done enough now.
How long does it take to film the transformation sequences?
We do it all in a day. The way that the first series worked was every episode was a month, and there was a transformation in nearly every episode, so at the end of every two weeks they scheduled the transformation scene so that I had the first two weeks to do all the acting, and then I had a couple days off to rest my voice and chill out and get over the fact that I’ve just been naked and writhing around on the floor [he laughs].
What is the next season going to be like? They’re saying it might be a little more intense.
Yeah, it’s a lot darker and it’s two more episodes, eight instead of six. He’s in shock and denial at the beginning of the second series because he has killed someone, and that really transforms his character, which is brilliant to play. He’s a changed man and that’s challenging to play and also very exciting to take George to somewhere where people aren’t expecting him to go
Does it change your relationship with the other characters?
Yeah, the thing about George is both Annie and Mitchell are dead, but he’s a human being apart from when there’s a full moon, so for him his biggest fear is waking up to see that he’s killed someone, and next to him is a torso of a child or an adult. For a guy who just wants to be normal and average, that’s a huge head-screw, so he goes into complete denial and shock and it makes him behave in a real erratic way that tests his friends.
I understand there is going to be an American version of this show.
Apparently, yeah. I think they’re in talks about it. We’re just pleased that we got the opportunity for America to see us first. This is so British, but I think the show has an American quality about it, and people compare it to American shows, which is awesome. When I first got offered it the concept was amazing and my fear was it was so American, but we didn’t have the budget. Our track record of trying to make shows to compete with the American market, Sci-Fi especially, is not very successful I don’t think. But people compare it to American shows and America’s going, ‘It’s as good as our shows,’ which for us being British is awesome.
You recently went to Comic-Con, I know you were expecting nobody would be there for your panel.
I know, there were thousands in the room. We had a panel on Sunday, and the show began on Saturday night, and we walked out onto what we thought were going to be 300 people, and there were 5,000 screaming fans, and they were all very aware of what the show was. It was amazing.
Was it nuts there?
Oh, we loved it. They were all over us. It was a massive success. We didn’t realize the enormity and the respect for BBC America, but everybody loves it. I think Sci-Fi fans are the most loyal fans you’ll ever have. And the thing about this show is that you have this sci fi camp which is so loyal, but the show is so well written and so well observed, that you have other people coming into it wanting to watch a drama. Yeah, we happen to be a ghost, vampire and a werewolf, but it’s not something we celebrate, it just happens to be a consequence, and people really connect with these people just struggling with life – we’re like the Spice Girls, there’s something in all of us for someone.