BUZZWORTHY: SAM WITWER

Sam Witwer is a man on a roll. The Emmy-nominated artist channels the heroic Aidan, a brooding vampire on the Syfy hit dramatic series, Being Human. Well known for his popular turn as Lt. Crashdown of Battlestar Galactica, Witwer is also a music man, stretching himself on a journey to artistic fulfillment with his band The Crashtones. We settle in to find out more.

'BEING HUMAN' STAR: SAM WITWER

THE ESSENTIALS…

HOMEGROWN OR FOREIGN WOMEN: At risk of sounding disloyal to my own kind, Canadian women…well, they just seem a bit nicer in my experience. By nicer, I mean less of them have tried to kill me!

STYLE FILE: Jeans. T-Shirt. Leather Jacket. Yes, I’m a greaser.

AN OLD FASHIONED OR A GOOD ‘OL BEER: Let’s go with IBC Root Beer.

THE GREAT ESCAPE: Skywalker Ranch. Yeah, they actually let me stay there and I do every year after completing a season of Being Human. It is there that I relearn how to sleep.

ACTOR THAT MOST INFLUENCED YOU: I wouldn’t know where to begin…Humphrey Bogart. Harrison Ford. Buster Crabbe. And let’s sprinkle a little Jimmy Stewart in there because … hey, who said nice guys can’t be bada**es. Man was a bomber pilot.

LAST TWEET: “I adore fruit. If only it could be more like paper” -Jonathan Fruitrollup 1863

GUILTY PLEASURE: Those newfangled “Video Games”

DREAM DINNER GUEST: Abe Lincoln and his date Catwoman.

ON A FRIDAY NIGTH I’D FIND YOU…Passed out on my floor with a bass guitar balanced precariously on my face.

YOU – IN 3 WORDS: Kick, Punch, Kiss.

HYDROGEN MAGAZINE: What kind of kid were you growing up in Chicago?

SAM WITWER: Long hair, beard sometimes. Ever seen Singles? I was Cliff.

HM: When did acting become the path for you and were your family on board from the get- go or were they thinking, get a 9-5 with insurance and dental?

SW: Those maniacs pushed me into it. As I said, I was Cliff. Lead singer of Citizen Dick…Or in my case, I was Stew (my middle name). Lead singer of LovePlumber. All I wanted was to get a small job somewhere and play with my band. My parents wanted me to go to college. My grades were not up to the task. This forced my parents to devise a strategy of “hey, pretend you’re an actor and try to get into college via drama divisions where they’ll give you a break for having crap grades.” I didn’t wanna do this, but they insisted I try.

Cut to me at auditions with ripped jeans and a t-shirt, sleeping on the floor when they called me in to interview. Cut to me saying things no one ever should in those interviews. Cut to me performing a Shakespeare monologue I’d learned that morning. Cut to me basically being a clueless but lucky punk who gets called out of high school 3rd period to receive a call from The Juilliard School of Drama to learn they accepted me.

So, weirdly enough, I was angry. This would be a major unexpected shift in my life. Well, maybe not entirely unexpected. When I was a little kid, I was convinced I was gonna be an actor. In any case, the surest way to provoke life to throw you a curve ball is to make plans for yourself. More often than not, those curve balls, while upsetting, lead you to exactly where you always needed to be.

HM: First impressions of Hollywood…

SW: Big blanket of smog. Big faces. Big excitement. Big loneliness. But I had this cool apartment and a chair and a sleeping bag. I was pretty psyched. When I got a couch, life couldn’t get any better.

HM: You walked into a very competitive industry where the joke is, you’re always working your last job. How do you deal with the uncertainty of it all?

SW: By having hobbies. I don’t ever get bored, because there’s no shortage of things I’d like to be doing. Making yourself a happy person makes waiting for the phone to ring a tolerable exercise. If all I could do was act, I’d be a crazy person by now. Well, crazy in a bad way…in a ‘badder’ way.

HM: Battlestar Galactica…you played Lt. Crashdown. Tell me about your experience being on that show with the kind of following it had.

SW: It was a nightmare! I saw the miniseries, wanted to contribute by guesting on an episode. Had my agent contact the casting director. Casting director came back with a series regular audition that, the moment I heard about it, I knew I’d have that role. Even three months after I’d been told I had not gotten the role, I knew I had the role…knew it was where I was going whether I liked it or not.

When they finally did call, I asked “Ok… what’s the role, though?” And they were quick to say, “Well, he’s comic relief for the show. He’s a major role and we have plans for him.”
A month later, we’re all learning that Battlestar Galactica is not meant to be a funny show, my parts are getting cut, and David Eick says to me, “Well, it’s not like he’s a major role or we have plans for him.”

So there I am. Trapped in Vancouver, under contract to a show that I desperately LOVE, but really doesn’t seem to care whether I’m there or not. I occasionally walk by in the background of a shot and say “Hi Steve.” I was climbing the walls of my Vancouver apartment feeling very taken advantage of. During all this discouraging crap, I started ad-libbing on set. Some of the actors like Aaron Douglas did…David Eick said I could, so I did too. These ad-libs would make it into episodes, which would embolden me.

After making my displeasure known to Ron Moore and David more than a few times, these two gentlemen made me a promise that they’d kill Crashdown in season 2. Well, that sounded fine to me since I couldn’t figure why they’d pay me series regular money to sit on my a**. I was bitter. I was angry. I was relieved. But mostly bitter and angry. In the many months leading up to Season 2, should someone have mentioned Battlestar or talked about how great it was, which often happened, I would quietly become furious. It was the hot new show and I had to hear about it all the time – the kinda feeling you get when the woman you love isn’t your woman and you have wrestle with that unfortunate reality.

Then something unexpected happened. I heard that Ron and Dave included me in not one, but THREE season 2 episodes. I didn’t know what that meant until I read the scripts. To my shock, Crashdown had screen time. Real events happened around this character. The third script in particular was a real surprise. The episode was called “Fragged” and it was the one that was to lead to Crashdown’s death. To my delight, the material was challenging. Really challenging. Like… mess-up-the-whole-episode-if-you-get-it-wrong challenging. So I was allowed to not just kiss this girl…I was full on taking her to bed.

Fast forward…it was tough stuff. But really so rewarding and fun. Ron and Dave have both made it privately and publicly known that they were pleased with what I did. Considering my admiration for the talent of those men, this was/is a big deal to me. And coming away from that, the ad-libbing thing has become part of how I work. Moreover, the need to take ownership creatively and contribute beyond what is normally expected from an actor is something that I took away from BSG. I love that damned show to death.

HM: Let’s talk about Being Human. When you first read the scripts for the show, what were your first thoughts?

SW: I opened the script. Read to page 3. Saw the word “Vampire” and then closed the script. I figured “there’s so many of these jerks, why in the hell would we need another one?” I turned down the audition. Then a smart friend of mine named Laura Terry got a hold of me and asked me “Are you turning down Being Human?”
“Yes.”
“Did you read the script?”
“Yes.”
“No you didn’t, you idiot. Read the script.”

So I cracked it again and felt very, very foolish. This wasn’t the story of a Vampire. This was the story of a drug addict who was trying to go clean. And a girl with social isolation issues, and a nerdy guy with anger issues. I just fell in love with the characters and the way that Vampire, Ghost, and Werewolf were characterized through real human issues. I’m a sucker for metaphor I guess. What I loved so much is that you could take the words Vampire, Werewolf and Ghost out of that script and it still worked. It still told the same story. So, I sheepishly called my agent and asked them to re-instate the audition and decided I was gonna make this damned thing happen.

HM: You play brooding vampire Aidan. What makes Aidan tick? Tell me about him…

SW: Aidan wants what you and I take for granted. He wants a normal life. He wants to take a girl on a date without worrying about hurting her. He wants to walk down the street among people without obsessing over when his next hit will be. He wants to sleep with a clean conscience. The show really is about how miraculous even the mundane elements of life are to a person who can never have that. He feels hopelessly broken. He’s mired in a life wrongly lived, and yet aspires to maybe find something worth living for. He catches glimpses of this every now and then, but his focus always seems to be pulled away by the reality of who and what he is.

My primary focus was always to play a drug addict. The minute I lose sight of that, is the moment the character doesn’t work. However, I AM playing a vampire…so… he’s also a serial murderer trying to straighten out. An ex-mafia hit man, if you will. I also have to give the sense, at times, that this guy has lived for 260 years. This requires a lot of fun and challenging things like reinventing the character every time we do a period-flashback. Really wanna make the point that a lot of who he is, is designed as a cover so that he might blend in with the rest of humanity. A vampire, by definition, is a liar, a parasite, a predatory force. Someone who feeds off the life force of others. Well, if you really wanna touch on what that would do to the human mind trapped in that condition, you read a lot about a lot of nasty stuff. You look to some pretty deep corners of the internet. Yeah…I’ve had some disturbed dreams.

What keeps it buoyant, though, is the humor in the show. It is not lost on those characters that a Vampire, a Werewolf and a Ghost living together in an apartment is entirely ridiculous. The fact that the show and the character can get quite funny really allows for dynamics. The show is a drama, but it’s the chemistry between these characters and the humor that happens that keeps the audience hoping these monsters will ultimately redeem themselves.

HM: Do you see any of yourself in Aidan or connect to him in any way? And is that necessary to bring a character to life?

SW: Well, I happen to look almost exactly like him. Also, I wear a leather jacket like he does. We are fairly different beyond that. Having said that, whenever you approach a character, you have to draw on some piece of yourself to bring that to life. I mean, I suppose you could fake it, but people tend to see right through that when there’s a camera shoved right up in your face. Aidan is me when I’m in certain moods, for sure. I’ve also endeavored to open him up more and more season by season. He’s closer to who I am now, than he was when he started. He smiles slightly more. He’s funnier. A little awkward at times. I like those vulnerabilities for the character, and frankly, if the character didn’t have vulnerabilities, no one would wanna watch him.

HM: People might not know that you are a Juilliard graduate and quite the musician. You perform in Los Angeles with your band The Crashtones. What kind of music would I be treated to at one of your shows and tell me about the role music plays in your life?

SW: Music is a wonderful thing, because I don’t have to ask anyone’s permission to do it. The technology is such that, for a $1000 investment, you could have a studio in your home that would cost you $100,000 back in 1996. Well, I’ve put a bit more money into it than that, but you get the point. My music is a method by which I tell some stories that maybe not everyone would like to hear or see on the stage or screen. As for the tone, it’s all over the place. It’s dark, it’s happy, it’s sad, it’s aggressive, it’s gentle, and it has a sense of humor. That element of humor, I think, is one of the most important things in just about everything I do artistically. But don’t take my word for it. Look up The Crashtones on Itunes…and then accept my sincere apologies. That second album WILL be finished this year.

HM: What’s a typical day off-set like for you?

SW: Well, right now I’m concentrating on doing as little as I can. I’m tired and I’m back home after being out of town for largely 7 months. I’m just rattling around my apartment trying to figure out what the last few months mean in the grand scheme of things. I’m writing music, I’m driving, I’m watching old movies. It’s a pretty happy place to be.

HM: What do your friends and family make of your success? What do you make of it all?

SW: I don’t think of myself as successful. I just enjoy what I do. I don’t get the sense that my friends and family see me as any different than when I was a foolish, but well intention punk high schooler. I don’t feel that different from that guy, anyway.

HM: What’s the long game?

SW: Doing the right thing because it’s right, and if you’re lucky, someone notices that. If not, then you at least have the dignity of living by a set of principles.

‘BEING HUMAN’ AIRS ON SYFY, MONDAY 9/8 c

PHOTOGRAPHY BY TIM SABATINO

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