by Jessica Naki
Sam Witwer is one busy guy. Not only is he the lead role in the very popular Syfy series ‘Being Human’ playing the character Aidan, but, as you will read below, is taking on the role of Darth Maul in the popular Cartoon Network series ‘Star Wars: The Clone Wars’. His previous acting credits include ‘Battlestar Galactica’, ‘Smallville’ and ‘Dexter’. He also played the role of Galen Marek, or Starkiller, in the also popular, ‘Star Wars: Force Unleashed’ video games.
I was lucky enough to get some time to talk with him in regards to everything mentioned, above. For someone as popular as he is, he was very humble, down to earth and easy to talk to. A lifelong ‘Star Wars’ fan, he’s very excited to be a part of the series, and getting to live out every ‘Star Wars’ fan’s dream. If you’ve played ‘Force: Unleashed’ and you want to see a third one, you’ll see what he thinks about that. The games are still wildly popular.
‘Being Human’ is increasingly growing in popularity, with Season 3 being signed on right after the 4th episode aired. Witwer plays Aidan, a vampire trying to lead a clean life of a vampire by not drinking live blood. We see his struggle each week along with his friends Josh, who is a werewolf and Sally, who is a ghost.
Here’s what Sam had to say when we chatted:
Do you still get to perform with The Crashtones?
As for performance, unfortunately I don’t have a lot of time for that, and neither do a lot of my band members. We still talk about it, we still want to do it, but yeah it’s been crazy the past few years in terms of finding any time to do anything
Now was music the first love, or was acting?
Music was the first love, thats what I was doing in high school instead of homework and stuff like that, and thats what I would spend all of my time doing and kind of what I thought I would be doing with any free time for the rest of my life. The acting thing kind of happened personally on accident. By some strange weirdness my parents convinced me to audition for Juliard, for drama, and I got in and I didn’t know what the hell that meant, but before I had a chance to figure that out, next thing you know I’m studying drama in New York.
So with your Chicago background how was it moving to New York?
It was fine. Actually I didn’t get to see a lot of New York, or at least as much as I liked, as I was pretty much just locked in a room and taught all kinds of strange techniques. It was from 7 in the morning until 10 at night, so that’s pretty much all we ever did. I was recently just in New York and talking with a buddy of mine, and we went back to Juliard and it just blew my mind how much time we spent there.
Did you like Juliard then?
There were good things and there were bad things about it, certainly. I think some of the instructors there, some of the professors were absolutely amazing, really really great people. There was other stuff that wasn’t necessarily for me, some of the techniques and stuff were not necessarily something I was really anxious to apply myself to. So it was a little bit of both definitely.
Being a lifetime ‘Star Wars’ fan, and not knowing that acting was going to be something you were going to be doing, was it exciting to do Galen Marek’s voice and get involved with the series?
Absolutely, yeah, it was really a huge surprise. That came up cause when they created the concept art it happened to look a hell of a lot like me and they were casting not just for voice but for looks, they cast it like they would cast a movie, and the wonderful thing about that is that they wanted a guy that happened to look exactly like me. In fact on my wall I have the concept art of the character, before I was hired, and I have him next to the final version of the character and they both look entirely alike. So yeah, never in my wildest dreams did I think I would be able to contribute to ‘Star Wars’ and I’ve really been able to continue that with working in The Clone Wars.
So Darth Maul isn’t actually in the series yet, correct?
Yes, that is correct.
It looks like he debuts in the episode titled “Revenge” from what it looks like.
Is it “Brothers” or “Revenge”?
From what it looks like on IMDB, “Revenge” is the first episode. But it doesn’t give me exact dates, so I’m not sure exactly.
It’s one of those two. It’s actually coming up in the next few weeks [this interview took place on February 15th] and I’ve gotten to see it, but I haven’t gotten to see the complete finished version of it. I’m really looking forward to it though.
So what was it like, getting to voice Darth Maul of all characters?
Really really incredible. That sort of came about, ‘The Force Unleashed’ served essentially as an audition for ‘The Clone Wars’ for the part of The Son in the Mortis episodes where characters go and meet different aspects of the force and The Son represents the Dark Side of the Force. Those were 3 really exciting episodes to do. So after I worked on the Mortis episodes, I was kind of in tight with the ‘Clone Wars’ crew and it would air and they would show me cool stuff and one day Dave Filoni [Series Director] calls me up and says “I need to ask you something” and I was just like “Yeah man, what’s up?” and that’s when he asked me “Can you play Darth Maul?” But what he was asking was “Is this something you would do a good job with?” and of course when someone asks you that you have to say “Yes” and then worry about whether you can do it later. Unless you know you can’t do it. So he said “well listen, I want you to play Darth Maul, I’ve wanted you to play Darth Maul..” he expressed that there were directions that they are going to go with the character that specifically he wanted me for. So I assured him that I can do it and we just started talking about the character. I was just really excited because what they end up doing with him, it’s not only really absolutely fascinating and interesting but it’s also a lot different than what I think people are expecting. That’s what is really satisfying about it, that it’s a really good story to tell.
Is Darth Maul’s character going to be explored more?
I think they said publicly that Darth Maul’s character isn’t just a one shot, that he may actually be around for a bit. So I don’t think I’m spoiling too much by saying he’ll be sticking around, I mean I’m already done, we first started recording Darth Maul.. I want to say a year ago. I won’t tell you how many episodes I’ve done, but I’ve done a lot of them. It’s really really great stuff coming up. Let me tell you the scripts were fantastic.
As a ‘Star Wars’ fan, the moment they say they’re going to bring Darth Maul back you worry. You go well, well okay. Friends of mine and I would speak about how we wish to be back in the movies and we thought it would be really interesting to get into the psychology of the character whose kind of missed out on the Clone Wars but was supposed to be a part of it, was trained by the emperor and had to miss all that. We talk about all that, about how it would be really wonderful if we could come out with something in the movies dealing with that. The cool thing was that all the things we talked about wound up being relevant to these scripts when they finally came out.
It’s funny, because it’s like you and your buddies talking about what you want to see happen, and then a script comes out and you’re like ‘great great this is already something we’ve talked about lets do this’ It’s all the stuff me and my friends talked about in terms of what we would have done if we could bring it back. Except maybe it’s a little bit cooler. These episodes are kind of shocking. For example, I have a 4 year old nephew who is just getting into this stuff, and I don’t know if this is something he could watch, its quite of dark, so probably a little older and there is some really scary stuff.
Is it hard to adapt to voice work as opposed to live action?
Not really. The hardest thing for me is to get used to not overlapping with other actors by speaking when their speaking or speaking when they haven’t quite finished their last breath, because with voice you want to keep it all separate. You’re still in the same room recording with them, but you want to keep separation between the audio takes, between James Arnold Taylor [Obi-Wan Kenobi] saying something and me saying something. Whereas in film, a little bit of that you can use. In fact, its preferable, you kind of want to talk over each other, but in the case of voice work, in terms of characters talking over each other that’s something they’ll do in editing, rather than you do it in the studio. But other than that, you don’t have to worry about what you look like. I just look like a mess when I go in for these characters.
I was talking to Dave Filoni about this the other day; there are certain roles that he likes to hire film actors for, and the reason is that there is extended knowledge that they bring to the role that sometimes voice over actors sometimes don’t quite get or understand because it’s just not in their experience right? And then on the other hand you don’t get a film actor you get a really experienced voice actor because they bring a different skill set, and he explained to me that Darth Maul is a character that we really need a film read on, rather than something more animated.
What do you think drives Darth Maul the most?
One word: Revenge. That’s what drives this character. What’s great about it though is that it’s a multifaceted revenge, and you’re not exactly going to know what I’m talking about until you see some of the later episodes, and I’m talking about next seasons episodes. But it starts off as a very simple thing, if someone hurts you you wanna go and hurt them back, but it gets much more complicated once he starts putting that very simple plan into motion, and then that plan gets more and more complicated in terms of what is the perfect revenge? It’s not enough to get the revenge, it has to be perfect and really big and satisfying.
There has been talks of a live action ‘Star Wars’ series, would you be interested in coming in as the Starkiller for it?
I would love to. Anything that they would want me to do, I would be happy to. They are basically trying to make it for a reasonable amount of money, because George’s [Lucas] standards for this, with it being live action, he wants it to look like the movies, and that’s a pretty tall order to do on a television schedule and television budget. On the other hand, ‘Clone Wars’, the production values keep going up and up and up and that is on a television budget, so I feel that given more time, the technology can mature to a point where they could get things done for a reasonable amount of money. I’m just hoping that by the time they get around to it ‘Being Human’ will be wrapping so I’ll really get the chance to really make a play for it.
Its sounds like that would be natural to do with the character Galen Marek to explore his character post “The Force Unleashed”.
It’s really up to George, I know that the, as I understand it, a lot of the scripts have actually been written for the live action series. So we’ll see, we’ll see what he has in mind.
So I have to say, congratulations for being renewed for a third season for ‘Being Human’!
Thank you, it was really nice, I think it was after we aired the 4th episode of the second season that they renewed us, so that was a nice surprise. We all expected, when you’re a company like NBC Universal you can take your time, but it was really wonderful that they could pull the trigger so fast cause that allows us to get moving quicker. And to have more time to get things done right.
You had to wait in between Season 1 and Season 2 for the renewal correct?
No we heard about Season 2 nearing the end of our run for Season 1. Maybe like around episode 9. In this case we knew right after episode 4. Which was pretty great.
When you were filming Season 2, did you feel it trending towards renewal without it even being aired?
Oddly, yeah. You don’t want to be over-confident about it. I felt like we were going to get renewed. I don’t know how we felt when we were shooting it, but now that we’ve seen a bunch of the episodes I felt very confident about it. I was just didn’t know it would happen that fast.
Did you guys celebrate?
We were actually a little bit separate. Me and Meaghan [Rath, who plays Sally] are here in L.A., but we’re both very busy and then Sammy [Huntington, who plays Josh] is in New Hampshire, because he just had his second child. We usually all watch the episodes together, me and Meaghan will watch the episodes together, but we’re mostly just talking to each other on the phone.
You are all very close?
We’re all extremely close. For example, after we finished shooting Season 1 we all went to Hawaii together. You can imagine, you know you’re with these people 24/7, you know, sometimes for 15 or 16 hours a day, and then after you’re done, your like “Hey, lets go to Hawaii” and a bunch more times. We see each other all the time. Why break that up? I like to think that viewing audience can tell that we actually like each other. It’s not just something we put on.
You’ve been a part of a lot of big name shows such as ‘Battlestar Galactica’, ‘Smallville’ and ‘Dexter’, with Aidan being your first lead role, what has that made you learn about yourself?
I guess that I’m pushy. I think I’ve always been opinionated. In fact, speaking of ‘Battlestar’, they taught me a lot of that. David Eick, one of the executive producers of the show, said to me that “Alright man, here’s the rule. Do [take] one as written, and then say whatever you want. We want your take on the character, we want you to improvise we want you to make stuff up” and that kind of led me along the path toward wanting to creatively contribute other than just saying lines.
When you’re number one on the cast list you have more latitude to do just that. I did it a little with ‘Smallville’ as well, and that wasn’t because I was going to be the guy who was there for just for like a year, however what allowed me to push it a little bit was the fact that they offered me the role, rather than me auditioning for it over and over again and begging for it. Since they had sought me out and offered it to me, I thought “Great, I can kinda bring my own experience into this and make this as good as I can”. And then with ‘Being Human’, with being number one on the cast list you have space when it comes to this. And that’s not to say the scripts aren’t wonderful. Our writers are extremely good, as you well know if you’ve watched the show. But in terms of bringing a little more to it, or putting more of yourself in it, or figuring out what would be a little fun gag here and there. Or having big creative discussions, you’re invited to do that if you’re one on the cast list.
So how do you connect with Aidan? Do you have similarities?
I’m friendlier then him I think, we have the same hair. I think I smile more than he does. Really, when you’re creating any role you’re chosing a piece of yourself and using that to create the character. If you didn’t I don’t think it would come off right, I think it would be artificial. With Aidan, I think I go with a more soft spoken version of myself. We dress similarly, I don’t have a leather jacket or anything, but we both wear jeans and hoodies.
Do you see yourself in every role that you do, or is Aidan specific to that? Did Crashdown or Davis Bloom have connection to you?
What’s funny is Crashdown I was told, which if you watch the reinvented ‘Battlestar’, see what you think of about this, see if I got it right, but what I was told with Crashdown is they wanted a cross between Han Solo and Bill Paxton from ‘Aliens’. So that’s what I went for, I kept the voice kind of closer to Han Solo and some of the energy towards Bill Paxton. Crashdown was originally hired to be the comic relief on ‘Battlestar’. I don’t think a lot of people know that. I think that was before people realized that this isn’t a very funny show, outside of Balta’s owning Six’s, there’s not a lot of comedy here. And there shouldn’t be. But this is before they knew that, they hired me to be comic relief, and there was a lot of really funny scenes that were never shot because well, it didn’t really fit the show. So, it was really kind of a funny thing to sort of navigate as people were trying to flesh out what is really appropriate for the show.
There’s that. And then the Neil Perry character in ‘Dexter’ was just goofy. I just went goofy for that character until he turned into Kevin Spacey from ‘Seven’ when I had to be as centered and frightening as possible. That was an important role for me because before then, all anyone would have for me, anyone would ever really hire me for is thugs and kind of tough guys and stuff and so when it came across, with the ‘Dexter’ role, when they were looking for a squirrely computer nerd, or at least thats what the character description had said, and I mean ‘Dexter’ hadn’t aired yet, so I didn’t know what it was supposed to be, I just knew I wanted to play a computer nerd, so I got a bunch of loose fitting clothes and bought some glasses. I really wanted to do it no matter what. When I found out later it was this really cool and threatening role, it was an added bonus. Certainly nothing I knew about when auditioning, they weren’t telling anyone what the point of that character was until I was arriving on set.
Did you have to audition for Aidan?
Aidan was an audition. That was basically a situation where it was the same casting director as ‘Smallville’, and I guess they had read like a few hundred guys or so I’m told, and basically that casting director asked ‘Why hadn’t we seen Sam Witwer yet’, so they called me up they had me in and I came in and eventually booked it. They were very cool throughout the audition process. For these TV shows you’re in and out, you’re auditioning several times. In this case the audition, they were pretty clear that it was going to be me, and they found different ways of telling me, including eventually just telling me. So that was one of those things where the pressure was taken off. They were very clear about what their intentions were.
Does that make things easier to do the audition then?
Absolutely, you go into the screen test you just think ‘oh, well this is mine.’ and so long as I can speak I can have the role. As long as I can walk and talk I’ll be fine.
Do you ever have those moments where you think you’re going to?
Not recently, not really, when I first started yes all the time. But in this case, well okay, they said it’s mine, they could be lying, but I don’t see how that helps them, so I just went in and had fun with it.
So for Aidan the first season was fighting the darker nature, to become the man he was prior to Bishop entering his life. Do we see that affect his relationship with Josh and Sally more in Season 2?
Yes, and I don’t think that it’s spoiling too much, because he basically fails. In the first season the smartest thing he did, the metaphor we play with is drug addiction, and we make no secret of that, and one of the smartest things he does is he stays away from his old drug buddies, because he wants to go entirely clean. Well in this season he can’t, so we slowly but surely see old personality traits creep back into Aidan and his demeanor. We literally see, through flashbacks, other versions of this character. Nastier versions. And then as time goes on you see him start doing some of those things, in present time.
Do we get more of Henry’s back story? We see his betrayal, especially in episode 4.
We definitely get more of Henry’s back story, there’s an interesting theme this year about parenting. Mother and Suren, the daughter, but then you also have Father and Son, on the Aidan and Henry side. And you get to see how those two parental relationships relate to each to other, how they compare and contrast and also what they have in common. So it’s interesting stuff.
Have they already started writing Season 3? I personally haven’t seen the UK version, is there a lot of connection between the US and the UK version?
This season no, last season we were adapting the show, right, so we started in a very similar place. Then we followed the structure of their first season story, but they did it in six episodes and we did it in 13, so there are a lot of places that are different. They have become very different. They started off very similar but they proceed differently, and the characters are different. In the second season, we didn’t draw off of their second season at all.
Did you draw any of Aidan from the original series at all, or is Aidan completely your design?
That’s me. I made the choice to not watch any of the British series while we were shooting the first season, because I wanted to establish my own character. But after we finished the first season I saw everything that they had done and I thought they had done a fantastic job. I love the show.
Do you get to hear a lot of back and forth of the US version versus the UK version?
Yeah, people have their favorites. I wish people were a little less competitive about it. The people who I’ve talked to enjoy both of them and then have a personal favorite. I think it’s about personal choice. I was at this restaurant and I got a tap on the shoulder and this guy comes up and tells me “Hey, I’m sorry to bother you, but I just wanted to tell you I’m a huge fan of the series and I’ve never missed an episode and I wanted to let you know” and I’m looking at this guy and I’m like “great, okay, what do you say to Alice Cooper when he comes up to you?”… and I’m sitting there slackjawed, but we started talking about the series and he watched the British series and for whatever reason relates more to our series, probably some more cultural touchstones that he can relate more readily to when it comes to our series.
I was having a talk with Simon Pegg about this very issue, and his series ‘Spaced’ was very nearly remade, and that whole plan was canceled. I’m very happy about that, it was a terrible idea. His ‘Spaced’ was a fantastic show and I don’t know that it needs to be remade, but the biggest problem was the fact no one had told him. They were advertising it as “From Simon Pegg” and he had no idea about that. It’s not the best way to go about things, kind of rudely done. But Simon, I was talking to him about remakes and stuff like that, and he was making the argument that remakes in some cases are a really good thing, for the reasons I was saying, for the cultural touchstone, the cultural humor and eccentricities that belong to Americans versus British. So he thought there was a really good justification for that. And he even said he’s not against someone remaking ‘Spaced’, as long as they do it gracefully. As long as they call them up and get them in on it, and that’s what happened with ‘Being Human’. One of the executive producers on our show is Toby Whithouse who created the British series, and he doesn’t necessarily work on our show but he gets credit because it’s his, and they were consulted and they were in on it. They were receiving our dailies for a while, we would be visited by Rob Pursey, another co-creator of the series. He came to our set, and it was really nice to hear from him how much he felt like our show was working, and it was such a pleasure to have him come all the way out to Montreal to visit us, I mean that was really special.
Have you ever had moments other than Alice Cooper where someone approaches you and you just don’t know what to say?
Yeah, a few. The Alice Cooper thing was the biggest one. When I’m not working I try to stay home. I just want to be out of the public eye and not be doing anything, but I’ve had a few instances like that. I met Simon Pegg at a mutual friends place and we just ended up talking about ‘Force: Unleashed’ because he was a big fan of that, and I’m obviously a big fan of his work.
Do you ever get used to the people who fawn over you and ask you to marry them?
Tell anyone who asks me to marry them, yes. I will marry every one of them. It’s always an adjustment. It’s flattering certainly. I appreciate, that people are enjoying my work. I got into acting because I enjoy it and I enjoy storytelling, but more over if you’re not entertaining anyone then your job becomes very pointless. I’m very happy that people enoy the show and enjoy the work. I’m thrilled that their enthusiastic.
Have you been able to do comic-cons and fan signings?
Yes we have, we do it as a group which is great because I think we’re funnier. But yes, yes we have and for exactly the reason I was just telling you, I feel like it’s important to connect with the fans because they are who we are doing it for and it’s important.
So successful shows obviously come with other avenues like, movies, toys, graphic novels and the like, would you like to see something like that with ‘Being Human’?
Sure, absolutely. I know that there has been talk of something like that. I don’t know if those plans have been put into motion yet, but there has been talk. The question with that is how do you do a comic with ‘Being Human’, when do you do it or how do you do it? If it takes place before the series, it can really only have Aidan and Josh, before they moved in with each other. If it takes place during the series they have to figure out a way to weave it in to what is going on. Or do you do a side story that takes place in between the season or something. That would be really fun to see.
Would you be interested in doing ‘Being Human’ action figures?
Oh absolutely. I have a bunch of the ‘Star Wars’ ones, so that’s really cool. Certainly I would love to see an Aidan action figure. I think [Sammy] Huntington needs to have an action figure, that poor guy.
With everything that’s going on, how do you wind down at the end of the day?
You had talked about the music thing earlier, and I really miss having large periods of time where I can really structure it however I want, where I really don’t have anything to do. These days it’s not really like that, there’s always something I have to do, a trip I have to go on, just be out of town, whatever, and to wind down I like to catching up on TV on Blu-Ray, I play a video game here and there, reading, anything that kinda, where there’s no stakes, where you don’t have to think.
What are you watching these days?
I just started watching ‘Boardwalk Empire’. Just burned through ‘Breaking Bad’, and obviously ‘Clone Wars’ which is just blowing my mind. We were re-watching ‘Battlestar’, that’s fun. Well, is it fun to watch or is it good to watch? I would make the argument it’s good to watch. It’s a damn good series, you know, it isn’t like, I’m trying to think of a good series to compare. Okay, ‘Star Trek’. The tone is a little bit broader, and the characters are a little bit more pleasant to be around. ‘Battlestar’ is pretty doom and gloom all the way through, but its exquisitely well done. It’s totally worth revisiting, and its a great experience and it’s really exciting, but they’re not exactly characters that you want to have on in the background while you’re cleaning the house you know? Unless you want to be weeping you know.
So since you’ve obviously watched it, what did you think with the whole twist with the Cylons?
I was into it, I thought they did a good job with ending it. I mean, there were elements I was a little bit confused by, but hey, its a fantastic series, it’s such an achievement that I can overlook the ending being entirely what I wanted. I think for the most part they did a great job.
So did you get to play ‘Force: Unleashed’ and play as yourself?
Oh yeah, I played the hell out of that game.
So you obviously enjoyed it then?
Oh yes, a lot.
So there was a rumor of a third game, which I didn’t know was true or not so I didn’t want to ask, but do you know anything about it?
Basically it’s not being produced right now, but could it be in the future? Yes. Especially because ‘Force: Unleashed’ 1 and 2 were extremely successful, so it wouldn’t make a hell of a lot of sense to not go back and finish the stories, especially since it was left off at a cliff hanger. I think the idea, I think if people want it sooner rather than later they should make that note to LucasArts, because LucasArts you know are just like every entertainment company, they have the things that they are doing now and the things they are planning on doing in the future, and really a lot of it depends on various plans that were set into motion a long time ago like ‘The Old Republic’, so yeah if people want to see it sooner rather than later, write LucasArts, make some noise about it. It’s not something that they would hold against you, because those projects did a hell of a lot for the company.
Have you gotten to play ‘Star Wars: The Old Republic’ at all?
Oh yes, yes I have. More than I would have liked to. I’m not necessarily a ‘World of Warcraft’ kind of guy but I’m definitely having fun with ‘The Old Republic’.
Any closing remarks?
The ‘Star Wars’ stuff is dark and awesome and wonderful. I was just blown away when I saw it. These last two episodes, really the last four are just knockouts. The last two, specifically, are possibly the best that this show has ever done. These are not my words, these are the words of a lot of people who work on it. I’m biased, but I don’t think people are going to be let down. I think they are going to be mind blown in terms of what is happening. I don’t think people are going to be disappointed, and I say that as a ‘Star Wars’ fan.
As for ‘Being Human’, if people are enjoying it now, basically the first five or six episodes are just setup, we really get moving in the last six episodes, so I’m really excited that people are enjoying it now, because it’s like “Oh, well the good ones are later.”
Witwer does not have a Twitter, but he has a Facebook page. The one listed here is the official page, run by him. Don’t let the impostors fool you!
‘Being Human’ airs on Monday nights on Syfy at 9/8c, and ‘The Clone Wars’ airs on Saturdays on Cartoon Network. Catch Sam Witwer playing Darth Maul on March 14th. Don’t forget to make some noise directed at LucasArts if you want a third installment of ‘The Force Unleashed’!