Being Human Series Four – Toby Whithouse Interview

The vampire/werewolf/ghost house-share is back on telly this week – hurrah! We talk to showrunner Toby Whithouse

Being Human showrunner Toby Whithouse.

Toby was surprisingly chipper for a man who was trapped in the fridge.

Being Human returns to BBC Three on Sunday 5 February (9.00pm), and in SFX 218 (on sale now) we have an in-depth feature on the fourth series. However, we had plenty of exclusive interview material we couldn’t fit into the mag, so we thought we’d share some of it with you here, starting with creator/showrunner/writer Toby Whithouse. We kicked things off by discussing the aftermath of the dramatic climax to series three, which saw fan-favourite vampire Mitchell staked.

SFX: Was it always the principle that this show is about a werewolf, a vampire and a ghost, so you have to have that kind of line-up, or did you ever think, ‘Well, maybe this can go in a different direction now’?

Toby Whithouse: “Well, there was never any pressure from the channel to replicate the format, but it was something that we felt… I mean, arguably that’s what the show is. EastEnders is set in that square and although they’ll occasionally have excursions, you wouldn’t take them out of that precinct. And similarly with our show, the format is the format and ultimately even though there’ll be moments of flux nonetheless we’ll always return to what is the essential DNA of the show. But that was absolutely our choice.”

Obviously the loss of Mitchell is a big change – and there are others too. How do you get over a bump in the road like that? Misfits went through something similar with Robert Sheehan leaving.

“Losing Mitchell is the least of our problems, to be honest! I think that you just attack the new stories and the new characters with a lot of confidence.

“Also, you have to be definitive about it. So after the end of season three, with the death of Mitchell, whenever I did any interviews, or anything about the show, I would be very dogmatic about the fact that Mitchell is gone. The Mitchell character is dead and he’s not coming back. I felt that unless we made it absolutely clear that Mitchell wasn’t coming back people were always going to be expecting him to come back and therefore not keeping their eye on the stories that we’re telling now.

“But, as I’m sure the guys on Misfits felt, there comes a point when… y’know, much as we loved and adored and respected Aidan, there comes a point where you just do forget he was in it, because actually what you’re seeing on screen in series four is so fantastic.”

Is there a narrative explanation for why the characters don’t move out of Honolulu Heights? Because you’d think they might move out after their friend was killed in the living room…

“Yes, you would think that! It is explained over the course of the series, but as is often the case there’s two explanations: the narrative explanation and the real explanation. The real explanation is –  as always – we don’t have the money!”

Is Wyndham, the Old One we met right at the end of series three, still part of the series?

“That was a one-off. It’s a bit like… is it China that have had about five different Prime Ministers in as many years? So there’s a new nemesis for episode one.”

Michael Socha’s in every episode this year as the young werewolf Tom McNair, and we gather he’ll be providing quite a lot of comedy. What was the thinking there?

“Well, it was a big risk, because we didn’t know what Michael was like at comedy. I mean, obviously he had some very funny bits in This Is England but nonetheless we didn’t know how good he was gonna be when we expanded his character into quite comedic territory. But watching him in the rushes is just such a joy, because he’s a genuinely brilliant comic actor.

“Actually, on that subject I have to say that Lenora as well, in series four… her performances are absolutely breathtaking. I genuinely think she’s one of the best comedy actresses of her generation. We always knew that she was very good and could handle comedy and was very confident with it, but in series four she absolutely knocks it out of the park. With episode three in particular, I texted her afterwards and said that it was one of the funniest, most moving performances I’ve ever seen.”

Was making Tom more comedic character a matter of balancing the amount of comedy and darkness? Because there were some very dark storylines in series three.

“Well, since the pilot it’s always been a very conscious decision. To do the kind of gothic, epic stories that we do you absolutely do have to ameliorate it with comedy. Life is a mixture of styles and tones, and I think that your responsibility as a writer is to reflect real life, and real life doesn’t just exist within the tramlines of one particular tone or style. So everything I write always has a mixture of comedy and tragedy, drama and domesticity because that’s what life is like.

“We’re very lucky with the writers who come on and write other episodes because they have to have lots of different hats, so to speak. They have to be able to handle the genre, they have to be able to handle the character stuff, but also have to be able to handle the comedy, and it’s a big ask for a writer. There are writers who are absolutely stunning in one or more of those disciplines but getting a writer who can handle all of those is quite a tall order. But we’ve been incredibly lucky so far.”