Total Film recently wandered down to the set of the fourth series of Being Human, the BBC's ever-popular supernatural drama. Here's what we got up to...
There’s a topless man on-screen doing press-ups. “98… 99… 100.” He’s barely breaking a sweat. Off-screen, Lenora Crichlow isn’t impressed, cradling a baby and demanding attention. This guy’s having none of it. “101… 102…” he pants. “Oh, you’re just showing off now,” rants Lenora. And… “CUT!”
Total Film is perched by a monitor in a cavernous, abandoned Cardiff bus depot, which is now crammed with the towering, false-backed wooden frames of a massive set. Here, a series four episode of supernatural BBC drama Being Human is being filmed.
Except we don’t recognise the owner of that rather well-defined torso. “He’s our sexy new vamp,” producer Phil Trethowan tells us. “As you can see, he is sexy…”
Everything’s changing on Being Human. Entering its fourth year, the super-soap closed out its third on a creative high, but with a devastating blow, as resident vamp Mitchell (Aidan Turner) got wood and bid everybody a fond farewell.
Enter new fanger Hal (Damien Molony), an ancient blood-sucker going on something of a diet. Apparently he’s also rather good at doing press-ups (insider gossip, he didn’t really do 102).
Think the changes were hard on the viewers? They were harder still on the stars of the show. “You’ll never replace Aidan!” screams Damien, doing an impression of Twittersphere BH fans who didn’t like the idea of a new vamp on the block.
“I’m not trying to replace him!” the actor assures TF. Possessing a soft Irish lilt, he’s dressed in a tight black T-shirt, blue jeans and slippers as he chats with us in the show’s Green Room. Friendly, if a little nervous (ours is only his second ever interview), he’s big-eyed and serious when on-screen, dropping the Irish cadence for an upper class English. So just who is Hal?
Hal Of A Guy
“I was a big bad motherfucker of a vampire for a long time,” Damien reveals. “Hal is so different to Mitchell; he’s from a completely different orientation. He’s so OCD. He’s got some great clothes, but it’s all very twee. He’s very different, so I was able to relax a bit.”
Fresh out of acting school, Damien bagged the role just before graduating. His agent called to tell him he’d got the gig four minutes before he was due on-stage for a play in Leeds.
“She screamed: ‘You got it, you fucking got it!’” the actor remembers with a laugh. “That was one of the worst performances I ever did…”
Mitchell isn’t the only departee, though. As series four of Being Human opens, resident werewolf George (Russell Tovey) is mourning the death of beau Nina (Sinead Keenan). By the end of episode one, he’s followed her into the big boneyard in the sky.
Show-runner Toby Whithouse knew the changes were coming, though. Mostly. “When he auditioned Aidan Turner, we knew one day we were gonna lose him to be a movie star,” Whithouse reveals. “He’s just that good and beautiful. Similarly with Russell and Sinead and Lenora, you can’t get actors that good and expect nobody else is going to notice.”
So it wasn’t a shock when Russell and Sinead both decided not to return, then? “It was,” the show-runner admits. “It was a shock when Sinead decided she didn’t want to do series four at all, not even one episode. We parted on good terms. The timing was a bit of a shock, but the act itself wasn’t.”
Not everything has changed. For a start, phantom Annie (Lenora Crichlow) is still in her patented grey outfit when we meet her for a chat.
“Oh, you noticed,” quips Lenora (or just ‘Nora’, as everybody on set calls her) when TF points that fact out. “It’s this year’s grey! It actually does change each year, it often goes with her emotional state, so this year it’s all very flow-y and mother-y, she has to swaddle the baby.”
Just as her outfit’s subtly evolving, so is Annie’s place in the show. With Mitchell and George gone, she’s suddenly left looking after George and Nina’s baby. “She becomes the heart of the series,” Nora explains. “She has little Eve to look after, which she takes to as well as she can considering she’s a ghost!”
Annie’s also grieving, of course. “So much of her sense of herself is caught up with her friends, George, Mitchell and Nina; they gave her a purpose. There’s a lot of adjusting to losing that. She has to look after Eve, so there’s not much time for grieving.” Talking of Eve…
The War Child
Having a baby on set (“several”, according to Nora) was always going to shake things up. And they come at a price. Each fake infant, which the cast and crew affectionately call ‘jelly babies’, costs a whopping £4,000.
“We have the jelly baby,” Nora says. “But then we have the real babies as well. We have two sets of twins, so that takes up a lot of Annie’s time. A lot of my time actually, ‘cos you spend ages just cooing at them. I love children.”
One person who’s not so natural with the kids is Damien. “I can’t do babies,” he admits. “My first scene was in the attic and I had to take the baby out of the cot. We had to do about six takes because everybody was like, ‘The neck, the neck!’” Ah, the perils of leaving vampires with children…
New Moon Rising
To complete the show’s trio of ghost, vampire, werewolf, Whithouse turned to Michael Socha, series three bit-player and This Is England star, who they bumped up to series regular.
“I was ever so worried,” Michael says, dressed in his character’s signature grey vest, khaki green trousers and muddy trainers. “I read the script, and I thought, ‘Fuck, Tom’s here now! There’s a lot of him in this!’ In the last series he wasn’t in it half as much.
“There’s certain emotions he’s not revealed before. There’s loads in store for him. He gets a missus. He’s finding his way in the normal world.”
After a bite of lunch, it’s time for a tour of the set. We’re led through a warren of corridors and finally wind up in the Honolulu Heights kitchen, which is currently being used as a dumping ground for filming equipment.
A nose around the hallway reveals a great mound of National Geographic magazines piled by the door. Outside, a doormat reads ‘Welcome to the mad house’, and there’s a massive backdrop of a Cardiff street hanging opposite the house.
In the dining room, the set’s been dressed for ‘A Spectre Calls’, the fourth episode of series four. There’s a baby rota on the wall (Annie’s doing), a carrycot in the corner, stuffed toys everywhere. Even the floor’s creaky.
“Apparently it is haunted,” Nora tells us. “You’d think if there’s a ghost they’d come and talk to me personally! At least we could swap notes. But no, I’ve not seen the ghost. I’ve heard all the rumours. I’m quite annoyed…”
Talking of ghostly things, a mysterious threat hangs over the fourth series of Being Human. Whereas series one and three had William Herrick (Jason Watkins), this year there’s a strange ghost from the future, and scary vampires known only as the Old Ones.
“The Old Ones are the old, old vampires,” Nora explains. “They’re centuries old, they’re attracted to our home and are definitely a threat. They’re vampires who don’t have to be invited in. They break a lot of rules.
“They’re an unknown. For Annie it’s terrifying. The more you hear about them and don’t see them, the scarier they get…”
Being Human has a very vocal fan base, and it’s no surprise that the changes have split audiences. For the most part, though, Whithouse and his writers have been commended for organically developing the show – and the fans have predominantly stuck by them.
“People have been pleasantly surprised by how much they’ve engaged with the new cast,” Whithouse says, “and that’s a testament to Damien, Michael and Lenora. They’ve knocked it out the park. I’m pleased the public have welcomed them.”
After the success of series four, the BBC have swiftly commissioned a fifth round of supernatural hi-jinks. What does that mean for the show, then?
“Who can say?” Whithouse teases. “We stumble from year to year in terms of the commission, so the future isn’t completely assured. As with most TV shows. We’ll always start developing, so we’re developing series five.” Can he reveal anything? “Absolutely nothing.” Talk about a howling shame…
Being Human Series 4 is out on DVD on 23 April 2012.