Sam Huntington claws his way to the top as a werewolf on 'Being Human'
It seems fitting that when the phone rings in Sam Huntington’s New Hampshire home, the actor best known as the sometimes hairy and often harried werewolf on Syfy’s supernatural series “Being Human” is vacuuming up dog hair.
But in this case, the fur that’s flying belongs to the tail-wagging family pooch, a beagle-Jack Russell terrier mix whose worst vice appears to be shedding.
The same can’t be said for Josh Levison, a conflicted creature who four years ago moved into a Boston brownstone with a vampire and a resident ghost in hopes of figuring out how to fit into a world in which little is as it seems. In fact, it turns out, it’s pretty tough navigating a double life. Sometimes he’s a nice, if a bit neurotic, hospital orderly with a shy smile, while at other times, he’s a bit of a beast with deadly instincts and razor-sharp teeth.
Huntington, an amiable conversationalist who shares his character’s wry, self-effacing sense of humor, said it was the lycanthrope’s human failings that helped endear the TV series to fans for four seasons.
“I would like to think I make less bad decisions,” Huntington, a Peterborough native, joked about his complex alter egos on “Being Human.” “There were so many times I was reading the script and I was like, ‘Come on, Josh, don’t do that! It’s obviously the wrong thing to do.’
“But at the same time, I think that was what was so cool about Josh, and really set him apart from me,” Huntington said. “What was such a challenge ... was being able to play him honestly and try to battle my way back from (often fatality-laden mistakes). His flaws, I think, are what made him an amazing guy. And I think that holds true for all the characters, too. Their flaws are really what defines them and defines the show.”
Huntington, who splits his time between the Granite State and the Montreal, Canada, region, where the series was shot, will join actors from “Game of Thrones,” “Futurama,” “Ghostbusters,” “Supernatural” and other iconic movies and television shows at the Pop Culture Expo this weekend at the Aleppo Shriners Auditorium in Wilmington, Mass. With a rabid following of sorts, Huntington said its science-fiction lovers’ enthusiasm that keeps him coming back to expos and comicons.
“Nobody’s been overly aggressive or bizarre,” he said, adding with a chuckle, “I take that back. There’s always a collection of kind of eccentric people, but to me, that’s why I do it, because these people are so interesting, and they have so much to offer as far as conversation. The thing that always strikes me are the people who are so jazzed to be there and are tearing up. ... That’s what always puts me on my heels a little bit, because it’s like, ‘I’m just this dude.’
“For me, it’s an honor to meet people,” he said. “They wouldn’t be there paying money to see me if they weren’t fans of my work. Everyone is just so friendly. It’s such an innocent, happy place.
“Who wouldn’t want to spend six hours talking to people who are just happy to be there? I ask just as many questions as they do. I always end up losing my voice by the end of the weekend because I get so excited. It’s true, I swear.”
But there is a new undercurrent of sadness among his fanbase in recent weeks, since the Syfy network earlier this spring announced that the fourth season of “Being Human,” a re-imagining of the original BBC series, would be the last.
“What I’m left with is an extreme sense of pride and humility and gratitude,” Huntington said. “I am so grateful for the last four years and all that I’ve learned and experienced, and I’m really, really happy with the way it ended.”Partial spoiler alert: There is a happy ending of sorts for Josh, his werewolf wife, Nora (played by Kristen Hager), and his friends, the ghostly Sally (Meaghan Rath) and Aidan the vampire (Sam Witwer). A long and involved quest to navigate the human and supernatural realms came to a head in the April finale as the quartet, which had amassed quite a few skeletons in their collective closet over the years, makes some lasting life-and-death changes to their living arrangements. “I thought it really wrapped up the series beautifully,” Huntington said. “I think if we had come back for a fifth season, it would have been a real struggle to try and make it organic. It was just so right the way all the characters ended. It was just perfect, so I wouldn’t have wanted it any other way.
“ I’m thrilled to move onto the next chapter of my life and career, and I have a lot of exciting things happening right now. It couldn’t have happened in a more appropriate way, I think.”
Huntington, who said he’s developing a new original series for the SyFy Network, was bitten by more than the black flies during his childhood in the Monadnock Region.
“My mom, Chris Huntington, was an actor,” he said “When I was about 2 years old, she decided to stop acting as a profession (to focus) on being a mom. (Later) she began a children’s theater program in Antrim and around the area called the Black Box Theater Company. I would sit in with the classes and watch her teach. From that I did four seasons at the Peterborough Players, and that was really what kind of made the acting bug set in, if I may.”
The ConVal Regional High school graduate, who also has appeared in the films “Jungle 2 Jungle,” “Superman Returns,” “Detroit Rock City” and ‘Not Another Teen Movie,” was in town earlier this month to catch a special production on the Players’ stage.
“I was just there last night for the first time in, like, 20 years,” Huntington said the day after Mother’s Day. “It was so cool. My mom (whose credits include “Knots Landing” in the 1970s) was actually doing the first acting thing she had done in many, many years. She’s an extremely talented person. It was a Mother’s Day special, with a series of monologues with the theme of mothers and child-rearing. It was really cool and very fun to watch, especially since I’m a parent now. All the themes hit very close to home.”
One of the oldest summer stock companies in the country, the Peterborough Players theater is located in a converted 18th-century barn at the historic Stearns Farm on Hadley Road. It, along with the picturesque landscape, made an indelible impression on Huntington.
“You know, the funny thing is when we were shooting ‘Being Human’ ... whenever we would do (scenes) in the forest it was in an abbey outside of Montreal in a town called Oka, and it felt like New Hampshire to me, like being in the woods at 6 or 7 years old, wandering around and pretending. I have to say that’s something that you dream of — something supernatural and fun and different and challenging. So I was really, really blessed. I felt honored to be able to do that. Definitely I used my New Hampshire roots to kind of inform that character by far.”
His cast mates, too, provided a home away from home.
“They’re my brothers and sisters, for sure,” he said. “I talk to them every day. They’re members of my family, 100 percent. Nobody makes me laugh harder than these people. I was consistently inspired and challenged and amazed by their talent, and it brought the best out, I think, in me.”
And with a series that thrived on rollercoaster story lines and plot twists from one episode to another, the only constant on set was the comfortable camaraderie.
“You’re absolutely right, and I would say as ... the seasons went on and progressed, that was more and more the case, especially season four where my character was going through this tremendous change. He wasn’t really a whole person, because of this beast simmering just below the surface. Because of that it was written and played in sort of this bipolar manner.
“It was definitely a challenge,” he said. “Even within a scene he would say something that would completely contradict what he would normally do. And so I was always trying to find that level, and though it was kind of bizarre, make (the dialogue) seem natural. I thought the writers did a really nice job of keeping me and the audience on our toes.”
The script-reading process was always an adventure, with the actors finding out along the way how the story would evolve.
“We would go to each other after we read them and go, ‘Can you believe this? I can’t believe this has happened. Oh, my God. What do I do?’,” Huntington said of learning what their characters would be working through in an upcoming episode.
“Kristen Hager had it really hard the first couple of seasons, actually. She was always like, ‘Why am I doing this? They’re going to hate me’,’ Huntington said, adding his turn to worry about fan reaction came this past year.
“And then I felt in season four, I kinda had it that way. ‘OK, so in episode six and seven, not only does my wolf cheat on you but the next episode I kind of attempt to sexually assault you. Let’s just pray that the audience can get behind this relationship (between Josh and Nora) ‘cuz I don’t know if I can.’ It was a big concern. We were always doing questionable things. It was always a ride.”
In the end, the most challenging part of life as a would-be werewolf was the inordinate time Huntington spent in the makeup chair — and in the buff.
“ I was constantly thrust into the elements naked — just naked in the cold in horrible six-hour prosthetic makeup,” Huntington said. “It was never really fun. The actual transformations themselves were beyond exhausting. What you see on screen is 30 seconds long but what I was actually doing was nine hours, or whatever, and tack onto that five or six hours of makeup. Those days were super long, and early on I didn’t see my family a lot.
“The funny thing is what made it challenging also made it fun. I was always trying to stretch myself, and a lot of time it was (about) allowing myself to go to a really emotional places ... So that was challenging but also enlightening, as I felt it made me grow as an actor.
I’m thrilled that I got opportunity to do that,” he said. “I don’t know a lot of acting jobs that would allow for that.”
Still, Huntington said he wouldn’t mind doing some straight comedy gigs, “like a half-hour TV show with a good schedule — and where I get to keep my clothes on.”