Being Human's Dichen Lachman (as Suren) and Sam Witwer (as Aidan)
Most children get reprimanded by their parents at one time or another, but unlike most of humankind, the vampire world doles out punishments of a much more bizarre nature. Eighty years ago, Mother, the Queen of the Vampires, ordered her princess daughter Suren to be buried after she misbehaved. In the season two opener of Syfy’s Being Human, Mother had Aidan McCollin (Ian Daniel) dig up her daughter. She has decided to give Suren a second chance and wants Aidan to tame the unruly “child” and prepare her to lead the Boston vampires. Unfortunately for Suren, Aidan’s loyalties have changed, but will she lure him back to the dark side?
Actress Dichen Lachman plays the alluring vampire royal Suren. Born in Kathmandu, Nepal, she moved with her family to Australia in 1989. Half-Tibetan and half-Caucasian, she was 21 when she first became enamored of acting, and since then has appeared in a variety of feature films and TV projects. Her breakout role was that of Katya Kinski in the long-running Aussie soap Neighbors. Lachman is best known to Sci-Fi fans for her work in Joss Whedon’s Dollhouse, and as Lyn Peterfield in the Torchwood: Miracle Day episode “Rendition.”
Last week, Lachman happily spoke on the phone with me and several other journalists about the joys and challenges of playing Being Human's Suren. The following is an edited version of our Q & A with the delightful and down-to-Earth actress. Enjoy!
So tell us about Suren and her journey on Being Human. What do we have to look forward to?
Dichen Lachman: Lots of things. Obviously I can't tell you about all of them, but she's a very interesting character and I had a lot of fun having the opportunity to play her. I mean, as an actor, playing a vampire is one of the things sort of on the list, and Suren is incredibly complex as well as very damaged and reckless in many ways. At the same time, she's sort of striving to grow up and mature and be the woman that her mother (Deena Aziz) would like her to be.
So I think you guys will enjoy watching her journey through the show, and with Sam Witwer’s character of Aidan. My character keeps pulling him back into the world of vampires from which he is constantly trying to escape.
Can you talk a little bit more about how Suren connects to Aidan's past? I know you can't speak in detail about it, but can you just give us an idea of what we can expect from that?
DL: Well, it's one of those love-hate relationships. I mean, they have a very long history together, obviously minus the 80 years she was in the ground. The two of them have a complicated past and I don't think their relationship has ever been consummated. There’s a strong attraction with Suren and Aidan, and it’s going to be interesting to watch them together in this modern world, especially with her having been away for so long and him having gone through all these changes and changed his ways. It’s like when you catch up with an old friend who you haven’t seen in a really long time, and Suren is trying to understand those changes.
Suren’s and Aidan’s relationship plays out in the present day as well as the past because there are opportunities in the show to flash back, which is so great. Those flashbacks will help audiences better understand their relationship now.
I've seen your first episode of Being Human and it seems like the part of Suren was tailor-made for you. Do you know if they made any changes to the character once you were cast?
DL: I don't know; it’s actually something I should ask about. It was such a fantastic opportunity, and when it came round and I had to read for it, I, like everyone else there, was so nervous. When I received the (audition) slides, I read them and I was like, "This is great."
Sometimes you read material and it just makes sense to you and I don't know whether that's just because it's meant to be or because the writing is good. And the writing on this show is good. So I just read the dialogue and thought, "I think I know how this girl is meant to be played and where she sits. I understand her." So it wasn't a really great leap for me to make as an actor insofar as, "Oh, how do I do this?" It just made complete sense to me.
What have been the most challenging aspects for you as far as filming this series?
DL: It’s such basic things, but one was baring your teeth with the dots so that they (visual effects) could show the vampire fangs extending. The other was wearing the black contact lenses, which cover your entire eye. They had to be specially fitted, and all the actors who played vampires used to dread sitting in the makeup chair and having someone put these enormous lenses in our eyes.
So it was very difficult and Sam and I often had conversations about how to show our teeth in order to show the CGI (computer generated-image) fangs growing. You kind of feel silly in front of the camera trying to raise your upper lip high enough so that they can find the dots in order to make the CGI possible.
I’d never done anything before involving CGI that was so much a part of the performance. That’s one of the things about acting, though. Sometimes the work is very technical and not really craft-based. So while you're trying to stay in the moment, you’re also trying to satisfy the needs of the effects department. That was a real challenge and, again, it's such a basic thing.
The really difficult thing is when they shoot fast, especially on a show like Being Human. I mean, they're all remarkable, the cast and the crew. They work very hard and the actors are all incredibly good. So they're all there for each other and for the show, but when you have to reach that emotional point, sometimes you don't always have the time to get where you need to get. There's a lot of pressure that I put on myself to get to those places and really commit to them. When you're working at that speed, you really have to have a very strong technique so that you can be in those moments truthfully for the show as well as your character.
Can you see through the contacts? Do they cover your whole eye or are they just like regular contact lenses?
DL: There's a tiny hole for your pupil to see through, but it's not very big, so your vision is limited. It's very uncomfortable for the first sort of 15 minutes because the lenses so large and foreign in your eye. They eventually settle in, but your peripheral vision becomes extremely limited and you can only really see what's directly in front of you.
I remember Sam and Kyle Schmid (Henry) had a big fight scene on the top of a building with no balcony and they wanted them to wear the contacts. They were on the roof and Sam had to say, "We can't do this with the contacts in. We can hardly see and may fall off the edge of the roof.”
Everyone is very understanding, though, including the makeup department, who are the sweetest, loveliest people on Earth. They did everything to try and make you feel comfortable. I can't imagine doing an entire film with those lenses in and I know people have.
Dichen, could talk a little bit about your experiences filming your first episode of Being Human and what it was like initially stepping into the Suren role.
DL: Well, firstly, everyone was amazing. I couldn't have been on a set with nicer people, and Montreal, which is where they shoot the show, is just a stunning city. As most of you know it's predominately French speaking, so you feel like you're in Europe in a way.
Stepping onto the set, obviously I was nervous. You always get a little nervous on your first day. There was a bit of tweaking to do with the character just because I’d only gotten there a few days before and we were still trying to find Suren’s voice. How does someone who's centuries old speak, especially when they've been in the ground for 80 years?
I had my ideas as did the show runners, and we were trying to find a balance as far as what she sounds like. You have Mother, who sounds very, specific and strong. So does Suren sound exactly like her mother or is she a bit different? Finding the voice and the accent was very tricky on the first day. Fortunately I work with an amazing dialect coach, Mary McDonald-Lewis. She and I designed an accent and a voice for Suren that was a little bit American as well as a little bit British. We modernized her voice slightly and made it slightly more youthful than Mother’s.
If something doesn't sound right, people won't believe it, and it's very important for me to be specific, consistent and settled with a character’s voice. So one of my main priorities on the first day was communicating with (executive producer) Adam Kane about what they were looking for and how I felt about the character. Then it was a matter of bringing in Mary McDonald-Lewis to communicate with the show runners and with me so that we were all speaking the same language and finding the character’s voice.
You mentioned the Mother character. What’s your take on Suren’s relationship with her mother and does that sort of play out in the series?
DL: Suren's relationship with her mother is very complicated. She's always let her mother down and anything she did was never good enough. It's one of those relationships which is very strained and there's a lot of love there along with a great deal of hate, resentment and disappointment.
You really see and feel that tension as the episodes continue. Suren can never do the right thing by her mother and sometimes she just doesn't even try. Other times she tries and then fails. I actually have a wonderful relationship with my mother, so it was tough to find something personal to bring to the Suren/Mother relationship. However, I found other things that hopefully come across in that relationship.
We know the theme of the show this season is temptation. Is Suren going to be tempted as well?
DL: I think there is some temptation there for her, too. She's been in this world for so long and so deeply entrenched in that because her mother is the queen of the vampires. However, if it (temptation) is there it's very fleeting because Suren knows her fate and that's why in a way she's so damaged.
You'll see more of the temptation creep in with Aidan, who's constantly being pulled back into the vampire world. He's always trying to escape it and sort of run away from who he is and from the people around him, but as much as Aidan tries to resist, Suren keeps pulling him back in.
DL: I think it was not to make her too bitchy. When you have a character like that that is so powerful, doesn't really care about anybody and is not only a princess but behaves like one as well, you want to make her likable and have the viewer feel for her.
I really hope that Suren is likable and that I made her likable. As an actor it's very easy to slip into just being plain old mean. That was something I had to always pull myself back from doing. Also, because of my face, if I don't smile, I look really mean. Some people always misinterpret me unless I have a really big grin on my face. They think I'm in a terrible mood or that I hate them, but I often say, “I'm sorry, it's just my face. It's the way it's constructed."
What would you like to say to everybody who is a fan and supporter of you and your work?
DL: I just can't thank the people enough who support me and the projects I do. I’d be nowhere without the fans and I have a very soft place in my heart for those people who enjoy my work and believe in me because actors are funny creatures. We have enormous egos, but we're deeply insecure, too. There's an incredible paradox and we all have our moments where we sometimes don’t believe in ourselves and think, "Oh, I'm never going to work again and I'm a terrible actor."
But then there are the fans - I look to them and they believe in me and help me keep believing in myself. They give me greater confidence and hope that I'm not too bad at my job and that I'll continue to be able to do it. So I have a great deal of gratitude towards the people who support me and who believe in me.
Please note, all photos above copyright of Syfy.