ALAN BALL “TRUE BLOOD” INTERVIEW
By Abbie Bernstein
Several TRUE BLOOD facts have been reported lately. One is that the HBO series, based on Charlaine Harris‘ novels about what happens when vampires make themselves known to the general populace, has been renewed for a fifth season. Another is that Alan Ball, who brought TRUE BLOOD to episodic premium cable and has been its show runner from the beginning, will continue in that capacity.
What we don’t know is what the heck will happen in the love triangle between telepathic part-fairy Louisiana roadhouse waitress Sookie Stackhouse (Anna Paquin) and the two vampires who love her, businessman turned Vampire King of Louisiana Bill Compton (Stephen Moyer) and Viking prince turned vampire bar owner and former bad boy/current amnesiac Eric Northman (Alexander Skarsgard). This is, of course, assuming that all three survive the currently bloody war between the vampire community and four-hundred-year-old sorceress Antonia Gavilan de la Grono who currently resides in the body of mild-mannered witch Marnie (Fiona Shaw) – and that Sookie doesn’t just up and run off with hunky, responsible werewolf Alcide Herveux (Joe Manganiello).
HBO sets up a TRUE BLOOD question and answer panel with Ball, Paquin and Moyer at the Television Critics Association press tour. Immediately following the panel, Ball generously talks a bit more with a few reporters. He obviously doesn’t want to give out spoilers, but he’s willing to provide a few hints, as well as clarify some of what we’ve already seen.
Way back in Season One, did Ball imagine this is where TRUE BLOOD would be by Season Four? He says no. “I live in the present moment. I don’t know what’s going to happen and I trust that the people I work with and the source material will take us where we need to go, so I don’t think about the future.”
In the present, there’s Sookie’s complicated love life, a love triangle between shape-shifter Sam (Sam Trammell), his girlfriend Luna (Janina Gavankar) and werewolf pack leader Marcus (Daniel Buran), another love triangle between Sookie’s brother Jason (Ryan Kwanten), his best friend Hoyt (Jim Parrack) and relatively novice vampire Jessica (Deborah Ann Woll), Alcide’s issues with jealous werewolf girlfriend Debbie (Brit Morgan), the witch war, the growing magical powers of Lafayette (Nelsan Ellis), the imprisonment of Tara (Rutina Wesley) by Antonia, Sam’s problems with his trouble-making little brother Tommy (Marshall Allman), the V addiction of both Debbie and Jason’s boss Andy (Chris Bauer), and a whole bunch of other stuff. Does Ball find keeping track of all these plot elements especially challenging? “No, I love it. I love having a lot of characters.” His advice to viewers who find it challenging: “Just pay attention to the [plot elements] you like. But to me, that’s part of what the show is, this big sprawling cast of characters. I love that about the show. We have a tremendous amount of really talented actors, so just pay attention. Watch it more than once. Watch
it three or four times and that way, any questions will get answered.”
Speaking of really talented actors, multi-award-winning Irish actress Shaw has actually portrayed a few magic practitioners before (in CLOSE YOUR EYES and MIDSUMMER DREAM), though she’s famous for playing the magic-hating aunt in the HARRY POTTER films. How did Ball wind up casting her as Marnie? “We offered it to her,” Ball explains simply. “I got on the phone with her and had a conversation, and she said, ‘I’d love to do it.'”
Given the fact that Antonia is not only determined to destroy as many vampires as she can physically, but also ruin what’s left of their reputation with humans, what would Ball say is at stake (pardon the expression) this season? “The fate of vampires as a whole,” he replies.
Of course, vampires have been suffering in the public view since TRUE BLOOD Season Three, when vampire Russell Edgington, played by Denis O’Hare, yanked out a newsman’s spine during a TV broadcast. Russell subsequently got badly burned in the sun, wrapped in silver chains and finally buried under a ton of cement by Eric and Bill, but a lot of characters are still talking about him. Any chance he’ll be back? Ball just smiles. “I’ll tell you this – he is not dead.”
Season Four begins a year after Season Three ended – although Sookie has been away in the realm of Faerie, so from her point of view, she’s only been gone a couple of hours. There turns out to be a very simple reason for the time jump, Ball reveals. “The reason for that was, ‘How do we get Jason to be a cop?'” Jumping ahead a year in story terms also allowed Arlene (Carrie Preston) to have the baby she was carrying, instead of just being pregnant, which gave rise to a surprising possession subplot. “No, that wasn’t the main reason,” Ball says, “but that was one of the benefits of it, I think.”
Ball describes the Sookie/Eric/Bill situation as “complicated.” Sookie and Bill clearly love one another, but Bill began their relationship with a whopping deception that Sookie has only recently learned about. Will she be able to forgive him? “I believe forgiveness is possible for everybody, for everything,” Ball replies, “but I’m a Buddhist, so …”
What percentage of the audience wants Sookie to wind up with whom doesn’t concern Ball he adds. “I’m not worried about Team Bill/Team Eric. I love the book, because I thought it was a great story, but I’m Team Sookie.”
Between the time that the Q&A session took place and the time that this article runs, TRUE BLOOD viewers have now seen Sookie’s very interesting dream involving the beginnings of a three-way with her, Bill and Eric. This, it turns out, was Paquin’s suggestion.
Paquin says she’s pleased that Ball and the writers are so open to suggestions from the actors. “I mean, I certainly feel like they write to our strengths, or maybe that’s a giant coincidence. I don’t think I’ve ever come in [to the writers’ room] with, ‘I think this should definitely happen.’ Sometimes I pitch things that are kind of a joke, [like] that scene with me and Steve and Alex. That was kind of a joke, sort of, not really. Sometimes I kind of wonder if I say things that are really outlandish because of the nature of our show. Maybe they actually might end up in the show.”
Ball responds, “You’ve got to remember that, before you even think of saying it, you’ve kind of read it. Every time you think, ‘Wouldn’t it be crazy if I had …”
Paquin agrees. “Also, our show kind of beats you to the punch as far as, ‘Wouldn’t it be crazy if we did blah, blah, blah?’ I mean, it’s not a show where you feel like there’s a lack of imagination.”
Ball relates, “We were flying down to Comic-Con, and both Stephen and Anna mentioned things that they thought would make [good TRUE BLOOD material]. ‘It would be nice to see why this certain dynamic exists, or knowing that this is going to happen to this character. Wouldn’t it be nice if I was actually able to be a part of this thing that happened?'”
Moyer sounds proud of the interaction with the writers. “[Both suggestions] made perfect sense, and you know what, I’ve spent a week with the writers, and they’re both going in.”
Is there anything he can say about the Sookie/Alcide relationship, given that actors Paquin and Manganiello have potent chemistry together? All Ball will acknowledge is, “There’s definitely a whole sort of mutual attraction thing happening in the book between Sookie and Alcide and, yes, there is definitely an attraction [in the series as well].”
On the subject of attraction, we know that Jason and Jessica are presently in the hot and heavy throes, and Hoyt probably isn’t over Jessica, despite his searing get-out-of-my-home speech. But what’s the story with the dream Jason had where a sexy Jessica suddenly turned into Hoyt? “[Jason has] had her blood and he’s already a very sexual person,” Ball relates. As for Hoyt’s dream appearance, “I think that was Jason’s subconscious saying, ‘I feel guilty about [the feelings for Jessica] because it’s [the girlfriend of] my best friend.’ I don’t think he’s attracted to Hoyt.”
Although TRUE BLOOD is set in Louisiana and the production company has taken a few field trips to that Southern state, Ball confirms that most of the series is shot in Southern California, both on studio lots and along the Pacific coast in an area near Malibu. “We have an arrangement with a private ranch in Calabasas, where Sookie’s house exists and Lafayette’s house exists and Bill’s house exists and the cemetery exists. We spend half our time out there.”
There’s no mandate on TRUE BLOOD to make each new character/villain/situation more indelible than the last, Ball says. “I don’t think that way, because I think that’s only a recipe for trouble. I love my job, I enjoy doing it, I’m not going to put pressure on myself to top. I just want to tell the best story and the most fun story. It’s not about me, it’s not about ‘Can we top?’ It’s about this story, let’s just keep telling this story and keep it as fun as it can be.”
Current trends in vampire and supernatural drama are not on Ball’s radar, he notes. “I don’t pay much attention to that stuff. I work, and I work like a dog, and when I go home, the last thing I want to do is read about the popular lore of vampires,” he laughs.
Banshees may or may not be another matter. Ball is executive-producing a series called BANSHEE for HBO’s sister pay-cable network Cinemax, but everyone is keeping mum for now on plot details. As for other projects, Ball says, “I’m exclusive to HBO in television. I’ve got some pilots in development over there that I’m sort of producing with other writers.”
One thing that Ball says he won’t be doing is returning to traditional sitcom (he was a writer and producer on CYBILL in the ’90s). “It would have to be different. I would never go back to four-camera live-audience sitcoms.” Just in case there’s any confusion on this point, he clarifies, “I’d rather drive rusty railroad spikes into my eyes.” In any event, “I feel like I get to do a lot of comedy on this show [TRUE BLOOD].”
How long does Ball foresee continuing to work on TRUE BLOOD? “I don’t know. It depends. When it’s time to end, I’ll know that.”
Clearly, that time is not now. Ball has just experienced his fourth rock star reception that show runners receive at Comic-Con. “The first year was a big shock for me, because I had heard of Comic-Con, but I hadn’t been. My world had never crossed paths with the Comic-Con world. When we came out on stage, every [TRUE BLOOD person] got huge cheers from thousands of people, and when I came out on stage and thousands of people were cheering, I was like, ‘Well, this is not something I ever expected would happen in my entire life. This feels really good. I want it to happen all the time.'” He laughs. “Not really. But [it is] the fourth year now and what I love about it is how passionate people are about the show and how much they love the show, and that’s something that’s nice because we love the show. We have so much fun making the show, but when you find out it brings people so much joy and it creates such intense emotion for them, that’s really great.”
So the Comic-Con adulation hasn’t made Ball think maybe he should’ve joined the Rolling Stones instead of being a writer/producer? “No. I love what I do and I’m very fortunate to get to do it.”
By Abbie Bernstein
Entertainment Reporter – BuzzyMag.com
Alan Ball Interview
Ball describes the Sookie/Eric/Bill situation as “complicated.” Sookie and Bill clearly love one another, but Bill began their relationship with a whopping deception that Sookie has only recently learned about.