Elizabeth Thompson and Louis Virtel- Hollywood Life
Hollywood Life just got back from Bon Temps and boy are our fangs tired. Behold, Q&As from “True Blood” stars Deborah Ann Woll and William Sanderson below!
A recent arrival to “True Blood,” Deborah Ann Woll plays Jessica, the difficult, teenage “daughter” of Vampire Bill (Stephen Moyer), who’s thirsty for blood and attention. Here, Deborah Ann talks about taking vampiric inspiration from Animal Planet, and plays coy about the ingredients of Tru Blood, and which celebrities have influenced her character.
You’re from Brooklyn, born and raised. Was it hard to perfect a Southern accent?
It was a little bit difficult. As weird as this sounds, that kind of Yankee-Brooklyn sound is actually very similar to the Southern. We tend to both drop our “R’s” and it’s kind of an urban sound versus a Southern sound. So I would find, in the beginning, when I would try to do the Southern accent, that I would actually slip into my native Brooklyn accent, and that would be totally inappropriate. I had to be very conscious of it in the beginning and now it’s gotten much easier. I feel much more comfortable, but for a while I couldn’t quite tell where I was from.
Your character, Jessica, was a sheltered girl who transformed into an outspoken, bratty teenage vampire. Could you relate to any of that from your teenage years? What were you like?
I was nothing like Jessica. I was very shy. Very quiet. I was a hard worker and I really just did my own thing. I was very un-popular. I certainly was not in the in-crowd. I was a big nerd. I did not have the attitude or the sort of self confidence that Jessica has. And part of me wishes that I did, because I wouldn’t have been such a doormat my whole life. She really doesn’t let anybody tell her what to do or tell her she’s inappropriate. And I think that’s a great quality in a way. Jessica will learn to balance that out a little bit, I hope. But, no, I didn’t really draw on my own experiences. I tended to watch a lot of specific celebrities who maybe had a similar feel to them, and I just thought a lot about what it would be like to have never been allowed to express yourself. To always have been told that what you thought and felt were wrong, your entire life. And what would it be like to finally be able to say ‘Never again am I going to let someone marginalize me or make me feel less than.’
What celebrities did you study?
I don’t think I should say. I think that part of the difficulty of being a celebrity is that you may have to hide what you’re feeling and you aren’t totally allowed to be yourself, because you’re in the public eye. And I think the breakdowns that we tend to see sort of have to do with maybe finally trying to break free and say ‘I am who I am, whether you like it or not.’ It’s an overwhelming experience.
Sookie (Anna Paquin) has been mothering to you. Do you think you’re an opportunity for Sookie and Bill to test out their parenting skills or to sort of play house?
Yeah, if they get a moment to breathe. It’s a pretty action-packed season, so I don’t know how much house-playing time they’ll even have. But I think it’s an opportunity for Sookie, with Tara being so occupied, who has maybe lacking a little bit of female companionship. There was the loss of her grandmother. I think for her, the importance of being able to give guidance, and love, and support to another female, whether it be motherly, or sisterly, or whatever we end up finding in that relationship, will be an interesting growth for her as well.
Sex and sexuality are a big part of the show. When are we going to see Jessica have a relationship?
Well, you know, Jessica is a teenager and we all have romantic experiences at that age that shape us for the rest of our lives. I think about my first sort of serious boyfriend and how he became the man to which all others were compared. The rest of them have had to measure up to him and I think we’ll see some experiences. You know, Jessica’s never been kissed, or never been touched by a man, and not to get too graphic or anything, but I doubt that she’s ever explored herself and that will be interesting to watch.
Let’s talk about the scene from last season when Bill “turns” you. I read that you had watched some nature programs of animals hunting each other to prepare?
I watched a lot of documentaries and at one point I just went into my DVR and set up any shows like “When Animals Attack” and “Planet Earth” episodes, I would watch Animal Planet and the Discovery Channel constantly. What I think is interesting about the vampire, is that it’s like living simultaneously with this human consciousness that has a sense of morality and decency, and then, simultaneously, living with this very primal, ancient brain, that really just has to do with fighting, feeding, and procreating. So [I] want[ed] to get into that side of this character and what those new impulses–and scary–impulses are. I mean, having lived as a human being my whole life, I’ve never looked at another human being and thought ‘Lunch.’ So to try and shift my perspective a little bit and see when you watch a crocodile attack a zebra, or a lion bring down an African deer, that look in their eye that comes over them. How do they grab onto that animal? What is it they’re looking for? Why are they hunting? And just trying to shift my perspective into that different, primally-motivated existence.
And on your first appearance on “True Blood” you were lunch. You were Bill’s prey.
I watched a lot of those animal attack videos when I first got the part. And I was watching the prey. And I remember the one that was this lion attacking an antelope. The antelope fought so hard to save its life and then in an instant, it wasn’t dead yet, it just gave up. And it went limp. And it gave in. This was what was going to happen and the antelope couldn’t escape anymore and allowed the lion to finish it off. I thought that was such an interesting response. But then coming around now, a couple months later, and being the other side of it, was so cool to go back and watch the same footage. But to watch it from the other side. Because that’s what I think a lot of acting is about. It’s really seeing all experiences from as many different perspective as you can.
And how do you film the biting scenes?
Let’s see. You film them very carefully. We have all sorts of fake blood that we use, we have different types of teeth, depending on what kind of biting needs to occur. It’s really incredible what the special effects and props department have come up with. It looks pretty real, it tastes terrible.
Is it hard to talk with the teeth in?
Yes, for about the first five to ten minutes, you sound like Cindy Brady. Of course, you’re trying to be all immortal and cool and it’s very difficult to sound that way when you have a lisp. Kristin Bauer [who plays "Pam"] said that the first time she had to talk with the teeth in, her line was something like, “Certainly nothing like your sister, ” but it sounded like, “Thertainly nothing like your thister,” and apparently everyone started laughing, because of the lisping. I had my own experiences with that the first couple of times, but you get used to them. The less you think about it, the easier it is. You’ve just got to kind of let them hit your bottom lip.
What’s Tru Blood the drink made out of? What are you drinking in those scenes?
Well, I’ll tell you, it tastes delicious and you can find it at your local supermarket. I won’t tell you exactly what it is because I think that would be a good mystery to keep. But it is available to drink at your local supermarket, and I kind of love drinking it. It was a very hard scene when I had to pretend it was terrible, because it really tastes quite lovely.
It seems like in the past ten years with “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” and Twilight, and “True Blood,” that vampires have a big presence in pop culture. Why do you think vampires are so big right now?
Vampires today are definitely sexy. The original vampires were not–Dracula and Nosferatu, and in all of the older stories these were ugly, scary creatures. More recently, in the past 50 years–well I guess more than 50 years with the Bela Lugosi Dracula because he was very dashing–it has become this sense of seduction and I think the idea that a vampire can control your mind, that they can glamor you, is attractive. That’s essentially what a sexy person does. Like Lafayette had that line in the last episode ‘I damn well glamor people already.’ There is something very attractive about someone who can look at you and make you feel a certain way, and in way sort of control you. I think that fear and sexuality are very closely linked. I think things that scare us are a little bit sexy. Things that are unknown attract us. And blood, that deep, red, rich warm, life. There’s something really beautiful about that, which we may have some trouble admitting to. There’s something very beautiful about it flowing against the pale vampiric skin.
And you guys have some guest stars coming up this season.
Oh, lots of them. I’ve loved every single guest star that we’ve had. And then, of course, I’ll be watching other shows and go ‘Oh my goodness, that’s the guy that came in and did that part.’ They do such a good job and this is not an easy show to just jump right into. I know, I started as a guest star. I know how difficult it can be to just jump into a show that has such a specific perspective and outlook on their storytelling with a bunch of people that have sort of figured it all out already. But as it’s been announced, we’ve got Evan Rachel Wood coming up. And I just saw her in Whatever Works and she was so funny and delightful and wonderful, and now I just cannot wait to see her episodes. I think that will be some of the greatest stuff ever. And then of course we’ve got a couple of new season regulars that have just come in. Michelle Forbes and Michael McMillian and I could go on and on.
Ryan Kwanten’s abs could also be considered a guest star.
William Sanderson is now a sheriff on “True Blood,” but he also contributed Memphis twang as part of HBO’s dearly departed “Deadwood.” The 65-year-old actor has starred in film classics Coal Miner’s Daughter and Blade Runner, but his most intriguing showbiz encounters involve his childhoods in Tennessee, where he stalked a certain rock ‘n roll icon with a penchant for whiplash-inducing amusement park rides. All shook up, indeed.
What first appealed to you about “True Blood”?
Off the top of my head I loved that it was set in Louisiana, which to me is kind of romantic and mysterious, and has a lot of wonderful characters, rural ones. I looked at some Charlene Harris’ books, and they were fun to read, but I was shocked to get another regular job on HBO so soon after Deadwood.
The cast is stellar. What do you glean from them on set?
Especially Anna, she has this incredible energy. That’s probably my biggest talent is to keep up with them. They’re half my age or less. Or more, I should say. Or Stephen Moyer, a wonderful actor from England who plays her love interest. Anna never fumbles with her lines, she’s very professional. And inventive! It’s exciting anytime I get to work with an Academy Award winner. Well, I wouldn’t say always fun – but educational.
Really? Have you been around intimidating talents?
I think most of the great ones are intimidating. But most of them like other actors. They may have a problem with a producer or director. But intimidating? I survived six projects with Tommy Lee Jones. I watch anything he’s in. And Ian McCain I learned a lot from, he has a background with theater in England. But I’m easily intimidated, so I may be the wrong one to ask.
Who do you still want to play? You’ve said you’ve played mostly quirky characters.
Well, a romantic lead! The quirky characters are easier. It’s difficult to play a normal sheriff. A writer asked me if there’s something I haven’t played, and I said I just want to play as many characters as far from myself as I can. [Laughs.] I mean, who wants to see me play myself?
Is it uncomfortable when you feel like you’re playing yourself?
I never really see characters as myself. I try to play what the writer intended, but I’m lazy, and especially as I get older and I don’t do enough research, but then the ego creeps in and you say, “I’m pretty fascinating.” Now that’s a danger. I think personally I’m like the egomaniac with an inferiority complex, but I try to honor the writer’s intention. There’s people that would argue that.
Tell me about your childhood in Memphis and the regularity with which you saw Elvis Presley.
When I was a kid, I started to hang around a record shop owned by Elvis’s manager, before Colonel Parker, in the mid 50s before he dyed his hair. So I’d follow him. I saw him the record shop with these girls. As I got older, I rode out to a house one time with the owner of a clothing store on Beale Street, and Elvis was playing the piano. He didn’t know me from Adam. I’d be told “Sit over there,” and I’d hear him play. I’d sneak in the movies and drop the name – he’d rent a theater, you may have read – sometimes they didn’t let me in, but many times I’d get to sit in the back of theater and watch the movies. But really — I kind of stalked him. There was an amusement park in Memphis, he would rent that at midnight, and it wasn’t that tight if you dropped the right name. You could get in and ride these rides free ‘til sun-up. I was just a great fan of his, and he was always friendly to the fans when he was young. But he did not know me, and got mad me for hitting him with the bumper cars head-on. I’m sure that I’m much, much older — but to be around the highest paid entertainer in the world was a big, big thrill as a kid. It was a good time to be a kid in Memphis.