‘True Blood’ gets an infusion for Season 3: Werewolves
USA Today: True Blood is getting new blood.
Werewolves, to be exact, will join the peculiar world of vampires, shape-shifters and mind readers who spice up the third-season HBO drama, returning June 13 (9 ET/PT).
“It’s just another element added to the supernatural craziness of it all,” says Anna Paquin, who plays the telepathic Sookie Stackhouse. “There’s no way you can ever get bored on a show like this. When you think you’ve seen it all and done it all, something weirder and wilder comes out of the woodwork.”
Weirder and wilder should provide an infusion of Oh! positive for an avid fan base that more than doubled during Blood‘s second season to 5 million viewers for each episode’s first broadcast. Adding in replay, DVR and on-demand viewing, Blood ranks second only to The Sopranos among HBO series in total viewership.
The thirst for Blood may be unquenchable. Fan site true-blood.net reports more than four times as many visitors in the past 30 days as in the corresponding period in 2009.
Why do fans respond so strongly? “Part of us yearns for the muck of the primal,” says series creator and executive producer Alan Ball. “We still have part of us that feels in awe of nature and all of the stuff that is bigger and scarier than us. … I think True Blood has evolved into a show that can feed that desire, that incorporates fear, terror, sex and transcendent behavior in a way that’s really entertaining and funny at the same time.”
And over-the-top bloody, of course.
The series roughly follows the popular Sookie Stackhouse novels of Charlaine Harris, which focus on the mind reader and her relationships with vampire boyfriend Bill Compton and other folks (human and otherwise) in rural Bon Temps, La.
The new season, which introduces werewolves, more shape-shifters and the byzantine world of vampire politics, corresponds to the third novel, Club Dead.
“This is classic, escapist fun,” says Stephen Moyer, who co-stars as the 173-year-old Bill. “You can read it on so many levels. It can be an hour of escapist drama. You also can watch it for comedy, suspense, as a thriller, as a horror. It’s an audacious show.”
Picking up the threads
When we left them, Bill had disappeared, apparently via kidnapping, after proposing to Sookie; shape-shifter Sam Merlotte (Sam Trammell), owner of the bar where Sookie works, had embarked on a search for his real family; and Sookie’s BFF Tara (Rutina Wesley) was grieving over the death of her boyfriend.
Bill’s disappearance “is not really the way every romantic dream proposal goes. The girl bursts into tears, runs to the bathroom, comes back to say yes, and the dude is gone,” says Paquin. “That’s going to be a pretty major plotline for Sookie.”
As Season 3 begins, Sookie will go in search of Bill, aided by handsome werewolf Alcide Herveaux (Joe Manganiello), who’s assigned to the task by vampire sheriff Eric Northman (Alexander Skarsgard). Despite that arrangement, vampires and werewolves (who have been at each other’s throats in the Twilight and Underworld movie series) are not the best of super-friends.
“Eric hates them,” says Skarsgard, covered with white makeup and accents of blood red during a break on the show’s L.A. set. “In his opinion, werewolves are very primitive, stupid, disgusting, not sophisticated. After a while, you’ll find out there’s a deeper reason he hates them.”
At the same time, the actors were delighted with real wolves on the set. “They’re extraordinary creatures,” says Moyer, also sporting vampiric pallor. “They never stop moving. They’re enormous and powerful. That’s been the highlight so far — of the things I’m allowed to talk about.”
Another main story will be Sam’s search for his biological family. The shape-shifter may get more than he wishes for. “They’re an itinerant, very poor and sketchy family. He finds out who these people are and why they’ve given him up. … It’s sort of like a Pandora’s box, that he thinks he can go and meet them and then leave. But he can’t put the top back on the box,” says Trammell.
Tara and Sookie’s brother Jason (Ryan Kwanten), who shot Tara’s boyfriend, will each be dealing with the fallout from his death. Viewers also will meet a new royal bloodsucker, Russell Edgington (Dennis O’Hare), the vampire king of Mississippi, and learn more about a vampire hierarchy that also includes Sophie-Anne (Evan Rachel Wood), the vampire queen of Louisiana.
If there’s a Season 3 theme, it’s identity, Ball says. “Each character is coming to terms with who or what they are. We’re finding out what makes them tick and what they’re willing to do and not willing to do, and what they’re willing to fight for and not willing to fight for,” he says.
As is apparent, the True Blood world keeps growing, which Ball says partly reflects Harris’ novels.
“It’s bigger, or at least it feels that way,” says Deborah Ann Woll, who plays the coming-of-age vampire Jessica. “Half the faces around the table reads (of scripts) are new people. I don’t know what (their story lines) look like, what their sets look like or what their costumes look like. It feels like five TV shows are going on at the same time.”
Cast enjoys the ride
If Blood is fun for viewers, plots drenched with blood and sex seem to make it the same for those in the show. “The material is endlessly entertaining,” Paquin says. “It’s about as much fun as you could expect to have and still technically call it a job.”
There aren’t many places where actors can test drive their own coffins, as Kristin Bauer van Straten does while preparing for a scene. “If I’m not out in 30 minutes, start looking for a key,” says Bauer van Straten as she crawls into the sleek, white pod in the office just off of the Fangtasia bar. She doesn’t need a key; the futuristic container comes with an internal escape button. “I like the phone call that starts with: ‘We need you to come in for your coffin fitting.’ Isn’t that something?”
Moyer enjoys the writing, which keeps the characters off balance. “We’re having to react to what’s happening around us, rather than us seeking out the drama. The drama is happening to all of our characters. It feels very visceral and strong and muscular because of it.”
Ball is having a good time, too.
“It is so much fun. If you had told me I would be doing a vampire show with werewolves and would be having more fun than I’d had in my life, I would have said, ‘You’re high,’ ” says Ball, who created Six Feet Under for HBO and won a screenwriting Oscar for American Beauty.
For all the wildness, Blood wouldn’t work unless it found a way to keep the characters grounded, Ball says. “We might as well have a sign in the writers’ room that says, ‘It’s the emotions, stupid.’ We try to make sure the characters’ emotional lives are what’s driving the story. Otherwise, it’s set pieces and special effects. We have such good actors that they can play the romance, the yearning, the weaknesses, the upsets, the disappointments and the triumphs.”
Lure of immortality
As Blood blossoms as a pop-culture phenomenon, Melissa Lowery, who owns true-blood.net with Elizabeth Henderson, credits the rich combination of Ball’s take on Harris’ novels. “The show is so character-driven, it’s transcended the ‘supernatural/fantasy’ label to become a captivating experience for mainstream audiences. Whether it’s watching Sookie navigate her first real romance, Jason finding stability in chaos or discovering that vampires are humans, too, there is at least one character everyone can relate to.”
Skarsgard has his own theory on Blood‘s appeal. (The hunky Scandinavian actor is part of the fever: John Folden, who operates the true-blood.tv fan site, says one of every four messages posted there relates to Skarsgard.)
“It’s about vampires, and they represent immortality. I think people are attracted to that. Their age and knowledge and level of experience is very attractive, and you’re drawn to that,” says Skarsgard, whose Eric is 1,000 years old. “But they’re also animals, and they can turn on you like that and kill you in a second.”
Would Paquin be interested in a season for each of Harris’ 10 novels? “I’d do it until they pull the plug,” she says. “I don’t know how long everyone’s going to want to watch us running around biting each other and having all the sex and blood, but I think we’ll do this until they tell us we have to stop. It’s a dream job.”