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October 25, 2014

Alan Ball of True Blood: The TV Squad Interview - full transcript

by Jane Boursaw, posted Sep 11th 2009 2:01PM
Alan Ball, Rutina Wesley, Michelle Forbes, Deborah Ann WollHere's the full transcript of the interview I conducted with True Blood creator Alan Ball (comments can be left under the edited version):

I asked my TV Squad readers what they wanted me to ask you, and one of their main questions involves the books. Some feel the show doesn't follow the books closely enough. Your thoughts on that?

I think a book and a television show are two different mediums. If I were to follow the books, it would be all about Sookie, because Sookie narrates the story, and the other characters would rarely even show up. Jason would come into the bar and hug her in an attempt to make people think he loves his sister so he can pick somebody up. Tara wouldn't even have existed until this season, and she'd be white. Lafayette would be dead.True Blood - Sookie and Bill

So all I can say to those people is, it's based on the books, but it's not a literal adaptation of the books. I'm doing what I think is the best way to turn that story into a television show. Also, if I just stuck to the books, there would be no surprises. You could go pick up the books anywhere and know exactly what was coming. So personally, I don't see any benefit of making a carbon copy of the books for TV.

I talked to Stephen Moyer earlier this year, and he said pretty much the same thing. So what's your creative process to figure out which storylines and characters to follow?

Well, Sookie narrates the books, so her story is basically figured out to a great degree already. At the beginning of each season, we go through the books, pick out the points we really love, and pick out the points we think would make a great cliffhanger moment at the end of an episode. Then we start to wrap the other characters in, because even though Anna is the star and Sookie is the central character, it's an ensemble show. That's part of what I love about it; there's so many characters, and there's somebody for everybody.

Then sometimes we'll look at something that happens in the book, and we'll say, "Maybe it might work better if we just change this." For example, I love the books, and I think Charlaine is a fantastic writer. My hat's off to her, and I'm eagerly awaiting the next book in the series. But in the first book, when Longshadow attacked Sookie, Eric staked him. There was some vague thing, like "Oh, Eric's in trouble. He had to go in front of some board." Well, it seemed more dramatic within the world of our television show to have Bill be the one who staked him. None of that was in the book and had it been Eric, at that point of Eric's place in the show, I don't think we would have followed him. Eric was introduced sort of into the periphery of Bill and Sookie, and now Eric's become a character in his own right.

And you couldn't have picked a better punishment for Bill.

Right, we came up with the worst possible punishment for Bill, which was having to make a vampire. Now, we have this crazy, formerly Christian, home-schooled, socially inept girl whose been turned into a vampire, which I think is a fantastic character.

Jessica is awesome.

And again, if we had followed the books, we wouldn't have that. So the people who love the books, more power to you. You will always have the books. We're not taking any of that away from you.

Will Eric be a bigger part of the show in season three? Will he and Sookie get together?

I can't tell you if they're going to get together, because that's going to ruin the anticipation. But, if you've been following season two, he's definitely been doing things to make her more vulnerable and more susceptible to him. And he does want her, he's just not sure why. I think it's deeper than just, "I want her because Bill Compton has her." Although that's part of it, because Eric is a total alpha-dog.

Yeah, that opening scene in "Frenzy" [of Eric and Sookie in bed together] was cool, but it kind of made me feel bad for Bill. I'm as big a fan of Eric as the next girl, but between him and Bill, it would be a tough choice!

They're both vampires, and they're both deadly, so there's that. It's the classic good boy/bad boy. The good boy, he's great, but the bad boy ... you can't stop thinking about him.

True Blood - Eric NorthmanYes, right. And we kind of all want Eric to grow his hair back, too.

Seriously?

Oh yeah.

He wore a wig on season one, and we thought it looked ridiculous. I got a lot of e-mails saying, "Oh, I wish they'd take that wig off of him," so we did. We came up with the haircut just to get that ridiculous wig off of him. I think he looks so much better, and it's certainly loosened him up as an actor. It's like the wig came off, and he blossomed.

Everyone is just fantastic on the show. I don't know how you got all these people together who are just perfect for their roles. Did you have certain actors in mind ahead of time?

Not at all. I don't work that way. For me, the character is enough when I'm writing, and also, at that point, I'd read six books of Charlaine's that made it pretty clear who the characters were. For me, what's most important is finding the person who can inhabit that role spiritually, personality wise, and who fulfills the essence of the character, as opposed to whether they're a complete match for how the character is described in the books. I'm lucky because when you work with HBO, you don't have a committee of casting people weighing in on every decision. You don't have people thinking, "Oh, we have to cast people we recognize, because otherwise nobody's going to watch this show." So I'm not forced to cast all the familiar faces, which I love because then you're able to really get to know the characters without going, "Oh, it's that guy from that show." Granted, we all knew who Anna [Paquin] was, but I think she sort of reinvented herself.

She has totally reinvented herself. I mean, now I can't think of her as anyone other than Sookie. I always say in my reviews that in every episode, you have love and lust and sex and tender moments and heartbreak. My hat's off to you for just bringing it in every episode. There's no slack there at all.

Well, thank you very much. We work very hard, so that's really, really gratifying to hear. I really appreciate it.

Is it just total team work that brings it all together every episode?

What's interesting about this show as opposed to Six Feet Under, is that this show is just fun. It's so much fun. I've never worked on a genre show before, so I think that's kind of new to me. Certainly, as a story teller, I have so many different doors to open than I had with Six Feet Under. We really LIKE to go to work.

You can tell.

These last few weeks, I've been working with the writers on breaking episodes for season three, but these people want to write scripts over their vacation, which is great, because I like to be really, really organized. We're usually four or five scripts ahead of the game, and I don't know how to work any other way. I know a lot of shows are like, "here's the pages," right before they start filming. I'd have a heart attack. The anxiety would be way too much for me. I don't have as strong a backbone as those other show writers.

I absolutely fell in love with Six Feet Under, but I practically cried my way through every episode, especially as you got towards the end of the series.

Yes. I mean, it's about grief and living with grief, whereas True Blood is just escapism. We really try to root the relationships and the characters and make them understandable and psychologically valid with behavior that we can recognize. But, you know, it's vampires and guys that turn into dogs.

I'm always prepared to be shocked and awed every episode, and I am. Can you tell us anything about season three?

Well, the book is out there, so I'm not giving anything away when I say that we'll meet the Vampire King of Mississippi, Russell Edgington. And we'll encounter werewolves for the first time in the flesh; we've heard about them, but we'll meet them. I'm very excited about the character of Debbie Pelt. She's bad news.

Since I haven't read the books, who is that?

Debbie Pelt is the ex-girlfriend of a guy who's helping Sookie try to find Bill, and she is just hard ass, white trash bitch on wheels. She's so much fun. But there are other great characters, too. Everybody is struggling with identity in season three – What am I? Who am I? What is my life? Is it what I want it to be? How do I make it what I want it to be? What are my real values? And some people are like, "Am I human? I always thought I was, but maybe I was wrong." In one particular case, its like, "Yes, honey, you were wrong."

Is that Sookie? Is she part faerie? Can you tell me that?

I can tell you that Sookie is not 100 percent human. She is now aware of that.

After the white-light thing with Maryann.

Yes. She doesn't know what she is, but she knows that it's not totally human.

And people just love the story line with Sam and Andy and Jason. They're like, "Oh, they need their own spin- off show. Just put them on the road." Are Sam and Andy related at all?

They are not related; however, Andy is related to somebody in the show. He doesn't know it, but he'll be shocked when he finds out who it is.

Andy seems to be immune to Maryann's spells. Can you tell us why?

I would say he's been immune up until this point.

Ok. And Godric, is he really dead?

He is really dead.

That was such a tender scene at the end of "I Will Rise Up" between Godric and Eric and Sookie.

Yes, I loved that scene. However, Godric and Eric have a thousand years of flashback territory to be mined.

People haven't really been liking the Maryann storyline. What's your reaction to that?

I'm baffled because I think she's a fantastic character and a fantastic actress. I also know a lot of people who really love her. I think people are impatient, you know what I mean? When her story pays off, it is really, really gratifying.

Will she be in season three?

Maryann is not going to be in season three.

When I watch True Blood, I'm sort of prepared to be freaked out, and I usually am, but in a good way. When you're researching a lot of this stuff, is it kind of freaky to think about and write about, or is it just fun for you?

You mean researching people who eat other people's hearts?

Yeah, supernatural stuff.

Well, my approach for the show is to make the supernatural something that is a deeper manifestation than nature, than perhaps we are equipped to perceive. But in my own life, I think legends of supernatural, mythic things are really just a manifestation of the collective unconscious. So I don't really get freaked out. I mean certainly, you read about things people did to each other in the pursuit of some mystical or occult goal, and it's horrifying. But that's just human nature. That's just psychology. Psychopaths exist everywhere, and have existed all throughout history.

Do you believe in the supernatural?

I certainly believe that what we perceive as humans is just the tip of the iceberg. I don't necessarily believe in vampires or werewolves or that kind of thing, but I believe there is definitely a realm we don't necessarily have access to. I don't know what it is, and I hesitate to articulate it further than that, because I have no idea what it is, but I know it's there.

Why do you think people are so big on vampires right now?

Well, honestly, I think it's a bit of a coincidence that several vampire movies, TV shows, and books all happened at the same time, but I also think vampires are hot. Vampires are sexy. It's a very primal depiction of sexuality. It's also fun to fantasize about this creature that's stronger than we are, taking us against our will in a very sexual and savage way, whereas it's not fun to fantasize about a human doing that. It makes a certain sort of fantasy about surrender and being ravaged safe, because you know that a vampire is never going to come after you.

Right, and they're protective, like Bill is of Sookie. Well, some of them are anyway. That's appealing.

We're going to meet a vampire in season three who's not very protective at all. Those who've read the books will recognize the name -- Franklin Mott.

Can't wait for season three! Thanks so much for all your time, Alan.

Absolutely. My pleasure.

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