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TRUE BLOOD's Alan Ball Talks Sex and Nudity
Interview: True Blood creator Alan Ball
By Liana Aghajanian
June 16, 2009
Alan Ball, creator and exec-producer of HBO's TRUE BLOOD(2009).
© HBO/Robert Trate
As fans bit in to True Blood’s season 2 premiere on Sunday, June 14- executive producer Alan Ball took some time out to discuss what season 2 holds in store, his emotional connection with True Blood, the writing process and more. Based on The Sookie Stackhouse series by Charlaine Harris, True Blood, which ended it's first season with a large cult following and dedicated fan base, chronicles the life of telepathic bar maid Sookie Stackhouse, the love of her life, Vampire Bill, as well as a ton of other colorful characters. The cast, including Anna Paquin, Stephen Moyer, Ryan Kwanten, Alexander Skarsgård, Deborah Ann Woll and Rutina Wesley, along with Alan Ball and Charlaine Harris will be appearing at this year’s Comic-Con in a panel discussion, but for more immediate insight on the show, read on.
Q: How do you come up with the story for each episode?
A: It’s a 50/50 combo, using material from book, and using our own material. We stick pretty closely to Sookie’s story, a lot of the story line is original. There are some changes here and there to help streamline the story, however we do try that it remains true to the spirit of the book and spread it out over 12 episodes. I work with four really great writers – Brian Buckner, Nancy Oliver, Raelle Tucker and Alexander Woo, they are as much a part of the story telling of the show as I am.
Q: Have you read all the books and how close do you plan to follow them?
A: I have not read the newest book, that has just released because I haven’t had time, I fell in love with these books, and I thought this is a great tale one of the reasons they are so successful is that they work – you’re walking a fine line, you want to be as faithful to the book as possible, but then there will be no surprises for the audience, I definitely stay faithful to source material because it’s really good and it works.
Q: Did you feel you had to up the ante this season?
A: I did not feel like we needed to up the ante, just to up the ante I did feel like it was important to make Eric more frightening and show his more monstrous side, as things progress, we definitely see his more human side. I don’t think we do anything gratuitously, it's important to show that they have an incredible erotic chemistry, both never had the chance to have a love affair, and they found each other and there’s something fantastic and mind blowing about that. The violence in the first two episodes, it's important to see that these people are monsters, they are capable of being monsters and violent - a character who will remain nameless who has to deal with all of that, will suffer PTSD from that over the course of the season.
Q: Can you pinpoint one character that is the most evil of all?
A: I don’t think people who are actually evil know that they’re evil, I think they believe in some way that their actions are justified in some way. I would say hesitate to say Maryann, she revels in chaos and destruction, but she doesn’t look at it from the polarities of good and evil. But just in terms of someone who enjoys being cruel and sadistic and has a really dark vision, is the character that has not shown up yet-another vampire from Dallas.
Q: A part of the show takes place in Dallas, how is that going to be reflected in the look of the show?
A: We chose to show a very different side of vampire culture, a lot of it takes place in a hotel that’s very upscale and caters to vampires. It’s a different look in Dallas, when we’re in the city, a lot of it takes place in the Fellowship of the Sun, a lot of takes base on the campground, so that’s very nature based
Q: Concerning the music of the show, is that also going to change?
A: Well we’re very excited that we’ve been using a song from the new Bob Dylan album, When we go to Dallas to the hotel, it will be a different kind of music than what you hear in Merlotte’s, it will be urban sophisticated and definitely different. We have a lot of different music in the show – I will say that there are moment in the show when we go back in time – that’s a very different time, it's still pretty Louisiana based
Q: Tara and Jessica not part of the book – what are some of the things you’re trying to explore with these characters?
A: I did think we need another strong woman who is one of our core group of characters, it’s Louisiana explore the racial makeup of that region and also, this is a small town in the south – hang nooses at trees, based on racial tension, I think it would be silly to do that and just have Caucasian characters, Tara has an alcoholic mother, but I wanted to really explore a really strong friendship of two outcasts. And then Jessica, once we decided to make Bill the guy to stake Long Shadow instead of Eric (which is the way it happens in the book), once we had a girl who came from a very sheltered, home schooled background, and plucked her out of that and put her in this entirely new environment, that opened itself up to all kinds of interesting situations.
Q: You once said when you referred to your early television writing career, that you didn’t have much connection to what you were writing – what is your emotional connection to True Blood?
A: The things about True Blood is that it’s been so much fun to work on. The emotion I feel for all these characters, they feel real to me, when we’re breaking stories, we might as well have a sign in the writer’s room that says, ‘it’s the emotions stupid,’ because if you don’t have characters that you care about and you can’t face their behavior and their own special needs than it's just a parade of set pieces and special effects and I personally don’t respond to that kind of entertainment, and what I feel makes the show special is that it has all the trappings of an amusement park – but at the same time the characters are behaving organic emotional place, I think it’s important to keep the character rooted in wants, desires, struggles needs and not just in fangs and special effects-ultimately that stuff on it's own isn’t very interesting.
Q: What is the process of going from a regular drama to a genre category?
Well in a lot of ways the process is the same. “Six Feet Under” was a personal and professional achievement that I was proud of – but it was hard, five years of staring in the abyss, it took it's toll and I think that’s one of the things that appealed to me about Charlaine’s books, that man this is so much fun, and I can’t put them down, I mean it has an emotional basis, but I it's also just was crazy fun. I remember when I wrote American Beauty and I got offered every mid-life crisis screenplay and I just thought ‘why are you giving me this? I did this.’ I don’t want to go through my life repeating that- what fun is that?
Q: Can you talk a bit more about Jason’s character arch for the season?
A: Jason is very much the hot guy in town who is a total womanizer, I think once we started to flesh him out, no pun intended, he is sexually compulsive, but he’s been a scared little boy who has been abandoned by everyone who he’s ever loved, getting him involved in an addiction story line, also having him fall in love. He mostly high out of his mind the whole time and also losing the woman he loved. In the second season I think he is very much aware of a deep hole he has in his soul, as many people do, he latches onto religion and becomes part of an organization makes him feel good, special, like he’s good at something and gifted at something and that really means a lot to him, but of course as time goes on, he realizes that the organization he’s involved with have anything to do with the fundamental message of Jesus. Let's just say Jason can't keep his clothes on for too long.
Q: Has your involvement in True Blood had an involvement in how you think of good and evil?
I tend to think that good and evil are black and white polarities that we sort of turn to in a very, very gray world, I think that’s reflected in the show, I certainly see good and evil, in day to day life, certainly in the 24 hour cable news cycle. There’s a moment in the second episode in the church they are greeted by the Newlins, someone in the audience yells “Die fanger,” and I would be lying if I said some of the reactions of the Sarah Palin rallies weren't behind that.
Q: Can you tell us a bit more about Evan Rachel Woods’ role in the second season?
A: She is going to be playing Sophie Anne, the vampire queen of Louisiana. The vampire political structure in the state is each state has a king or queen, the buck stops there in terms of vampire politics. She doesn’t show up until the 5th or 6th book, but it turned out that it makes sense for her to show up in the second season. In the book she is a young looking woman, she’s more than 400-years-old, Evan’s really beautiful, she’s very pale, she looked like a vampire to me.
Q: What is the most difficult part you’ve had in creating the series?
A: Trying to produce the show on a television schedule and budget and trying to fit everything. Those episodes are packed and it's not just people sitting in a room talking, there’s a lot of storyboarded action sequences, special effects sequences, big sequences in the second season - lots of extras, definitely the hardest part is getting it done in time, not having the schedule and the budget.
Q: You’ve said that you weren’t viewing vampirisim as anything else, do you still have that view?
A; Vampirism as anything else – assimilation and equal rights as a metaphor gay and lesbians today, maybe African Americans 50 years ago and I think I would be naïve if I didn’t see that , if that wasn’t easy to look at it that way, for me it’s a little too easy and ultimately one of the things I like about the show, is that it's very complex, you could look at it, if I’m using vampires-- these murdering vicious monsters for metaphor for gay and lesbians – would I really do that as a gay man? It's very fluid, the metaphor and I certainly think that one of the themes of the show. How difficult it is to co-exist, those who are other, those who are different, I cant take any of that stuff too seriously – because, hello, it’s a show about vampires, there’s definitely something fun about that,
Q: A few members of the cast aren’t from the south or America for that matter, how did they learn to replicate the southern accents we see in the show?
A: We has a dialect coach for the first season, but this season they’ve got it down, I am from the south myself so If I hear something that really sounds off, I’ll have them corrected, but they’ve gotten really good at it.
Q: Have you ever received any notes from HBO about the sex or violence?
A: No. The sex is a very important part of people’s psyches – their sexuality is a way to explore who they are as characters and I feel like that’s always underlying part everything we do.
Be sure to check out the second season of “True Blood” on HBO every Sunday night at 9:00 E.T.