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April 14, 2009

'True Blood'


Alan Ball, Anna Paquin, Stephen Moyer

By Lesley Goldberg

Fans of HBO's "True Blood" showed their undying love for the vampire drama at Monday's PaleyFest panel, and the Paley Center for Media rewarded genre fans by opening the evening with a short clip from '60s fanger "Dark Shadows."

Bypassing the full-episode treatment for the night, attendees were treated to a 15-minute Season 1 highlight reel, followed by a short teaser for Season 2, which bows June 14. The clip, which featured Sookie (Anna Paquin) and Bill (Stephen Moyer) bickering over the newbie vampire he sired at the end of Season 1, offered a glimpse at a new creature from author Charlaine Harris' "Southern Vampire Mysteries" book series on which the drama is based.

Created by Alan Ball ("Six Feet Under"), the writer/director/executive producer said he first picked up Harris' "Dead Until Dark" (Book 1 in the "SVM" series) while waiting for a dental appointment and "went through them like crack. I became a crack addict."

"I thought that this is so not the book that I typically read, but I was so sucked into this world and these characters and their stories; I think this makes a really good television show," he said. "Originally, I wasn't sure if it was going to be TV or a movie, so I called Charlaine and I wanted to buy the rights myself, and at that time the rights were tied up in some sort of feature deal that was going to run out in a few months so when it ran out, I bought them and I basically called HBO and I said that I think that this could be a really great show, and they said, 'OK.'

"I'm starting to realize that just from the viewpoint of being a writer, television is a much more welcoming place than features," Ball said of his decision to return to television after the conclusion of HBO's "Six Feet Under."

Ball later added that he made Paquin read for Sookie five times.

"It wasn't so much auditioning as it was stalking," Paquin said. "I thought it was acting abuse. It's really fun being the only pasty brunette vampire-looking person in the room that's filled with people auditioning for a busty tan blonde person. ... I'm grateful that Alan and HBO were able to see beyond the aesthetic."

Alexander Skarsgard, who had fans in the room screaming as if he were Elvis, said that he was "devastated" after not getting a call-back from Ball after reading to play vampire-with-morals Bill, but that the 100-day writers strike wound up working in his favor when he was offered the role of Eric, the powerful owner of local vampire hotspot Fangtasia.

"I was in Mozambique shooting 'Generation Kill,' and at one point it looked like I wasn't going to be able to do this, but fortunately for me the writers strike happened, so 'True Blood' got pushed and I was able to finish 'Generation Kill' and come back and audition to play Eric," he added.

Ball said he didn't picture any specific actors for "True Blood," but saw Ryan Kwanten in "Flicka" when he spotted elements of Sookie's brother Jason. "I originally read for Bill's part ... and Lafayette, but they wouldn't give it to me," Kwanten joked. "(Playing Jason) is really sort of nothing like me but I have fun jumping into his skin and being somewhat of a redneck Casanova."

Moyer quickly followed his castmates' humor: "I auditioned for Sookie," he joked, adding that he was in London and did not plan to return to the U.S. when his agent encouraged him to consider a "just one script, please, it's from Alan Ball." "There's not another job out there that I would rather be doing in film or TV."

Ball, addressing Skarsgard's cultlike popularity online, said he is aware of what a huge presence Eric is in the books.

"I feel very compelled to remain really true to the spirit of Charlaine's books if not 100% to the stories -- because her books are all narrated by Sookie so it's Sookie's story -- so part of the challenge in bringing it to the screen is to take the other members of the cast, these really great characters and flush them out so Anna isn't working all 18 hours of the 18-hour day and collapsing," Ball said.

"As writers we do take some liberties; I don't think you want to just be stenographers because then there's no surprises," he added. "I try to walk that balance between pleasing the fans of the book and remaining true to the parts of the stories that really work and also giving some surprises and taking some different direction."

"There are moments in the book that you wish were on the screen and they don't end up on the screen but there are also moments that are not in the books that your jaw is going to be on the floor," Ball said of what's to come.

Responding to a fan who voiced his disappointment with HBO for canceling such series as "Deadwood" and "Carnivale" too soon, Ball said there is one way to ensure that the vampire drama have a life beyond Season 2: "Everybody buy the DVD. HBO will look at that and say, 'We'll give you 18 more seasons.' "

"I believe the show has many, many years in it," he added. "I think one of the reasons I came back to television after 'Six Feet Under' is because of the nature of the show and the supernatural characters and the world; it gives you such incredible freedom as storytellers. ... The great thing about working on this show is that there's new creatures and Charlaine sort of reveals that supernatural world like she's peeling back the layers of an onion over the course of all her books and that's what we're trying to do as well."

As for some of the cast's favorite scenes, Rutina Wesley (Tara) said the scene in which Sookie finally eats a pie that her character's grandmother baked just hours before being stabbed to death ranked high. "The connection that you (Paquin) had was really sweet."

Nelsan Ellis (Lafayette) also cited some of the heartfelt dialogue as moments that he has enjoyed. "(When Bill says to Sookie) 'I smell sunlight on your skin,' was one of my favorites ... and it's a really good line," he joked.

Other panelists, however, really loved when their co-workers had to sport the "Sack of Destiny" -- a term coined by the cast for a sock Kwanten and Sam Trammell (shape-shifter Sam) often had to sport during nude scenes.

"My least-favorite scene was running naked in beige-colored jazz shoes ... it's tough seeing yourself naked, but naked and running is really funny," Trammell joked.

Other panelists included Carrie Preston (Arlene), who said she ran out and read all of Harris' books after she got the part. "I read all of them. I wanted to see if I died or not!"

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The True Blood panel discussion was the best and the actors were all wondering. The is one of the best show to come out on television in a long time.
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