We had the pleasure of speaking with Alan Ball, the creator and writer for HBO’s True Blood. He spoke about the second season, Anna and Stephen’s real-life relationship, and the future direction of the series. Here’s part one of our two part (Part 2) interview:
You’ve mentioned in another interview that this season is just going to be more of everything, and the show is already incredibly sexy and gory, so what can you tell us what “more” we can look forward to.
Alan Ball: Believe it or not, the show is sexier and gorier. Yeah, I think it’s also funnier; I think it’s also deeper. I just feel like the show is finding its identity and settling into itself in a way that feels really organic. And it definitely feels to me as if things are amped up for season two.
For those who haven’t read the books: Last season the story was about a serial killer, this year it’s about a mysterious creature. Is each chapter or season going to be a different mystery or how will it play out?
Alan Ball: Well, we are basing the show on a source material: a very, very successful line of novels by Charlaine Harris, and there is an element of mystery in each book but it’s more than just that, that’s just part of the mix. There’s also a love story, there’s also horror, there’s also a mix of funny. I wouldn’t say that each season revolves around a mystery, because, for example, in the first season we, the audience did not know who the serial killer was, and we were sort of trying to figure it out at the same time Sookie was trying to figure it out. In this season, as the show progresses, we know that there is a character who is really up to no good and who is dangerous long before any of the other characters on the show know it. So it’s a little bit of a flip in that regard.
How do you feel about Anna and Stephen’s real life romance and how that affects filming.
Alan Ball: They are such constant professionals, both of them, that it doesn’t affect filming whatsoever. It only affects filming in the sense that they’re incredibly comfortable with each other and their chemistry translates to the screen. And I’m very happy for both of them; they’re both terrific people, and they really found somebody that they really want to be with. There’s nothing negative about it.
Given just how dedicated and passionate the fanbase is, is there any concern to the subplot involving the cult and how that reflects on zealotry?
Alan Ball: (Laughs) No. That never even crossed my mind prior to you asking that question. I really don’t think the fans… actually there are two cults in the show this year, which one are you talking about?
The main, anti-vampire cult. The Fellowship of the Sun.
Alan Ball: Oh, okay. No, because I don’t think vampire fans are going to associate themselves with anti-vampire zealots.
You could also talk about Maryann, and how that plays into people who are so overwhelmed by pleasure that they give up to everything else.
Alan Ball: I think people who are overwhelmed by pleasure will love this show! The kind of people who would look at this and say, “Oh, that’s-they’re making fun of me” and “That’s casting me in a bad light,” are not really the kind of people who are going to be watching the show to begin with. They’re going to be watching FOX News.
Do you feel like the second season is perhaps a little bit more directly satirical because of the way it looks with the cult than the first season might have been, in terms of a political analysis of some sort?
Alan Ball: I suppose it can look that way, having just seen the first four episodes, but it actually-it turns deadly serious. I mean, certainly, I think we did not set out to go, “Oh, let’s make a more satirical show this year.” Again, I’m basing it off the source material. However, you know, given the nature of the political debate in this country, I think it’s very easy to look at it in a satirical light. But I’ve been very clean from the beginning with all the actors, and they really believe what they’re doing. They really, really believe that they have a mission to save the world.
How do you come up with the story for each episode? Is it mostly based on the book or do you invent some new things to go with what you want to do with the show?
Alan Ball: Well, I think it’s probably like a fifty-fifty combo, using material from the book and coming up with stuff on our own. The books are all narrated by Sookie, so the books are basically Sookie’s story and the other characters really only exist in the books when they’re in the room with Sookie. So we stick pretty closely to the Sookie story, we do make some changes here and there that just feel- that helps streamline the story or work better in a visual medium as opposed to the printed page. But we also-a lot of the story line is original, however we do try to make sure that it remains true to the spirit of the book. We start each season with a book. We sort of go through and stage each of the great moments that we really want to hang on to, and then we spread it out over twelve episodes. Then we start filling in the blanks with the other characters. I work with four really great writers that I would like to actually name them: Brian Buckner, Nancy Oliver, Raelle Tucker, and Alexander Woo. They are as much as a part of the story telling of the show as I am. Then it just becomes kind of like an organic collaboration.
Have you read all the books? How close do you plan for the series to ultimately follow the books in the bigger picture?
Alan Ball: I have not read the newest book that was just released, because I haven’t had time. I fell in love with these books, and I thought “This is a great tale” and “This is a great universe,” and I think that one of the reasons the books are so successful is that they work. Honestly, I think – probably, as the series progresses, we’ll be forced to not… you know you’re walking a fine line. You want to be as faithful to the books as possible, but at the same time you don’t want to be a scribe. Because then there’ll be no surprises for the audience. But I definitely intend to be very faithful to the source material, because it’s really good. It works.
Going back to the gore and sexiness of the show, did you feel you had to up the antes this season? Did you draw on any specific horror or sci-fi influences, other than Charlaine’s books?
Alan Ball: 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, to make him more of a… to see his more monstrous side because as the season progresses we definitely also see his more human side. There’s a scene where Sookie and Bill make love in the first episode that basically on the page it said, “Sookie and Bill make love.” Then I saw the dailies and I saw the scenes cut together… I wasn’t there when they shot it, and I kind of just went, “Oh! Wow! Okay.” But you know, I love it. I think that’s a part of what the appeal of the show is. I don’t think we do anything gratuitously, but it’s important to show that between Sookie and Bill there is this incredible erotic chemistry. These are two people who thought that they had no chance to ever have a real love affair, and they found each other. And there’s something fantastic and mindblowing about that. For example, the violence in the first few episodes is… it’s important to see that these people are monsters. Vampires are capable of being monsters… they are monsters… but they are capable of being violent. And it was also important to have the character, who will remain nameless, who has to deal with all that to suffer from a kind of PTSD over the course of the season, because you don’t want to just have all that horrible gore and what an awful psychological experience for him, and then just have him be OK the next day. That’s not the way it happens in real life.
You really explore different aspects of evil in people and also in the undead, can you pinpoint one character this season that you would say is the most evil of all?
Alan Ball: Most evil? It’s interesting, because I don’t think people who are actually evil know they’re evil or believe that they’re evil. I think that they believe in someway that their actions are justified. So, I would hesitate to say Maryann is the most evil, although she definitely is. She revels in chaos and destruction. She doesn’t look at it from the polarities of good and evil, she got a different, more ancient perspective. But just in terms of someone who just really enjoys being cruel and sadistic and has a really dark vision is the character who has not shown up yet. It’s another vampire.
I know the new season takes place in part in Dallas. How is that going to be reflected in the look of the show, as far as costume, art set design, things like that?
Alan Ball: Well, it definitely is a different look than Bon Temps. A part of the show takes place in Dallas, but not most of the show, there’s a lot of stuff still going on in Bon Temps. But definitely, we chose to show a very different side of vampire culture and that’s kind of like the sophisticated vampire culture in the big city. A lot of the show takes place in a hotel that caters specifically to vampires and is very, very upscale. We definitely… it’s a different look in Dallas, when we’re in the city, but then a lot of it takes place… the Fellowship of the Sun has a leadership conference that takes place on a camp ground. So that’s still fairly nature based and rural.
What about the music this season, is that also going to change? Have you stumbled upon a new favorite for yourself? A new favorite band or song.
Alan Ball: We’re very excited that we’ve been using a song from the new Bob Dylan album called “Beyond Here Lies Nothin’.” We’ve been using that for all of our promos and definitely use that in the last episode. When we go to Dallas, and we go to the hotel. It’s more urban/sophisticated, definitely different. We use a lot of different music in the show. I will say that there are some moments where the show goes back in time to visit some of our characters during earlier parts in their lives. That’s a very different time. Generally, the music is still pretty Louisiana based, aside from the fancy, upscale hotel music when they get to Dallas.
Interview By: Emma Loggins
– Check out part 2 here!