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[04/13/09 - 07:00 PM]
Live at the Paley Festival: HBO's "True Blood"
By Brian Ford Sullivan (TFC)

Please note: As a courtesy, please do not reproduce these comments to newsgroups, forums or other online places. Links only please.

[EDITOR'S NOTE: As always, due to the Paley Festival's policy of not allowing electronic devices during the panels, I won't be blogging the event "live." Plus, I don't want to be the douche with a laptop clicking away when everyone's trying to enjoy the show. In any case, look for my handwritten blog - how 20th century - to be transcribed and appear around 11:00 PM PT each night. And if I'm feeling adventurous, you might get a few tweets from the after parties.]

7:05 PM - Today's legacy clip comes from - no surprise here - a 1967 episode of "Dark Shadows."

7:11 PM - Paley ambassador Craig Hitchcock welcomes us to night three. And with that he brings out our host for the evening: Variety's Stuart Levine. He notes that he drove by the Cinerama Dome this afternoon and spotted 30 or so people camped out. This elicits applause from - one assumes - those 30 or some people.

7:13 PM - Stuart informs us we'll be watching a highlight reel from season one as well as a special bonus: an extended scene from the new season. For those who really want to know what we saw - stay tuned at the very end.

7:30 PM - Stuart returns to intro tonight's panel: Alexander Skarsgard! Carrie Preston! Nelsan Ellis! Rutina Wesley! Sam Trammell! Ryan Kwanten! Stephen Moyer! Anna Paquin! Alan Ball! Suffice it to say the women - based on the squealing - in the audience are very happy right now.

7:33 PM - Alan on his introduction to Charlaine Harris's books: "I actually bought the first book totally on impulse. I was early for a dentist appointment and I had 20 minutes to kill and I was wandering through the aisles of the Barnes & Noble and I saw this little book called 'Dead Until Dark' and the tagline was 'Maybe having a vampire for a boyfriend wasn't such a good idea.' And I thought, 'Okay, I'll buy it.' I started reading it, I could not put and down. And by the time I was finished with it I saw there were five other books in the series at that time and I just started ordering them from Amazon. I went through them like crack, I became a crack addict."

7:36 PM - Alexander admits he originally read for Bill two years ago but didn't get it. Subsequently, while working on "Generation Kill" in Africa, he was offered Eric but couldn't commit. The WGA strike however pushed production back on "True Blood" and allowed his schedule to work out.

7:37 PM - Alan told Carrie while working on "Towelhead" that he had something in mind for her on "True Blood." "I got the script and I was like, 'I have no idea which part he's talking about,'" Carrie admits. "Obviously when you look at Arlene on the page - the buxom, red-headed, brassy, Southern, married-four-times, two-kids - Carrie Preston doesn't spring to mind. But I went in and read for it and luckily they said, 'We'll just get you a wig and we'll make it work.'"

7:38 PM - "I still don't know why he hired me," Nelsan quips.

7:40 PM - Rutina on getting Tara: "I think every young black actress that I know went out for this part, so [I'm really thrilled] to be a part of it."

7:41 PM - Sam on learning he got the role: "I remember screaming in my car like a girl."

7:42 PM - Ryan on his character: "It's really, again, sort of nothing like me but I have so much fun jumping into his skin and being somewhat of a redneck casanova. They're two words that shouldn't go together but I try and meld them as much as I can."

7:43 PM - "Me and half of [the actors] from England was in that room," Stephen says about his initial casting session. "Everyone was there, Judi Dench - love her."

7:44 PM - "It's really fun being the only pasty, brunette vampire looking person in a room that's filled with people auditioning for a busty blonde, tan, blonde person," Anna shares sarcastically. "It really inspires an enormous amount of confidence during that first audition. But in a certain way, I kind of was like, 'Okay, well, screw it. If they want that, then that's what they're going to get. And I can only be who I am.' And I will be forever grateful that Alan and HBO were able to see beyond [that] sort of esthetic."

7:46 PM - "I was absolutely 100% sort of looking for a job like this," Anna later shares. "And I've been sort of gypsying my way around films since I was 11 and had sort of starting talking quite openly in a way that I normally don't do - because I don't like to jinx myself - of saying what would be really great was one of those great HBO shows."

7:51 PM - Alan says they've haven't filmed in Louisiana this year - "but we're planning at least one [visit], possibly two." He goes on to note they're currently shooting episode 7 of 12, prepping episode 8 and writing episode 11, page 42. How's that for an update?

7:54 PM - Alexander on Eric's fandom: "It's obviously very, very flattering because I'm basically like a glorified extra in season one so I'm in seven episodes and probably one or two scenes an episode. So I did not expect that, not at all." Stuart follows up to Alan with: "Do you keep that in your mind as you're writing? Saying Eric really seems to be connecting..." Alexander interrupts him with, "Yeah, he does."

7:56 PM - Alan on reconciling the books with the TV show: "I feel really compelled to remain really true to the spirit of Charlaine's books, if not 100% to the story. Because her books are all narrated by Sookie so it's basically Sookie's story. So part of the challenge is - to bring it to the screen - is to take the other members of the cast, these really great characters and sort of flesh them out so that Anna's not working all 18 hours of every 18-hour day, five days a week... As writers, we do take some liberties. I don't think you just want to be stenographers because then there's no surprise. I try to walk that balance between pleasing the fans of the book and remaining true to the parts of the stories in the book that really work and also give them some surprises."

7:57 PM - Carrie shares, "In the table read for the first episode [back], Alan said, 'Your characters are all gonna be doing things that you're not gonna really believe but just trust us.'"

8:01 PM - Sam on his most memorable scene: "Running naked in beige colored jazz shoes. [Laughs.] Because there were ant hills in the way and, you know, it's tough seeing yourself naked but naked running is really... [Laughs.] Your body looks, [points to Ryan] you probably look great, but... that was strange."

8:05 PM - Everybody's favorites involve nudity: Stephen brings up Ryan's naked dancing in a Laura Bush mask, while Anna points out Sam's character showing up naked sleeping in her bed.

8:07 PM - Alan admits he used to hate improvising but Nelsan converted him with his performance. "I was thinking [while filming the pilot], this guy is channeling from some other planet. Because it's so not him. And I've changed now, I'm like, 'Okay, a little freedom's great.'"

8:08 PM - Stuart asks about their fan experiences. Anna quips, "You mean, people yelling, 'What am I thinking Stackhouse?'" Nelsan admits sometimes they get "a little quirky. Some people think you're actually your character and so they take some liberties. Lafayette would be okay with certain things [but I'm] not okay with certain touching and stuff."

8:10 PM - Alan reveals he's not directing this season, but remains committed to producing and writing. "I sort of got burnt out last year. I directed a movie and I had done a play in New York and I'm not as young as I used to be."

8:11 PM - Audience Q&A time.

8:14 PM - Alan on what to expect from Michelle Forbes's character: "Her character has evolved in the writers' rooms since we started. It's been a really, really interesting journey for all of us. She is a very surprising character. I don't want to give too much away but... she's trouble. She is trouble. She is more trouble than anybody's ever thought she might be. That's all I'm going to say." He later adds, when asked about taking in Tara, "You know what, there is a weird sort of like of benevolent part of her but that's a benevolent part of somebody who's not really human and probably psychotic, celebrates and loves chaos and destruction and violence and lust. You know people like that of course. [Laughs.] Yeah, so I think at the moment she thought she was doing a really good thing, she thinks she's doing a really good thing by opening up this doorway to hell for everybody to get sucked into."

8:16 PM - Alexander on if you'll see him in pink leggings this season: "If I can find an excuse to wear that, of course... I will definitely enjoy that moment." Alan follows up with: "I will say there are moments in the book that you may wish were on the screen and they don't end up on the screen. But there are also moments that are not in the book that your jaw's going to be on the floor."

8:22 PM - "I feel like this season the show really seems to be hitting its stride," Alan confesses. "And it's becoming a real example of what great speculative fiction can be, which is by taking these extraordinary and outlandish circumstances, putting humans in these situations where they have to react in a very human way, and also in a way sort of mirror things that are going on in our own culture, especially - even though it doesn't seem to be taking up the forefront as it did in years past - the culture wars in America, the role of religion and media in determining what people accept as the values of the country, how many people are looking for so many other... people or organizations to make their decisions for them - because I think I lot of people just don't want that responsibility. The show is really sort of finding a real strength and becoming something that I never really saw it become but I'm really loving watching it become it. So my instinct is that the show could last for a long time. You know, Charlaine publishes a book every year and we used book one for the basis of season one and we used book two for the basis of season two. There are seven others out there. And if she's gonna keep publishing one a year then, I don't know, [to the actors] I hope you guys are prepared to get old on this show."

8:23 PM - Random facts you might not be aware of: Carrie Preston is married to "Lost's" Michael Emerson while Nelsan and Rutina when to school together.

8:24 PM - A fan asks the million dollar question: "Did everyone know there would be this much nudity in the show?" Everyone looks at Ryan. "Ummm, no I did not," he admits. "Again, does it bother me? No, not really."

8:26 PM - Alan on why he chose to introduce Tara so early: "When I first started writing the pilot, thinking about... what differences this will have from the book, I don't believe Tara in the books even shows up until book two. And I felt like Sookie needs a friend, she needs a girlfriend... I didn't want it to be Sookie and then a parade of hot guys. But I also felt like, you know, this is Louisiana, this is rural small town Louisiana, I need some African-American characters. Really the only one in the books, if I can remember correctly in the first book, is Lafayette and Diane the vampire. And I just thought, I think it would be really cool for these two little girls, who had various reasons to be outcasts, bonded as little girls. They just sort of felt like that's what I should do."

8:31 PM - "HBO doesn't make their programming choices from a vindictive place," Alan tells a fan worried that the network will kill the show after two seasons. "It's all business and so far our show is doing well. I would just spread the word and get more people to watch it, that's the best way to guarantee [it will survive]."

8:32 PM - An aspiring actress asks if Alan will read her. He gives her the green light to call his people. See, dreams do come true at Paleyfest.

8:36 PM - Everybody gives props to Lois Smith. "I know that Michael Raymond-James, who played Rene, when we had shot the flashback where he has to sort of kill her and stab her, he was weeping because it was so upsetting to him that he had to do that to Lois Smith," Alan reveals.

8:42 PM - "Can I do a shameless plug?" Alan asks. "You know how you can guarantee this show lasting forever? Everybody buy the DVD. They'll look at that and go, 'We'll give you 18 more seasons!'"

8:44 PM - And that's it boys and girls! See you tomorrow.

[SPOILER: For those who really want to know about the scene that was played, here's the gist. Sookie, Bill and Jessica (the vampire Bill sired last season) are driving late at night. Jessica, who's face is covered in blood, has apparently tried to reconnect with her family at Sookie's urging - to disastrous results. A furious Bill lays into Sookie about it, leading her to get out of the car and walk home. Once alone, Sookie encounters a shadowy creature with horns and talons that attacks her. Her screams alert Bill. The end... until June 14.]





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