[06/15/09 - 12:07 AM]
Interview: "True Blood" Creator Alan Ball
By Jim Halterman (TFC)

Talk around the water cooler this morning is more than likely about the horrific, comical, sexy and bloody goings on in "True Blood," which premiered it's second season last night. With the first season having pulled in some of the biggest ratings for HBO since "The Sopranos" left the air, hopes are high that even more viewers will show up for more of Sookie, Vampire Bill and the gang. Late last week, "True Blood" creator Alan Ball talked to the press about what's coming up in the new season, how the real-life romance between stars Anna Paquin (Sookie) and Stephen Moyer (Bill) is effecting the set and if he's feeling more or less pressure to live up to high expectations with his latest hit show.

"Believe it or not, the show is sexier and gorier," Ball said about the new crop of episodes. "I think it's also funnier. I think it's also deeper. I just feel like the show is really finding its identity and delving into itself in a way that feels really organic. It definitely feels as if things are ramped up for season two."

Ball also explained the differences in the season-long story arc that appeared in the first and second seasons. "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 figuring it out. In this season, as the show progresses, we know that there's 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."

While the relationship between Sookie and Bill have already had its share of ups and downs, Ball isn't worried about the complications in this new season coming off as contrived. "Given the source material, there is a lot going on. This year Sookie goes to Dallas to help Eric find this missing vampire and ultimately we actually broke down the timeline of the entire season and season 2 takes place in 12 days. And when a lot of that time is spent running for your lives or trying not to get killed or trying to get past this or that obstacle that keeps you from each other it's not really hard. They don't really have time to start to run into the same kind of relationship things that us mere mortals do. "I really hate it when you do that." or "I wish you would do this" They're basically trying to just get through the day without getting killed."

With the Charlaine Harris "Sookie Stackhouse" books being the basis of the series, Ball was asked how much he is pulling from Harris's stories. "It's probably like a 50/50 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 stories and the other characters really only exist in the books when they're in the room with Sookie. We stick pretty closely to the Sookie story but we do make some changes here and there if it helps streamline the story or work better but also a lot of the storyline is original, however, we do try to make sure that it stays and remains true to the spirit of the book."

Ball went so far as to explain the process of creating an entire season of "True Blood" and made sure not to take all the credit. "We start each season with a book and we sort of go through and say 'These are the great moments that we want to hang on to' and then we spread it out to twelve episodes and then we start filling in the blanks with the other characters. I work with four really great writers � Brian Buckner, Nancy Oliver, Raelle Tucker and Alexander Woo - they're as much a part of the storytelling of the show as I am and then it just becomes kind of like an organic collaboration."

One thing that was unexpected from the successful first season was the real-life romance that developed between stars Paquin and Moyers. While tabloids would probably be pleased to report dismay from the casts and crew, Ball expressed only the positive in how the relationship has impacted the show. Of his two leads, Ball said, "They are such consummate professionals, both of them, that it doesn't effect filming whatsoever. It only effects filming in the sense that they're incredibly comfortable with each other and that really translates to the screen and I'm really happy for both of them. They're both terrific people. They really found somebody that they really want to be with and there's nothing negative about it."

In fact, Ball talked about a particular scene in last night's episode that had even surprised him when he saw the finished scene. "On the page it said 'Sookie and Bill make love' and then I saw the dailies and I saw the scenes cut together - I wasn't there when they shot it � and I just kind of went 'Wow, okay.' I love it and I think that's what part of the appeal of the show is. I don't think we do anything gratuitously but it's important to the show that between Sookie and Bill there is this incredible erotic chemistry. These are two people who thought they had no chance to ever have a real love affair and they found each other and there's something fantastic and mind-blowing about that."

While the character of Bill is in love with the human Sookie, Ball wanted to make sure that viewers don't forget that other vampires do not have the kindness that he often displays. "I did feel like it was important to make Eric (Alexander Skarsgard) more frightening. To see the more monster side of him because as the season progresses we definitely also see his more human side." Despite the humor in the series, violence is usually not far behind and (pardon the pun) feeds into who the vampires are. "For example," Ball explained, "the violence in the first few episodes is important [in order to] see that these people are monsters. Vampires are capable of being monsters. I don't think they are monsters but they are capable of being monsters and violent."

And, while some shows might have a character go through a horrific ordeal in one episode and appear fine the next, Ball is taking a more realistic approach with "True Blood." In fact, he addressed a particular character's storyline and even kept that character's identity a secret (but if you saw last night's episode, you'll be able to figure it out). "It was also important to have the character-who-will-remain-nameless, who has to deal with all that and sort of suffer from a kind of PTSD [post-traumatic stress disorder] over the course of the season. You don't want to have all that horrible gore and what an awful psychological experience for him and then just have him be okay the next day. That's not the way it happens in real life."

While the series often focuses on the battles between good and evil, Ball shared his philosophy on characters that would fall more in the evil category. "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 they believe in some ways that they're actions are justified so I would hesitate to say Maryann (Michelle Forbes) is the most evil [on the series] although she definitely revels in chaos and destruction but she doesn't look at it from the polarities of good and evil. She has a different perspective." While MaryAnn's objectives will be revealed over the course of the coming episodes, Ball did reveal that there is another character coming down the pike that will give all previous evil characters a run for their money. " 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 in Dallas."

While he said he hasn't had time to read Harris's latest book, "Dead and Gone," (currently #7 on the NY Times Best Seller List) he talked about his plans for the source material in future seasons of the series. "I fell in love with these books and I thought this is a great tale and this is a great universe and I think one of the reasons the books are so successful is that they work�I definitely intend to be very faithful to the source material because it's really good and it works."

Finally, now that the series is a huge hit and there's more attention than ever directed his way, is Ball feeling the pressure and stress to keep the momentum moving forward? "I don't really think about those things," he said, "I feel like that is a real trap. I just really try to do the best work that I can do and stay out of the result. I'm glad people are watching the show I always thought that it was a show that a lot of people would have a lot fun with but I don't feel more pressure and I really work very hard to stay in a little bubble in that regard because otherwise you can go crazy. It doesn't help."

New episodes of "True Blood" continue every Sunday at 9:00/8:00c on HBO with multiple re-airings throughout the week.

  [june 2009]  


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