The vampire kiddies in new HBO vampire satrico-drama True Blood are hornier than the entire cast of every WB show ever. But according to writer and director Alan Ball, the series — based on books by Charlaine Harris — is much deeper than that. "These are characters that hopefully we grow to love and care about," he said in a press conference yesterday. "[We're] seeing them deal with living their lives and trying to find a place for themselves in the world, with lots of sex and violence." Ball shared some secrets about the making of True Blood, his strange Dark Shadows asphyxiation tradition as a child, and gave us more details about the Viking Vampire (Vikings — yes!).How will True Blood the HBO series be different from the books? The good thing about Charlaine's books is that the stories work — however the book really centers on [main character] Sookie's story. So unless the other characters are in the same scene as her they don't appear in the book that much. So I feel that we have the best of both worlds. We have an elaborate story that works, and we have a lot of other characters and we can devise stories for them that remain true to Charlaine's world. So there will be something in there for the people who were fans of the books and there will be surprise scenes as well.
What are you trying to say by having vampires in your story? If it's just a story device with fangs then I'm just not that interested. I'm not interested in special effects. We're really trying to focus on who Bill is, what's his history. What's the curse of being immortal, how is that a bad thing? What's it like to be immortal and still appear to be human? Those are the things that are important to me. It's always interesting to read the vampires as a metaphor for this or that — that adds texture but it's not what this is about. When someone at HBO first asked me what this was about I said it's about the terrors of intimacy, and at the time I thought, "Who knows what that means but it sounds good." But over time I've really started to believe that this is the deeper meaning of the show. Six Feet Under had always been about subduing one's emotions and being afraid of primal feelings we all have — they're the byproduct of being creatures with souls — and dealing with knowing we're going to die. It felt sort of liberating just to go a little crazy. And I wanted to do something different obviously. Why did you decide to cast Anna Paquin as the main character Sookie? Anna pursued the role. In the beginning I thought "Well why would Anna want to do TV? She's got a movie career." I'm used to American actors who have a movie career thinking television acting is beneath them. I thought about it and I thought of course she'd like to do this, it's a fantastic role, a great role. Nobody is going to cast her like this in a movie yet. I was a little worried that she wouldn't want to dye her hair blond, but actually she was very willing. I felt a responsibility to be as true as I could to the book. You have to be close enough so they don't think, "Whoa it doesn't make any sense." But ultimately physical resemblance isn't as important as whether this person can bring this character to life in a way that's compelling and makes me care about what happens to them.
Tell us more about the vampire Eric played by Alex Skarsgard. Will he be in a lot of episodes? Eric is a 1,000-year-old vampire who came to America from Scandinavia. He was a Viking who became a vampire either on the voyage over or once he landed. He's a huge character in the series. He was the character who fans were most obsessed with how he would be cast, and he's a series regular. How much are you going to adhere to the books? We stuck really, really close to the first book as the basis for the first season. But by episodes 11 or 12 we start to veer into book 2 to just set things up for the next season — if there is one, because it's not official. We're going to stick to the Sookie and Bill story very closely. The other character we're going to experiment with but we'll remain pretty true to Charlaine's story. What's appealing to you about making a show with so much sex and violence? I think sexuality is a window into someone's soul. [But] it's fun. It's like popcorn TV — it's like a ride. Six Feet Under was all about repression, and this [series] seemed to me to be about abandon. I find the show really entertaining to produce and to be a part of making. It's escapist — it's totally escapist. How much of the humor in the book running through the series? Part of what I enjoyed about the books was in addition to the romance and the intrigue and sex and the violence was that these characters were funny. They were funny without trying. We've assembled a cast of people who are really good at playing the humor straight. For example Ryan, who plays Jason, that's a really tough role to play because usually when an actor is playing a character who is not the sharpest knife in the drawer the actor needs needs to let the audience know that he's not this dumb, and then it becomes not funny. Whereas Ryan is a really smart guy and he loves that his character is dimwitted. It seems like vampires are in vogue again. Although there are great differences, there are a lot of similarities between what you do and what Stephenie Myers does in Twilight. Can you expand on that? I have not read Twilight so I don't know what those similarities are. I think vampires are a timeless powerful archetype that can tap into people's psyches. They've been around forever, even before the reinvention of vampires in the 1990s with [Francis Ford Coppola's film] Bram Stoker's Dracula. A lot of world mythology all over the globe has creatures like the succubus, the one that feeds on the essence of people. I don't really know why this is all happening at this time. I'm just glad it's happening.
Did you ever watch Dark Shadows? When Dark Shadows came on I was in elementary school. My next door neighbor and I, it would come on right after we got home from school and we would rush into out houses. We would sit there when the theme music came on and we would hold our throats like we couldn't breathe. I have no idea where this came from but we would pretend like we were choking until the title sequence. We didn't really watch it. To an 8-year-old I think Dark Shadows was really slow. Certainly it was something about vampires — the excitement that made us do this weird little psychodrama, while that organ music played and those waves crashed against the rocks. Do you think kids will have that reaction to True Blood? I hope kids don't watch this show. I hope parents know better than to let their kids watch this show.