Is True Blood Actor's Bark Worse Than Vampire Bites?

Actor Sam Trammell as Sam Merlotte on the HBO series 'True Blood'

There’s a whole lot of crazy going on in the fictional Louisiana town of Bon Temps, which serves as epicenter of Southern style weird in HBO’s cult vampire hit, True Blood. Murder, telepaths, “outed” vampires that want equal rights with humans, and seedy underground clubs that appeal to humans with a fetish for fangs. Creator Alan Ball (Six Feet Under) is pulling out all the stops when it comes to exploring small-town secrets and sexy decadence in his small screen adaptation of Charlaine Harris’ bestselling, contemporary vampire series.

And it’s obviously working as week after week, Ball continues to woo audiences with his audacious mix of explicit sexuality, startling gore and genteel Southern gothic romance. After only two episodes, HBO renewed True Blood for a second season giving genre fans the rare opportunity to safely allow themselves the chance to invest in a quirky show like this.

Anna Paquin (X-Men) stars in the series as Sookie Stackhouse, a sweet, well-mannered waitress at Merlotte’s Bar, and who just happens to be damned with the ability to hear people’s innermost thoughts. Her “gift” creeps out the residents of tiny Bon Temps which has just distanced her from the majority of the colorful townsfolk. All she’s got in life is her small circle of family and friends, including her understanding Gran Stackhouse (Lois Smith), her horn-dog brother Jason (Ryan Kwanten), loud-mouth best friend Tara (Rutina Wesley), and her besotted boss, Sam Merlotte (Sam Trammell). That is until the vampire Bill Compton steps into Merlotte’s and changes Sookie’s life forever.

Bill is the first vampire to take up residence in Bon Temps, and Sookie is immediately intrigued. She’s drawn to his similar outsider status, dark intensity and mostly, his very silent brain. A refuge from the din of human thoughts, Sookie is quickly enamored by Bill to the chagrin of everyone – especially her protective boss, Sam.

But True Blood quickly exposes that everyone has a secret in Bon Temps, including good guy Sam Merlotte, who pines for Sookie and assuages his loneliness by sleeping with Tara. And then there’s some really weird stuff Sam does like writhing and sniffing a murder victim’s bed and barking in his sleep. Yup, this show is weird; but that’s exactly why actor Sam Trammell loves his role on True Blood because everything about the show is out there.

“I think people respond to the show because it’s such an escape,” Trammell tells Newsarama in an exclusive interview. “It’s like an alternate world where vampires exist but the geography feels so specific and mysterious and mystical. A lot of it takes place at night with the bayou, the trees and the sounds of the insects. There’s something sexy and romantic about that.”

In the hands of Alan Ball, True Blood is also fearless in exploring different tones, from the farcical to the downright scary.

“Alan kind of blows me away,” Trammell enthuses. “I read the pilot and thought it was interesting but I also thought how are you going to be able to do this? I don’t know how he does it, maybe it’s just his talent, but he rides such a fine line between genres. And the show mixes genres so well. Its part gothic romance, part mystery, part horror film and part black comedy and it just works. It’s so hard to make entertainment on the screen good. He’s done it. I have total trust in his vision. He’s really smart with story and writing complex characters.”

Trammell says he came to the series by way of standard auditions for the part of Sam Merlotte.

“It’s never easy,” the actor smiles about the process. “Sometimes you have to go through ten auditions to get a part but this was just a couple of auditions. It happened all in a week, so it was a quick process. It can sometimes drag on for weeks. So I auditioned on tape for the casting director and Alan saw it and liked it. I met with Alan and I was really excited. We worked on some scenes and he gave me some notes. Five days later, I went into HBO for a network test in front of the president and sign contracts and whatever. I found out I got the part five hours after auditioned. I was screaming in my car I was so excited,” he laughs.

Before production began, Trammell says he dove into the Charlaine Harris books the series is based on to get some context on his character.

“Sam is such mysterious character in the first book,” he details. “You don’t’ get a lot of him in terms of his past. I read all of the books and they are amazing and entertaining. But I wanted to see if there were any big revelations in like book six because I wanted to be faithful to Charlaine Harris and her fans. If there was some weird secret that happens later on, I at least wanted to know about it because it might effect how I play things.”

As fans of the eight book Dead series will know, Harris has kept Sam Merlotte close to her vest, with little of his history being revealed aside from his deep friendship with Sookie. Much to the delight of the actor, Ball has taken the opportunity in the TV series to flesh out Sam’s story in much more detail.

“There’s a lot of freedom there,” Trammell explains. “I even think I pitched some ideas to Alan at the very beginning because it’s open for creation. Sam is a good guy. He’s the stable good guy and that’s a little weird. It’s good though because Alan doesn’t give you the two-dimensional, cliché, good and bad characters. We definitely get a decent amount of satisfaction in finding out about who Sam is in the first season.

"And I know it will continue in the second because I talked to Alan about it. It’s going to be pretty cool when stuff about Sam gets revealed. He is a really mysterious character because nobody knows about his history before he came to Bon Temps. He lives alone. He is the center of town life as the owner of the bar and a couple of apartments, so people see him and know him but they don’t know him.”

A storyline in the show that differs from the book for Sam is his sexual relationship with Sookie’s best friend, Tara Thornton. As two heartsick loners, they pair up for solace and understanding as they watch their true loves (Sookie and Jason Stackhouse, respectively) mix it up with others.

“Rutina and I have a great time working together,” Trammell says of on screen partner. “The writers liked a lot of what was happening between us so they end up going with it.”

But the actor confirms that Sookie will remain his soul mate. “He obviously empathizes with Sookie because she is different and he’s different.”

Different how? Well, Trammell won’t spill but he says there’s been plenty of fan speculation about his canine behavior that will soon come to fruition in episode ten, "I Don't Wanna Know.”

“Sam is a great character. He’s as interesting, in my opinion, as anyone else. And he’s got this big secret, so he has to put out a certain image of himself in town that isn’t always who he is. He has to hide and he has to lie about things and that’s always fun! You’ll see in scenes later on, he has to lie about things and that’s when things get really cool. My part really kicks in from episode five ("Sparks Fly Out”) and then I’m in the show a lot more. My stuff gets more interesting as the show goes on. And then there is some major interesting stuff that happens at the very end – some amazing cliffhangers as far as my character is concerned so I’m very psyched for what we explore in season two.”

Production begins on True Blood’s second season in January of 2009, and in the meantime Trammell is just enjoying watching the fireworks of the show play out.

“It’s obviously a really intense world,” the actor muses. “I’m sure you could do academic papers on the episodes. Alan and Charlaine Harris set it up so that vampires can be looked at as metaphors for minority groups and that’s all really interesting, but the great thing about the show is that it’s a lot of fun and has a great sense of humor. I think for most pieces of entertainment to be successful, you have to find that sense of humor and this show does.”

True Blood airs on HBO Sunday nights at 9pm.

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