Since 2008, summer has meant more than just beach parties, sunburns, disappointing blockbuster movies, and daily opportunities to watch female pedestrians rocking short skirts and meager tops. For the past three years, Sunday nights from June through September have been dedicated to horny vampires, gleeful bloodshed, and soft-core erotica for the horror sect—we’re talking about HBO’s pleasurable hit show True Blood, of course.
Based on author Charlaine Harris’ series of novels dubbed The Southern Vampire Mysteries, the most perverse, and, yes, sexiest, show on TV returns for a fourth season this Sunday night, and fans’ expectations are sky-high. Last year, True Blood increased its grown-up appeal in ways that were unabashedly cheap (shirtless men, who turn into werewolves, for the ladies), shockingly gruesome (head-twisting sex), and thematically intelligent (a new political edge added to the bloodsucker mythology, via actor Denis O’Hare’s dynamic “King of Mississippi” character).
Late last month, True Blood: The Complete Third Season arrived on DVD and Blu-ray, affording viewers both faithful and new to familiarize themselves with all of the sordidness, which should come in handy, since creator Alan Ball promises that Season Four will take the sex, gore, and fascinating characters even further over the edge.
Ball, who previously won an Academy Award for writing American Beauty and created HBO’s beloved Six Feet Under (the show that brought us Dexter’s great Michael C. Hall), took some time out of his hectic schedule, leading up this weekend’s True Blood season debut, to chat with Complex about how DVDs have changed the television experience, why it’s important to use sex for psychological character development, what’s in store for Season Four, and the rap’s world love for star Anna Paquin.
Complex: Revisiting True Blood’s third season through the DVD set, it struck me that the show really expanded itself last year, taking most of the action outside of Bon Temps and into Mississippi and Arkansas. The two previous seasons kept things inside Bon Temps for the most part. Why was it important for the show to widen its scope last season?
Alan Ball: Well, that was based on the books. In the books, Sookie does go to Mississippi to look for Bill, who was missing. So we just sort of used that as a jumping-off point. We didn’t really sit down and say to one another, “Oh, let’s see what’s going on outside of Louisiana.” We look at the books. The show had already established the vampire world in Louisiana, and we needed to open things up a little, but that’s how it plays out in Charlaine’s books, so the timing worked itself out nicely.
Did you see the new locations as an opportunity to increase the show’s scope, in any ways?
<em></em>Yeah, it’s great, because the books are all narrated by Sookie, so the books are basically Sookie’s story. It’s not really anybody else’s story, so if they don’t exist in the room with Sookie, then they’re not in the story at that time, at all. So, that allows us to be really true to the books, but at the same time to be really creative, in terms of developing everybody else’s story.
We try to give every other character a compelling story that we can also weave into the material from the books. If we’re not true specifically to the plot of the books, we still try to remain very true to the spirit of the books.
In doing so, the show introduced a huge amount of new characters last season. Is it difficult to establish stories for the new characters without lessening the arcs of the show’s primary ones, fan favorites like Sookie (Anna Paquin), Bill (Stephen Moyer), and Eric (Alexander Skarsgard), for example?
<em></em>It is difficult, but I do believe that that’s part of what makes the show so much fun for the audience. There’s such a crazy, big cast of characters, and I think that there’s somebody in that mix for everybody to identify with, but it is hard. We only have 60 minutes per episode, and we’re servicing about 20 different characters. [Laughs.]
Charlaine Harris has the luxury of developing as many characters as she wants throughout as many pages as she can fill up, whereas you only get twelve 60-minute episodes per season to do the same thing. How jealous are you of her?
<em></em>[Laughs.] That must be pretty nice, yeah. It’s daunting for us, sure, but you don’t think about it. It’s challenging, and that’s what our job is—that’s what we try to do.
A few of the new characters in Season Three were received incredibly well, namely Russell Edgington (Denis O’Hare) and Alcide (Joe Manganiello). As you and your staff are writing episodes, does a character’s involvement increase at all based on the actor’s performance, in ways that you might not have foreseen entering the season?
Speaking of Alcide, who’s a werewolf, one of the DVD’s bonus features shows how the werewolf scenes were shot using real wolves, and not goofy-looking CGI creations. Why, for you, is it important to go with a more realistic approach to the show’s supernatural elements whenever possible?
What’s interesting about DVDs these days is that many people just wait for a TV show’s latest season to arrive on home video before they start watching, to avoid the gaps between new episodes when they air on television. I know several people who do that with True Blood specifically.
It’s especially useful with True Blood, though, because you guys love to end episodes with these crazy “Oh shit!” moments, and it’s often a pain to have to wait a week to see what happens next.
And Gram’s deadLaughs
And last season had a few whoppers of episode-enders, specifically the last scene of Episode Three, “It Hurts Me, Too,” where Bill twists Lorena’s (Mariana Klaveno) head into a pretzel as they’re having extremely rough sex.
Going into this new season, Season Four, it seems like you’re taking it back to the more Bon Temps-based nature of Season Two, with a new character coming into the town and raising all kinds of hell.
Through her character, True Blood will explore the world of witches this season, coming off last season’s werewolf angle and the previous one’s maenad. You mentioned earlier that you’re becoming well-versed in genre terms and monsters. Looking ahead, are there any creatures or supernatural villains that you’d particularly like to introduce, even if they’re not featured in the books?
One of this season’s new characters that plays into the shape-shifter plotline is played by Janina Gavankar, who we recently shot in a rather sexy graveyard set-up. What struck you about her?
Indeed. A lot of the focus amongst fans is on how the show casts hunky guys for female viewers to swoon over, but True Blood definitely deserves more credit for casting tons of hot chicks for us male viewers. Deborah Ann Woll, Anna Paquin, Evan Rachel Wood—the list goes on. Much appreciated, sir.
Last year, unexpectedly, the show also contributed something to the hip-hop culture, with Snoop Dogg’s bizarre yet funny “Oh Sookie” music video, which is included on the DVD set. How the hell did that happen?
Oddly enough, Sookie’s name popped up in other rap songs recently, namely ones by Jim Jones, who’s cited her name in a couple of his verses. Are there any other rappers you’d like to see make True Blood music videos?