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True Blood creator Alan Ball revisited his supernatural series 10 years after its debut with a special screening of the pilot episode, during which he revealed when now-husband and wife Stephen Moyer and Anna Paquin first got together; Benedict Cumberbatch, Jennifer Lawrence and other A-listers who read for the series (but ultimately weren’t cast); and more secrets from the series.
On Paquin’s casting: “Anna wanted this role so bad. Poor thing, she read like five times and I was, like, ‘Oh, do we buy her as Southern? Do we buy her as Sookie Stackhouse?'”
On the casting that never was: “I read Benedict Cumberbatch. He came and read for Bill. … Jessica Chastain read for Sookie. Jennifer Lawrence read for, in season three, there’s this werepanther girl, and she was great.” (Ball wanted to cast her, but she was only 17 at the time and was supposed to be Jason’s (Ryan Kwanten) girlfriend, so the age difference would have been weird.)
On the late Nelsan Ellis: “He was so amazingly talented. I’m usually not a fan of actors ad-libbing, because usually it’s not particularly better than the dialogue, it’s just different. But he mostly ad-libbed [his introduction] scene. … His character dies in the second book of the series and I was, like, ‘No, we cannot kill this guy, he’s too great.'”
On Paquin and Stephen Moyer’s chemistry (the two have been married for eight years): “They’re falling in love [in their first scene together] because they hooked up on the second episode. The producer called me from the second episode and was, like, ‘I think you should know that Stephen and Anna are hooking up.’ … It was never an issue, they were total pros, and now they have two kids together. … They thought they were keeping it secret from everybody. The whole first season, everybody knew.”
On Paquin and Kwanten’s familial resemblance: “They really seem like brother and sister to me. And they look like each other, too. The noses and the brown eyes and the blonde hair.”
Charlaine Harris, the author of the books on which the series is based, told Ball after watching the first episode that she might have to move because of how raunchy it was.
“Her books are filled with sex, but I think the fact that it was out there in the open [was confronting],” Ball said.
He also mentioned that someone did a study on how long it took each HBO series to get to a sex scene, and True Blood took about 20 seconds — and he’s proud of the accomplishment.
The introduction of Jason Stackhouse was in a particularly raunchy sex scene. And while HBO shows like The Deuce now have intimacy coordinators to oversee onscreen sex scenes, True Blood did not.
“He wears a little thing called a sock and she wears a patch, and you know, they’re actors,” Ball said. “I think this was the most aggressive sex scene I had ever filmed as a director and I was way more embarrassed than they were.”
Ball first picked up Harris’ Dead Until Dark when he needed to kill time before a dentist appointment, but quickly consumed each of the four books that were out at that point.
“It was like crack,” he said. Ball was drawn to the story for many reasons: “Part of it was the way it leaned into the metaphor of other and dominant culture, that felt kind of interesting. it was also just really funny. I loved all the characters.”
Another aspect he liked about the books was the structure.
“One of the things about the books was that pretty much each chapter ended on a cliffhanger,” Ball said. “So that’s where the trying to end each episode on a cliffhanger came from. I feel like it worked!”
The series’ title sequence is one of TV’s most iconic, and Ball said it remains a point of pride for him. When creating it, “I asked them, ‘Can you just show us the weirdness of the world of the Deep South? The juxtaposition between losing your mind and getting totally fucked-up at the honky-tonk on Saturday night, and it’s cool as long as you go to church on Sunday morning,” he said.
The pilot was filmed in Los Angeles, and the opening shot is driving through Franklin Canyon. Other scenes were filmed on the Warner Bros. lot, in Malibu Canyon, on the Disney Ranch and at other locations around the city. As for the challenge of turning Los Angeles into Louisiana, “It wasn’t that hard,” said Ball. “We just hung a lot of Spanish moss.”
The scene at the convenience store in the series’ cold open featured the first glimpse at True Blood‘s fangs.
“We actually had an anatomical model that our special effects people built where the fang, they actually swiveled,” Ball said. “We based it on rattlesnake fans. The fangs were actually hollow, so you could suck the blood up through the fang itself.”
Ball praised the work of series composer Nathan Barr, and revealed that Barr has been working on a True Blood musical. It’s more of a tragedy than the series, however.
“They’re workshopping a True Blood musical. I’ve heard all the music and it’s actually pretty good,” he said. “It tells the story of vampires coming out of the closet and this love story, and then ultimately it [diverts] from the book series … and they end up going back into the closet.”
Ball hadn’t seen the pilot episode in a decade — it premiered in September 2008 — and he feels proud of his work. His reaction after the episode ended? “It’s good! I would watch this show.”
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