Interview date: 09/09/2009
Run date: 09/10/2009
If you’re going to play Sam Merlotte, the resident shapeshifter of Bon Temps, Louisiana, then you’ve quickly got to get over any issues of modesty that you may have. Fortunately, when it comes to getting naked, Sam Trammell is a professional: before getting his gig on “True Blood,” Trammell’s work as a stage actor had already found him undressing in front of an audience. Whether or not he’ll be back in his birthday suit for the second-season finale of “True Blood” remains to be seen, however, as Trammell was understandably hesitant to divulge any spoilers, but we did discuss quite a few other things about his time on the HBO series, as well as several other items on his resume, including “Law & Order: Criminal Intent,” “Alien vs. Predator: Requiem,” and his surprising connection to alligators in his various projects. First, though, we had to chat about the last time we saw each other…and what the topic of conversation had been.
Bullz-Eye: Hey, man, how are you doing?
Sam Trammell: I’m good! How are you doing?
BE: I’m good. So, did you just want to talk about the Psychedelic Furs for half an hour or so? Because when we were talking after the TCA Awards, I think we spent more time talking about the Furs than we did “True Blood.”
ST: (Laughs) Yeah, absolutely! I’m always ready to talk about the Furs! So how have you been, man?
BE: I’ve been good.
ST: Good! Yeah, that was a fun night, a pretty cool time.
BE: It absolutely was. My wife says to say, “Hi,” and that we’re both psyched for the season finale come Sunday night.
ST: Good! It’s gonna be…well, you know, it’s gonna be intense, as you can imagine. Very, very intense.
BE: I talked to Michelle Forbes that same night, and she said that she couldn’t believe they were going go where they did with the finale, but they did, and it was awesome. Would you agree with that assessment?
ST: (Laughs) Oh, yeah, I’d agree. It’s pretty…it’s pretty nuts. I mean, the whole year has been so nuts, but people have really been on board for it. It feels like the audiences have been accepting, into it, and just going along for the ride…which is great, because Alan (Ball) and the writers just really were not playing it safe at all. They were just going for it and having fun this year, so it’s good that people are liking it.
BE: I guess it’s confirmation that you guys are doing a good job that Charlaine Harris is turning up in the finale.
ST: Yeah! I mean, Charlaine and Alan have a really good relationship. She’s told me that she doesn’t tell them how to produce, and he doesn’t tell her how to write the books… (Laughs) …so that’s all for good. But she’s awesome. She’s a great, fun person, and I like her a lot.
BE: My mother-in-law is forever telling me, “I love it, but I wish they didn’t change it from the books so much!”
ST: (Laughs) Yeah, I know. Well, a lot of people are…there are a lot of fans of the books, and on our show, Alan definitely goes out on tangents, for sure, and new characters are created. But in general, we’re following the books each year. In general. (Laughs)
BE: When he does take a tangent like that, do you know if he checks with her first, or does he just hope for the best?
ST: You know, I’m not sure, but I think he just hopes for the best. (Laughs) I don’t think he’s checking in with her. Like I said, he’s…well, first of all, Alan loves the books, which is why this whole thing got started in the first place, so he’s more than happy to follow along for the most part. But, you know, he wants to do his own thing a little bit, so he just does.
BE: So take me back to the beginning. How did you first come on board the series?
ST: I was just sent a script. I’d kind of heard about it, and I was sent the script, and I don’t think I realized it took place in Louisiana, but when I read that, I just thought I’d be perfect for it, because I’m from Louisiana. But Alan Ball and HBO…just those two things, I was immediately, “I’ll do it. I don’t know even know what it is, but I’ll do it.” But then I read it, and I just thought it was an amazing world and a great character. Alan was out of town, so I went in and auditioned for the casting director, who put me on tape. And Alan liked the tape and decided that he wanted to test me, so I went in and met with him, and he gave me some notes and sort of told me about the series. Then I went in and read for HBO, which is sort of the big final audition, where you have to sign all of these contracts before you even go in. It’s very stressful. So all of these HBO executives are sitting in these leather chairs, and you go up on the stage. And I auditioned, and…well, you never can tell, but I thought it went all right. But I didn’t go, like, “I got it,” because there were other people there for the part. But I got a call about two hours later…which is relatively quickly…saying that I’d gotten the part. So it was just, like, a week and a half between getting the script and getting the part, which is really quick. It was very satisfying, to say the least. I mean, I was screaming in my car when I found out. I’ll never forget that moment. It was just so exciting.
BE: Well, given the character’s name, it’s obvious that you’d be interested in that role, but were there any other roles that you could envision yourself playing when you read the script?
ST: You know, I thought Jason’s part was really fun as well. I thought that would be a good part. And, you know, the vampire…that would’ve been good, too, but I knew that they sort of wanted somebody European. They didn’t want an American. They wanted someone who just seemed different…not that the Europeans are that different from Americans… (Laughs)
BE: (Laughs) Nice save.
ST: …but, yeah, to answer your question, Jason’s part seemed really interesting.
BE: So were you familiar with the books at all? Had you read them prior to that?
ST: I hadn’t. I had not read the books, no, and I wasn’t familiar with them, though I did read four or five of them, just to kind of get a sense of…well, just to make sure there weren’t any surprises. That, like, Sam Merlotte’s not a transvestite or something. (Laughs) And, also, just to make sure that I knew who the character was, and to get a sense of the world. That sort of thing.
BE: Sam’s come a long way since the beginning of the series. At first, it looked like he was just going to be someone with an unrequited love for Sookie, but then he turned out to be a shapeshifter, and this season it’s just all gone to hell.
ST: (Laughs) I know, I know! Yeah, y’know, Alan told me that it was going to sort of start off a little slow, and then, obviously, pick up, because Sam’s one of the major characters in the books. So I sort of knew it was going to be that route, and it was kind of cool, because…it was kind of fun being sort of a red herring that first year, with people thinking that I’m the murderer in town. There was that little moment where I think people were suspicious of me, and that was fun to play. But, yeah, this season has just been really fun, ‘cause Sam’s just been under the gun the whole time. I mean, literally, from the very beginning, when he knows Maryann’s in town. He knew how much trouble she was when nobody else did, so he sort of has the weight of the world on his shoulders from the very beginning. And then the stuff with Daphne, which was just so cool, that all the while she was working for Maryanne. I got to have a great scene with her where she told me some beautiful stuff about how I should love myself and trust myself and open up. And, then, of course, she betrays me, so I don’t know how Sam’s going to take that. (Laughs) There could be some bad repercussions.
BE: Yeah, that whole sequence was pretty rough.
ST: Yeah, as far as Sam opening up again to a woman, that’s gonna be tough.
BE: So, what, in Season 3, Sam enters a monastery?
ST: (Laughs) Yeah, I mean, there’s just so much torture for Sam this year, and…yeah, just a lot of torture. It just doesn’t stop.
BE: Michelle Forbes is so overwhelming as a force of evil on the show that…I mean, it’s reached a point with some of the readers of our “True Blood” blog, where they’re, like, “Okay, she’s good, but she needs to go.”
ST: (Laughs) Yeah, she’s so good. She’s really one of my favorite actresses on the show. She’s just fantastic. She really embodied that role, and she had such an ease with it. She really just kind of captured the fun of Maryann as well as the evil…because Maryann’s all about fun, really. It’s just that, to have that fun, you have to manifest the evil. But she’s great, and we got to work together a good bit, so that was fun.
BE: So you’ve had a lot of work this season with…well, I still refer to him as Detective Andy. So what’s his deal? It seems like he should’ve fallen under Maryann’s spell a long time ago, but he hasn’t. Are we going to find out what’s up with that during the final episode?
ST: Oh, you just might. You juuuuuuust might. (Laughs) You’re right, Andy hasn’t been possessed by her yet, and the last episode is pretty…well, let’s just say there’s a lot of mayhem, and everybody is at risk. (Laughs) I mean, you’re dealing with the Devil here, basically, or somebody who’s like the Devil. But Andy’s great. In Episode 10, where we ran around together in the bar in stuff, was one of my favorite episodes. We had a lot of fun together. His character…I just love what he does with it. He just has no fear, and he just goes for it and has fun. Andy’s just become a great character, and that’s another situation where…that’s something that Chris Bauer brought to that character, the goofy, funny humor. I don’t know if there’s as much humor in Andy in the book. I can’t remember. But Chris brought a lot to that character, and we have a lot of fun working together. He’s a friend of mine from New York.
BE: I’m absolutely ready for an “Andy ‘n’ Jason” spin-off.
ST: (Laughs) Yeah, they’re pretty funny together, those two. They had some funny lines.
BE: So what’s been your favorite episode this season?
ST: Well, you know, that tenth episode was really the most fun I’ve had this season, just working with Chris. We just had a lot of laughs and a lot of fun. But, y’know, all of the stuff with Daphne was really great, and the scenes where…there were a few scenes with her, especially that post-coital scene, that I just thought were so beautiful. Especially what she had to say to me, as far as really loving who you are and accepting yourself, and you’re not really living life unless you let other people in. I mean, it was just really beautiful writing, and, unfortunately, it was all to seduce and kill me… (Laughs) …but it still goes. That was really great stuff for me to do. I really enjoyed that.
BE: I guess you’ve had to get over any modesty you may have had, given that your character tends to lose his clothes whenever he makes his transformation.
ST: Oh, my gosh, yeah. You know, the thing is, most of the time when people have to get naked, it’s for a sex scene or it’s post-coital, and they’re in a bedroom and it’s kind of a closed set. But with Sam, it always seems to be because he’s turning back into himself from being an animal, so I’m always outside. Like, way out. Like, out for everybody to see. There’s no way you can close the set, really, and it’s just…it’s bizarre. I just feel very vulnerable, standing around naked. Like, last year, I was running through the woods in Louisiana, and this year, with the fire extinguisher. So, yeah, you definitely…it’s, uh, pretty awkward. (Laughs) But it’s kind of funny.
BE: It seems like that would’ve been one of those things that you could’ve been blindsided by if you hadn’t read the books beforehand.
ST: Well, yeah, but with HBO, of course, before you even sign up, they’re, like, “Are you willing to take your clothes off? Because this is HBO.” And, of course, I’m, like, “I’ll do anything to be on the show.” And I’ve actually done it before. I’ve done nudity on stage, believe it or not, so doing it on this show is actually a little bit more modest than being full-frontal on stage, in front of an audience. I’m an old pro, basically. (Laughs) But it’s one of those things that inspires you to stay in good shape. That’s the toughest part about the nudity. It’s the not eating beforehand. (Laughs)
BE: Do you have any backstage anecdotes from your experiences on “True Blood” that can share?
ST: Oh, golly, there’s definitely stuff from the last episode, but, unfortunately, I can’t reveal them! (Laughs) But it’s a pretty fun set. Nothing specific comes to mind, but…well, this is just a little trivia thing that you might be interested in, but the scene where I’m swimming in the lake, that was actually the old “Gilligan’s Island” set.
BE: (Laughs) Oh, really?
ST: Yeah! And I was really worried that we were going to go off into the woods, because…I did a TV show once called “Going to California” where we actually swam in a bayou with real alligators and stuff, which was the stupidest thing I’ve ever done. And I was worried they were going to do that! But they used that set, and they heated the water so it was really warm, but it was so shallow that I could kneel and be, like, only waist high. It was only maybe three feet deep. So we had to pull our legs up, so that we could tread. We couldn’t even just hang our legs down. You had to get in a weird sitting position with your legs pulled up. It was really weird. But I was really happy that the water was so warm. It was like being in a hot tub. It was great.
BE: So has it been weird seeing the results of all the marketing money that’s been thrown behind the show? I mean, in particular, L.A. was just plastered with “True Blood” ads and billboards.
ST: Yeah, well, you know, what was really unique was that some of the advertisers wanted to use “True Blood” in their advertisements. Like, Harley Davidson and Mini Cooper did ads for their products saying that they’re for vampires. So that was really cool. Yeah, the advertising…they’ve been pretty innovative with it, especially at the very beginning, when they were just advertising the drink TruBlood. Which I guess is finally actually coming out! For awhile, they had posters of us on bus stops, of each individual person. That was pretty cool.
BE: I understand you’ve been nominated for a Scream Award for your Breakout Performance on the show.
ST: Yes, I have! And I’m very proud of that. That’s a very core audience of ours, and I think “True Blood” did pretty well. I think a lot of people got nominated from our ensemble cast, so we’re psyched. I mean, that’s exactly who we want to recognize us, really, ‘cause they’re the people who love horror movies and genre shows. So it’s great.
BE: “True Blood” is really an interesting cross-demographic show. Vampires traditionally tend to have a real harcore female audience, but this series…I know tons of guys who love it and watch it, too.
ST: Oh, I know! Yeah, Alan always says, “The romance gets the women, and the sex and violence gets the men.” I think our show is edgy enough that...well, it definitely appeals to men and women, equally, sure.
BE: Speaking of the sex and violence, has there been any scene during the course of this season that has disconcerted you? Not necessarily even one that you were in, because there’s really been some hardcore stuff this season.
ST: Oh, yeah. I mean, that heart soufflé was pretty intense, and I know there’s some stuff coming up in the finale that’s really…harsh and shocking. But, yeah, the heart soufflé was pretty hardcore, and also when Jane Bodehouse cut her finger off. That was pretty hardcore, too. That whole scene was really weird. And the guy sitting in the sink…? Really creepy.
BE: It’s been highly disturbing this season. And I mean that in the best possible way.
ST: I know, I know. And I know there’s some other stuff, too, that I’m not thinking about. But, yeah, there’ll be a little gore in the last one, too.
BE: I can believe that.
ST: (Laughs) Yeah.
BE: Who’s your favorite character to play off of that you don’t get teamed up with enough?
ST: Well, you know, it would have to be Bill and Jason. I mean, I just never get to work with those guys. We’re all good friends and fond of each other, but… (Trails off) I love playing off of Bill, and Jason I love, too, but I’ve barely gotten to work with him at all, so hopefully I’ll get to do more with those guys.
BE: And just out of curiosity, could you tell that something was going on between Anna (Pacquin) and Stephen (Moyer) on the set and off?
ST: Absolutely not. I was completely…well, they’re so professional. And, I mean, I was completely surprised when he told me that they had kind of gotten together last year. Completely surprised. They hid it so well. And I’m so happy for them that they’re engaged. That’s just so exciting for them. It’s great. It must be such a unique experience to be able to work with somebody who you’re also romantically involved with. So good for them. But, no, I could not tell. I didn’t know anything. That could be because I’m just an idiot. (Laughs) I don’t know.
BE: One last thing I wanted to mention about the show is that the soundtrack is really a significant key to its success.
ST: Oh, it’s just amazing. It’s so good. It’s so, so good.
BE: Do you have a favorite song that’s popped up during the course of the show, maybe one that hadn’t been familiar with before?
ST: Yeah, but, y’know, I don’t even know the names of them. All the songs that are on the jukebox (at Merlotte’s) and the songs at the end are so great, but, gosh, I can’t remember any of their names right now. There are a bunch last year, though, that I was just flipping over, that I just thought were so great.
BE: I’ve loved how the episodes have been named after the songs that are playing over the closing credits.
ST: Yeah, exactly. And…I forget which episode it was, but…oh, it was the song that closed last week’s episode, where Bill goes to see the Vampire Queen, and I think it was the first time that the music from the scene had transferred into the music of the credits, which was really cool. That was a really cool scene.
BE: To bring this back to the TCA for a moment, before the panel for “Eastwick,” a new series on ABC, while showing footage for the show, they played the theme song for “True Blood.”
ST: Are you serious? That’s…I can’t believe that!
BE: I know, right? It was, like, “You’re doing this in front of an audience full of TV critics? That’s either the ballsiest move I’ve ever seen, or it’s the stupidest.”
ST: Man! That’s really, really crazy. Now, “Eastwick,” what is that?
BE: It’s a TV version of “The Witches of Eastwick.”
ST: Oh, okay. Well, I guess this is the time of witches and vampires and warlocks, right?
BE: Exactly. They’ve got to strike while the iron is hot, I guess. Well, I don’t want to keep you too much longer, but I did want to ask you about a couple of other projects you’ve done over the years.
ST: Oh, yeah, sure!
BE: When you mentioned swimming with alligators a few minutes ago, I immediately thought of your work on “Maximum Bob.”
ST: Oh, yeah! Oh, man, that was so good. It was only seven episodes during the summer of ’98, but…it was ahead of its time. I mean, it was Barry Sonnenfeld, who was a DP for the Coen Brothers’ movies and, y’know, did “Men in Black.” He’s awesome. It was so stylized and fun. It was great.
BE: When I talked to him last year, he cited it as one of his favorites.
ST: That’s so great! Wow, you asked him about “Maximum Bob”?
BE: Well, I asked him about his favorite project that didn’t get the love he thought it deserved, and he immediately cited “Maximum Bob” and “The Tick.”
ST: Oh, man, yeah. We had a lot of fun. Barry’s a…he’s a fun guy, and, of course, Will Sanderson was in that, too, who’s on “True Blood.” It was a really good show, just so quirky and off the wall. Oh, man, it was fun. And it was a fun part, too, playing that sort of juvenile delinquent. I loved that. Except that it was too hot. Miami’s just too hot for me.
BE: And, weirdly, you were also in a movie called “Wrestling with Alligators.”
ST: Oh, that’s right! With Aleksa Palladino. That was a good little movie.
BE: A period piece, right?
ST: Yeah, a period piece, in the ‘50s. We shot that in upstate New York. Or maybe it was in Long Island. I can’t remember! But that was when I was, of course, living in New York. That was a sweet little movie. I should watch that again. It’s been so long.
BE: And then on the other side of things, you were in “Alien vs. Predator: Requiem.”
ST: Let me tell you something: that was awesome. Getting ot work with the Alien was…that kind of blew my mind. There are three guys that work the Alien, who do it, and it’s been the same guys since “Aliens,” the second movie. It’s one guy in the suit, one guy running the electric motor for the mouth, and then one guy doing the tail, and he also puts the goop all over the Alien beforehand. It was interesting because sometimes the guy who was in the suit couldn’t hear “cut” because of the motor of the mouth running, but getting eaten by that thing was one of the coolest things I’ve ever gotten to do. (Laughs) I mean, it was the Alien! It was, like, “What?” It was awesome. I loved that.
BE: You’ve also done a bunch of one-off roles in other TV dramas. Do you have a favorite that stands out?
ST: Well, you know, I’ll tell you, I just did a “Law & Order: Criminal Intent,” and it was such a good part. It was based on a story in The New Yorker about this French guy who literally…he was like 28 or 30 years old, and he convinced these people that he was 13 or 14, and he was in an elementary school. And it wasn’t a sexual thing. He was just kind of a messed-up guy, and he needed to just take on different personalities. I had read the story, so when I got the script, it sort of reminded me of that, and I talked to them, and lo and behold, they said, “Yeah, that was what inspired the story.” But it was a great, great part. That’s one of my favorite things that I’ve gotten to do, as far as one-off shows. I got to work with Vincent D’Onofrio, who’s an amazing actor, and I got to play this different part. It’s fun to play a bad guy. I love to play bad guys.
BE: And, lastly, to bring it back to “True Blood,” can you give me any clue as to where Sam will be come the beginning of Season 3? Or would that give away too much about the end of Season 2?
ST: You know, I can’t. We just have to hope that Sam survives! (Laughs) I’ll just have to leave it at that. But somebody’s in big trouble in the last episode, I’ll tell you that. For the people who’ve seen everything so far, Bill has come to recruit Sam, and we’ll just have to see how things play out, but…it’s gonna be a pretty crazy finale.
BE: Okay, man, I think we’re good.
ST: All right! Well, hey, man, great talking to you!
BE: Hopefully you’ll be around next season, so I can see you at the next TCA Awards.ST: (Laughs) Absolutely!