The Telefile
Sexy Vampire Alert: Alan Ball Dishes On <i>True Blood</i> I want you guys to be the first to know that vampires are totally, totally the new black. For proof, look no further than the latest in a string of Dracula-referencing additions to the pop culture stew (which already includes the band Vampire Weekend, the Facebook vampire function and a little movie called Twilight). I'm talking of course about the new Alan Ball-helmed HBO series True Blood, based on the cult book series Southern Vampire by Charlaine Harris, which tells the tale of a clairvoyant waitress (played by the button-cute Anna Paquin) who befriends a Victorian-era vampire named Bill (sexy-hot Brit Stephen Moyer) in a backwoods Louisiana town. The show's back story -- since the creation of synthetic blood, vampires have 'come out' in society and are in the process of assimilating, facing prejudice and adulation (via vampire groupies dubbed 'fang bangers') in equal measure -- has been months in the making thanks to a slew of viral microsites devoted to the propagation of the True Blood mythology.

I watched the first couple eps and can attest that a) it is sexaaaay! and b) there is a trannie fry cook who rules. I also got the chance to listen in on a phone call with creator Alan Ball, whose genius has brought us such gems as American Beauty, Six Feet Under and the forthcoming movie Towelhead. Here are the highlights of our confab:

On the profusion of vampire-centric shows and movies coming out in the coming months:

"I have not read Twilight so I don't really know what those similarities are. I think vampires are a very -- I mean obviously they're a kind of timeless, powerful, archetype that can really tap into people's psyches and they have been around forever, even before the sort of redefinition of vampires in the 19th century with Bram Stoker's Dracula. A lot of world mythologies all over the globe have creatures who are the succubus, the one who feeds on the essence of other people. I don't really know why it's happening at this point that there seems to be convergence. Somebody did ask earlier if it was a coincidence. I don't think there is - I mean Freud says there are no coincidences, but at the same time, I don't really know why it's happening. I'm just glad it's happening because I hope it's going to lead more people to our show."

On viewing the True Blood as a parable about marginalized members of society:

"It's easy to read the vampires as a metaphor for this and that is the least interesting. I think it's texture but it's not what the series is about. Ultimately the series is about... when I first pitched the series to HBO and somebody asked me what it was about, I said it's about the terrors of intimacy. And at the time, I thought, 'Well who knows what that means, but it sounds good.' But over time I've come to believe that that is really what the deeper meaning of the show is, and I'd venture to say that a lot of horror movies... a lot of the reason why the vampire is such a powerful psychic archetype... [They're] outsiders. I'm an outsider, so I'm certain I've always felt like an outsider my entire life, so it's certain I feel a sympathy with them. They're certainly kind of rock stars. They're romantic heroes. So there's that. I don't think it's necessarily a mistake to view them as stand-ins for immigrants or gay and lesbian culture, I just think it's very easy -- in fact, it's a little too easy. And I don't think it's the only thing that they can be seen as metaphors for, especially in this world. And that's one of the things I really liked about it was that it's a very fluid metaphor because on the one hand it's a metaphor for any disenfranchised group wanting to assimilate and wanting equal rights and power and on the other hand, it's a terrific metaphor for a shadowy secret organization that is all about amassing power and if you get in their way, they will get rid of you, which I think that's certainly at work in our culture, as well. And I guess what I like about the vampires as a metaphor aspect of the show is it is fluid and it can be different things at different times which to me makes it a much more interesting metaphor and then, in terms of I can't really think of anything to add to what I've said about why the appeal, except I mean maybe immortality is a part of it. They don't have to die, in addition to being outsiders and rock stars and all of that stuff."

On the appeal of making a show that's rife with sex and violence:

"It's fun. I don't know if it's because the fantastic nature of the premise allows me enough of a remove so that it's not so upsetting because it's like popcorn TV, it's like an amusement park ride for me. Certainly, sexuality I think is a real window into somebody's psyche so I'm not as freaked out by characters being depicted in sexual situations as maybe some other people are. There's a lot of sex and violence in Charlaine's books. That's part of what I responded to and I wanted to do something different. Six Feet Under was all about repression and this seems to me to be something that's about abandon and it's just been -- it's -- I find the show really entertaining to produce and to be a part of making. And just because it's so -- it's escapist. It's totally escapist and that's -- for me, that's one of the joys of it."

On his childhood memories of vampires as depicted elsewhere in pop culture:

"When Dark Shadows came on, I was in elementary school. And my next door neighbors and I would come home from school, I think it came on at like 3:30 in the afternoon or 4:00 and we would rush into our houses, either their house or they'd come over to my house and we would sit there. When the theme music came on and we would clutch our throats like we couldn't breathe, I have no idea where this came from, but we would sit there and pretend like we were choking until the title sequence was over and then we would go outside and play. We didn't really watch it because to an eight-year-old I think Dark Shadows was really slow. But certainly the fact that it was a show about vampires was something exciting to us to sort of make us do this weird little psycho drama every day just while that organ music played and those waves crashed against the rocks. And I have no idea where that came from, but I remember it very vividly."

On "real" vampires:

I watched the HBO vampire legends documentary [the True Blood tie-in documentaries True Blood Lines; Vampire Legends and True Blood Lines; A New Type both air Saturday, September 6] and certainly found it very eye opening and these particular kinds of alternative communities exist. I certainly didn't know about it. But I do remember a friend of mine, actually one of the writer/producers on the show, Nancy Oliver, when she first moved to L.A. and she was looking for a place to live, she went and looked at this apartment in Hollywood and they said, "Oh, by the way, you should know, we're vampires, and everybody who lives in this building is a vampire." And she was like, "You mean they just -- they work at night?" They went, 'No, we're really vampires.' And I think she went, 'Oh, that's very interesting. OK. Well, I'll call you.'"

On the sexual allure of vampires:

"Obviously, the act of feeding is a very blatantly sexual metaphor. There's penetration. There are bodily fluids exchanged. It is sort of a cathartic frenzied physical moment. I guess also in a way vampires, I mean, you know how a lot of people are attracted to the bad boy or the femme fatale, the hot sexy dangerous person that you just really know is really not good for you and you're conscious mind is going like, 'OK. Move away. Walk away from that.' And yet, the person over here in the corner who is really well-adjusted and has their life together and has a job and isn't crazy or doesn't have any substance abuse problems, the one that you should want and you know you should want, they're just not -- they don't turn you on as much. So I don't know where that comes from. I mean certainly I think probably living in a world where we're all socialized to hope to avoid danger and to function in society and not be an outlaw, I guess creatures who are basically dangerous outlaws and who function really on the edges of society I guess they appeal to those of us who want to live a more civilized life. I just made all of that up. So it may be completely garbage."

On why mortality seems to be a recurring motif in his work:

"I don't think I sat down and thought, 'OK. Now, how can I continue to explore life and death, but from a different angle?' But I am a person who, when I was 13 years old, my sister was killed in a car accident in front of me and death became a big part of my life on that day and has always been there. It's always been in the room with me. I'm constantly aware of how short life is and how it can go away at any moment. So that's obviously a resonant theme for me. I do feel like Six Feet Under in a way made me more comfortable with the concept of grief. I'm not sure one can ever become 100 percent comfortable with death, but I think especially as one gets older, as I am in the process of doing, it becomes a more real element and I'm sure that that had something to do with my reacting, how Charlaine's books resonated for me. But I don't think it's the most important thing. I think the most important thing is just the sheer funny hokey storytelling nature of it. To use slightly dated language, it's a big rollicking yarn and it's just really, really fun to be a part of something like that.

True Blood premieres Sunday, September 7 at 9 PM on HBO.




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