LOS ANGELES - There hasn’t been a shortage of vampires on television in recent years. From “Buffy, the Vampire Slayer” to “Moonlight,” blood-drinking characters have been causing problems and fighting crime.
“True Blood” is the latest television production to feature characters who can trace their roots back to Transylvania. The new HBO series from Alan Ball (“Six Feet Under”) looks at how residents in the fictional town of Bon Temps, La., try to deal with the new vamp in town. He’s a 173-year-old blood drinker who takes a fancy to local waitress and mentalist Sookie Stackhouse (Anna Paquin).
The title of this 12-part series, based on the books by Charlaine Harris, refers to the synthetic drink that is supposed to supply all of the nourishment and vitamins a vampire needs without having to resort to human blood.
It is up to Ball to make his series different, while holding on to some of the well-known mythology, or the show will get a ratings stake in the heart.
“I personally have never seen ‘Buffy, the Vampire Slayer’ or ‘Angel.’ I’m not really a big vampire fanatic. I’ve never read the Anne Rice books. This was really my first foray into the world of vampires. All I knew was the movies that I’d seen,” Ball says during an interview with television critics in July at the Beverly Hilton Hotel.
So Ball took some liberties with the vampire mythology. For example, his story reveals that a lot of the myths about vampires were created by vampires. That was a way for them to blend in with society.
His mythology suggest if a vampire can convince everybody of the misinformation that vampires can’t be seen in a mirror or they go psycho if somebody puts a crucifix in their face, then they can easily prove they aren’t a vampire. Bring on the mirrors.
Other changes include how the vampire fangs appear, how vampires depart after being staked, no odd eyeballs and the way fire affects a vampire.
A huge difference between this series and those of the past is how it uses vampires as a metaphor. Characters bemoan the fact that “one of those kind” has come to their small community. They lament how life hasn’t been the same since “they came out.” The difference is this embattled group came out of the coffins.
“True Blood” takes a look at the hatred, fear, bigotry and violence that escalates when vampires step into the light, metaphorically speaking.
Ball says the metaphor of using vampires for those who have been the victim of bigotry comes directly from the books. He does not look at the metaphor to represent any specific group.
“For me, part of the joy of this whole series is that it’s about vampires, and so we don’t have to be that serious about it,” says Ball. “However, they totally work as a metaphor for gays, for people of color, in previous times in America, for anybody who is misunderstood and feared and hated for being different. I think, because of the cultural climate that we exist in today, it seems like, oh, well, they are a metaphor for gays because gay marriage and gay rights and that kind of thing.
“But I think it’s a bigger metaphor, and at the same time, it’s also not a metaphor at all. It’s vampires.”
All of the books are told from Sookie’s point of view. She’s a young woman who battles with her sanity because of a special gift: her ability to hear what others are thinking. The gift is also a curse. Sookie must concentrate to block out those outside thoughts.
Then she meets vampire Bill Compton (Stephen Moyer). Sookie can’t read his thoughts. And that allows her for once in her life to relax.
Paquin, who won an Academy Award for the 1993 film “The Piano,” has worked primarily in films and has appeared in films such as the “X-Men” trilogy, “Almost Famous,” “The Squid and the Whale” and “Buffalo Soldiers.” TV is different for her, but acting is still the same: She prepared.
She’s from Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada, and made several trips to Louisiana to hear the Cajun and French influences on the local accents.
“It’s amazing how much someone’s voice is informed by the situation that they live in. There is a kind of music to the Southern dialect that is very much - from my outsider perspective - a product of that sort of very hot, very, sort of, laid back at times, because of that sort of overwhelming heat sort of environment,” Paquin says. “Things move at a different pace. Which doesn’t mean that it’s not really exciting and scary and fast-paced at times.
“But that was a huge part of becoming that character. And so it’s pretty much the same as for any job but quite radical for this one.”