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True Blood – Creator Alan Ball on intense emotion

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True Blood - Alan Ball, Anna Paquin and Stephen Moyer
Creator/executive producer Alan Ball and actors Anna Paquin and Stephen Moyer speak on the TCA Panel during the 2011 Summer TCA Tour at the Beverly Hilton on July 28, 2011 in Beverly Hills, California © FilmMagic

Based on the Sookie Stackhouse novels by Charlaine Harris, HBO’s successful series True Blood is now in its fourth season. Creator and Executive Producer Alan Ball (who also created Six Feet Under) came by the TV Critics Association tour to discuss the new season and his latest trip to Comic-Con.

The series follows the on-and-off romance between waitress and part-faerie Sookie Stackhouse (Anna Paquin), who can hear people’s thoughts, and 173-year-old vampire Bill Compton (Stephen Moyer).

There’s a rumor that you may be leaving the series this season. Is there any truth to that?

True Blood, Season 4 - Anna Paquin and Stephen Moyer
Anna Paquin and Stephen Moyer © 2011 HBO

Well, everything ends. There will be an end for me on this show at some point. I just closed a deal to do another season. And I don’t have any desire to leave, because I’m having more fun than I’ve ever had in my life.

Once Anna and Stephen got together in real life, was your goal to make sure you split them apart in the show?

No, not at all. I know that they think they kept it a secret for a long time. And they did, but maybe not quite as long as they thought. But it has never impacted the show in any way other than positive. They’re such professionals, and their love for each other, I think, really became part of Sookie and Bill’s love for each other.

But I am working from source material. That, plus the fact that the characters being happy and things working out for them, is not really that interesting after one or two episodes, but I never said I’m going to split Bill and Sookie up. I knew they split up in the book and that’s probably why we did it. We just follow the books.

What are some of the challenges you have producing this series?

True Blood, Season 4 - Anna Paquin and Stephen Moyer
Season 4 cast: Kristin Bauer van Straten, Alexander Skarsgard, Deborah Ann Woll, Jessica Tuck and Stephen Moyer © 2011 HBO

I would say the biggest challenge is telling all of the stories in the amount of time we have to tell them. Before I came over here today, we locked picture on Episode 12, and I realize we’ve done 48 episodes of this show. And I went, ‘That’s 24 movies.’ The show has just organically evolved into this bigger thing every season.

I think that’s probably the biggest challenge, is just to get everything done on time.

What’s the key to that?

Well, we scale back. I do think a lot of times the shooting draft will come out, and over the ten days of prep, things will get scaled back. We’ll get smaller, and we will drop scenes. But I think the key to it is that everybody just really loves working on the show.

I think a lot of it has to do with the nature of the material of the show, because it’s so much fun. You get to go to work and rip someone’s head off, or send someone flying through the air. I can’t believe I do that for a living.

Can you talk about going through the source material and figuring out what you want to stay faithful to and where you feel comfortable going in a different path?

True Blood, Season 4 - Creator Alan Ball
Creator and Executive Producer Alan Ball © 2011 HBO

You have to take the fact that things are going to lock you in as a given. We now are going to go back and see how one of the vampires was made. So we have to remain true to that, because  that is part of the mythology of the show.

My rule of thumb for working with a source material is the books are Sookie’s story, told by Sookie. Everybody else in the books exists when they’re in the same room with Sookie.

Since the show is more of an ensemble show, I think we generally have more freedom coming up with Lafayette’s story. Lafayette’s a great example, because he gets killed in the books. And after the first season working with Nelsan Ellis, I just went, ‘There’s no way we can kill this character.’

But ultimately there’s no formula. It’s just an organic process. I work with five really good and smart writers. And if I hear five people saying to me, ‘I think we should do this instead of the way it is in the books,’ then I’m going to listen to that argument because I trust them.

I love Fiona Shaw who played Harry Potter’s witch-hating aunt, is a witch on the show. Did that occur to you when you cast her?

True Blood, Season 4 - Nelsan Ellis, Kevin Alejandro, Fiona Shaw and Rutina Wesley
Nelsan Ellis, Kevin Alejandro, Fiona Shaw and Rutina Wesley © 2011 HBO

You know, it didn’t. Those things don’t occur to me because I feel like within the world of True Blood, the characters seem so real to me. It doesn’t bother me that they’ve also played another character in another show that may be similar.

We’re creating some new characters now for Season 5, and in the writers’ room we talk about actors, and you say, ‘Wouldn’t it be great if such and such played this?’ ‘Yeah, but they were in that vampire movie.’ I don’t care. I don’t think that way.

It’s not important, and I guess the flipside of that is for the real hardcore genre people, maybe that’s a plus. But ultimately, I just feel like, let’s get the best actor for this role that we can get, and what else they’ve done doesn’t really cross my mind.

What was your trip to Comic-Con like this year?

The first year was the big shock for me because I had heard of Comic-Con but I had never been. My world had never crossed paths with the Comic-Con world, and when we came out on stage, every person got huge cheers from thousands of people.

When I came out on stage and thousands of people were cheering, I was like, ‘This is something I never expected would happen in my entire life. This feels really good.’

It’s the fourth year we’ve been going and what I love about it is how passionate people are about the show and how much they love the show, and that’s really something that’s nice because we love the show.

We have so much fun making the show, but when you find out that it brings people so much joy and it creates such intense emotion for them, that’s really great.