One of the best new shows of the fall season is HBO’s True Blood, which airs its highly anticipated season finale this Sunday at 9pm. The first season of the vampire drama has been packed with jaw-dropping surprises, but perhaps the most shocking twist was the reveal that kindhearted bar owner Sam Merlotte, played by actor Sam Trammell, is a shape-shifter. Sookie has grown closer to Sam since discovering his secret, but with a murderer on the loose and her jealous vampire boyfriend on the rampage, they probably won’t live happily ever after.
I had a chance to sit down with Sam Trammell today to talk about his role on the hit HBO series. Read on for his thoughts on his character’s complicated romantic relationships, what he hopes to see in True Blood‘s second season, and what fans can expect in Sunday’s season finale.
This is Don from BuddyTV, and today I’m talking to Sam Trammell, who plays Sam Merlotte on True Blood. How did the role on True Blood come about, and what was that audition process like for you?
Well, I had been hearing about it for a while from my agent, this script by Alan Ball that HBO was going to be doing. I got it and read it — I was already interested even before I read it, but I read it and thought it was amazing. I basically went in and auditioned with one of the casting directors on tape. I think Alan was in New York, he was out of town, so they showed him the tape and then Alan decided he wanted to test me. I don’t know if you know that word, but it’s when you do your final audition in front of HBO. He decided he wanted to do that so that was great, and he wanted to meet with me beforehand. I went to his office and met with him, and kind of read the scenes with him and he gave me some notes. I think he showed me the first two scripts as well. Then I went and did the audition for HBO and I found out that I got it the same day. I was like screaming in the car, I was thrilled.
Did they let you know about Sam’s shape-shifting secret beforehand, or did they encourage you to read any of the books?
No, I don’t think they did. I got the books, and before I did the network audition I think I read enough of the first book that I found out. I think that’s how it happened. So I sort of found out on my own. They didn’t really encourage or discourage reading the books. I decided to read as many as I could, because I just wanted to see — the show is based on books, and I wanted to see what was in the books and see if there were any crazy surprises about Sam that I should know about in book five. So I read like five or six of the books and they’re really fun.
The show’s popularity has really grown throughout the first season. Have you started being recognized more? What’s that like for you?
Yeah, I think I am getting recognized more and more. I was just in New York for a couple weeks, and that was crazy because you’re just walking on the streets and every day people would stop me to say how much they like the show, which was really exciting. It’s also weird, places you wouldn’t expect to get recognized. I was ordering a taco somewhere and the person at the register recognized me, I was at a furniture store and somebody recognized me. Just random places you get recognized. It’s great, it’s exciting to see that people are so enthusiastically into it. They’re really excited about the show and that makes you feel really good.
We’ve seen Sam develop different relationships with both Sookie and Tara over the course of the first season. What do you think it is about those women that draws Sam to them?
The proximity, first of all. It’s a small town, you don’t have a billion choices of people like in L.A. or New York where you look around and then choose. That’s what I would say first of all. The reason that he’s really, really attracted to Sookie I think is because they’re both different. Sam obviously is a shape-shifter, he’s got a big secret. Sookie is a telepath, she can read minds. I think that’s a telepath, am I saying the wrong word?
I think that’s right.
One of those. I know that there’s a tele-something where you can move objects, she’s not that one. She’s the one who can read minds, obviously. So I think there’s a real empathy. Like I think he really empathizes with Sookie being the outsider. A lot of people know about Sookie’s abilities, but it’s also a secret, and I have a secret, so there’s a lot of empathy there. That’s a real deep, empathetic bond that he has with her. And she’s just also sexy, obviously. He’s attracted to her.
Tara, I don’t think the plan was at all was to be attracted to her or to have his heart involved with Tara at all. I think it happened because he was feeling rebellious. You want to sort of strike out and do something when you get angry at somebody, I think he was sort of frustrated with Sookie. It was an unintended heart involvement with Rutina [Wesley, who plays Tara], an unintended attraction with her. But it is complicated. You’d think he would be totally faithful to Sookie, but I think Sookie is just so frustrating that he found another outlet to express his love.
One of my favorite things about the show is how it switches from drama to horror to comedy, sometimes all in the same scene. Is it ever a challenge figuring out how you should play a certain moment or certain scene?
Not so much. The real genius behind all that is Alan Ball. I just play my scenes as they are written and I don’t try to think about the tone of the show. I knew the tone of the show was going to be a huge issue, when I read the pilot I thought, “How can anybody do this?” I guess if anybody can, Alan can. But I had no idea that he would just knock it out of the park, which he’s done. He’s just so smart and it’s his taste. The reason that he’s successful is because he doesn’t try to please too many people. He’s got his vision, he sticks to it. He welcomes a lot of input, but he just really has a unique taste and he’s able to bridge all these genres. I trusted him. I just sort of thought about my character and tried to just do my job with Sam.
I was looking over the stuff you’ve done over the years and you’ve done big budget movies, independent movies, TV, and theater. Which one is the most fun for you personally?
You know, there are so many fulfilling things. Doing theater and doing film and television, stuff on screen, is so different, but they’re just fulfilling in different way. With theater you get to do the whole thing every night and you have the immediate audience reaction. There’s something amazing about getting to do the whole piece every night, and also having all of that rehearsal time where you get to just really think about it so much and find new layers. With film obviously you don’t have the same rehearsal time, you only are doing pieces. But what’s fulfilling about film and television for me is you just get in close to the face and you can really just have small, real moments. They’re good in different ways.
Considering that you’ve read the other books in the series, is there anything you want to see Sam get into in season 2?
Oh boy, oh boy. This new character that Michelle Forbes plays is a very interesting character. I think I’m going to have some dealings with her and I’m excited about that. I think that’s going to be an interesting character to see. So yeah, I’ll be excited to have my dealings with her.
She’s going to be a regular next season, right?
I think so, yeah, I think so. Her character is fairly big in the second book as I recall, so I think she’ll be around, yeah. And I’m not sure what’s going to happen with Sam and Tara. I don’t know if we may have hit a dead end, but you never know. I don’t think they planned on keeping our relationship going as long as they did.
I’m sure you can’t say much about the season finale on Sunday, but can you give us any hints of what we can expect?
I’ll tell you this, you can expect at least one juicy death and a number of cliffhangers. Really exciting cliffhangers.
Now I’m worried!
Yeah, obviously nobody wants to know, everybody wants to be surprised, so I won’t say too much. But it’s a really exciting episode. It lays the ground to a certain extent for next season.
– Interview conducted by Don Williams
(Image courtesy of Jeff Vespa)