Even if you don’t know the name, you know the face of William Sanderson. He’s one of those iconic character actors who can show up anywhere. On television he’s been on Newhart, Deadwood, Lost and his current gig as Sheriff Bud Dearborn on HBO’s vampire drama True Blood, which returns for season 2 June 14. In films, he’s been in everything from Blade Runner to The Rocketeer to the Civil War drama Gods and Generals.
BuddyTV spoke to William Sanderson about his career and the new season of True Blood. Sanderson talked about vampires, his guest appearance on this season of Lost, and an upcoming Starz documentary about character actors he’ll be appearing in.
Season 2 is just around the corner so what’s new for this new season of True Blood?
Well, I’ve been warned not talk too much about specifics but certainly more sex and violence. And we’re maybe a little more than half way through and I’m told it’s going to get really crazy here shortly. I hope that doesn’t mean they’re going to kill the sheriff.
What is going on with Sheriff Dearborn? He was a little bit on the periphery during the first season.
Oh, and he’ll probably be there this season. But he’s still trying to solve a crime and, you know, I keep thinking if he doesn’t solve something he might lose his job. In acting if you don’t come up with something you can lose your job. I’ve had a director in New York many years ago say, “If you don’t get more inventive I’m gonna fire you.” Believe me: I came up with something.
But at least in True Blood there’s always a new murder. There’s always new deaths, so there’s at least always a job for a sheriff.
Well, sheriff’s come and go don’t they. I don’t mean to dwell on that. There wasn’t a lot on him in the books so it wasn’t like I didn’t have some inkling. Charlene Harris did an interview the other day and said she’d like to see more of my character and she said she’s always loved William Sanderson. I’m not to send it to the writers. We’re sort of at the mercy of the producers and writers, but we’ve got great ones, and I’m proud to support Anna Paquin and Stephen Moyer and Ryan Kwanten, and just a slew of young actors. I’m a graybeard so I might be like a disease to them.
You talk about how Sheriff Dearborn isn’t that prominent in the books. Is that freeing for an actor where you get to make it up?
Well, a good question. You can cheat a little more. If you’re playing a real life character you have a duty to be as honest and as correct as you can be in a portrayal. So I guess it does free you a little bit. But it all comes from the writers. I sound like the greatest suck up. But when I was younger I took the writing for granted and now I don’t. We have a great one in Alan Ball who won an Academy Award for American Beauty, as most people know. Created Six Feet Under. I just love working with him. He’s my favorite director. He gives you tips that some of the directors don’t know. You don’t know what’s in the creator’s mind.
Yeah, you’ve definitely had experience with the great writers – now Alan Ball for True Blood, you had David Milch for Deadwood. I’d imagine at least the dialogue is a little easier to learn and memorize on True Blood.
Well, yes, it’s not as inverted. Shakespeare would invert two times, David Milch might invert the sentences three. But one of the virtues of this show is that you get the scripts ahead of time. David – the only way he could work – Milch – was to turn it out at the last minute. Everybody works different but this one helps you sleep better.
If you get one of these new scripts do you pour through it right away and say, “Uh oh. Am I gonna die in this episode?”
Absolutely. I hate to admit it. Some of these wonderful actors admitted they wanted to see how long their characters’ survived. But one stays ready for the inevitable and in spite of having nightmares of inadequacy I’ll be alright. I worked with Tommy Lee Jones a lot – six jobs I survived . He said “We’ll be alright if we die tomorrow.” He also said I had a lot to be humble about.
Well at least if you died on this show, theoretically you could come back as a vampire. Would you want to play a vampire on the show?
I’ll do anything to be on TV, John. My wife should get a residual either way. I just love working for HBO. I think they hire good people – especially the writers and creators – and stay out of their way. They’ve certainly been good to me.
When you go down to Louisiana is that a different atmosphere? Do you get a different sense of the characters?
Yeah, you’ve got to slow down a little bit. They don’t move quite as fast. But I love the atmosphere – the antebellum homes, the moss, the people are very kind.
Being on Deadwood, it was such a critically acclaimed show, a lot of people loved it, it won a lot of awards. Has that really helped your career where suddenly all of these doors open?
I can’t tell but I think the fact that I showed up and I wasn’t drunk and my wife didn’t have to prop me up on Deadwood may have led indirectly to getting this job. If I’m not too long winded here, Alan Ball said when I met him and read the piece – he said “I didn’t see Deadwood.” So to this day I think that may not be why I got the job. It wasn’t everybody’s cup of tea. I worked with Kris Kristofferson and he wasn’t fond of the language, and this is one of America’s greatest poets. Named his son Blake after the great English poet. I said, “Did you think the language was gratuitous?” And he said, “That’s it, Billy.”
You recently guest starred on an episode of Lost.
Oh! Thank you for remembering that.
Of course. Lost fans remember every little detail. Was that just sort of a one episode thing or…?
Well, they never said anything differently. A few years ago they had talked to my agent and were giving me dates and promised – or implied – that I would be doing a recurring role. Well, that didn’t happen, so the fact that it came around again for me to do a different role, I was very grateful. I said, “Well, they don’t hate me.” But they did not say anything about doing another role and I hate that because when they do it, sometimes they promise you, “This might recur” and it just messes your head up. Just a one time thing as far as I know.
I also understand you’re in an upcoming documentary about famous character actors.
It’s a documentary I did called The Face is Familiar. It airs on Starz June 9 and has Samuel L. Jackson and a lot of wonderful character actors. I saw it. It was terrific and I was happy they didn’t cut me out. And I hope somebody will go to my website. I love for people to read about me.
-Interview conducted by John Kubicek
(Image courtesy of HBO)