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Alan Ball answers questions from the Fans

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Alan Ball answers questions from the Fans

Post  Aslinn Dhan on September 7th 2011, 11:23 pm

From the Sookie Companion

Although True Blood certainly wouldn’t exist without Charlaine’s celebrated
bestselling novel series, there’s no doubt that the driving force behind the sexy,
sassy television show is its creator, producer, and writer, Alan Ball, who was
captivated with Charlaine’s wonderful characters at first sight and has reimagined
them for television while staying true to their original versions at the same time.
When I approached him for an interview about the series and his work, Mr.
Ball said yes quickly and graciously. Rather than ask him questions that have no
doubt been covered in other venues, I decided to allow the fans a rare chance to ask
Mr. Ball questions about his work on True Blood and just about anything else
Sookie-related that they desired. The response was overwhelming, and I selected
the best questions to pass along to him. I’m pleased to reveal his answers here.

How did you first discover the Sookie Stackhouse series?

I was early for a dentist appointment and stumbled upon the books at a nearby
Barnes & Noble. I picked up the first book and couldn’t put it down. Once I got into
the series, I knew it had to be a TV show.

In Season 2 of True Blood, the maenad character Maryann Forrester (played
brilliantly by Michelle Forbes) was developed to a fuller extent when compared
to her role in the book by Ms. Harris. Why did you decide to develop this
character further?

Part of the challenge in adapting Charlaine’s novels is to create strong stories
for the characters other than Sookie and still remain very faithful to the spirit of the
books. We loved the maenad attacking Sookie and poisoning her with her claws,
and then we looked for ways for her to interact with the other characters as well as
being dangerous to Sookie. Ultimately, she gave us something for the entire cast to
go up against.

What was your motivation for having Bill ask Sookie to marry him in the end
of the second season when it was so far from the books? Was it that it was a good
way to have Bill kidnapped/disappear?

I think the motivation was to give them a moment of happiness, a hope that
something they thought was off-limits to both of them was actually within their
grasp. They’ve been through so much together during their relatively short
relationship, it felt nice to give them a moment of “normalcy” and the hope that
they could have a happy ending. Of course, this being True Blood, there isn’t much
chance of that.

What inspired you to make the Sookie books into an HBO series?

I was so deeply entertained by the experience of reading the books, I just
thought it would make a great TV show. The world and the characters seemed too
large for just a movie—to me, it begged for the larger canvas of a TV series.
Your show has resonated with such a wide demographic group of people—
many not typical fans of vampires and the paranormal.

What [do you think] setsTrue Blood apart from all the other vampire movies/ shows to
attract such afollowing?

I think it’s because of several different elements: the characters and the world
that Charlaine created; the performances by the amazingly talented cast; the
humor, the romance, the scares; the focus we try to keep on making everything, no
matter how outlandish, grounded in the emotional lives of the characters. It’s just a
really fun show to make and hopefully a fun show to watch.

What were your first impressions of the people in Bon Temps?

They felt really authentic to me. I grew up in a semismall town in the South
(Marietta, Georgia), and the descriptions of the characters, the way they behaved
and spoke, it all felt like something I recognized.

I love the character of Lafayette and am so glad that he survived Season 1 of
True Blood, unlike his less-fortunate counterpart in the books.

Did you decide that his character would go beyond Season 1 from the beginning, or was that
decision made after seeing how well he came to life on screen?

The first scene I shot with Nelsan Ellis in the pilot made it abundantly clear to
me that this was a character we could never lose. I am usually not a fan of actors
who improvise, but Nelsan doesn’t just improvise, he channels from planet
Lafayette. In a lesser actor’s hands, Lafayette could come across as extreme or onedimensional;
Nelsan makes him strong, fierce, and deeply lovable.

Will you consider casting yourself in a cameo role each season (à la Alfred

Never! I allowed myself to be talked into doing that in an episode of Six Feet
Under and have always regretted it. I think it would just take viewers out of the

Many changes have been made from Charlaine Harris’s books to the show,
and I’m wondering why you chose to paint Bill and Sophie-Anne in the light you
did, as opposed to the way Ms. Harris wrote the characters? While there are a lot
of similarities in Bill, it seems your Sophie-Anne is very modern and not the
regal, aristocratic French queen portrayed in the series. Any insight to your
decisions would be appreciated.

In True Blood, Sophie-Anne appears in the same season Godric appears. We
chose not to have two ancient vampires who seem barely older than children in the
same season. And ultimately, every nonregular character on our show exists to
create conflicts and challenges for our regular characters. Having read all the books
at this point, and knowing why Bill appeared in Bon Temps in the first place, we
chose to play Sophie-Anne a little differently. We also were setting up a major story
line in Season 3.

In the show, it consistently seems as if you are trying to villainize Eric and
sanctify Bill, even referring to Eric as the “bad boy” more than once in
interviews. This certainly does not stay true to the spirit of the books, as Eric is
absolutely not a villain or even a bad boy in the books, and likewise Bill is
definitely not a saint, nor is he even a “good guy” half the time. Is there a reason
that you try to portray these characters in this manner, and if so, what is it?

Hmm... I am not sure I agree with your assessment. We have purposely shown
many darker aspects of Bill, such as his penchant for sport-killing during his years
with Lorena, his keeping things from Sookie, his interaction with the state
patrolman he glamoured in Season 1, taking his gun and pointing it at him, and his
murder of Uncle Bartlett. Likewise, we have shown many of the deeper, more
tender aspects of Eric—his love for Godric, his grief at Godric’s true death. We
continue with both of these directions in Season 3. And it seems to me more
dramatic to establish certain expectations about a character and then upend them
than to just depict everyone as equal parts light and darkness. And when I use the
term “bad boy,” I am referring to the kind of bad boy that women are consistently
attracted to—a man who doesn’t play by the rules, a man who is a little dangerous,
who is going to create more drama and fun than the good guy who does everything

Sex, death, food, and violence play a large role in True Blood. Americans have
a possibly unhealthy relationship with all four, and yet we are fascinated by
them. Is this the secret to the success of the books and series?

Honestly, I have no idea. I think the success of the series is because these stories
and characters are so much fun.

It is not a common thing for the vampires in True Blood to be young and
beautiful, as it normally is in other vampire television shows and movies. Why
did you choose to go in this direction?

Well, I think while we have plenty of vampires who are young and beautiful, I
like the idea that one can become a vampire at any point in his or her life. This is
exactly as it is in Charlaine’s books — and I thought that was clever and
unexpected. Also, I generally chafe at doing something the same way everyone else
does it.

What plot point (so far) has been the most difficult to write, act, and film?

Hmm — the storming of Merlotte’s by the black-eyed zombies . . . the final
Maryann sacrifice/marriage . . . the storming of Steve Newlin’s church by the Dallas

What is your gauge to keep elements in the series that are in the books?

Instinct. And input by the other writers on staff.

Since art imitates life, explain what True Blood has to say about the American
viewing public. What does our “bloodlust” say about the current cultural
climate? The archetype has been used throughout history in many cultures, but
what do you see this archetype revealing about us?

I leave that to the academics. Anything I say about why vampires are such
potent symbols is just going to be me trying to pretend like I know why when I
don’t. I’m just glad people are intrigued by vampires and other supernatural
creatures because working on this show is the most fun I have ever had.

Did the real-life relationship of Anna Paquin and Stephen Moyer have an
impact on the decision to diminish the role of Eric in favor of Bill in the True
Blood series?

I don’t really buy that the role of Eric has been diminished in favor of Bill. Eric
has his own very strong story line in Seasons 2 and 3. Maybe you mean in terms of
his relationship to Sookie . . . ? You have to remember we’re in the middle of True
Blood. It is an ongoing story.

I noticed the episodes have different writers. How do multiple writers come
to write something continuative? Is there a sit-down session for each episode that
you drive? Do you say, “I would like so-and-so to write this particular scene”?

I work with six other writers. We break stories and outline episodes as a group,
then a single writer writes the script. We give notes as a group, then that same
writer writes a second draft of the script. Sometimes I do a polish if I believe it is
necessary. Writers generally volunteer for the episodes they want to write.

What is it about the show True Blood that represents you in some way?

I guess I would say the irreverence, the humor, the fascination with the bizarre,
the romance, the fun.

What do you find to be most challenging when depicting a fictional world
from book to screen (besides the fans wanting certain story lines)?

Hmm... keeping everyone’s actions motivated and based in their emotional
needs and desires. In the case of Charlaine’s books, keeping the characters who are
not Sookie active in their own stories.

What inspired you to bring in characters on the show that were not in the
books, such as Jessica and Daphne, as well as to keep Lafayette? (We are grateful
for these characters, as they are awesome; just curious.)

Again, it all comes down to creating stories for characters who are not Sookie,
and in Lafayette’s case, loving what Nelsan Ellis was doing so much that I wanted
to keep him in the show.

My question is regarding the character Bill Compton. I really liked the
character in the books and hated to see him pushed to the side so often, so I must
say I really enjoy him being a front-burner character in the show. What was it
about the character on the page that made you connect with him? What were you
looking for in the actors who auditioned for the part, and how did you feel when
you finally found the talented and gorgeous Stephen Moyer to fill the role?

Well, just like you, I loved the idea of a man who had basically lost everything ;
who, because of his and Sookie’s circumstances (him being vampire, her being
telepathic), is suddenly given a second chance at love and meaning in his life.
When casting, I kept looking for a man who seemed like he was from another time,
who knew how to play that undercurrent of sadness, and also was dashing and
handsome, like a true romantic hero. When we found Stephen, I was thrilled,
because we had been looking for a long time prior.

I really enjoy watching the show, but never watch the opening credits, as I
find them unnerving. How and why did you come to decide on such a thoughtprovoking
opening sequence?

I wanted something primal, something that really communicated Southern
gothic, something that alluded to the twin polarities of sex and religion as a means
for transcendence, something that was really rooted deeply in nature.

I’d like to thank Alan for taking time out of his very hectic schedule to answer
these wonderful questions, and thanks also to all of the fans who submitted them!

Aslinn Dhan

Posts : 4302
Join date : 2010-02-07
Age : 51
Location : East Coast

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