STRAIGHT FOR THE JUGULAR
Ball: “ A series is an evolutionary thing, and with both True Blood and Six Feet Under I think they found themselves around the middle of season one and really hit their stride in season two.” The teenagers might have the Twilight saga but the pay- TV ser
Whether it’s his Oscar-winning screenplay for American Beauty, his acclaimed TV series Six Feet Under or his popular new program True Blood, two themes regularly raise their heads in the work of Alan Ball – sex and death.
It’s only natural, then, that one would assume he has a healthy interest in both topics.
“ Who doesn’t?” laughed the charming, candid writer, director and producer, holding court in a Los Angeles hotel as he promotes the upcoming second season of True Blood, which premieres on pay-TV channel Showcase on September 15.
“ Sex and death are issues that every person in the world has to grapple with throughout their life, and a character’s relationship with sexuality and mortality is really a window into their soul,” he said. “ As a dramatist, I fi nd it a really interesting area to explore – those private moments.”
When it comes to the recurring motif of blood in Ball’s work, however, he’s a little less certain.
“ I’m not aware of having a thing for blood, although it certainly seems like everything I’ve done has been bloody in parts. I don’t know what that’s about.”
There’s certainly no shortage of the red stuff in True Blood, which has stealthily become a hit around the world.
Adapted from Charlaine Harris’s bestselling series of Southern Vampire Mysteries novels, it revolves around the hot-blooded romance between telepathic Sookie ( Anna Paquin) and courtly 173-yearold vampire Bill ( Stephen Moyer, Paquin’s real-life fi ance) in the small Louisiana town of Bon Temps, after creatures of the night “ come out of the coffi n” to reveal themselves to the human race.
Violent and sexy, the show is widely regarded to have made great leaps forward in its second year after a fi rst season that was enjoyable but slightly uneven.
“ A series is an evolutionary thing, and with both this show and Six Feet Under I think they found themselves around the middle of season one and really hit their stride in season two,” agreed Ball.
“ So I’m waiting to see what it wants to be. You get the script in the best shape possible, you get the best possible raw material while you’re shooting and then in editing the show will let you know what it wants to be. You know, this episode may be funnier, this one may be scarier.
“ What I think it becomes in season two is something more universal, as opposed to something that happens in a small town. It becomes more mythic.”
One thing he’s certain of, however, is the need to keep true to his own creative impulses rather than try to shape True Blood into something he believes the audience might want.
“ I have the best luck when I try to create something that I as an audience member might like, because whenever I try to do something I think the marketplace might like, I’ve been very lucky in that it failed miserably,” he laughed. “ If you operate based on fear of what people will or won’t accept, then you’re second-guessing yourself and it stops being writing and becomes marketing.”
While he’s not willing to spoil upcoming storylines for viewers still catching up with True Blood’s new episodes, Ball admits that the relationship between Sookie and Bill will encounter a rough patch or two, especially due to the presence in Bon Temps of Eric ( Alexander Skarsgard), a volatile and seductive 1000-year-old Viking vampire.
“ I certainly believe in the second season we’ll see the beginning of an energy between Eric and Sookie that will take her by surprise and complicate things for her.”
Ball is quick to acknowledge the contribution of his cast when it comes to the appeal of True Blood. It’s a bit of a multinational line-up, with the show’s leads hailing from New Zealand ( Paquin), Britain ( Moyer), Sweden ( Skarsgard) and Australia ( former Home and Away star Ryan Kwanten, who plays Sookie’s brother Jason).
While giving due respect to True Blood’s American cast members, Ball praises his international actors for their willingness to get down and dirty – a necessity in True Blood’s sometimes murky storylines.
“ In my experience, actors from overseas don’t have that thing of ‘ Well, my character can’t do that because it makes me look bad’.
“ Because of the way America worships its stars, the more successful people get, the more they start thinking of themselves as commodities. That’s all well and good; I just don’t want to work with it.
“ I want to work with people who look at their character’s behaviour as something they would never in their life even consider doing and go ‘ This’ll be fun!’ That’s the kind of actor I want to work with, and that’s 100 per cent this cast.”
And as far as the future of True Blood goes, its creator believes the possibilities are limitless.
“ I’m negotiating another two years, and we’re very close to closing that deal.
“ I think the show has a lot of life in it, just because of the supernatural aspect. You can open up other storylines you wouldn’t have the freedom to do on other series.
“ By the fourth season of Six Feet Under, we were starting to bang our heads against the wall. We would pitch something and it’ll be like ‘ Oh, Brenda already did that’ or ‘ David did something similar in season one’.
“ Here, you can create another dimension or introduce a new kind of creature or go back in time to 1640. To use a painter metaphor, I have a lot more colours to work with.”
Getting the fang of it: Anna Paquin plays smalltown waitress Sookie Stackhouse, girlfriend of vampire Bill ( inset), played by Stephen Moyer; right, True Blood creator Alan Ball.