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

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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.

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