This weekend, writer/director Alan Ball of Six Feet Under fame returns to HBO with True Blood. The vampire saga, based on the novels of Charlaine Harris, follows Sookie Stackhouse (Anna Paquin), a waitress who can read minds — except for the one of Bill, a vampire who's new to town.
I've checked out the first two episodes of the show and will give you my reaction before Sunday's premiere. But first, why not hear about the show from Ball himself? I recently had a chance to join a group of reporters for a chat with Ball about True Blood's themes and goals. Here are highlights:
- On the essential element of a vampire story: "Certainly, the one thing I feel like you have to have is you have to have a character. You have to have a specific person that you're invested in. You have to feel for them. If it's just a story device with fangs, then I'm just not that interested. I'm not that interested in special effects. We're really trying to really focus on who Bill is, what's his history, what is the curse of being immortal, how is that a bad thing, what's it like to be immortal and still yearn to be human, to have lost everything that meant something to you? To meet somebody and feel like you have a second beginning?"
- On doing a more outrageous show: "It was just really fun to do something that was less subdued because Six Feet Under had been all about subduing one's emotions and being afraid of the primal feelings that we all have that are the byproduct of being creatures with souls and having to deal with the fact that we all know we're going to die. It felt sort of liberating just to get a little crazy and the books had that energy and I just really responded to it."
To hear why Ball thinks vampires are sexy, just
- On what makes vampires sexy: "Well, obviously, the act of feeding is a very blatantly sexual metaphor. There's penetration. There are bodily fluids exchanged. It is sort of a cathartic frenzied physical moment. I guess also in a way vampires — I mean, you know how a lot of people are attracted to the bad boy or the femme fatale, the hot, sexy, dangerous person that you just really know is really not good for you and your conscious mind is going like, 'OK. Move away. Walk away from that'? And yet, the person over here in the corner who is really well-adjusted and has their life together and has a job and isn't crazy or doesn't have any substance abuse problems, the one that you should want and you know you should want, they're just not — they don't turn you on as much. . . . I guess creatures who are basically dangerous outlaws and who function really on the edges of society, they appeal to those of us who want to live a more civilized life. I just made all of that up. So it may be complete garbage."
- On the challenges and benefits of adapting someone else's work: "You have a built-in fan base. In this case, as was the case with Charlaine's books, they work. The world is complete. In a lot of ways, she done a lot of the heavy lifting, and I'm really, really indebted to her for that. I think the challenges are to remain true enough to the material so that you don't lose what it was that attracted you to it in the first place, but at the same time to open it up and make changes when you feel like they would improve it. Luckily for me, Charlaine has been a complete sweetheart about this and she really understands that the medium of television is completely different than the medium of the printed page and she's been really on board, and I think she's really enjoying the process, which is not always the case with writers when their work is sort of taken over by somebody else."
- On what responsibility he feels toward fans: "I certainly feel a responsibility to be true to the spirit of the books and yet to turn it into a compelling television show. But — and I don't mean this with any disrespect at all — the fans are not writing the show and I'm not going to go on the boards and make sure that everybody's happy with what's being done because I have to trust my own instincts. If I start feeling like I have to please the fans, that's just like having to please a committee of suits at a studio."
- On doing a show about immortality soon after doing one that dealt with death: "I don't think I sat down and thought, 'OK. Now, how can I continue to explore life and death, but from a different angle?' But I am a person who, when I was 13 years old, my sister was killed in a car accident in front of me, and death became a big part of my life on that day and has always been there. It's always been in the room with me. I'm constantly aware of how short life is and how it can go away at any moment. So that's obviously a resonant theme for me. I do feel like Six Feet Under in a way made me more comfortable with the concept of grief. I'm not sure one can ever become 100 percent comfortable with death, but I think especially as one gets older, as I am in the process of doing, you – it becomes a more real element and I'm sure that that had something to do with my reacting, how Charlaine's books resonated for me. But I don't think it's the most important thing. I think the most important thing is just the sheer funny, hopey storytelling nature of it. It is a big – to use slightly dated language — it's a big rollicking yarn and it's just really, really fun to be a part of something like that."