“True Blood” creator Alan Ball appeared Sunday at a 10th-anniversary screening of the pilot episode at L.A.’s Vulture Festival and, while delivering a live commentary, he dropped a few details regarding a “True Blood” live musical, which has been in the works since being announced back in 2014. Composer Nathan Barr is behind the project and, according to Ball, the music he’s heard has been “pretty good.”
As for the play’s story, Ball said, “It tells the story of vampires coming out of the closet, and [Sookie and Bill’s] love story. Ultimately, it really departs from the books and follows vampires not being good for this society, so they end up going back in the closet.” With such a downer ending, Ball described the musical’s storyline as more of an opera than anything else.
It’s been a decade since “True Blood” premiered to audiences, and while a lot has changed in genre television since Vampire Bill stepped into Merlotte’s for a drink, the adventures of Sookie Stackhouse, Vampire Bill, and the rest still holds up today.
Turning his attention back to the series, Ball shed some light on the mechanics of the fangs in “True Blood.” They were stylistically different than what has been featured in many bits of vampire entertainment. As Ball tells it, the teeth featured in the series were inspired by a very specific type of reptile. “The fangs, they actually swivel,” Ball said. “We based them on rattlesnake fangs. The fangs were actually hollow so you could suck the blood through them yourself.” Did the actors actually suck the fake blood through the fake teeth, though? Ball’s answer was a resounding no.
On the topic of vampire teeth, it seems like the show was quite close to having a be-fanged Benedict Cumberbatch take on a southern drawl, instead of Stephen Moyer. “Benedict Cumberbatch came and read for Bill,” Ball said, also revealing that Anna Paquin and Moyer instantly fell in love on set. If Cumberbatch was cast, would Paquin and Moyer’s romance, and subsequent marriage, have ever happened? It’s just one of the many questions pondered during the hour-long session.
The future “Doctor Strange” star wasn’t the only actor considered for the series. According to Ball, Jessica Chastain read for the Sookie role, while Jennifer Lawrence came in and read for the role of Crystal, the were-panther from Season 3. According to Ball, Lawrence’s audition was “great.” But as he recalled, “All the women in the room, because she was going to be Jason’s girlfriend, and she was 17 at the time, were like, ‘No, that’s gross!'”
When it came to other casting choices on the series, Ball admitted that Rutina Wesley wasn’t their first choice to play the role of Sookie’s best friend, Tara. “We had actually cast another actress and we shot the pilot with her in it,” Ball explained. “But HBO said, ‘We don’t really buy that girl.’ And we said, ‘Yeah we should have done it with Rutina Wesley.’ So we went back and re-shot those scenes.”
Throughout the show’s seven-season run, the character of Tara was never fully able to shed the “angry black woman” stereotype, which clearly irked Ball. “Whenever people say, ‘Why are black women angry?’ I say, ‘Well because they’re women, and they’re black, and this is a totally misogynist and racist country, and why wouldn’t you be angry?’”
You can’t talk about “True Blood” without acknowledging the magnificence of short order cook, and future psychic, Lafayette Reynolds. Ball paid homage to the performance of Nelsan Ellis, who unfortunately died in July of 2017 due to complications from alcohol withdrawal.
“He was so amazingly talented.” Ball said, revealing that, while he mostly hated when actors improvised during scenes, Ellis was a master at it and ad-libbed almost all of his introductory scene. Ball pointed out that Lafayette dies at the end of the second book, but he demanded they keep him alive. “I was like, no, we are not killing this guy!” he exclaimed.
Contrary to popular belief, the pilot episode was shot entirely in Los Angeles: Merlotte’s Bar was located on the Warner Bros. backlot, just a short walk away from the “Desperate Housewives” set. Ball also revealed that the area behind Merlotte’s, where Sookie saves Bill for the first time, was actually the same spot where the quicksand scene transpired in “Indiana Jones and the Crystal Skull.”
How did Ball make everything else look like Louisiana? With a pause and smile, he simply said, “We just hung a lot of Spanish moss everywhere.” It totally worked.