10 Sharp Facts About True Blood

John P. Johnson/HBO
John P. Johnson/HBO

Set in fictional Bon Temps, Louisiana, Alan Ball's True Blood—which ran on HBO from 2008 to 2014—deals with vampires trying to acclimate to living among humans, often with violent results. The Japanese invent Tru Blood, a synthetic blood beverage meant to satiate vampires so they won’t seek out real blood. (That doesn’t work out so well.)

Ball, creator of Six Feet Under, based the show on Charlaine Harris’s The Southern Vampire Mysteries books. Sookie Stackhouse (Anna Paquin) is part fairy and part telepathic human, who falls in love with a 173-year-old vampire, Bill (Stephen Moyer). (In 2010, Moyer and Paquin married.) Sookie's also drawn to Eric (Emmy Award-winner Alexander Skarsgård) and shape-shifting werewolf Alcide (Joe Manganiello).

Also along for the ride to battle vampires and other fantastical creatures are Sookie’s dimwitted brother Jason (Ryan Kwanten); Sookie’s boss, Sam Merlotte (Sam Trammell); and her friends Tara (Rutina Wesley) and Lafayette Reynolds (Nelsan Ellis, who sadly passed away last year). 

The show debuted on September 7, 2008 and became a sensation—so much so that in 2010, Paquin, Moyer, and Skarsgård posed naked, covered in blood, on the cover of Rolling Stone. After 80 episodes, the show concluded on August 24, 2014. True Blood blended sex, violence, and humor in a way no HBO show had done before—thus becoming the network’s highest rated show since The Sopranos. Here are 10 things you might not have known about True Blood, on its 10th anniversary.

1. A TRIP TO THE DENTIST INSPIRED THE SHOW.

Creator Alan Ball had to get a root canal and showed up 30 minutes early to his appointment. With time to kill, he visited a Barnes and Noble across the street and saw Charlaine Harris’s book Dead Until Dark, the first in a series of 13 novels. “The tagline is, ‘Maybe having a vampire for a boyfriend isn’t such a bright idea,’ which made me laugh,” Ball told Emmy TV Legends. “I’m from the South, Charlaine’s from the South. It had a very authentic Southern feel to it. It’s this great mix of drama and comedy and horror and sex and violence and social commentary. She walked this line that was so incredibly entertaining that I couldn’t put the book down.” He read three more of her books in the series and thought it’d make a good TV show. At the time the book was under option to be made into a film, but when the option expired, Ball jumped at the chance. He filmed a pilot and two more episodes, and HBO green-lit the series.

2. ANNA PAQUIN “AGGRESSIVELY” PURSUED THE ROLE OF SOOKIE.

Anna Paquin in 'True Blood'
HBO

Ball hadn’t considered the naturally brunette actress for the role, but one day Oscar-winner Anna Paquin’s representatives called the show’s casting director and said she wanted to audition. “And I said, ‘Really? That doesn’t—huh. She wants to do this?’” Ball told The New York Times. “Because at the time Anna was dark-haired, and certainly her body of work didn’t lead me anywhere near Sookie Stackhouse. But she aggressively pursued it.”

Paquin welcomed playing a part that she described to The New York Times as being “about as radically different from me and a lot of the work I’ve previously done as you could possibly come up with.” In an interview with Rolling Stone, Paquin explained how people saw her as too serious. “But it only takes one person with a little bit of imagination to go, ‘You know, pale-skin girls with brown hair can also be blond girls with a fake tan,’ and presto change-o, makeover. It’s not rocket science.”

3. CHARLAINE HARRIS WAS MORE INTERESTED IN PEOPLE THAN VAMPIRES.

“I didn’t want to write about being a vampire,” Harris told Vanity Fair. “I wanted to write about people who were interacting with vampires. I thought it would be fun to write about a woman dating a vampire, so I imagined what kind of woman would do such a stupid thing.”

Bon Temps is a city in Northern Louisiana; Harris picked that region to avoid Anne Rice’s territory. “My thinking was that Anne Rice had done such a great job with Southern Louisiana, that I would take the part [of Louisiana] no one wanted,” Harris said. “Her works were groundbreaking and very innovative and I thought it would be fun to kind of rappel off of them.”

4. HARRIS USED THE VAMPIRES TO COMMENT ON GAY RIGHTS.

Deborah Ann Woll and Stephen Moyer in 'True Blood'
Jaimie Trueblood, HBO

Harris published Dead Until Dark, the first book in the series, in 2001. “When I began framing how I was going to represent the vampires, it suddenly occurred to me that it would be interesting if they were a minority that was trying to get equal rights,” Harris told the New York Post. “It just seemed to fit with what was happening in the world right then.”

However, Ball didn’t agree with her. “I have a hard time seeing the vampires as a metaphor for gays and lesbians,” he told Rolling Stone. “Just because the vampires on our show are, for the most part, vicious murderers and predators, and I’m gay myself, so I don’t really want to say, ‘Hey, gays and lesbians are basically viciously amoral murderers.’”

5. ALAN BALL THINKS THE SHOW IS ABOUT “INTIMACY.”

While developing the show for HBO, the network asked Ball for a one-sentence pitch for what the show was about. “I thought, ‘Oh, dear God, what am I going to say?’ I said, ‘Well, ultimately at its heart, it’s about the terrors of intimacy,’” he told The New York Times. “Which is an answer I just pulled totally out of [nowhere] at that moment. But I do think that actually, there is some truth to that. That is kind of what it’s about.”

In 2012, Ball told NPR he thought the show was about “how we deal with our primal desires. How do those elements of our psyche manifest themselves in a world where monsters were real?”

Chris Bauer, who played Andy Bellefleur, added his two cents on what the show was about. “How do people in that amount of space get along with each other when they are people with really different beliefs, life experiences, [and] philosophies?” he told Vulture. “It’s like two species trying to get along, even though externally we look the same. That's where all the racism, all the homophobia, all the sexism, all the diminishing-others-for-their-differences comes from. It's so applicable.”

6. RYAN KWANTEN DOESN’T THINK JASON IS “DUMB.”

Ryan Kwanten stars in 'True Blood'
John P. Johnson, HBO

In an interview with Vulture, Ryan Kwanten was asked, “What are the challenges of playing someone that dumb?” He responded with, “I see him more as simple than dumb … He can get away with some of the things he does because of that innocence. Whereas being dumb, you don’t really get sympathy for that. He was originally based on a couple of people I knew, but it’s turned into his own beast now.”

7. ALEXANDER SKARSGÅRD DIDN'T ALWAYS ABIDE BY THE PROPER NUDITY PROTOCOLS.

To keep partially covered up during sex scenes, the show's female actors wore thongs while the male actors had to wear socks on their private parts. But Alexander Skarsgård bucked the trend during the season six finale. Eric is sunbathing on a snowy landscape in the mountains of Sweden, but the crew set up a green screen and filmed it atop a parking structure in Hollywood. “And it was a very hot day, so I didn’t need the sock,” he told Vulture. At the end of the scene, Skarsgård gets up from his chair and reveals, well, everything, so to speak.

“I don’t want a sock around it, that feels ridiculous," Skarsgård told Rolling Stone. "If we’re naked in the scene, then I’m naked. I’ve always been that way.”

8. RUTINA WESLEY WAS OKAY WITH DYING. 

Rutina Wesley and Kristin Bauer van Straten in 'True Blood'
John P. Johnson/HBO

During the fifth season, Tara becomes a vampire. At the beginning of the final season, HBO threw no punches when they killed her off in the premiere episode. Wesley didn’t mind, though. “I think it’s great,” she told Entertainment Weekly. “I think somebody had to go. To have a main character right off the bat go, that’s gonna bring everybody into the show. It’s like, ‘Okay, and the show has started.’ This is the final season. We can’t all make it to the end.”

9. DENIS O’HARE USED HISTORY TO CREATE HIS CHARACTER’S BACKSTORY.

Russell Edgington, a.k.a. the King of Mississippi, is a 2800-year-old vampire. O’Hare researched that era and decided to make him a Pagan Celt. “They are just wild people,” O'Hare told Film School Rejects. “They have a very different relationship to everything in terms of nature and in terms of their own belief system. I just love that. That kind of helped make him just a different kind of character.”

10. JOE MANGANIELLO GOT HIS JOB WITH HELP FROM A BLOG.

Joe Manganiello in 'True Blood'
John P. Johnson/HBO

Fans of Harris’s book had a blog in which they listed who should play certain characters, and some people suggested Joe Manganiello for Alcide. Manganiello stumbled upon the site, read the books, and told his agent he wanted to audition.

“It had been my dream, since I was a little kid, to play a movie monster and a werewolf,” Manganiello told Collider. He posted the blog posts to his website, and someone who was friends with a True Blood casting director saw them. “I guess he was out at breakfast with one of the casting directors and the waiter came up to their table and the casting director said, ‘Oh, wow, that waiter would make a great werewolf, if only he was an actor.’ And, this guy said, ‘No, you know who’d make a great werewolf? This guy,’ and he pulled up my picture and showed it to him.”

Joe auditioned for a different werewolf part. “I wound up being brought in a second time for that other werewolf character, and then they wound up bringing me back in for Alcide.”

11 Surprising Facts About George R.R. Martin

Kevin Winter, Getty Images
Kevin Winter, Getty Images

Game of Thrones fans know the epic HBO series is based on George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire book series, but beyond the TV show, how much do they really know about the author? Sure, they know it’s taking him a really long time to finish The Winds of Winter, the sixth book in the series, but what about him as a person? Here are a few things you might not know about the man who brought us the world of Westeros.

1. As a kid, he made money selling monster stories.

The famed author grew up in Bayonne, New Jersey, where his father was a longshoreman. "When I was living in Bayonne, I desperately wanted to get away," Martin told The Independent. "Not because Bayonne was a bad place, mind you. Bayonne was a very nice place in some ways. But we were poor. We had no money. We never went anywhere."

Though his family didn't have the means to travel outside of Bayonne, Martin began to develop a love of reading and writing at a very young age, which allowed him to imagine fantastical worlds beyond his New Jersey hometown. He also learned that writing could be a profitable endeavor: he began selling his stories to other kids in the neighborhood for a penny apiece. (He later raised his prices to a nickel.) Martin's entrepreneurial efforts came to an end when his stories began giving one of his kid customers nightmares, which eventually got back to Martin's mom.

2. He is obsessed with comic books.

In 2014, Martin sat down for a Q&A about his career at the Santa Fe Independent Film Festival. Though, given his love of fantasy worlds, it might not be surprising to learn that Martin is a comic book fan, he also credits the genre with inspiring him to begin writing in the first place.

"I’m so grateful for comic books because they were really the thing that made me a reader, which in return made me a writer," Martin said. "In the 1950s in America, we had these books that taught you to read, and they were all about Dick and Jane, who were the most boring family you ever wanted to meet ... I didn’t know anyone who lived like that, and it just seemed like a horrible thing. But Batman and Superman, they had a much more interesting life. Gotham City was much more interesting than wherever it was where Dick and Jane lived.”

3. He built a library tower in Santa Fe.

In 2009, Martin bought the home across the street from his house in Santa Fe, New Mexico and turned it into an office space with a library tower built inside. The tower is only two stories tall, because of city building restrictions, but it seems only fitting that the author/history buff would want to be surrounded with books while he writes.

4. A fan letter got his professional writing career started.

Martin's love of comic books is what got his professional career rolling, too. "I had a letter published in Fantastic Four, and because my address was in there I started getting these fanzines and I started writing stories for them," Martin said during the same Santa Fe Q&A. "Funny enough, people writing stories in these fanzines at the time were just awful. They were just really bad, which was good because I looked at these awful stories and knew I could do better than that. I may not have been Shakespeare or J.R.R. Tolkien, but I was certain I could write better than the crap in the fanzines, and indeed I could."

5. A failed novel led to a television writing career.

More than 10 years before A Song of Ice and Fire debuted in 1996, Martin wrote a book called The Armageddon Rag in 1983. Though it was a critical disappointment, producer Phil DeGuere was interested in adapting the project with Martin's help. While that never came to fruition, DeGuere thought of Martin when they were rebooting The Twilight Zone in the mid-1980s and brought him on board to write a handful of episodes. He later did some writing for the live-action Beauty and the Beast series, starring Ron Perlman and Linda Hamilton.

6. Network television standards were not a fit for Martin's style of writing.

Though Martin found success as a television writer, the constant back-and-forth about what they were or were not allowed to show proved to be too much for the writer. "[T]here were constant limitations. It wore me down," Martin told Rolling Stone. "There were battles over censorship, how sexual things could be, whether a scene was too 'politically charged,' how violent things could be. Don’t want to disturb anyone. We got into that fight on Beauty and the Beast. The Beast killed people. That was the point of the character. He was a beast. But CBS didn’t want blood, or for the beast to kill people ... The character had to remain likable."

7. He owns an independent movie theater.

In 2006, The Jean Cocteau Cinema in Santa Fe closed its doors, which saddened many locals who were regular patrons, Martin among them. Several years later, Martin decided to give the theater a second life and, after a slight makeover, reopened its doors in 2013. Today, in addition to independent films, the theater holds regular special events—including screenings of Game of Thrones episodes. There's also an onsite bar that serves Game of Thrones-themed cocktails, like the signature White Walker.

8. Martin credits HBO with changing the rules of television.

Network television standards may have been too tame and regimented for Martin's tastes, but all that changed with HBO and The Sopranos, which he credits as paving the way for a series like Game of Thrones to exist in its current form at all.

"I credit HBO with smashing the damn trope that everybody had to be likable on television," Martin told Rolling Stone. "The Sopranos turned it around. When you meet Tony Soprano, he’s in the psychiatrist office, he’s talking about the ducks, his depression and that stuff, and you like this guy. Then he gets in his car and he’s driving away and he sees someone who owes him money, and he jumps out and he starts stomping him. Now how likable was he? Well you didn’t care, because they already had you. A character like Walter White on Breaking Bad could never have existed before HBO."

9. Martin thinks it's important for writers to break the rules.

While he's an admitted fan of William Goldman, Martin has a very different opinion of noted screenplay expert Syd Field. "There is a book out there by Syd and it’s his guide to writing screenplays and it’s probably one of the most harmful things that has ever been done for the movie industry,” Martin said. “For some perverse reason, it has become the bible not for writers but for what we call 'the suits,' the guys at the studios whose job it is to develop properties and give notes to supervise screenplays. They take Syd Field’s course and they buy the book and they start criticizing screenplays like, ‘Well you know, the first turn is supposed to be on page 12 and yours is not until page 17, so obviously this won’t do!'"

"Syd just writes downs these ridiculous rules," Martin continued. "If there really was a formula as he says, then every movie would be a blockbuster. We would just connect A, B, and C and we would have a great movie and everyone would pack the theater to see it. But every movie is not a blockbuster. Many movies that follow his rules precisely actually go down the toilet."

10. He’s a skilled chess player.

"I started playing chess when I was quite young, in grade school," Martin told The Independent. "I played it through high school. In college, I founded the chess club. I was captain of the chess team." Eventually, Martin discovered that he could actually make some money off this skill.

"For two or three years, I had a pretty good situation. Most writers who have to have a day job work five days a week and then they have the weekend off to write. These chess tournaments were all on the weekend so I had to work on Saturday and Sunday, but then I had five days off to write. The chess generated enough money for me to pay my bills."

11. He has a very specific way of writing, which is why he hasn't finished the winds of winter.

Fans have been waiting for a while for the next book in the A Song of Ice and Fire series, and Martin has been honest about why it's taking him so long. "Writer’s block isn’t to blame here, it’s distraction," he said. "In recent years, all of the work I’ve been doing creates problems because it creates distraction. Because the books and the show are so popular I have interviews to do constantly. I have travel plans constantly. It’s like suddenly I get invited to travel to South Africa or Dubai, and who’s passing up a free trip to Dubai? I don’t write when I travel. I don’t write in hotel rooms. I don’t write on airplanes. I really have to be in my own house undisturbed to write. Through most of my life no body did bother me, but now everyone bothers me every day."

Can You Guess the Meaning of These Dothraki Words?

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