‘True Blood’ creator Alan Ball: ‘Vampires are just a huge metaphor for sex’

June 23, 2011 | 6:50 p.m.

Alan Ball looked pleased as punch Tuesday night at HBO‘s elaborate Hollywood premiere for the fourth season of the hit series “True Blood.” As well he should. Attracting an average of 13 million viewers per episode last season, the glossy show has become the most popular program on the cable network’s current lineup. Weeks before the event, Ball spoke to Hero Complex contributor Gina McIntyre about his creative approach to the series — though he was careful not to reveal too many details about what to expect from the upcoming episodes. As any fan knows, Ball guards his secrets with great care.

Alan Ball at the Season 4 premiere of "True Blood." (Associated Press/Matt Sayles)

GM: What’s your take on the current vampire craze?

AB: I think vampires are just a huge metaphor for sex. I think obviously a lot of people fantasize about being taken by a vampire. Maybe that’s a way to fantasize about being taken in a way that is so not possible of happening that it makes it safer to have those fantasies, I don’t know.

GM: Denis O’Hare‘s Russell Edgington really stole the show last year. Did you and he work closely developing that character?

AB: We did. Once we started breaking the stories for the season, we were saying who’s going to play this guy. I can’t remember who came up with it, but everybody was like, “oh we love him, he’s such a great actor.” I called him and said would you like to do this. He was in Romania doing some movie where he played a Roman, I think it was “The Eagle” movie with Channing Tatum. I said, “I’m just such a huge fan of yours, I just have to gush shamelessly.” He said, “Right back at you.” I talked to him about it. He basically said, that sounds good to me and then business affairs got into it. It was great. Denis is a great actor. He would send me these long emails of his back story that he was coming up with and I would say, “Well, this all works except for this thing because in four episodes this is going to happen so it has to be this kind of thing.” He was just a delight from beginning to end.

Mariana Klaveno, Stephen Moyer and Denis O'Hare in "True Blood." (HBO)

GM: Are you happy with how Season 3 played out? Looking back, is there anything you would have changed or done differently?

AB: I don’t really think that way. The show is so big and it requires so much focus that once it’s done you just move on. I just have to work so hard that when I’m not working I just want to hang out with my dogs or go to the movies or read a book. I was very happy with Season 3. I thought it worked pretty well. Genre fans are very intense. If they like you, they adore you and if they don’t like you, they want you to die. I try to stay out of it. For me it’s all about the work — it’s not about the results in terms of what people’s perceptions are. I just feel so fortunate that we get to make the show and we get to go to work every day and have this blast doing this crazy thing that everybody really enjoys and go home.

GM: So, you don’t feel any pressure to top what you’ve already done necessarily?

AB: I don’t. Everything has its own life. A TV show is very hard to do. Some seasons are going to be better than others and some episodes are going to be better than others. You just do the best you can. I have a little mantra – it’s just a TV show. It is not worth going crazy over. It is not worth making myself sick over. It’s not worth destroying relationships over. I’ve seen all those things happen on other shows that I’ve worked on and I just don’t think it’s that important honestly.

GM: Has your approach to the series changed at all over the seasons?

AB: We still work exactly the same way. Any time you’re working on something of this size with this many people working on something so collaborative it’s going to at some point start to have its own life. What you have to do at that point is recognize that and get out of its way. It’s an incredibly difficult show…. Sometimes we’re shooting three episodes at a time. The show has just organically grown into this big thing that’s probably more complicated than a lot of features though we don’t necessarily have a feature budget or the luxury of a feature schedule. It’s just this big beast. It is definitely harder to do now than it was in the first season just because the scope of the show has organically gotten bigger but it’s still so much fun. I also think that’s one of the things that’s fun about the show is it’s got this big cast of characters. It’s like a Dickens novel. All of the actors are so good. Everybody has their favorites of course but I don’t feel like any of these characters are not interesting. I think that’s part of the challenge is to give them something to do and to give them a story over the course of the season that fits within all the other stories you’re telling and remains true to the spirit of Charlaine’s [Harris] books and still is everything we want the show to be.

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