Baby vampire Jessica Hamby might not appear in any of Charlaine Harris‘ Sookie Stackhouse mystery novels, but there’s no question the character, as played by actress Deborah Ann Woll on HBO‘s vampire series “True Blood,” fits seamlessly into the multidimensional world show-runner Alan Ball has crafted from the work of the bestselling author. Playing the good Christian girl turned angsty adolescent vamp gives the USC grad (and self-professed horror fan) plenty to explore week to week. Woll recently spoke by phone to Hero Complex contributor Gina McIntyre about the upside of portraying an impulsive young woman struggling to find herself — who just happens to have a taste for human blood — and what fans can expect from the striking redhead in the series’ upcoming fourth season, which begins June 26.
GM: What can you reveal about Jessica’s story arc in Season 4?
DAW: It’s always very important to me that Jessica end up in a different place at the end of the season than where she started. In some ways writers do that obviously — they’re creating plot for you. But just in myself and the way Jessica might have reacted to a scene last year, if a similar situation comes up this year, I try to think, ‘Well how would she have shifted in her approach toward this a little bit?’ Even though Jessica’s still 17, time has gone by, so there’s a maturity coming about but even out of that, Jessica’s searching for something, she’s searching for herself and she’s going to make some mistakes along the way. I think audiences will love Season 4. I’ve really enjoyed reading all of our scripts this year. As you’ve seen in some of the teasers, it’s very political. All of the vampires are motivating to improve their self-image. That will be a fun way to see this season, I think.
GM: “True Blood” has such a fervent fan following. What would you say it is about the series that most appeals to audiences?
DAW: I think it’s this idea of connecting with your darker sides and that they don’t necessarily have to be all bad. That sexual desires and even, I don’t want to say rageful desires necessarily, but even these more angry impulses are not necessarily unhealthy as long as you sort of know how to control them and use them and what they do for you. If more people punched pillows, we might be a happier society in a way, but we’re so used to having to bury all of those instincts that they fester. “True Blood” is a nice place to go that says, ‘You know what? We have all of these shades of gray in us and maybe we should start accepting that and working with it as opposed to against it.’
GM: Do you feel that genre-based series like “True Blood” or AMC‘s “The Walking Dead” are finally beginning to garner more mainstream respect and acknowledgment?
DAW: It’s always good to be respected no matter what genre it is, but you have to get people to watch that genre in order to respect it. I think that’s maybe the shift I’ve seen — a bit more of an interest and I think there’s something that’s being scared that’s kind of fun. Maybe that’s just me, but I’m hugely into scary movies and roller coasters and haunted houses. I enjoy that feeling. Nothing gets under your skin so much as something that scares you. Things can make you cry, they can make you laugh, but if it really scares you, it got into your core in a way that very few other things can. I think sometimes what’s really cool about doing genre work, at least for me, if we can scare you and get into your middle with that, then we can talk about something that might be interesting or thought-provoking. You can use this genre in a really strong way to get inside people’s minds and try to open them.
GM: Is that what initially drew you to the series?
DAW: I wasn’t in a position when I got this part to be drawn to anything. I was asking, ‘Would anybody please hire me?’ But it definitely keeps me there. It’s one of the things that I really appreciate about my job. There’s no point in doing genre work unless you’re going to say something about society. It’s fantastic to be in a show that does that, that isn’t just in it for the cheap thrills necessarily but uses those thrills to provoke something else. Jessica’s fun for me because she’s impulsive. A lot of times the writers will write something for me to do and it’s nice not to have to go, ‘Well, would she do that or not? I don’t know.’ I just get to do it. It creates this really fun, crazy personality that keeps trying. Jessica’s just trying to figure out who she is and she’s going to try anything she can to get that out. She makes a lot of mistakes, but I think she’s always stronger for them in the end.
GM: You mentioned you were a fan of horror films. Could you name a few of your favorites?
DAW: “The Descent” is one of my favorites. It’s such a good movie. I saw that in a theater in the UK when it came out, no idea what it was. I just sat down with a couple of friends of mine when I was there and we watched it. It was so scary. I go way back to the old Universal pictures. I love “The Wolf Man” and “Dracula” and “The Mummy,” all those are just so great, “Phantom of the Opera,” “Creature From the Black Lagoon,” all these great classic monster films. Think about Bela Lugosi. He’s kind of the first sexy vampire but he was so strange. He was so queer in that way. You couldn’t get a handle on who he was or what he wanted. Even at the end, you know he’s a creature and he wants blood and he wants the women and all that, but still he was so mysterious. I think about what it would have been like to have gone to the theater back then and seen that movie. That would have been cool to have seen the first real cool vampire portrayal on film.
GM: Do you use anything from those earlier films in your portrayal of Jessica?
DAW: “True Blood” is its own new imagining of what a vampire is. Ours are much more animalistic in my mind than some of them have been previously. For me, when I’m feeding, I really think about how animals feed, they hold the head down and brace it. There’s a whole physicality to feeding that’s important and then a human physicality for a romantic scene. I would say a little bit of that strangeness, how can I be just off center of what this person might be if they were just human? Can I be just a little more dangerous, a little more impulsive? A little bit more extreme so that people can’t get a grasp on what you are. I’d like people to be surprised at pretty much everything Jess does.
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