If you’re talking about “True Blood,” it’s the inevitable question that arises — Team Bill or Team Eric? The vampires duel for the affections of telepathic cocktail waitress Sookie Stackhouse (Anna Paquin) on the HBO series adapted from Charlaine Harris‘ bestselling novels, and each has his loyal core of supporters. But Stephen Moyer, who plays Southern gentleman vampire Bill Compton and is married to Paquin, insists that, off screen, there’s no animosity between Alexander Skarsgard, the towering Swedish actor who portrays Viking Eric Northman, and himself. In fact, he believes that the romance that might be brewing between the two blonds could inject new life into the already vibrant show, which returns for its fourth season June 26. Moyer recently spoke to Hero Complex contributor Gina McIntyre about the appeal of the Alan Ball-created series and the enduring appeal of all things vampire — even “Twilight” — hinting, too, about what audiences might expect from Bill in the coming weeks.
GM: Are you surprised at the way the series has become something of a phenomenon?
SM: When I got on board, I knew that it had the possibility of being that. If you asked anyone who read that pilot, they would have said the same thing — that it had the possibility of becoming that. I am not surprised. I certainly didn’t realize that the episodes were going to finish the way they did when I first started, which was that kind of we end on a climax, this kind of thriller aspect. It finishes with this crazy ending that is actually solved in the cold open of the next episode. So what it makes you do, OK, certainly when you’re watching it on DVD, you go, I’ll just watch the cold open of the next episode, just to find out what happened and then I’ll stop. It’s like crack. Three episodes later you’re like, Oh my God. It’s 3 o’clock in the morning. That seems to be a consensus.
GM: So you’re saying you’ve tricked people into loving the show?
SM: You completely trick people into buying your drug. That’s what we’re about. We’re selling drugs.
GM: What do you think it is about the series that people really respond to?
SM: Sex, drugs, all the rock and roll you could possibly hope for. Blood, comedy. Suspense, thriller. There’s so much. There’s all the deep metaphor underneath. You can either see that or not. We don’t care. We’re going to get you to watch it anyway. It’s always amazing me, some people go, Oh my God, I didn’t realize that so and so dying meant this. You might not have even thought of what that metaphor was. It’s very strange that we have this power that we have where people watch our show to escape, pure escapist drama, of course, but also they do like to see what’s going on underneath. They like just the pure comedy of it, the chewing-gum-ness of it. One of my favorite quotes is that television is chewing gum for the eyes — ours is like chewing gum with acid in it. I know what it is, but I can’t quantify it. I can’t tell you what it is we do, but I know that if I were creating a show, I’d want to watch something that has some jokes in it, something that’s sexy, something’s that a complete diversion from my life that makes me think about my life a little bit. The framework of a vampire show does that, especially if it’s grounded in truth. I think what we do very, very well is do fantastical crazy, but it’s grounded in truth. When it comes to other shows, what I liked about “The Walking Dead,” the pilot, is that there you are looking at Atlanta and it’s gone. And you kind of believed it for a second. I thought they did that brilliantly that episode.
I think that our show is a way for Alan [Ball] to talk about what is right or wrong with society by using a framework that people don’t think he’s bashing it over their heads. So, therefore, yeah, it’s a vampire show, but we all know that that’s not strictly what it is really. I remember the first two seasons going, it’s not a vampire show. It is a not a vampire show — whenever people went, oh, are you the guy in the vampire show? I’d go, well, yeah, but we really don’t think of it as a vampire show, and I still don’t. But for the sake of doing these pieces, I’m prepared to say that it is. It’s a show with vampires in it.
GM: Is that what drew you to the series? Its grander ambitions within a genre framework?
SM: Absolutely. I remember watching the pilot and just going, this is hilarious. I’d seen the dark humor within it. What I hadn’t seen was the laugh-out-loud humor. That surprised me. It had the sexiness, it had the otherness. I’m not really a genre fan, [but] when you watch it, you tap into a side of yourself which is completely fantastical and different. That’s that kind of sci-fi element, which is a kid sitting down in front of a piece of paper and instead of drawing … the swingset and the slide in front of them, they draw a spaceship. That is genre right there. It’s letting your brain go to a different place than the obvious. I love that about it.
Another thing that’s amazing that has been very surprising, and I suppose this happens in all long-running series, in Season 1, I didn’t know that I was a nightclub pianist in the 1930s. In Season 2, I was a nightclub pianist in the 1930s. And so what happens is you learn things about your character from the past that will inform how you play the present, which you don’t know when you sign on. That is fascinating especially when I’m playing a 170 year old. There are so many different periods of history that we can go back to that will inform how we move on from here. Obviously, we can’t change what we’ve already shot, but certainly it will inform the decisions I make from now on. As an actor, that is something that I just didn’t even perceive of knowing. That’s so much fun.
GM: What do you make of the current vampire craze? It really shows no sign of abating.
SM: It doesn’t seem to be abating. It’s one of those unanswerable questions because when you think it’s one thing, it turns out to be another. … I think in the teen world, there’s a beautiful romance about that stuff. I believe this year the Robert Pattinson, Kristen Stewart characters [in the “Twilight” saga] have a baby. It’s this perfect romance, this perfect ideal. Ours isn’t quite as fluffy as that … our characters and the way that Alan works is, as soon as a character has a semblance of happiness, he digs a hole for them to drive into.
GM: With that in mind, what can you tell us about what’s in store for Bill in Season 4? He doesn’t figure too prominently in “Dead to the World,” the novel this season is loosely drawn from.
SM: Because Bill and Sookie went their separate ways at the end of last season, he’s sort of found himself in a situation where he’s had to do something else. The only thing he’s got left in his life ultimately is the fact that he’s a vampire and Jessica, who’s his sort-of progeny. There’s a really beautiful scene at the end of Episode 9 or something last year where he realizes that she won’t go away; he tries to release her, but she’s not going away. Conversely, he realizes that he’s got something to live for, which is quite a beautiful motif in a way. As much as you may want everything to go away, sometimes they won’t. It’s not going to be as simple as that. He’s got a lot of other stuff going on this year that, ultimately, he’s trying to be a better person. He’s realized that he’s made some mistakes, and he’s gone in a different direction.
GM: What’s your take on the potential Sookie-Eric romance that seems to be brewing this year? Do you and Alexander Skarsgard have a friendly set rivalry?
SM: I’m sure you’d love me to tell you that we loathe each other and we fight every day, but if you came to the set, you’d just see us having lunch, laughing, the three of us. There’s not really a story there. But we are interested in how the show works, and we are very much into helping the show move along. I went up to him at the beginning of the season, and I just went, look, I want you to do your job to the absolute best of your ability, and I will not be around when you have to do that stuff. I don’t want you to feel like you’re looking over your shoulder and there’s me at the monitor going, get your hands off her! It’s absolutely not how we roll. Me and him are mates. I think it’s great for the show, I think the fans who have been waiting for that stuff to happen will be very pleased with the way it plays out. But as I said earlier, it doesn’t always go necessarily the way you want it to. That’s what’s great about the show.
RECENT AND RELATED
ON THE SET: Photos from ‘Priest’ production