Deborah Ann Woll stands out from the crowd with her bright blue eyes and flaming red hair, but this young actress is much more than just a pretty face.
Returning to the small screen as the young vampire Jessica Hamby in the hotly anticipated fourth season of True Blood, we found out the truth about just how comfortable she is with nudity scenes, and what her mum really thinks of the show.
Deborah opened up and told us why True Blood beats Twilight, what we can learn from vampires, and what’s up next for this talented woman.
So how was Comic-Con for you?
I love Comic-Con, those are my people. I’m a big nerd myself so I really enjoy going!
Did you dress up as a vampire?
I did. I attend Comic-Con as a viewer as well, so it would take me way too long to get from panel to panel if people knew who I was. I was Cousin It (laughs) from The Addams Family…
Were you really?
I was, and nobody made me. I have pictures. I had a really good time actually, and then I ended up at the IDW Booth, which is the company that is publishing the True Blood comic book, so I ended up there, removing the costume in front of the fans there. We had a nice moment.
Have you read the comic books?
I am a little bit into comic books. My boyfriend is a huge comic book collector, so I proxy own about 50,000 comic books. But for me, I’m into stories, so some of the really, really great comic book stories I definitely go for.
And the True Blood comic books?
Yeah, well one of my good friends, the man who played Reverend Steve Newlan on our show, in the second season, Michael McMillian, he wrote in the second series in the True Blood comic books, and he did a fantastic job. He put Jessica kind of at the center of the story, which is really cool, so there’s been this amazing artwork of Jessica that’s really fun. Besides them giving me double D’s, it’s all kind of cool. (laughter)
Talk a little bit about your character in Season Four, what’s happening to her?
Oh God, everything! Jess’s story has been kind of a coming-of-age story… this sort of transformation of a girl to woman and human to vampire, and finding your first love. She’s been struggling with who she is personally. So that’s sort of the direction that this takes, she actually really embraces the vampire side of herself.
She seems to have a lot of bad conscience… she seems to feel bad about what she’s doing and…
Yeah, most of my scenes end with Jessica hating herself. Yes, Jessica is closer to her humanity than some of the other vampires, so I think some of that human guilt still lives with her. She hasn’t completely given in to the vampire side, but she’s also in a tricky situation this season. She’s deeply in love with Hoyt, but what he needs from her, is something she can’t give. He wants a wife, he wants a very conventional, beautiful household where he gets to be a man, and she’s not capable of that. Nor does she want that. She’s stuck in it, and I think acting out against it. So the journey here is really, can they find a compromise? Or is she compromising too much of herself right now to be with him?
Do you get the whole script for the season or just little by little?
No, just little by little. We are very much in the dark as the seasons go on and I do find myself sitting at home going I wonder, I wonder what’s going to happen. Right now it’s really tough, because I know the rest of this season, but now I’m waiting for season five, so I’m stuck on a cliff-hanger.
When did you discover that you had a passion for acting?
I’ve always known it, even when I was a little girl. We have videotapes of me in turtle costumes with little patent leather taps on and I’m just dancing for my mom. I knew that I liked telling stories. I knew that I liked pretending that I was something else or someone else, and it just naturally very much flowed into acting.
Did you ever dream of playing a vampire?
No, not before it came along really. I’m a fan of genre fiction and all that, and I’ve seen many, many different portrayals of vampires, but I’ve never really thought about it before I got this. It was fun though, I’d do it again!
What’s your relationship with blood?
I’m pretty good with blood actually, I think it’s kind of fun! We have pretty disgusting blood to work with on our show. It’s a little annoying…
Sticky isn’t it?
Yeah, when we bleed from our ears and it gets in your hair and every time you move your head, it pulls… so it’s not always the most fun to work with. But it looks great.
What about the sexual element and the nudity and all that stuff, are you comfortable with all of that?
I’m pretty much game. I think the internet has ruined nudity a little bit for actors. I love nudity, I love seeing naked people. The interesting thing to me about nudity in acting versus say pornography is the context. If you are having nudity, it’s for a reason and hopefully it says something. I am wearier of doing all that nudity on film though, because anyone can take it out of context and use it in a way I never intended. So while I love sexuality, and I love nudity and I certainly don’t have any judgment about people who choose to do it, I’m a lot more careful about how and when I choose to be nude on film, than I would if I were doing a stage production.
Are you so comfortable with nudity because of a certain upbringing? Most American’s are not that comfortable…
(Laughs) It’s funny, I feel a lot of guilt and strange feelings about a lot of things, but sex is the only one I don’t feel any guilt about. I think it’s beautiful and natural, and kind of amazing. I know my mother was always more concerned about us seeing violence than she was with sex. And I agree with her. When I think about PG-13 films, where they show 50 people dead and you don’t see any blood, I go “Well that’s not real.” Why is that better for a kid to see? It takes an adult mind to look at that and say, “Those people are dead, even though I don’t see any consequence of it.” It’s the young mind really that needs to be shown that this is a consequence. And so that’s why I sort of think we are more off track with the violence than we are with nudity.
It seems as though all the people on nude beaches generally don’t have the most attractive bodies, well compared to actors… Do you still not have a problem with nudity here?
These are our bodies and I think we all have things that we like and don’t like. I admire the people on a beach who you might not consider to have a classically great body, but who say “You know what? It’s me, and I love me so deal with it.” I don’t really like my legs, I think I have kind of meaty, not so great legs and I don’t show them very often. But sometimes the costume requires it, so you just kind of go “Great, I’d love the world to see my meaty legs”. (Laughter) And then all the girls with meaty legs go “That’s okay.”
So presumably, you must work out a lot and diet and all that.
No, not very much. I do enough to stay healthy. I would like to be able to play any kind of person, not just a person with a perfect physique. And I also don’t really have the patience for it, to stay in a gym for six hours a day. I’ve got other things I’d rather do. I got into film for the art of it, and if people decide that my body is not good enough to be on film, I’ll go back to theatre.
Since you mentioned her, what does your mom think that you are a vampire? It’s pretty violent story…
My mom loves the show. She can’t get enough of it! She’s on the Twitter of the show, she’s on Facebook… she’s following every little bit of it. Most of my friends and family love it. Even if the show isn’t quite for them, they have all been very supportive for me.
Are you working on any other movies these days?
Yeah, I just shot a film called “He Loves Me”, which is a really, really lovely little film. It’s with the directors of “Little Miss Sunshine” and Zoe Kazan is starring in it- it’s a small part, but it’s a great, great scene and I really hope it will have an impact.
What about the fangs? How do you do it? Do you have a button that you push, or?
(Laughs) Most of it is physical, we do have like retainer fangs that we pop in. The actual flick out and in movement is the only CGI effect.
Are you a Twilight fan?
Not particularly, I have read the books but I only saw the first film. I don’t know much about them.
So you prefer the scarier vampire than the adorable, benevolent vampire?
I think you can have adorable, benevolent vampires, but you can’t ignore that they are still predators. As far as I know about Twilight, the story seems to be a lot more about our darker impulses and sort of holding back from those darker impulses, whereas our show is very much about releasing them. I think we are just working at different purposes.
How is it with the writers? Is it a one way street? Or you can influence your storylines a little bit?
It’s an interesting kind of elusive relationship there. Very rarely do I go to the writers and say “I think we should do this.” However, if I come across a scene that I’ve sort of seen my character do before, I make a great effort to make it a scene very different that the similar one. If it’s a love scene and it was very cute the first time, let’s make it a love scene and make it a little dangerous this time. And so in that way, you can kind of show the writers that you can take it in that direction if you want to.
What quality do you personally like in Hoyt?
There’s sincerity to Hoyt. One of my favourite scenes is the one in Dallas in the second season, when we are kind of just talking in bed, and he admits that he’s a virgin. It’s really lovely ‘cause he has that moment where he says “People think I’m probably like a bisexual gay of some sort, but I’m not”. It’s a really lovely moment. It’s sexy, but it’s not too dangerous.
Is that the sort of guy you like in real life?
In some ways, I like sort of silly boys. I like kind of goofy, nerdy boys that make stupid jokes and fall over themselves for you. I’m not real big on ‘too cool for school’. I like boys that don’t take themselves too seriously.
Have you caught yourself mirroring or repeating some of Jessica’s attitudes in real life?
Yeah, you know what, I was a piano player, so I had amazing posture just from that for years and years. But I decided very early on that Jessica should be like, down to the world you know, everything on her shoulders. So the posture of Jessica is a very defeated kind of thing, which unfortunately has destroyed my own posture! (Laughter) I’m now sort of a slouchy, slumped-over person in my own life.
Do you still play piano?
I wish I could play more, I used to have a piano when I moved, but I’m hoping to get one.
Who is your favorite artist to play?
That’s very romantic.
Yeah, well I love, it’s emotional music, I’ve always been more interested in what does this piece say, with my acting or with music, as opposed to technique.
What do you think we can learn from the vampires?
Boy, do you have a couple of hours? I think with vampires, it is about struggling with your nature. How much do you give in, and how much do you hold back? I think that’s also very human, only to a lesser degree. I think about young women nowadays and the sort of struggle that we have between magazines that are saying “You should be true to yourself, but also, this is the sex face you really should have.” I’m excited to work on a role about a girl who makes plenty of mistakes, but learns from them. She is trying as hard as she can, to be true to herself. I think you can talk a lot about gender communication in that story.
Sink your teeth into the new season of True Blood, Thursdays at 8.30pm on Showcase.