If Magazine – September 2010

DEBORAH ANN WOLL VAMPS IT UP ON ‘TRUE BLOOD’ – SEASON THREE
The actress talks about fangs, blood, flying rigs, her favorite scenes and baby vamp Jessica’s changing attitude
By ABBIE BERNSTEIN, Contributing Writer

You won’t find the character of Jessica Hamby in Charlaine Harris’ Southern Vampire books, but ever since Bill Compton (Stephen Moyer) was forced by vampire law to make the erstwhile fundamentalist Christian teenager into a bloodsucker (to replace a fellow vamp that he’d killed), the red-haired “baby vamp” has been all over TRUE BLOOD, alternating between brattiness, bewilderment and moments of startling compassion and sweetness. Deborah Ann Woll, the actress who has brought Jessica to such memorable unlife, is at the West Hollywood studio where much of TRUE BLOOD films for a table read of an upcoming episode. Before heading out, she takes time to talk to IF about where Jessica has been and where she may be going.

iF MAGAZINE: As an actress, are you playing Jessica a little more mature this year – is she growing up fast due to these extraordinary circumstances or is she still pretty much a seventeen-year-old?
DEBORAH ANN WOLL: Definitely growing up fast. I have a sense that Jessica will be older or more mature by the end of the season, but we probably won’t see it. So much is happening and there’s so much to deal with that you probably won’t realize how much she’s grown until the end of the season.

iF: When you were brought onto TRUE BLOOD midway into Season One, did you know that you’d be carrying into Season Three?
WOLL: Not at all. It was just supposed to be a two- or three-episode arc, so this is a pleasant surprise. It was a total surprise to me when they invited me back. When we had done the two episodes, they could have sent me away and never brought me back after that, created some plot device – “Jessica hitched a ride with a trucker and never returned.” But I guess they enjoyed the character and they were willing to bring me back and it’s just been a whirlwind. I never could have dreamed of a better situation for myself.

iF: Were you surprised by the plot development in Season Two where Jessica goes to see her family and the whole set of cascading revelations about her past that followed?
WOLL: I think it was so important to do that moment. I think you meet Jessica and you think that she’s annoying, innocent, irritating, all of these opinions immediately come to mind and you don’t like her very much, but the minute that you find out that there’s a reason for all of that. If you had been told every day of your life that you weren’t good enough, that you were ugly, that you weren’t worth anyone’s time, then the minute that you got any kind of freedom, wouldn’t anybody take a mile? And I think that was the moment, at least for me and I think for the character, that we were able to go in another direction. Because we had said this is why she is the way she is. And that’s the beauty of television, I think, is that it really forces you to stick with someone and learn more about them. You can’t have a first opinion and then brush someone aside. You have to learn more and go, “This is someone really worth spending some time getting to know.”

iF: When Jessica slams her father up against the wall, did you have to practice for that? How was that accomplished?
WOLL: I’m a pretty tall girl, so I can match most TV boys, TV men. They actually had us on a moving platform, and somebody else pushed this platform. They only really did one or two takes of it, because they would do one take, rebuild [the wall] overnight and do a second take, so what you saw was the first and only take we did. They liked it enough – we did it slow-motion a couple of times to see how it would work and whatever body movement we needed to look like I was walking and then some grip just grabbed the back of that platform and then rammed him into the wall. The first time we did it, the wall didn’t break. Poor guy just got slammed into a wall, and they had to go back in and rescore it until it actually went through.

iF: There’s a hilarious online HBO promo bit where Jessica is checking out how she looks with and without fangs. How do you feel about having the fangs?

WOLL: It’s great. In some of the intimidating scenes, often being intimidating can be a little scary, a little hard for an actor. You always wonder if you’re going to be any good at it, especially for someone like myself – I don’t think I’ve ever intimidated someone in my life [laughs]. But it’s nice – [the fangs] do a lot of the work for you. You just have to show those pointy little dangerous knives in your mouth, and people listen.

iF: Do you have to get around the Elmer Fudd factor when you’re talking with the fangs in?
WOLL: For about the first five minutes you put them in, you sound like Cindy Brady, that little lithp. It’s just too bad when you’re trying to be sort of cool and dangerous, but once you get used to it, it’s pretty effective.

iF: Has it gotten any easier or harder to deal with being covered in TV gore, or have you developed any coping mechanisms?

WOLL: I love being covered in goo. It’s fun, because there’s a stereotype about actors, that it’s all glamorous and so forth [laughs]. I can count the glamorous days on one hand. The unglamorous days are too numerous to remember. I love it – getting a little dirty takes your vanity away, which makes you a better actor anyway.

iF: Have you been up on flying rigs?

WOLL: Mm-hmm, I’ve done those a couple of times. I was surprised – you expect if your whole body weight is going to be pulled up into the air, you expect it’s going to be a machine, but when I did it, it was just the big tough guy on the other end of a rope. [laughs] He just yanked and pulled me in the air and I’m just trusting my life to this burly man. I’m glad he was good.

iF: Does Jessica have any particular attitude about becoming airborne?

WOLL: Hmm. I think most of the time Jessica’s been airborne, it’s been for not so good reasons, so I don’t think it’s a terribly pleasant experience at the moment, but that would be fun. I hope we get to find the pleasant flying experience for Jessica.

iF: Now, you also get grabbed and thrown around quite a bit. Has that gotten any easier, are you learning to roll with the punches, literally?

WOLL: Mm-hmm. I actually did some stage combat training for a number of years when I was younger. They taught us how to fall, they taught us how to take a fake punch, so I feel like I have a little bit of basis for that, so I could actually go into it with a totally open mind and it’s usually a lot of fun. It’s like playing with a kid – you just roll around and enjoy it.

iF: Jessica has scenes with many different regular characters. Do you feel like you have different sorts of connections with your various costars?

WOLL: Absolutely. “Chemistry” is a broad term. You can have chemistry with someone in any way, in any type of relationship, and I love that the writers and hopefully myself have created a very different kind of chemistry with each of the characters that Jessica’s involved with. And there are so many more characters on the show that I would love to be involved with. Jim Parrack [as Jessica’s human boyfriend Hoyt is a] terrific actor. I’m so glad he’s getting recognition in this part and I’m so glad that I get to be involved in that, because it’s just very easy to look him in the eye and have a feeling and he really brings that out in people. And then of course, with Stephen and Anna [Paquin as Sookie Stackhouse] – old pros. What else can you say? It’s so effortless for them and I look at that and I admire it and I hope one day to have that. For me, I still have to go home and work for twelve hours [laughs] before I can get a bit of what I need. I hope some day to be able to just transition that smoothly between life and extra-life [in character]. Jessica is the redheaded stepchild, so they usually keep me back in a corner back at Bill’s house last season. But this year, I’ve gotten to interact with more of the cast. I’ve always been such a fan of Carrie Preston’s work as Arlene and she’s so funny and so sweet and it’s cool that I got a chance to work with Carrie.
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iF: You worked on several feature films during the hiatus between Seasons Two and Three.
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WOLL: I did. I did three feature projects in supporting roles. [One is a horror movie] called Mother’s Day. I got to be similar in a way to TRUE BLOOD in that sense that I was sort of on the bad guy team, but what does being a bad guy really mean nowadays in this modern world? So that was fun. The other two, I did sort of a detective story, LITTLE MURDER, and then a drama, HIGHLAND PARK.

iF: And you’ve done a TRUE BLOOD webisode …

WOLL: I did. I had a minisode that was written by Alan Ball and I loved it. I thanked him so many times for writing me such a cool little scene to do and it gives a little more information about what happened in the [second] season finale.

iF: When you came back to TRUE BLOOD after those other roles, did you have to work to get your head back into playing Jessica, or did it feel like, “Ah, I’m home”?

WOLL: It felt like coming home, for sure. This is a family. We’ve worked together for so long now that I think we know each other real well and we look forward to working together.

iF: How are you enjoying working with the wolves this season?

WOLL: I am so proud that we’re really using real animals. I think that’s going to add so much to the power of it, because these wolves are scary. They’re wild. They’re trained, but they still eat whatever they smell and want and do whatever they feel like. It’s just if they are feeling cooperative, maybe they’ll do a scene with you today [laughs].

iF: Does that sort of put working with human actors in perspective?

WOLL: Sometimes – I mean, they always say don’t work with babies or animals, because they have a presence that we don’t, but our actors are really good, so we get people with good presence and they cooperate [laughs].

AB: Do you have a favorite scene you’ve done so far?

WOLL: Absolutely, Episode Three, ‘Scratches,’ from the second season, I’m very proud of my work. I’m very proud of that whole episode. The scene in Merlotte’s where I actually got to meet Hoyt, Jim Parrack’s character. I just adore that actor so much and we so immediately hit it off. I think everybody’s work in it, and then the direction and the writing, are wonderful, so as a whole, it’s one of my favorite episodes, but it also happens to hold the scene where Jessica and Hoyt meet, which is one of my favorite scenes and working with Jim is such an honor, and he’s such a great performer and a kind person that I do sort of mark that moment as the beginning of getting to work with one of my best friends, and I will always remember that fondly.

iF: As far as interacting with the other vampires, does Jessica feel like she’s got a level of cool to uphold?

WOLL: I think Jessica might be a little overwhelmed right now [laughs] and not worried too much about “cool.” That’s kind of what I like about Jessica – I like that she’s not cool. We’re trying to show that within the vampire world, there is a range and you can have ultra-cool Pam and Eric, and then you can have kind of fumbling around, doesn’t know what she’s doing, making a lot of mistakes Jessica. And it’s fun to try and represent that spectrum.

iF: Can you talk in non-spoilerish terms about any particular challenges you’re dealing with as a performer this season?

WOLL: Hmm. Well, I would say acting-wise, there’s a lot that’s happened to Jessica last season and it leads into this season and there’s a lot to deal with, but she still has to exist within society and somewhat keep those struggles to herself, so it’s always a challenge as an actor to have your entire focus and concentration and storyline focused on these horrible events, but then still have to try and live in a nice world, so it gives you immediate subtext and that’s been a really fun challenge this year. You’re also living in a world where vampires are scary and dangerous and people are prejudiced against them. So if you are going to be in any kind of public [area], you have to keep it a secret to yourself, and particularly maybe some shameful acts you’ve done as a vampire. I guess I’ll say we got to see sort of a softer, more compassionate side of Jessica in the second season. It’s been fun this [third] year to explore a bit of a darker side.

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