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Saturday, July 25, 2009

'True Blood' actor has WV ties


Modern gothic literature played out on television and the silver screen often includes a familiar scenario where the heroine is torn between a vampire and a human. Or a werewolf. Or a shape-shifter.

On HBO's "True Blood," former Charleston resident Sam Trammell plays Sam Merlotte, a shape-shifting bar owner who often turns into a collie dog. And Trammell is fairly certain who has the upper hand in the romance department.

"Of course the heroine should choose the shape-shifter, for sure," Trammell said in a recent telephone interview.

"I'm not dead," Trammell added with a laugh, "which is an advantage, you know. I'm not cold to the touch. So I'd have to say I think I'm a better match for Sookie."

Sookie is waitress Sookie Stackhouse, the central character in Charlaine Harris' novels set in Bon Temps, La. Sookie, played by Golden Globe-winner Anna Paquin, is dating vampire Bill Compton (Stephen Moyer) and also is loved by Sam.

Trammell, who grew up in Charleston, is in Los Angeles while the show shoots its last couple episodes for the second season, which now airs Sundays at 9 p.m. on HBO.

"This season is really crazy and really fun," Trammell said. "Everything is just amped up and kind of scarier, sexier. The dial is just turned way up this year."

The main characters in "True Blood" are somewhat split up this season, with various interweaving storylines. Sookie and Bill have some vampire business in Dallas and Sookie's brother Jason (Ryan Kwanten) is becoming involved with the anti-vampire church, the Fellowship of the Sun.

More will be revealed about Trammell's character and his relationship with the mysterious Maryann (Michelle Forbes).

"Her whole character is really intense and very dangerous, and my character is very much wrapped up with hers this year," Trammell said. "He kind of understands Maryann in a way that other people don't in town.

"He's really a magnet for punishment and abuse this year, Sam - the writers were very sadistic," he joked.

But Sam also will show more of a vulnerable side and open up to people more, Trammell said.

"They really just wrote great stuff for all the characters," Trammell said.

While "True Blood" follows Harris' books, the show's creator and producer, Alan Ball, takes some liberties with the storyline, Trammell said. Ball, who created HBO's "Six Feet Under" and wrote the Oscar-winning screenplay for "American Beauty," was a big reason Trammell wanted to do the show.

"I really do like good horror and good fantasy," Trammell said. "A lot of times it can be cheesy if it's not done well, and I think I'm really lucky to have ended up in Alan Ball's hands because our show is very much a character-driven drama.

"Really, the show is about relationships and people in this town," Trammell said. "It's not writing built around the fantastical, it's writing built around characters."

Another draw was that "True Blood" takes place in the South.

Trammell is originally from Louisiana and grew up in West Virginia.

"I sort of have that southern blood in me," Trammell said. "I love playing country people, and it's great to be in a world that I kind of grew up in. So I was excited about it."

Trammell went to Overbrook Elementary, John Adams Junior High and George Washington High schools. His parents still live in Charleston; his father, Willis, is a surgeon and his mother, Betsy, is an artist.

"Charleston's where I grew up and I think it's a great place," Trammell said. "It's such a beautiful, beautiful, beautiful town, which you really realize once you get out and see the rest of the country.

"It's just so green, and you have the river - I loved growing up there."

Some of Trammell's favorite memories include making ski jumps in South Hills with his brother during the winter and catching a view of Charleston from his favorite rock on a neighborhood cliff.

"We'd sneak up there during high school and sit up there and just look at the city," Trammell recalled.

Trammell makes it back home about once a year, not as often as he'd like. His brother, Paul, and sister, Elizabeth, live in different states and so family get-togethers are sometimes outside of West Virginia.

But he still keeps in touch with several high school friends - Andy Cooke, Spencer Elliot and Rod Smith, all attorneys in Charleston.

Cooke remembers spending weekends with Trammell and other friends at a farm in Putnam County, riding horses and helping a friend's grandfather put up hay.

"Sam was just a very earnest and nice and good friend," Cooke said.

Cooke said he enjoys catching Trammell in movies and on TV.

"It's an interesting series," Cooke said of Trammell's show. "I never ever would have predicted that he would be a changeling. It's ironic because he knows who he is. He's a very sincere person."

Cooke said he wasn't surprised Trammell went into acting, but it wasn't something he talked much about growing up.

But before he was an actor himself Trammell got to know actor Nick Nolte, who had a home in Charleston in the late 1980s and early 1990s.

"It looked like he had a pretty fun life," Trammell said.

Trammell also knew Jennifer Garner back when they both went to George Washington. The two later paired up in "Harvest of Fire," a 1996 Hallmark Hall of Fame movie.

"We ended up getting married; I forget about that," Trammell said of their movie characters. "We were married in an Amish ceremony."

Trammell did theater work as well, earning a Tony nomination for "Ah, Wilderness!", a 1998 play by Eugene O'Neill in New York. He won an Outer Critics Circle award for the play.

"That was just an amazing part to do," Trammell said.

Trammell also did a Showtime series called "Going to California."

"That was sort of under the radar, but that was one of the best jobs I've ever had," Trammell said. "That was just a really fun job where we got to travel across the country."

Nowadays, Trammell spends much of his time filming in and around Los Angeles and at some locations in Louisiana and a canyon in Malibu.

"Believe it or not during the winter in that canyon it gets down into the 30s. And a lot of time we'll have our shirts off or we'll be in short-sleeve shirts or we'll be, uh, naked," Trammell said. "It's so cold and you're trying to pretend like it's the summer in Louisiana."

Trammell describes the supernatural series' set as fun and relaxed and considers several of his cast members good friends, including Chris Bauer, who plays Detective Andy Bellefleur, and Carrie Preston, who plays the red-headed waitress Arlene.

And although their onscreen relationship is a bit prickly, Trammell is close with Forbes, whom he calls Mishka.

"I really love her even though we're head to head and she tortures me in the show," Trammell said. "She's really, really a fun person to work with."

When not working, Trammell spends time with his serious girlfriend, actress Missy Yager, who recently portrayed Sarah Beth Carson on the TV series "Mad Men." He met Yager in New York when she also was doing theater work.

He also enjoys one of California's well-known pastimes, surfing.

"That's sort of my sport, that's the thing I love to do most," Trammell said. "I go surfing up and down the coast, all the way as far north as Ventura, all the way as far south as San Clemente.

"It's a lot of fun and exciting."

Charleston Gazette | Link to article


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