Having a vampire boyfriend doesn't have to suck.
Whether it's the forbidden thrill or the lure of immortality and hot sex, vampires have always fascinated, from Dracula to Anne Rice's Lestat to the sexy bloodsuckers of TV's Buffy, Angel and Moonlight, and the hero of the Twilight book series. Banking on viewers' unlimited "blood" thirst, Six Feet Under creator Alan Ball has adapted Charlaine Harris' Dead Until Dark for HBO into an fascinating series centering on the relationship between a telepathic waitress and a 173-year-old vampire, and it's as steamy as the humid Louisiana bayou it's set in.
In this parallel universe, the invention of synthetic blood has allowed vampires to come out of the coffin, as it were, though only at night, but they remain objects of suspicion and prejudice. Bar waitress Sookie Stackhouse, whose thought-reading powers make her feel similarly isolated and "other," finds an instant connection with the new vamp in town, the darkly handsome Bill Compton.
"He's sexy and dangerous. What girl doesn't like a bad boy?" asks Anna Paquin, analyzing her character's attraction to Bill (Stephen Moyer), labeling the lure "sexy, unknown and mysterious." (While she's constantly bombarded by the thoughts of others, she can't hear Bill's, something she finds both intriguing and peaceful.)
"He's from another time. He's experienced things that she can't even imagine," notes Paquin. "He's seen whole lifetimes of things. She instantly connects with him in a way that she's never been able to with anyone else, and I think that's what everyone's looking for: to meet that person who makes you feel like you can just be yourself."
But as with any forbidden romance, there are obstacles. "We get to see the roller coaster of that relationship because having a vampire as a boyfriend isn't always the simplest of things to choose," Paquin points out. First off, there's what Alan Ball calls "the dangers and terrors of intimacy." In their case, "intimacy involves feeding, and he's so much stronger than her."
They're also dealing with people who at the very least, strongly disapprove. "Romeo and Juliet, anyone?" remarks Paquin, who finds familiarity in the star-crossed lovers theme. Other similarities, literary and otherwise, abound. "It's vampires, but they totally work as a metaphor for gays, for people of color, for anybody who is misunderstood and feared and hated for being different," notes Ball. "I wanted to really explore what it means to be 170 years old, and what it means to fall in love with somebody and not being able to see this person except at night, and having the entire town think you're crazy."
Not surprisingly, Bill and Sookie take it slow at first. There's no sex for them in the Sept. 7 premiere, but that base is well covered by Sookie's sex addict brother Jason (Ryan Kwanten), who gets it on quite explicitly– and in a continuing storyline, becomes a prime suspect in a murder case. Paquin won't spill future romantic developments, but is happy to discuss Sookie and the experience of playing her.
"She's so many things in one person. She's tough and she's courageous and she's smart, but she's sweet, innocent and naive and she's quite sheltered. And she is completely open-minded, which, in her very small town is a little bit less common," Paquin describes. "There's just something appealing about that level of enthusiasm that she has for things that are new and exciting as opposed to being frightened. And even though she gets into trouble quite frequently in the show and she's still a very tough little girl she's not completely capable of taking care of herself."
Adds Stephen Moyer, "There's something about her that's different from anybody else Bill has ever met. He's held by her otherness," says the British actor, last seen in the Starter Wife miniseries and movie 88 Minutes. He characterizes his own character as "complex. He's so unlike any other vampire because he's got morals. He's a very ethical man. He wants to be a decent undead being. I wanted to make him precise and still and slow and different from how you ordinarily see a vampire."
Though she's an Oscar winner (at 11, for The Piano), Paquin, now 26, "fought hard" to get the role, which required her to acquire a southern accent (she's Canadian by birth but grew up in New Zealand) and dye her brown hair blond. "Boys like to stare at blond girls," she has discovered. "It's amusing and quite lovely." She also had to get used to an abbreviated wardrobe of "really tiny shorts. I'm practically naked," she laughs."But they give me this nice spray tan."
Living in L.A. temporarily while shooting True Blood, with occasional location trips to Louisiana, Paquin considers herself a gypsy, a word she prefers to homeless, which "has a garbage bag connotation." As for her off-screen relationships, "I don't have a type," she says. "I like smart people. I like nice people. I like good people."
While she wouldn't like to have Sookie's telepathic powers, Paquin says she's "totally fine" with blood, a good thing since some scenes are not for the squeamish. Don't let that aspect deter you though–True Blood is one of the best new series of the fall.
Photo courtesy of Jaimie Trueblood/HBO.