In the much-anticipated return of HBO’s hit series True Blood on Sunday night, Deborah Ann Woll is back for Season 3 as bloodthirsty teenage vampire Jessica Hamby, a bratty, virgin-for-eternity who happens to be sleeping the daylight hours away with a corpse, which she has doused in Lysol to cover the stench. For fans of the second-biggest series in HBO’s history (after The Sopranos), the bizarre sleeping arrangement is a classic touch of True Blood, a campy, brilliantly written series from Alan Ball (Six Feet Under) that promises to suck us, its fans, in once again.
Woll, a Brooklyn, N.Y.-native trained in classical theatre, auditioned for the role two years ago, expecting to make a few guest appearances. But the 25-year-old so impressed Ball that he made her a regular member of the series, which also includes the Winnipeg-born, Oscar-winner Anna Paquin, her real-life financé Stephen Moyer, and the Swede Alex Skarsgard. In an interview from her home in Los Angeles, Woll explains why she loves being part of a close-knit cast who get a kick out of the fact they could be slaughtered – or stark naked – at any given moment.
So how exactly does it work that you are in a state of perpetual virginity, given your character clearly gets around?
It’s part of the mythos we created around these vampires. Any wound or affliction to the body of our vampires heals itself. Hence, the wound we associate with losing our virginity also heals.
What is it about True Blood that has tapped into the zeitgeist of the day?
The show seems to have hit the pulse of the world at the moment. We are living in a very unsure state. Economically we’re in trouble. There is no defined enemy for us right now – not like in World War Two, where you could label your enemies. I like the idea that our vampires look human. Sound human, And blend into the community. They represent the full scale of good and bad, and they hide amongst us. The show represents the fear, the elements of the unknown, that society is experiencing these days.
Much has been written about the camaraderie on the set of True Blood. Is Ball responsible for this?
I feel so honoured to have started my professional career in his capable hands. He told a story recently about when he started to work in this business, he’d be on a set where people weren’t nice to each other, and ego ruled. He vowed if he ever got to the point where he had some control, he would not create that environment. Alan, Anna and Stephen could all act out and make it a power struggle if they wanted to. But they choose not to. They choose to make it comfortable and collaborative. On set, there is real sense of let’s just do it, have a good time at it, and make the best show we can.
How do you – and your cast mates – psyche yourselves up for the steamy sex?
You brush your teeth very well. And you chew gum before you go out. In a way, I think we all feel [these scenes] are just silly and goofy. You can’t believe you’re doing it, and everyone is watching. But in my case, the guy I hook up with [Hoyt, played by Jim Parrack] is a very dear friend, so we’ve talked a lot about how we want to handle the intimacy. We come pretty prepared, knowing what we’re comfortable with, so they don’t have to ask us to do more.
Explain the leap from Shakespearean actress to a character in fangs?
I think there’s something very Shakespearean about True Blood. They are realistic people in extreme situations. And like many Shakespeare plays, the characters go from heightened love to the greatest hate in a blink of an eye. We often do the same thing.
Jessica is the baby vamp of the group. What does she bring to the show, and how does she further the plot?
Jessica is an interesting one. She represents a stage in the vampire process where someone is struggling with the transition from human to immortal. The older vampires can talk about it, but Jessica lives it. I think she’s a good tool to expand this world that Alan and his writers are creating. She helps people understand the rules of the game. My character is all impulse. There is little processing going on, except voracious need, which requires spontaneous action.
What’s the toughest thing about playing a vampire?
The fangs took some getting used to. They initially gave me a lisp – not a good thing for a terrifying vampire.
Last season, True Blood averaged 12.4 million viewers, with women accounting for a huge percentage of the audience. Why do you think females relate to the show?
What woman wouldn’t want to tune into a program where men sweep you off your feet, and are strong enough to carry you wherever you want to go?
True Blood airs on HBO at 9 p.m. ET on Sundays.
This interview has been condensed and edited.