Secrets of a Baby Vampire

Q&A with 'True Blood''s sexy redhead Deborah Ann Woll

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Jessica, the 17-year-old "baby vampire," is one of the few characters that Alan Ball added to True Blood's script from Charlaine Harris' original book series. She was a virgin when Bill Compton "made" her in Season One, which means that sex is always going to be painful for her: Vampire wounds heal immediately, so her hymen can't stay permanently torn. Deborah Ann Woll, a Brooklyn-born actress, shares some of the secret vampire knowledge she's gained from performing the role.

Do you think sex is something that will ever become pleasurable for Jessica, since she has an intact hymen?

I think if you resist it and it's a problem for you, then it's going to hurt. But if you can somehow release into it and let go and allow it to be that moment of pain that leads to greater pleasure, then that's a very adult, grown-up way of looking at sex. I'm not sure Jessica's at that point yet, but I hope she would be with time.

What do you think it felt like to be "made" a vampire by Bill?

I think it hurt a lot. It was traumatic. But it's also a magical process. When you make someone, essentially you drain them of their blood almost to the point of death, where there's still just a spark of life left, and then you feed them yours, your vampiric blood, to replenish theirs, which is why they then have your blood in them. It's a very strong bond.

Do you think that True Blood has made you more comfortable with blood, gore and death?

I've always been comfortable with blood and gore. I'm a big genre fan. I love science fiction and fantasy and horror. Pretty much all the old Universal pictures with Frankenstein and Dracula and The Creature From the Black Lagoon – all that stuff is really great. I used to watch it all the time, so I love horror movies, and monster stories are really fascinating for what they represent. I've been a big nerd my whole life.

Did you read a lot of vampire fiction?

I didn't read Anne Rice or anything like that when I was growing up. I did read Bram Stoker – I liked that. I liked Stephen King's Salem's Lot. I'm reading that again – that's a scary vampire book. So vampires have certainly been interesting to me, and when I got the role on the show, I did all kinds of research on historical personalities who were considered to have a vampiric nature to them and why the myth of the vampire might have come into being in the first place.

What are the historic personalities?

We mention some every now and then on the show as kind of a wink-wink to the historians. There's Elizabeth Báthory, who was essentially a serial murderer. She murdered hundreds of virginal women and tortured them horribly and would bathe in their blood, because she thought it would make her eternally beautiful and youthful. She would sometimes drink it, because she felt like that would make her immortal, but she was royalty, and at that point it was illegal to put royalty in jail. She had sent out declarations that she was essentially starting a charm school, and young peasant families could send their young daughters to this charm school, which would then elevate them to a better level of society and give them a better chance in life. So she essentially tricked these poor young women into coming to live with her in the idea that they might actually get a better life, and she was just torturing and killing them for her own purposes.

Who else?

There's Vlad the Impaler, which is where they think Bram Stoker probably got the name "Dracula." He killed a lot of people, massacred a lot of people, tortured a lot of people and seemed to sort of enjoy it, so he's definitely one of those mass murderers of history that got swept under the rug, because a lot of people at that time were mass murdering.

What's your understanding of the origin of the myth of the vampire?

I think it had a lot to do with a history of misunderstanding of death and what happens with decomposition and also the signs of death. Back in the 18th and 19th centuries, they didn't have a lot of definite experiments that would tell you for sure, "this person is dead," and I imagine there were probably plenty of accidental burials where people woke up and they had been buried. So they would find scratch marks on the insides of coffins and assumed that this was reanimation, that people were coming back to life, and they didn't know about decomposition. But the fact is that during decomposition, when there were gases in the body, the body bloats up, and the skin decomposes faster than the nails or the teeth. The skin recedes, which makes the nails look longer, makes the teeth look longer, makes the hair look longer. At the same time, as the inside juices liquefy, they come pouring out of the lips and the nostrils in a red juice, so when you open a casket after a body has been in there for a couple of days, it looks like it's engorged. It looks like it's fed, it looks like it has a rosy cheek, like it's been alive. There's even blood issuing from its mouth. You can imagine how scary that would look to someone who was maybe a bit ignorant of how bodies change after they die.

So vampires were originally a ghost story about dead corpses?

Maybe. It's interesting, because if you were rich, you could have tubes inserted close to your neck – so if you woke up, you could scream and people could hear you and air could come in. But the cheap one was a little bell: They would place a bell on top of the gravestone, and a string that would run down through a tube into the casket attached to the dead person's hand. If you woke up you could try to ring this bell and call for help. Of course, with any kind of ground tremor or if the hand decomposed in a certain way, it might ring the bell, so there were lots of interesting false alarms. People were gruesome back around the Victorian era. It does not surprise me that we had Frankenstein and Dracula and Mary Shelley within these 100 years, writing these scary stories.

What about in other monster/sci-fi literature? Are there other monsters that drink blood, or only vampires?

I guess zombies eat brains and flesh. Anything that has been reanimated from death will do that. The concept behind it is if you are dead and have been reanimated, you must feed on something living in order for that to continue. You still need some sort of life force to sustain you. You don't see a lot of other creatures that have to drink blood.

What about fangs?

Not having fangs is something that really defines us as humans, separates us from animals. Most animals have enlarged incisors, and we do not. Something about being a vampire reawakens that animal side of millions of years ago.

What would you be if you had a choice?

Someone asked me about it at Comic-Con this year. I decided I'd like to be a witch, because I feel like there's a humanity still alive in there, and also there's a skill, a learned skill that's kind of interesting. Plus, you don't have to be an eternal 17-year-old like I'm stuck with as a vampire. That gets a little tiresome after a while.
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