Q&A: Anna Camp of 'True Blood' on Sarah Newlin's Transformation

'I've never had to murder someone on camera before'

Anna Camp, True Blood, hbo, sarah, Newlin, sookie
John P. Johnson
Anna Camp as Sarah Newlin in 'True Blood.'
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One of the more delightful aspects of the sixth season of True Blood has been the return of Anna Camp as Sarah Newlin, the extremely loud voice of the Christian right. She may be wreaking havoc for our favorite Bon Temps vampires, but in doing so, Camp's churning out a brilliant performance week after week that balances humor, hate and a rather intense sense of bravado. Rolling Stone recently spoke to Camp about her resurrection in Bon Temps, her first on-screen murder and what's in store for her down the road.

The Best of 'True Blood': The Darkest, Sexiest Moments from Bon Temps and Beyond

Sarah Newlin has been on quite a ride this season. What do you think is so central to who she's become?
She's really a black and white kinda gal.  She's dead set on completing her task that she and Truman set out to do at the beginning of the season.

She has remarkable focus.
[Laughs.] Yes, she does. It's scary. Everything she's doing, God is using her as a troll in a way to follow through in his mission. She's kinda a control freak out and there's no turning back.

In the earlier season that you were on, did you see the potential for the character to go this way?
I always did. I always felt that there was something unresolved at the end of Season Two. I never got to go to the vampire-human war that took place in the church that season and I was always really bummed out. I wanted her to get some stuff done and the fact that it finally came around this season, I was so thankful. I always thought she was hiding something behind that calm, quiet exterior. She shoots Jason [Stackhouse] at the end of the season with a paintball gun or whatever – I think that was a hint at what was underneath. They're ripping off the layers this season. You get to see everything.

It's amazing to think you were bummed that she didn't get to go to the "vampire-human war."
I was! I got that script at that time and was like "aww, man, she's still on the highway!" I always wanted to know what happened to her.

When did you get wind that you were coming back to the show?
They tried to get me back for Season Five. But just for a little bit. But I was shooting The Good Wife at the time and couldn't get away. This past season, some things started happening with The Mindy Project and that character wasn't quite going the way they said it was going to go and I got sorta released – I asked to be released from that contract. I think True Blood got wind of that and they called me up right away and said "do you want to come back?" And I said "heck yeah I'll come back. I'd love to."

If you had to equate Sarah to a modern, real life personwho do you think she's most like?You know, I know the writers were doing a dash of Palin. I grew up in the South and I did know some people that believed the reason everything happened is because God was willing it to be that way. So I don't know if it's anybody particular that I could name off the top of my head, but there are people, truly, that think everything is a sign from God. Whether it's raining out or they get a good parking spot – she's that type of person.

In last week's episode, there was an epic Sarah Newlin fight scene. Can you tell me about shooting that?
That was crazy. That took three days to shoot and we had to get there on a day that I wasn't shooting, so it was really like four. We had to rehearse the fight sequences – the actress and I, and the two stunt doubles were there. There was a lot of detail in the choking and the trying to snap her neck, and I couldn't do it. I wanted to have a sense of humor, but also be crazy and vicious; I wanted you to be scared of Sarah, but at the same time, she's still Sarah Newlin and she's an inherently funny character. So it was really about finding the balance between being terrified of her, but she is this little blonde woman in a white pant suit. It was also very brutal. The special effects department was incredible. The head that I had to pound with the high heel – some of it I did with the actual actress, some of it I had to do with the stunt double, and some of it I did with an actual dummy head that had a hole in the back. So when they put the heel in, blood was squirting out. I've never had to murder someone on camera before. It's really an intense thing to do. Part of it was really exhilarating, to be honest, to get that out of my system and go there. It's also just physically and emotionally exhausting. I was really tired and felt strange after doing something like that – after murdering someone, you know? It was an intense three days. That's the greatest thing I've ever shot and one of my favorite things I've gotten to do. 

It must be a weird sensation to wake up and think "I gotta go murder someone today for my job."
You first think "whoa, this is going to be fun." But you get there and you're doing it over and over and over. . . . I was getting a little nauseous at times, because of the blood in the back of her head. It was a creepy thing. We shot it up on top of a cat walk, so we could barely fit the crew on the top. The rest of the crew was downstairs hearing me. I had a friend come to set that say and he was like "remind me not to piss you off."

What is harder to shoot, something like that or a crazy sex scene with Jason Stackhouse?
You know what, I don't find the sex scenes that hard to shoot. Who knows what will happen in my career. But it hasn't been too difficult. Everybody knows what they're doing, they know what show they're on – it's True Blood, so you just sorta dive in and get it done [laughs]. It's like, don't dilly-dally, let's do this and get it done.

Sounds like a very Sarah Newlin approach to acting.
It is. Get it in, get it done, do it, and get out.

Have you ever wished at some point you could play a vampire?
Yes! I do. If Sarah ever got turned, she would hate her self so much that she would meet the sun. I think she'd commit suicide. If she was made a vampire and lived eternity as a vampire, it would be like they won. I just picture her crawling up on some church at dawn and just frying for the cause. I don't think she could live in an eternity as something she abhors so much.

Who would be the ideal person to turn her?
I think Eric. After everything Eric did in the camp, he has it out for her and could definitely turn her.

Do you find people generally like the Sarah character?
I get half and half. I get like, "oh my god, I love her, I don't want her to ever die on the show" and I get people that'll say "oh, I love you as an actress, but I hate her." I get both. Hopefully people love to hate me . . . or I don't know. Some people probably hate me, I'm sure.

Is there any movement on Pitch Perfect 2?
A lot of people are watching [Pitch Perfect] for the first time now that HBO is running it. I think they're writing the sequel but nobody has been offered a role in it yet. I don't have a clue, but I would do it, of course, in a heartbeat if they would have me.

There's only two more episodes of True Blood this season. Where will we see you next?
I have a film that I'm really proud of that I hope is going to Sundance. It's called Goodbye to All That and it has Paul Schneider, Heather Graham, and I have a good supporting role in that. It's kinda funny – I play a very Christian woman who turns out to be a total sexual freak [laughs]. It's actually really fun to play. And that sex scene is the scariest sex scene I've ever done. That tops True Blood. My parents, I don't think, are going to be seeing that one. But I hope it gets out there, because it's a really funny, beautiful film about relationships.

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