Q&A: 'True Blood' Actor Todd Lowe on the Importance of Playing a Human

'I think we need humans in there for balance, to give supernatural characters more weight'

true blood todd lowe
Lacey Terrell
Todd Lowe as Terry Bellefleur on 'True Blood.'
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After spending much of True Blood on the periphery of the major plot lines, Todd Lowe has found himself at the center of his own dramatic story arc this season. Flashbacks revealed that during his tour of duty, Iraq War veteran Terry Bellefleur (Lowe) killed a civilian woman while high and under orders from his commanding officer, Sgt. Patrick Devins (Scott Foley). As the season progressed, the two former Marines continued to be haunted by the spirit of their Iraqi victim in the form of a mysterious smoke monster called the Ifrit. In last Sunday's episode, Terry silenced his demons for good, at an enormous cost: he shot and killed the cowardly Patrick, effectively vanquishing the Ifrit and making his family safe again.

Texas native Lowe checked in with Rolling Stone recently to chat about playing a character with PTSD, his new honky-tonk band and his latest gig acting alongside Will Smith.

One of the defining aspects of Terry Bellefleur has always been the fact that he suffers from PTSD. Did you do any first-hand research on it?
I knew some people growing up – some family members, some friends of the family – who had done time over in Iraq and done a couple of tours, and I kind of based it on them. I didn't do too much medical research into it – I'm leaving that up to the writers to determine what's going to happen – but I didn't know until the beginning of Season Five, when Alan [Ball] sent me an e-mail saying what was going to go on with my character, what had actually happened over there. I didn't know in Season One that I had shot an innocent woman while high. So having that at the beginning of this season, like, "Ok, you did do something just terrible and nightmares are going to plague you forever." That is the cause of why he's been [the way he is], among other horrors I'm sure he saw over there. That's the one that was the most personal.

In shooting that scene where Terry kills the Iraqi woman, you guys were outfitted in full-on Marine gear. Were you able to get in any training during rehearsals? Was it impossible to move around?
Well, what I was hoping for – but it wasn't logistically possible – was that we could've timed it where I could've shaved my beard and cut my hair. But because we also had to shoot stuff that was happening in the present day, it just wasn't logistically feasible. So we put pins in my hair and tucked it up under a headband. I had my chin strap kind of covering my beard, and they made the decision that, "Well, you guys have been out there for a long time, you haven't had time to shave." But everyone I know who's a Marine said, "It doesn't matter: We shaved every morning." With a dry razor and using an Evian bottle or whatever – just with the little water that [they] had. It's a very important thing. I hope I don't catch too much flak from cousins I have who are actual Marines that we weren't doing it right. Hopefully they'll overlook that.

But they gave us a half-hour boot camp on how to walk and how to hold a rifle, and how it's going to feel when we're shooting, like, "This is the way it recoils, this is the way you hold it, the way you scan a perimeter.…" So we got a really quick, basic lesson on that.

Since the Ifrit was something that had to be added in post-production, what was your reaction when you saw the finished product?
I'm not a big fan of CGI, personally – I'd rather see old stop-animation that they used to do with monsters or even somebody in a monster suit – but that being said, I liked the way [the Ifrit] moved around and engulfed Private Eller. So all in all, I'm happy with it.

In previous seasons, Terry has had more of a comic-relief role, but now he's got this major dramatic arc. Is that something you were hoping for? Or do you prefer doing comedy?
I guess I do prefer doing comic roles, but you have to play it truthful and the drama that I've been playing this year has been great. I haven't been able to find, really, moments of levity. Even me having to grab Patrick's hand and put it on the table for that ridiculous séance at Lafayette's was, like, totally serious. So you play that in all seriousness, but it still kind of comes with a little bit of a chuckle.

Speaking of that séance scene in last week's episode, Nelsan Ellis did such a fantastic job – how did you guys keep a straight face?
It's really hard, especially when he had to memorize those few lines in Arabic, and he's sitting there shouting and getting really into it – spit's coming out, people getting hit in the face – but he's so powerful, it's hard not to flinch when he really turns it on like that. But, yeah, him rattling those bracelets – we got all that silly stuff out in the rehearsal. Once you do a scene 10 times, it's not quite as funny anymore.

The human population on True Blood is rapidly dwindling, especially now that Tara's been made a vampire. So would you like to see Terry go supernatural? Or do you think he works best as a human?
I think we need humans in there for balance – to give supernatural characters more weight. If there are no humans left, it becomes like a Dungeons and Dragons game; there's gotta be something that grounds it in reality. So I'm happy staying human; whatever the writers want to do with me is fine. If they want to at the end of the series reveal that I'm the Easter Bunny, I'll take that and play it as straight as I can. But no, I prefer staying human. All of Terry's monsters are on the inside.

In your opinion, as someone who is from Texas originally, who in the True Blood cast – who is not from the South – does the best Southern accent?
Ryan Kwanten.

You had a country-rock band called Pilbilly Knights. Are you still playing music?
I have a different band now. Everyone in [Pilbilly Knights] except for me had children and, with my shooting schedule, we couldn't really book gigs. So I play with an outfit now called L.A. Hootenanny. There's about 12 or 13 of us and we have a weekly gig at this hip spot in downtown Los Angeles every Thursday.

Are you the frontman?
Pretty much; there's a lot of us. I guess I carry the majority of the work, as I've written a few more songs than everybody else. They're catching up with me. And if I'm not there, the show can still go on. But I'm there every chance I can.

How would you describe the band's style?
We're a honky-tonk bar band. We cover Eighties pop songs and we got three hours to kill, so we have to have a lot of covers. We do a Dr. Dre tune, we do a New Order tune. We just got to keep the crowd moving.

What New Order and Dr. Dre songs do you do?
We do "Temptation" by New Order, and we do "The Next Episode." It's Dre and Snoop, a little duet.

Are you guys recording?
Yeah, we have an EP that's gonna be coming out. There are so many people on it mixing this thing – thank God I don't have the job. It's like mixing Chinese Democracy. It's taking forever. I'm waiting for them to get done with it so we can put it out and start getting booked at festivals and stuff.

Do you have a release date?
I'd say we're a month away. L.A. Hootenanny is the working title. 

You went back to your Gilmore Girls roots recently, making an appearance on creator Amy Sherman-Palladino's newest series, Bunheads. Will we be seeing Davis the one-eyed plumber again?
Wasn't that great? Hopefully – I guess we're waiting on a pickup. I think they made 10 episodes and they're waiting to see if they order some more. From indications, they seem to like what I did, and I loved working with Stacy Oristano [Truly Stone, Davis' love interest]. She's awesome. So I hope they do see us again.

Now that True Blood has wrapped for the season, any other projects in the works?
I worked a week on the M. Night Shyamalan movie After Earth. It's coming out next year – I guess it's gonna be a big Will Smith summer blockbuster. I had a scene with Will and his son Jaden, and we shot it in Philadelphia. It was the first time I've ever worked on a green screen, and I had a fantastic time. Will Smith is the biggest movie star I've ever met, and he couldn't be more gracious. I play a wounded veteran – but it's set years in the future, in space, and I'm in a levitating wheelchair.