Q&A: 'True Blood' Star Rutina Wesley on Tara's Vampire Transformation

'It's basically creating a new character, but also making sure you don't lose the essence of what you've already started'

Rutina Wesley, Tara Thornton, HBO, True Blood
John P. Johnson/HBO
Rutina Wesley as Tara Thornton
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Sookie Stackhouse's tough-as-nails BFF, Tara Thornton, has spent the past four seasons of True Blood suffering the abuses of an alcoholic mother, a possessive maenad, a sociopathic vampire and a power-hungry witch. At the start of the show's fifth season, Tara was saved from death (courtesy of a gunshot wound to the head) by being turned, in the words of Rutina Wesley – and in the soapy supernatural drama's brilliant, twisted fashion – into "the thing she hates the most," a vampire. With Tara still adjusting to her new, nocturnal existence, and reuniting with her estranged mother in the most recent episode, Rolling Stone checked in with Wesley to get her take on her character's evolution.

Tara has had such a rough go of it in the first few seasons, but now it seems that becoming a vampire is the best thing that's ever happened to her. Do you think that's accurate?
I don't know if it's the best thing that's ever happened to her, but I think it's going to end up being that because when you have to face something that you actually hate and learn to love it, it's a complete transformation. So, yes, it's the best and worst thing. To her, it would probably be like, "This sucks!" – no pun intended – but, I think when she finally embraces who she is, like in the last couple of episodes when she's like, "OK, I'm a vampire. I've got to feed and I've got to deal," I think she'll start to understand [her situation] more, and I think that's important for her own personal growth.

Most of the characters have stayed the same throughout the seasons, but you've had to alter your character from human to vampire, and with that come changes in carriage and demeanor. I think the only other person who's had to do something like that is Alexander Skarsgård, with "Amnesiac Eric" last season. Did you find that fun or challenging?
It's been a little bit of both. It's definitely been a challenge because it's something new – like it's basically creating a new character, but also making sure you don't completely change so you don't lose the essence of what you've already started. But the most fun I had was tearing up [Sookie's] kitchen. I got to run around and be a wild, angry possum and make strange noises. All the acting exercises I did in school – we would just makes noises in a big room and now I can use all that. This has been the most fun I've had – this season.

So you must be having a ball with the sexy-vampire makeup and clothes, especially that spangly purple corset. Are they easy to move in?
Oh, no. It's so funny because I wanted to be in a corset so badly. I was like, "Can I be in a corset? Can it be purple?" And I got in that corset, and after that 12th hour you're like, "Well, yeah. Maybe I should have thought . . ."

"Maybe I should've asked for a flowy dress."
Because you just can't breathe – and forget about eating lunch. But I would always eat because I was hungry and I'd go back to my trailer and be like, "I can't move!"

How has it been adjusting to the fangs?
I practiced a lot in my trailer, and also Anna [Paquin] said to me, "If you can say 'Sookie Stackhouse,' then you're good." So I practiced saying "Sookie Stackhouse" a lot. The best advice we were given is to act like they're not there. But the minute you go, "I have two big teeth in my mouth," then you'll sound like a vampire with a lisp.

I love the Pam-Tara relationship this season. Pam is not warm and fuzzy, and she's a pretty cruel taskmaster. But I think she's a better parent to Tara than Lettie Mae.
Oh, definitely. I think it's been important for Tara to see the tough love from Pam, because she hasn't seen much other than, "Pam wants to kill me." But now she's seeing Pam go, "I kind of care about you. But not too much. Don't let it go to your head."

This past Sunday's episode had Lettie Mae coming face-to-face with her now-vampire daughter.
It's a very unique dynamic, me and my mother. Adina Porter is amazing. Getting to work with her again has been great. And Tara stands up to her mom: "You know what? Cool. If you want to go, go. But stop torturing me, because you're gonna see me again." It's my favorite episode because I got to do a very sensual, sexy dance on a pole, and it's awesome! [Laughs] Dancing is my first love.

Did you work with a choreographer on that? Or, because you have dance training, did you just go for it?
I worked with a choreographer for about 45 minutes right before we shot the scene. There were a good 50 people – actors – in that scene, and I had to disrobe and go for it. I was so nervous! I was like, "Oh, my God, like, all of my body is out right now!" [Laughs]

Do you think there will come a time when Tara will hit a "teenage rebellion" stage and won't want to just bartend at Fangtasia? If she had her druthers, what do you think she'd do?
That's an interesting question. Because Tara's never been able to hold down a job, I've never thought about what her dreams and goals are, and what she actually wants to do. And she's a pretty shitty bartender! [Laughs] I think she enjoys being around people, getting a rise out of them. So it would be something that involves being around people. She's so interesting, and it's like – what do you want to do, Tara? Do you want to work at the Super Save-A-Bunch for the rest of your life? 'Cause it's Bon Temps, there's not really much to do! [Laughs]

Like you said, Bon Temps is a small town. So it's inevitable that Tara and Sookie, who are currently on the outs, are going to see each other again, yes?
I can definitely say that they will see each other again, and there will be a figuring out of their relationship. Whether they actually talk about it may not happen, but I will be involved with her again, sometime later on.

Stephen Moyer directed the July 29th episode of True Blood – how did he do?
He did amazing! He's so lovely. It was nice to work with somebody that you know so closely and see that person live out another part of their dream, and see him do it so well. He was such a sweetheart to me and he was just open and made us feel very safe. It was just like family.

So you went to Comic-Con again this year. How did that go?
Comic-Con's great! It's where we see our die-hard fans. They're the reason why we have a job. And so people come from miles and miles, and they dress up like us, and they're shaking when they meet us. It's so humbling to me. That's why I do what I do. I love to be a vessel through which characters can come through. And if I can move an audience with my work, then I've done my job. So when you actually meet someone face-to-face who's like, "I love your character. I get her. And she's a lot like my sister." Or, "She's a lot like me." Or I get people who meet me and completely are thrown off by the fact that I'm not like Tara. That I'm smiling when they meet me. And they're like, "Oh, my God, you're so nice! You're so pretty! On TV you look so different!" It's cool because I must be doing something right if I look completely different when you see me.

Are people asking you to bite them now?
No, but there was a fan a couple of years ago who wanted to bite me and Sam [Trammell]. She literally put in fake fangs and pretended to bite my neck. It was hilarious. I was like, "Yeah, you can bite me! That's cool!" It was so funny! I was like, "What am I doing!?" [Laughs]

Next season is going to be the first one without Alan Ball as showrunner. How do you think it will affect the show?
I think Alan set up a really good network of writers and we have a good foundation. Who knows, everyone has different ideas, so things may change, but I think we would always be moving forward in the spirit as if Alan was still there. He'll be around, but it's just more sad that his presence is gone. We're gonna miss him, because his writing is amazing and he is amazing and I feel like I owe my career to him. He gave me this opportunity and – I start to cry – it means a lot to me. I told him that if I hadn't gotten this job, I wouldn't be where I am now.