When is Sam Merlotte ever going to catch a break? Over the past five seasons of True Blood, the moral compass of Bon Temps, Louisiana, has played hero to Sookie Stackhouse multiple times, dodged a vengeful maenad, done battle with a jealous werewolf and been almost killed by an anti-supernatural hate group. As we head into the Season Five finale this Sunday, good-hearted Sam is a prisoner of the vampire Authority, having offered himself up as “Chancellor Compton’s breakfast” to protect his shape-shifter gal-pal, Luna Garza, and her already-in-need-of-massive-amounts-of-therapy werewolf daughter (and Rev. Steve Newlin’s pet) Emma. In anticipation of what he calls “the best cliffhanger of any season we’ve ever had,” we checked in with actor Sam Trammell to get the dish on impersonating a woman, portraying a “minority” figure and his new real-life role as a dad.
In my recap for “Somebody That I Used to Know” (episode eight), I called you the episode’s MVP because you played the dual role of Sam and Luna (who unwittingly shifted into Sam). Since you had already shown off your impersonation chops last season, in which you did a spot-on Marshall Allman (the character Tommy Mickens), did the writers specifically write in this plot line because they were so impressed with your skills? Or did you ask to do something like that again?
I didn’t request it, and I can’t speak for the writers because I’m not exactly sure. But I know I had a blast doing Tommy last year, so maybe they did think about that. They’re always trying to think of ways to stay a couple of steps ahead of the audience, and I think having Luna turn into me, and then on top of that us running into each other was pretty unexpected. Now I want to know who I’m going to turn into next year!
You pulled off a very credible – and hilarious – woman. And not just any woman, you channeled Janina Gavankar (Luna) perfectly. What is your process for something like that? Did you hang around Janina 24-7?
I spent a lot of time with her and, like I did with Marshall, I recorded every scene that she had ever done on the show on my iPhone and rewatched and rewatched and tried to key in on her voice rhythms. Janina was more of a challenge for me than Marshall because she doesn’t have a really discernible accent, and she’s a woman, so her physicality is different than mine. Also, I wanted to do Janina. Like you mentioned, it wasn’t just any woman. So it was difficult, but I actually got her to read some of the scenes with me. I didn’t do that with Marshall, but with Janina I was having a tricky time with it, so that was really helpful. And she was very supportive – that’s kind of a tough position for her to be in because she knows I’m going to be doing “her.” So I basically spent a lot of time watching her, watching how she walked, and trying to get little bits of information on her rhythm of speech, and I just did my best!
How did you shoot that scene where you’re holding yourself in your lap?
There was this big piece of machinery that moves the camera exactly the same way every time. It’s really complicated – it’s not stop-motion, it’s a motion-control camera – and if you remember that shot, it pans behind the chair and then it goes up to me and her, and we just did it with me as Luna and we did it with me as Sam, and we had a double for me, who I acted with – but the tricky thing about that scene was that we did the rehearsal, and that motion-control camera is really loud. And I told Stephen [Moyer, who directed the episode], “Listen, we got a problem with sound. It’s going to be too loud.” And he said, “Yeah, sorry, mate, I know, you’re going to have to loop it.” So not only did I have to play both parts, but then I had to go and loop both. Parts. In. The. Booth. So I had to do those performances again. Looping is hard because you have to match the intensity and also the mouth movements.
Were you bummed that there was no Sam-on-Sam liplock? I was waiting for that!
No, I was not bummed [laughs]. I was embarrassed at even going in for the kiss. So bizarre, like, who would kiss themselves? Sam would not do that! Like, come on, let’s make everybody cringe.
I have a favorite Sam scene from this season, but I want to ask what yours is first before I reveal mine.
The scene that immediately comes to mind is one I did with Sookie, in the hospital when I’m telling her about how frustrated I am being a shape-shifter and how everybody is dying. It was just a really well-written scene – Brian Buckner, one of our writers, wrote it – and it was just meaty and it had a lot going on. And it was great to work with Anna [Paquin] – we don’t get to work together that much. Do you know which scene I’m talking about?
That was exactly the scene I was going to name, because it was so poignant.
Are you kidding? [laughs] We are on the same page! I think that was my best scene this year – as an actor that’s the kind of scene that’s fun to play, where you’re just two people in a room, talking and revealing things about yourself.
Your character has gotten to shift into a whole menagerie of animals – dogs, pigs, snakes, owls, flies, mice, crocodiles. Is there any animal you’d like to see Sam turn into?
[laughs] One thing I haven’t done is any kind of water-breathing animal like a fish or a dolphin – I think that would be pretty crazy. I don’t know if that would ever be appropriate for the show, but then I would come out of it not only naked, but wet and naked.
Which leads me to my next question – do you ever get sick of being naked on the show?
I don’t get sick of being naked, but the added pressure is staying in really good shape, because naked shape is a different kind of shape than just regular TV shape. Regular, having-your-clothes-on TV shape is intense, but naked TV shape is, I mean, you really have to watch what you eat.
In the True Blood universe, someone like Sam is considered a minority. And this season, he found himself the target of an anti-supernatural hate group (“the Obamas”). What is your take on that story line? Do you think this is an accurate commentary on how narrow-minded certain people have become in this country?
Yeah, I mean, Sam is a Caucasian male and he probably never considered himself a minority or anything like that. And now all of a sudden he is shown how quickly people can define different and be scared of that difference and then act hateful of that difference. That’s really what it is – the fear of what’s different. That’s what homophobia and racism are. And it’s interesting for a character like Sam because he’s shown what it’s like to be a victim. You’re put into a group and then people decide they hate that group – it’s just arbitrary. So, yeah, there are all kinds of groups that are victimized in this country and in this world who are treated unfairly. I don’t think we were trying to necessarily speak for any particular hate group or any victims, but just in general, I think this definitely happens all the time.
How is fatherhood treating you [Trammell has one-year-old twin sons]? Does your new real-life role affect your performance as a father figure to the Emma character?
Being a father is just wonderful. When you have kids, for me, it really changed me. I was always empathetic to other children, but now I’m so much more sensitive to children that aren’t my own. Because I see my own boys growing, and I see other children growing and I just have such a connection. So it has made me see Chloe [Noelle], who plays Emma, in a different way, and that whole paternal side of me is just on fire.
Now that True Blood has wrapped up filming for the season, do you have any other projects on the horizon?
I just finished a movie in New Orleans called White Rabbit. It’s about a relationship between a father and son, and it’s very intense. I get to play a great character in it – he’s a delinquent, alcoholic, meth-smoking father who becomes reborn.
Can you spill anything on the season finale?
In all honesty, I think we have the best cliffhanger of any season we’ve ever had. There’s something that happens in this last episode that’s really unexpected. I was very surprised when I read it, and it’s exciting and surprising and fun, and I think people are gonna dig it. I think the writers, as well as write great dialogue and great characters, always want to surprise the audience, and they’re definitely going to do that with this.