Friday, March 19, 2010

Chris Bauer Talks True Blood: Horror, the South and the Inner Workings of Andy Bellefleur

True Blood is awesome. We all know this. It's why we watch! With HBO airing season 2 again starting Sunday night, we wanted to celebrate with some fun True Blood related things. Wait til the liquor post. If you win the TruBlood we're giving away, you will find yourself equipped with a list of recipes to make your season 3 premier party positively debauched. Like Pam-approved levels of debauched. So, along with the chance to win a TruBlood party pack from our awesome friends at HBO and the video of that amazing kid incorporating the True Blood theme song into a medley next to the Simpsons and Firefly, we would like to offer you our exclusive sit-down with the man who portrays Bon Temps' favorite rough 'n tumble lawman, Andy Bellefleur: Chris Bauer.

Erudite Chick: So you of course have had experience with cop dramas before, and now you’re playing a police officer on True Blood, but it’s a slightly different take on it. Going into the first season’s scripts, had you read the novels in preparation?

Chris Bauer: I read the first novel, and I read the second novel, and I read some of the third. I read enough to get a sense of the atmosphere and to be responsible to the vision of the writer Charlaine Harris, so. But episodic television ends up plotting at a different tempo, developing character in a much more idiosyncratic way than a novel does, so, having shot the two seasons I kinda now feel like the world of True Blood on HBO is informed by a fifty fifty inspiration of the books and our show.

This past season had a lot of fans divided, particularly over Sookie and Bill's relationship, and the sudden fervor for Eric- but Andy Bellefleur also developed a stronger fan base. Personally, he became my favorite character on the show. And when I say favorite, I mean I favor him above all others and am kind of obsessed with him. I explained as much to Chris.

EC: Before you started filming, did you know where he was going to end up, as a character?

CB: No- First of all, thank you very much, because one of the dilemmas for me, as an actor, is that I really play the part that they write. Which means, if they write somebody who’s socially awkward, if they write somebody who’s alienating, if they write somebody who’s full of faults, that’s the character I’m going to play. Frequently, that has the effect on the audience that it has on the other characters, so in the same way that people are calling Andy crazy and they want him out of the bar? Sometimes I feel like fans have sort of a lot of critical feelings about Andy. So for you to say that you liked him is really, really meaningful for me. Because I think he’s a good guy! And I think that he’s a human being, and I think he’s evolving, and I think one of the great validations of the theme of True Blood is that it’s the circumstances of the world of Bon Temps that are sort of pushing him into more and more sympathetic and human territory.

You know, this season I think he went through some obstacles that are going to be very playable in successive seasons, and that what started as a guy who was fiercely insecure and way too into his title and authority, looking for a personality behind his badge, was humbled enough that he might- I mean, look how it ended up. He ended up essentially teaming up with his arch enemy. And what I love is, we can still play it in a super real way. They’re such great writers. And the inspiration from Allen through the whole writing staff is such that they give- if you think about it, they have 60 minutes to hand out character development to double digit characters.

EC: Yeah, it’s a huge cast.

CB: It’s huge! And we get like five and seven minutes on average to make our mark and push the character forward. You can only do that with good writing.

The rest of the interview after the jump

EC: How did you come to the project initially?

CB: I just got a call to go have coffee with Alan Ball. And they sent me the pilot script before that, and I really liked him a lot, and we chitchatted about the world of the show and he intimated then that the second season was when Andy might start to develop more. I’m like a horse that wants to run fast. So that first season, I was so grateful to be there, I loved and I did my best. But I also, like… I want the ball. You know what I mean? I guess it’s, I’m reluctant to admit that, but obviously, you know, if you think you can run fast- you want the ball! So, um, I was happy I had more to do in the second season. But these things… That was 2007. We did the pilot in June of 2007, I met Alan in the Spring of 2007, and now we’re gonna start our third season going into 2010. And it’s a long time for something to be a part of your life, and it’s such a freakin’ hit, right now! And it’s so amazing. And it is because people watch, period! And because people have all these passionate points of view, and because they think Andy Bellefleur's a dick, or, you know, Eric should be in every single scene-

EC: Every. Single. Scene. I don’t know. I’m still loyal to Bill.

CB: I like Bill, too.

EC: Had you spent much time in the South before you started working on True Blood?

CB: Enough. Enough time to know that it’s a place that belongs to itself, and that is not a cliché and not a stereotype. It’s really evocative, and possessive of its own myths. You know, all this stuff for me is about intuiting a character, a world, a sound based on impressions like that. I worked in Charleston, South Carolina for a while, and have been through that area, you know, quite a bit, and it’s just- I’m a human sponge. I don’t have a lot of math know-how, and I can only really kind of speak English (ED: Orly. Believe this interview begs to differ, sir.) and I am a really slow reader, but I’m porous, and things pass through and some things stick. And my impression of the South- (he begins to speak like Andy Bellefleur. I quietly geek out in my chair.) Yanno one of the reasons I, when I play Andy it’s like, everything’s sort of bein’ chewed in the back of my mouth ‘n I just sorta- it’s because I saw that so many times, this man, just absolutely and in every way. And I don’t know, I never wrote that out, they never told me that’s how they wanted Andy played but Charlaine, who writes the books, has said I am exactly what she saw for that character. And I only say that because- well, it’s a very flattering thing for her to say, and a kind thing for her to say, but it also totally validates, to me, a process where… I may not have all that much to offer a talk show? But I can play characters. And that’s why, because they’re in there, and- out they come. I think it is the job description.

I’m a typical actor, you point me in a direction, which is usually a job. Outside of work, I’m really into my kids, you know, I don’t expect other people to be, but I am. They take up most of my time.- but in terms of my career, it’s like: Cop shows? Okay, let me make friends with all the cops, and get really into that. This, that and the other, I just end up taking on and learning about the world that the job takes place in.

EC: You had some physical stuff going on this past season, with your arm all messed up, running around with guns. Compared to something like ‘The Wire’, how grueling was shooting?

CB: Iiit’s comparable. Except in The Wire I wore a fatsuit ,and in True Blood I wore my own. But. Third season, I’m looking to make a slightly different impression with the character. That’s the benefit of a hiatus and a personal trainer. You know, I’m just like you, I’m just like everybody else, except I have to see myself. But that’s what was going on with the character, he was in complete relapse, he was on a full bender, you know, he probably lives on hush puppies and pancakes anyway.

EC: And who could blame him.

CB: I know!- And, he really let himself go, so I kind of had to do that not in a method-y real life way, but the appearance of the character had to match the description. But, you know, it’s been a long time since I ever had to lift anything heavy on camera, and it’s been a long time since I had to go more than an hour, without a break, on camera. So, the hours can be long, and I’m away from my family when I’m shooting and that feels long, but anything potentially grueling about it is psychological. And I say that because I’m extremely grateful that this is how I get to make a living when there’s people who have to work a lot harder for their money.

I take a moment to tell Chris of the time I met and was subsequently deeply, fundamentally disturbed by Aleksander Skarsgaard and his freakish tallness at the San Diego Comic Con. And also that I still remember and love Aleksander as Meekus from Zoolander.

CB: I think it’s cool that you, and so many people like you, in a way just automatically validate and respect our work by taking it seriously enough participate in it, at any level. I don’t think it’s coincidental that the audience that we have and the fans that we have overlap with the whole sort of comic book world. I’ve always felt like the prototype for True Blood was a graphic novel. You can turn to any page, any frame of the show, and it’s likely that Sookie’s going to be in her Merlotte’s outfit, and I’m going to be in short sleeves and a tie with my badge (or I’m going to be a mess). It’s not really the kind of show where you follow somebody through a day in the life of Jason Stackhouse. Jason’s almost always got sleeveless-

EC: If there’s a shirt at all.

CB: If there’s a shirt at all. The first scene I did with that guy in the pilot he had a vest on with no shirt and I was just like, “All right. I’m gonna summon the hatred and it’s not gonna be hard.” But our costume designer, Audrey Fisher, is so talented and makes such an impact on the world of the show. Think about all those extras in Merlotte’s…
So yeah, you know, Ryan- who I love working with, he’s an A+ acting partner, as are most of the people on the show. I only say most because I haven’t worked with all of them, but all of the actors I’ve worked with make it a really fun place to be.

I smell a spinoff.

EC: Have you been watching any other vampire shows? Genre television’s become very popular, and there’s always been some kind of genre show on or another, but lately we’ve had a vampsplosion.

CB: Yeah, you’re right, and I think it has to do with the passion of the audience. They’re doing all this stuff now where they’re measuring the success of shows, not just the DVR and after-the-initial-viewing stuff, but internet traffic is becoming such a big measure of a show’s success. And I think it’s really, really interesting because genre shows seem to generate a way bigger appetite for that kind of traffic then, I don’t know, Law&Order.

EC: And also genre fans are used to having a show for a season and then finding it canceled. You know Law&Order is going to be there, but networks have been much less willing to give genre shows a chance, except for, say, HBO, who in some ways is leading the charge…

CB: I guess you’re right, I guess that Carnival, in some ways, was along those lines. HBO has some shows coming up that are just spectacular (ED: A Game of Thrones, anyone?), just wait for the next year or two, the new shows they’re rolling out are just phenomenal, as they have been.

With so much anticipation for season 3, I ask him about the future of True Blood. For those who haven't read the books, don't worry- no spoilers here:

CB: I think it’s apparent to any fan who has some experience with the books that the show is sort of continuing to use the books as a basic template. We’re going in directions that are inspired by the books but aren’t necessarily in them. Which is cool, I think, and one of which is the relationship between Jason and Andy.

EC: Oh, good. I loved the last half of that seasons. (Re: The Andy and Jason show.)

CB: That’s good, cuz some people didn’t. The bottom line is it’s impossible to please everybody, and if you have a passionate opinion from anybody you’re way better off than somebody changing the channel.

We get the scripts on this show sometimes two episodes in advance, which is, in my experience on television, very unusual and really helpful. I personally don’t mind not knowing what’s going to happen. Our writers make themselves available to questions like that, but I kinda like getting a script and being surprised. I didn’t know I was going to have this obsession with the pig, you know? And my theory about that is that it evolved the way it did literally because of the way I said the word ‘pig’. They just wanted to hear me say it over and over.

EC: Probably. That’s a totally valid reason.

CB: But the show is also very interesting in its dynamic [which is] dominated by a commitment from Alan Ball to entertain you for 60 minutes. And to maybe go so far as to say, have fun, for 60 minutes. So there’s some liberties, plotting liberties, character liberties, because at the end of the day I think he’s interested in giving us- you know, I watch it, too- a good time, a rollercoaster ride. A 50s, B-movie, matinee kind of cliffhangery good time.

EC: Those 50s horror flicks, growing up, were those something you were into, or geeky about?

CB: Knowing some of the commitment that some people make in terms of this aesthetic in their life, I would never claim to be a fan, but like everybody else, those images are indelible to me. Those vampire movies- I’m forty three, so like Night Gallery was a show that stuck with me, and Halloween is my second favorite holiday because it’s about fun and craziness and subversion and chaos. The first season we were out in Shreveport in the middle of the night shooting at a plantation- it was the scene where Bill is brought by Lorena, his maker, to see his family waiting for him on the porch… which was really sad, I thought. There’s a real genuine emotional undercurrent in this show- It was so gothic. There was a real thunderstorm passing overhead, it was the middle of the night, lightning flashes, this outrageous plantation, and I thought this is so fun, man, this just reminded me of a haunted house, the haunted house that I had built myself, or went to, it’s just that whole thing.

In 2006 I did this thing called Masters of Horror for Showtime. The idea is that they got all of these horror directors and gave them an hour to do whatever they wanted, and mine was with Brad Anderson, who’s sort of more psychological, phenomenal filmmaker. And mine was called Sounds Like and it’s about a guy who’s dealing with the grief of his dead son by sort of over sensitizing his hearing, and he can hear everything, and it starts to drive him crazy and he kills his wife and cuts his ears off- but it was my first sort of creative experience in that genre, and all of a sudden- I love it. I think the last horror film I saw in theaters was Drag Me To Hell. How fun was that? I loved it, because it was fun. And at the end of the day I think that’s what I was trying to explain: True Blood is supposed to be fun. In this day and age I think it’s a really welcome distraction. Without sacrificing the implications, like you said, but it’s just fun.

EC: It’s interpretation optional.

CB: And it’s a fine line where it can’t take itself- It can never declare to you that what you’re watching is important. It can’t make fun of itself, but it also can’t really take itself serious in that way where you go “Oh, this is supposed to have some impact on me”. Which, that’s also sort of my favorite aesthetic.

EC: And that’s actually true to the B movies of the 50s, where you watch them and everyone involved is totally committed, playing it straight, they’re all taking it very seriously, but it’s not serious business.

CB: Exactly. And if anything… you know, the most influential year of my life so far, was 1977, 78, because I ended up- my parents were sort of temporarily split up- and I ended up going to the mall in our town, every day, in the summer, and watching the same movies over and over. That’s just where I went. And the moves that played that summer were Smokey and the Bandit; The Car, with James Brolin about a possessed car; Empire of the Ants- have you seen that, with Dan Haggerty and Joan Collins?; The People That Time Forgot, which was based on an Edgar Burrows novel, I think- but a complete, B-Movie summer flick where they pop up through some ice and there’s dinosaurs there, cheesy special effects; The Seventh Voyage of Sinbad. That stuff, for me, transported me from whatever sort of bummer I was sitting in, into that world. And it was just a beautiful accident that it was in complete B-Movie vocabulary. Y’know, and… that’s it, I’m not a Citizen Kane guy.

But it’s not just that. I mean that’s the frame for it, but I don’t think Allen or anybody else wants people to break down the thematic stuff into its political points or social points of view, but it’s absolutely there.

I think Alan recently talked about the second season being about the effect of religion on people… You couldn’t get that guy to admit something like that, ever, until maybe now that it’s all over. And I liked it, and the reason I liked the Maenad storyline is- I’m not smart enough to know if it’s metaphor or analogy or what (ED: Bull! God has horns)- but you had a town, a community, a society reacting to their anxiety and their fear and their stress by entering this kind of trance where everything that they repressed came flying out. And I don’t think that’s dissimilar to a lot of things that are going on all over America, whether it’s a night club or a high school kegger party or whatever, man, people are freaked out and they’re acting out, and that’s kind of what the story of the town was, this year.

I then brought things back to comic books because if you know me, you know that I... can't not do that.

EC: Comic book movies are really big right now. Have you ever read or been a fan?

CB: Comic books? When I was a kid, I read Conan. And then occasionally… but I didn’t really… I had a weird life. I was the oldest, so my influences were random. I didn’t hang out with older kids, so some stuff I was lucky enough to come across and some stuff I wasn’t. The comic book thing, when I was a kid, my grandma would always take me to the store on Sunday and I could buy one thing, and I frequently bought a comic book, and I loved them but , you know, it’s like- a river flows, and I turned another direction and I never really picked them up again. And since then, I like them, I’m interested in them, but not that much. There are people who I know who are just so insane about it.

EC: I am a comic book girl. But I do know how to temper it with social skills. (ED: I hope.)

After forty five minutes of conversation, we had to wrap things up, especially seeing as how he had two hours to learn a play before he opened it- The Atlantic 24 Hour Plays are a thing to behold, indeed- though I got the feeling he would have gladly continued for forty five minutes more. Isn't it neat when talented people are genuinely nice and excited to converse about their craft and the community that supports it? I thought so.

CB: If you convey anything from our conversation, my intention is to say thank you, and to really acknowledge that it’s an incredibly symbiotic experience to be creating something, genuinely offering it to an audience and have the audience take that, claim it, and give back. You know, it’s like, how lucky are we?


Chantaal said...

How is he so great? I mean really, he comes across as so gracious and knowledgeable about everything he talks about.


Robin Burks said...

Such an awesome interview! Thanks so much for posting that!

Lividity said...

Most excellent interview EC! Many of us have gotten on the Team Bellefleur bus over the last year as Chris is simply delightful as Andy. Thanks for bringing this interview into the world! And thank you CB for being not only an awesome actor but a swell dude as well!

Konfetti said...

I heart Andy, and Chris Bauer is wonderful! I saw him on a Law and Order SVU episode once and he got to get into a scuffle while wearing a suit, it was a great role. I need to seek out more of his stuff.
He seems like a such a remarkably cool guy!
I wonder if andy is really gonna stop drinking in season three… it bad to say I hope not? I love the character just as he is.
PIG!!!! :D
Of course I want to see Andy grow and develop and all that stuff, but seriously….PIG! heh
And I can’t count the number of times I’ve watched what you adoringly refer to as the ‘Jason and Andy show’. (or was it the ‘Andy and Jason’ show? I’m too lazy to scroll back, apology)
Pure. Fun, either way.

Thanks SO MUCH for this!

JurassicMark said...

Andy really brings a lot to the True Blood table, especially after season 2. I remember him from the Wire - what an awesome show that was too. Seems like a really special guy. And as Ms. Konfetti states above, "PIG!"

Cindy said...

I love Chris and Andy is one my favourite characters on True Blood. I hope he gets more screen time in season 3. Thanks for a great interview.

Unknown said...

i've always liked andy i think he's hilaaarious!! and chris bauer what a nice guy! very appreciative of the fans :)