HBO: After 'Six Feet Under,' making a show about vampires is a bit of a departure — what can viewers expect from 'True Blood?'
Alan Ball: It's based on a series of books written by Charlaine Harris, and it takes place in a world where vampires have made their presence known to humans. They've come out of the coffin, so to speak, because of the development by a Japanese biotech firm of synthetic blood for medical purposes, which the vampires claim fulfills all of their nutritional needs. So they've organized, and they're struggling for assimilation and for equal rights. That's sort of the big-world picture, and then in the small world of the show, which is a very small town in northern Louisiana, there is a waitress who works in a roadhouse, and she's telepathic, which has been a seriously debilitating pain in the ass for her. Everybody thinks she's crazy. She has no social life because of this, and then she meets a vampire. And because, technically, he has no brainwaves, she doesn't really hear his thoughts. So for the first time in her entire life, she can relax and be herself and not be on guard about hearing people's private, innermost things. And then there's a huge array of other characters; it's a really fun show. I remember when I was first pitching it, I said, ''This is popcorn TV for smart people.''
Alan Ball: I was early for a dentist appointment, and I had some time to kill. I went into Barnes and Noble, and I just bought this book on impulse. It was just a little paperback, and on the cover, the tagline said, ''Maybe having a vampire for a boyfriend wasn't such a good idea.'' I thought it was kind of funny. I started reading it that night, and I couldn't put it down. And the minute I was done with it, I wanted to read the next one. And I really got addicted. It's just such a fun world, and she really nailed so many things: They're very sexy, they're hilarious, there's a lot of interesting sociology. I'm from the South, and it was a very authentic look at the South. It's the kind of book you think, ''I'm going to read one chapter before I go to bed, and you read six.''
HBO: What do you think fans of 'Six Feet Under' will like about 'True Blood'?
Alan Ball: I think they will like the quality of the performances. It's another amazing cast, who are just doing really spectacular work. It's very sexy, and it's very funny. There's a lot of dark humor. It certainly goes places that I've never seen a series go before. It's not as existentially exhausting as Six Feet Under was, maybe, but ultimately, it's similar terrain in that it's really just exploring the human condition... and the vampire condition, since vampires are not really human anymore.
HBO: With all the vampire films and shows that have been made, how have you set 'True Blood' apart?
Alan Ball: There's a lot of gray area; the vampires are just like humans. Nobody's a hundred percent good, nobody's a hundred percent bad. There's also the aspect that an entire subculture springs up around the vampires. There are people who are called ''fang bangers'' who basically just want to hook up with vampires because apparently sex with vampires is really good. Vampire blood is kind of the hot black-market drug. If you ingest vampire blood, it's like a combination of ecstasy and Viagra — it gives you incredible strength. But it's also incredibly dangerous and incredibly addictive. Plus the fact that it's a vampire show that's taking place in such a mundane location. It's not New Orleans; it's not Anne Rice. One of my rules is: I don't ever want to hear opera music in the show, ever. We're staying away from the Baroque things. We're staying away from the standard, supernatural blue light. We're staying away from vampires having strange contact lenses. We're staying away from any sort of special effects that become the focus. I just want to give my actors fangs and let them act. What is it like to be immortal, to have lost everybody you love? To yearn for your humanity?
HBO: What was it like to adapt this series from the book, as opposed to creating something entirely original?
Alan Ball: In a lot of ways, an adaptation can be easier. One of the great things I discovered once we started turning Charlaine's books into a series is that her books are so successful because those stories work. The books are narrated from Sookie Stackhouse's point of view — the character that Anna Paquin is playing — and we're just sticking to her story. Now, the other characters in the world that don't really appear in the books, except when they're in her story, we're taking them and creating new things for them to do. But in a lot of ways Charlaine has done a lot of the heavy lifting already by creating this world and these characters. At the same time, I think, when you're just creating an original world, then you really have the freedom to just go anywhere. That being said, though, once I got into the second or third, fourth season of 'Six Feet Under,' there was a logic that you couldn't break. You couldn't just have this character do this because it would make a good story. We had established the psychology and a sort of character that had to remain true.
HBO: Does recasting someone else's work expand your horizons as a storyteller?
Alan Ball: I think working in television is great because you're always learning. The fact that you have to keep telling a big chapter of that story every two weeks, you're always learning. I tend to be drawn towards material that has a sensibility that, while it may not match my own original sensibility, it's very much in the same ballpark.
if it's anywhere as awesome as six feet under, i'll watch it.
Sources: Youtube and HBO