Once bitten, always smitten
Forget Bella Swan, Jessica Hamby is the ultimate fangtasy for True Blood followers. American actress Deborah Ann Woll, 28, talks about vamping it up.
How did you first hear about the role of Jessica and what attracted you to it?
It was very early in my film and television career, so it's not like I had much of a choice or anything. I was sent something by my agent and I thought it was fun and something different. My character was very dramatic at the beginning then turned kind of funny in the next episode, so I saw range. I hadn't heard of the books until after I got the role. All I knew about the project was that it was created by Alan Ball.
Did you have any idea that you'd still be on the show five years later?
At first, the character was only supposed to be a recurring part - they thought maybe she would come back a little bit here and there. But I think we all fell in love with the character and she became a larger part of the show. I had no idea where it was going. As an actor I like to trust my writers. I think we have a really great team of writers and I just sort of let them do what was right with the part, and I tried to show them that I was capable of taking it in any direction they wanted.
So have you had much say in the character's development?
That's not how I like to work, the writers write and I act, so I tend to trust them. There will be times where I'll get a scene where I think I've done it before, so I'll try to approach it in a different way as an actor, take it in a slightly direction. I think Jessica is getting to a point where she can handle things with a bit more maturity and if they like that maybe they'll take that, or maybe they won't. That's the way I contribute to the storyline.
Coming from a theatre background, has it been difficult to adjust to a long-running TV series?
Certainly working on something for six years is a blessing, but it's also a huge arc. Most of us trained to find an arc within a two-hour film or maybe a three-hour play. With this kind of work, I find I'm looking at it and reworking it constantly, going back and reading things from three seasons ago. Right, well, that's how she was then. How has she changed? That's been an added challenge that I've really enjoyed - learning how to continue to develop the character, even over years.
So how much of the year does shooting a typical True Blood season take? Six months?
Usually a little bit longer. This season we've made only 10 episodes instead of 12, so we got a little extra time off. I like to work during those times, but obviously you have to get cast, so that's not always up to me. Spending half the year playing one character, I think it's important for actors to have a lot of breadth and keep themselves flexible by playing other sorts of people.
But rather than taking the blockbuster route, you've starred in things like fantasy comedy Ruby Sparks and high-school drama Highland Park. Is that deliberate?
Yes, being on a popular large television show really affords me the ability to do smaller, more interesting projects during my hiatus. I don't necessarily have to take things for the money or exposure.
Speaking of films, have you seen much of the Twilight franchise and that other teen-turned-vampire Bella Swan?
I haven't really seen them, not for any lack of interest, but I just don't seem to get out very much. They're a different kind of series and a different kind of vampire - I would be curious to see what the differences were though.
How much time do you have to spend getting ready for each day's shoot?
Hair and makeup aren't too taxing for my character. What really takes the time is the blood or the prosthetics - the extra special-effects makeup. We trade off. There are episodes where different people will be covered in different types of blood and they'll have a really early call. Having said that, I spend most of my time covered in blood, so I understand the early call very well.
Yes, there does seem to be a lot of claret floating about. What is it made of?
Oh my gosh, you'd be amazed at the variety we have, depending on what its used for. What we drink tends to be like a corn syrup, a very sweet thing. There's also like a mouthwash that we use whenever we're biting anyone - that's kind of a minty, sweet chocolaty blood. And when we don't have to ingest it, there are all kinds of things that go on our bodies. What's actually funny is that the corn syrup stuff makes you nauseous very quickly because it is so sweet, so we've all found ways to fake drink it.
Who is the biggest practical joker on set?
There are many. However, I think one of our crew members, a camera operator, and Ryan Kwanten have had a long-standing prank war. We have lots of fun little things that happen on set. If you leave your iPad anywhere someone is bound to take a picture with it.
The cast, including New Zealand's Anna Paquin, is famously particularly international for an American show. How do you find that?
I was shooting a scene the other day with Stephen Moyer (of England), Ryan Kwanten (of Australia) and Karolina Wydra (of Poland) and I'm like: "I'm the only American in this scene on an American television programme". It just sort of tickled me a little bit to see what a great, diverse cast we have. Also, to speak with people from different backgrounds and different training has been a terrific learning experience.
What can viewers expect from the rest of season six?
We always have big surprises and a rollercoaster ride. I will say the big difference here is that the power has shifted. We're seeing humans learning more about vampires and being able to fight them in ways we haven't seen before. That's a big threat to our vampire population.
Will you be back for season seven?
Contractually, I have to. Luckily, I do want to be there.
Finally, will Jessica be a hard character to leave behind?
I will be very sad to leave Jessica behind and it will be very hard. I've learnt a lot from playing the character and being on a professional set with so many actors and crew members who have been great mentors to me. It's been a gift.
True Blood, 9.30pm, Fridays, Prime.