10 Sharp Facts About True Blood

John P. Johnson/HBO
John P. Johnson/HBO

Set in fictional Bon Temps, Louisiana, Alan Ball's True Blood—which ran on HBO from 2008 to 2014—deals with vampires trying to acclimate to living among humans, often with violent results. The Japanese invent Tru Blood, a synthetic blood beverage meant to satiate vampires so they won’t seek out real blood. (That doesn’t work out so well.)

Ball, creator of Six Feet Under, based the show on Charlaine Harris’s The Southern Vampire Mysteries books. Sookie Stackhouse (Anna Paquin) is part fairy and part telepathic human, who falls in love with a 173-year-old vampire, Bill (Stephen Moyer). (In 2010, Moyer and Paquin married.) Sookie's also drawn to Eric (Emmy Award-winner Alexander Skarsgård) and shape-shifting werewolf Alcide (Joe Manganiello).

Also along for the ride to battle vampires and other fantastical creatures are Sookie’s dimwitted brother Jason (Ryan Kwanten); Sookie’s boss, Sam Merlotte (Sam Trammell); and her friends Tara (Rutina Wesley) and Lafayette Reynolds (Nelsan Ellis, who sadly passed away last year). 

The show debuted on September 7, 2008 and became a sensation—so much so that in 2010, Paquin, Moyer, and Skarsgård posed naked, covered in blood, on the cover of Rolling Stone. After 80 episodes, the show concluded on August 24, 2014. True Blood blended sex, violence, and humor in a way no HBO show had done before—thus becoming the network’s highest rated show since The Sopranos. Here are 10 things you might not have known about True Blood, on its 10th anniversary.

1. A TRIP TO THE DENTIST INSPIRED THE SHOW.

Creator Alan Ball had to get a root canal and showed up 30 minutes early to his appointment. With time to kill, he visited a Barnes and Noble across the street and saw Charlaine Harris’s book Dead Until Dark, the first in a series of 13 novels. “The tagline is, ‘Maybe having a vampire for a boyfriend isn’t such a bright idea,’ which made me laugh,” Ball told Emmy TV Legends. “I’m from the South, Charlaine’s from the South. It had a very authentic Southern feel to it. It’s this great mix of drama and comedy and horror and sex and violence and social commentary. She walked this line that was so incredibly entertaining that I couldn’t put the book down.” He read three more of her books in the series and thought it’d make a good TV show. At the time the book was under option to be made into a film, but when the option expired, Ball jumped at the chance. He filmed a pilot and two more episodes, and HBO green-lit the series.

2. ANNA PAQUIN “AGGRESSIVELY” PURSUED THE ROLE OF SOOKIE.

Anna Paquin in 'True Blood'
HBO

Ball hadn’t considered the naturally brunette actress for the role, but one day Oscar-winner Anna Paquin’s representatives called the show’s casting director and said she wanted to audition. “And I said, ‘Really? That doesn’t—huh. She wants to do this?’” Ball told The New York Times. “Because at the time Anna was dark-haired, and certainly her body of work didn’t lead me anywhere near Sookie Stackhouse. But she aggressively pursued it.”

Paquin welcomed playing a part that she described to The New York Times as being “about as radically different from me and a lot of the work I’ve previously done as you could possibly come up with.” In an interview with Rolling Stone, Paquin explained how people saw her as too serious. “But it only takes one person with a little bit of imagination to go, ‘You know, pale-skin girls with brown hair can also be blond girls with a fake tan,’ and presto change-o, makeover. It’s not rocket science.”

3. CHARLAINE HARRIS WAS MORE INTERESTED IN PEOPLE THAN VAMPIRES.

“I didn’t want to write about being a vampire,” Harris told Vanity Fair. “I wanted to write about people who were interacting with vampires. I thought it would be fun to write about a woman dating a vampire, so I imagined what kind of woman would do such a stupid thing.”

Bon Temps is a city in Northern Louisiana; Harris picked that region to avoid Anne Rice’s territory. “My thinking was that Anne Rice had done such a great job with Southern Louisiana, that I would take the part [of Louisiana] no one wanted,” Harris said. “Her works were groundbreaking and very innovative and I thought it would be fun to kind of rappel off of them.”

4. HARRIS USED THE VAMPIRES TO COMMENT ON GAY RIGHTS.

Deborah Ann Woll and Stephen Moyer in 'True Blood'
Jaimie Trueblood, HBO

Harris published Dead Until Dark, the first book in the series, in 2001. “When I began framing how I was going to represent the vampires, it suddenly occurred to me that it would be interesting if they were a minority that was trying to get equal rights,” Harris told the New York Post. “It just seemed to fit with what was happening in the world right then.”

However, Ball didn’t agree with her. “I have a hard time seeing the vampires as a metaphor for gays and lesbians,” he told Rolling Stone. “Just because the vampires on our show are, for the most part, vicious murderers and predators, and I’m gay myself, so I don’t really want to say, ‘Hey, gays and lesbians are basically viciously amoral murderers.’”

5. ALAN BALL THINKS THE SHOW IS ABOUT “INTIMACY.”

While developing the show for HBO, the network asked Ball for a one-sentence pitch for what the show was about. “I thought, ‘Oh, dear God, what am I going to say?’ I said, ‘Well, ultimately at its heart, it’s about the terrors of intimacy,’” he told The New York Times. “Which is an answer I just pulled totally out of [nowhere] at that moment. But I do think that actually, there is some truth to that. That is kind of what it’s about.”

In 2012, Ball told NPR he thought the show was about “how we deal with our primal desires. How do those elements of our psyche manifest themselves in a world where monsters were real?”

Chris Bauer, who played Andy Bellefleur, added his two cents on what the show was about. “How do people in that amount of space get along with each other when they are people with really different beliefs, life experiences, [and] philosophies?” he told Vulture. “It’s like two species trying to get along, even though externally we look the same. That's where all the racism, all the homophobia, all the sexism, all the diminishing-others-for-their-differences comes from. It's so applicable.”

6. RYAN KWANTEN DOESN’T THINK JASON IS “DUMB.”

Ryan Kwanten stars in 'True Blood'
John P. Johnson, HBO

In an interview with Vulture, Ryan Kwanten was asked, “What are the challenges of playing someone that dumb?” He responded with, “I see him more as simple than dumb … He can get away with some of the things he does because of that innocence. Whereas being dumb, you don’t really get sympathy for that. He was originally based on a couple of people I knew, but it’s turned into his own beast now.”

7. ALEXANDER SKARSGÅRD DIDN'T ALWAYS ABIDE BY THE PROPER NUDITY PROTOCOLS.

To keep partially covered up during sex scenes, the show's female actors wore thongs while the male actors had to wear socks on their private parts. But Alexander Skarsgård bucked the trend during the season six finale. Eric is sunbathing on a snowy landscape in the mountains of Sweden, but the crew set up a green screen and filmed it atop a parking structure in Hollywood. “And it was a very hot day, so I didn’t need the sock,” he told Vulture. At the end of the scene, Skarsgård gets up from his chair and reveals, well, everything, so to speak.

“I don’t want a sock around it, that feels ridiculous," Skarsgård told Rolling Stone. "If we’re naked in the scene, then I’m naked. I’ve always been that way.”

8. RUTINA WESLEY WAS OKAY WITH DYING. 

Rutina Wesley and Kristin Bauer van Straten in 'True Blood'
John P. Johnson/HBO

During the fifth season, Tara becomes a vampire. At the beginning of the final season, HBO threw no punches when they killed her off in the premiere episode. Wesley didn’t mind, though. “I think it’s great,” she told Entertainment Weekly. “I think somebody had to go. To have a main character right off the bat go, that’s gonna bring everybody into the show. It’s like, ‘Okay, and the show has started.’ This is the final season. We can’t all make it to the end.”

9. DENIS O’HARE USED HISTORY TO CREATE HIS CHARACTER’S BACKSTORY.

Russell Edgington, a.k.a. the King of Mississippi, is a 2800-year-old vampire. O’Hare researched that era and decided to make him a Pagan Celt. “They are just wild people,” O'Hare told Film School Rejects. “They have a very different relationship to everything in terms of nature and in terms of their own belief system. I just love that. That kind of helped make him just a different kind of character.”

10. JOE MANGANIELLO GOT HIS JOB WITH HELP FROM A BLOG.

Joe Manganiello in 'True Blood'
John P. Johnson/HBO

Fans of Harris’s book had a blog in which they listed who should play certain characters, and some people suggested Joe Manganiello for Alcide. Manganiello stumbled upon the site, read the books, and told his agent he wanted to audition.

“It had been my dream, since I was a little kid, to play a movie monster and a werewolf,” Manganiello told Collider. He posted the blog posts to his website, and someone who was friends with a True Blood casting director saw them. “I guess he was out at breakfast with one of the casting directors and the waiter came up to their table and the casting director said, ‘Oh, wow, that waiter would make a great werewolf, if only he was an actor.’ And, this guy said, ‘No, you know who’d make a great werewolf? This guy,’ and he pulled up my picture and showed it to him.”

Joe auditioned for a different werewolf part. “I wound up being brought in a second time for that other werewolf character, and then they wound up bringing me back in for Alcide.”

21 Fun Facts About Elf

Warner Home Video
Warner Home Video

Everyone knows the best way to spread Christmas cheer is singing loud for all to hear! But the second best way is to enjoy Elf. Revel in the giddy glow of this modern holiday classic with a slew of secrets from behind the scenes.

1. Jim Carrey was initially eyed to play Buddy the elf.

When David Berenbaum's spec script first emerged in 1993, Carrey was pre-Ace Ventura: Pet Detective and attached to front the Christmas film. However, it took another 10 years to get the project in motion, at which time Saturday Night Live star Will Ferrell was signed to star. Carrey would go on to headline his own Christmas offerings—the live-action How The Grinch Stole Christmas and the CGI animated A Christmas Carol.

2. Will Ferrell worked as a mall Santa.


Warner Bros.

And his A Night at the Roxbury co-star Chris Kattan was his elf. This was back when the pair were pre-Saturday Night Live, and part of the comedy troupe The Groundlings. Ferrell recollected to Spliced Wire, "I have some experience playing Santa Claus … Chris Kattan was my elf at this outdoor mall in Pasadena for five weeks, passing out candy canes. It was hilarious because little kids could care less about the elf. They just come right to Santa Claus. So by the second weekend, Kattan had dropped the whole affectation he was doing and was like (Ferrell makes a face of bitter boredom), 'Santa's over there, kid.'"

3. Director Jon Favreau favored practical effects.

Inspired by the Christmas specials he grew up with, Favreau explained in the film's commentary track that he employed “old techniques” instead of CGI whenever possible. This included stop-motion animation, and using forced perspective to make Buddy look like a giant among his elf peers. For North Pole scenes, two sets were built—one larger scale for the actors playing elves, the other smaller to make Buddy and Santa look big. These elements where then carefully overlaid in camera, using lighting to blend the seams.

4. Snow was often computer-generated.


Warner Home Video

Some effects just couldn't be practical. These included the snowflakes that drift over the opening credits, and many of the snowballs in Buddy's pivotal fight scene. It's probably not much of a shocker that much of these were added in post, considering Buddy's perfect aim. But to further underscore the drama that is a snowball fight in frosty New York, Favreau asked composer John Debney to give this section a Western vibe that would recall The Magnificent Seven.

5. Elf's production design was heavily influenced by Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer.

The classic stop-motion Christmas special from 1964 gave a memorable presentation of Santa's winter wonderland to which Favreau wanted to pay tribute. The elves' costumes in Elf were inspired by those worn by Hermey and his peers in the animated film. And Elf's workshops were modeled after the Rankin/Bass designs, as were the stop-motion animals of the area. The production did secure permission for these allusions, and was even granted the privilege of using the company's signature snowman.

6. There's a Christmas Story cameo.

Peter Billingsley, who memorably played the Red Ryder-wanting Ralphie in the 1983 holiday classic, popped in to play Ming the elf. It's an uncredited role, but between the glasses and those bright baby blue eyes, Billingsley stands out as an A Christmas Story Easter egg. This marks just one of many Billingsley and Favreau's collaborations. Billingsley has been a producer on several of Favreau's film and television projects.

7. Jon Favreau played multiple parts in Elf.

Jon Favreau directs Will Ferrell in 'Elf' (2003)
Alan Markfield, New Line Productions

As a writer/director/actor, Favreau has often appeared in his own films. He fronted Made with friend Vince Vaughn, and later found a sweet supporting role for himself in Iron Man. You may have picked him out as the doctor in Elf, but on the DVD commentary, Favreau revealed he also tapped in to his inner narwhal and provided the voices for some of the stop-animation critters who see Buddy off from the North Pole. He also voiced the rabid raccoon Buddy encounters.

8. Baby buddy was fired.

To play the bubbly baby version of the titular elf, Favreau had initially cast twin boys whose blonde curly hair made them great little doubles for the mop-topped Ferrell. However, the production ran into a problem when the boys couldn't perform. Instead of smiling and crawling as needed, they cried relentlessly. To replace them, brunette triplet girls were brought in, who were far perkier and more playful, and thereby ready for their close-ups.

9. Buddy was bullied in an early version.

In first drafts of Berenbaum's Elf script, Buddy's decision to seek out his dad was in part because he was being hassled by the actual elves for being different. Favreau pushed to take out this element. He preferred to keep the North Pole characters warm, even when Buddy bugs them. In the DVD commentary, Favreau offers, “It explained why Buddy was doing all these good things in New York if he grew up in a world where everybody was so sweet even when he’s obviously screwing everything up and doesn’t fit in at all.”

10. Elf hockey hit the cutting room floor.

Poor Buddy accidentally wreaks all kinds of havoc on his elf community because of his ungainly size. One such scene of his well-meaning mayhem featured Buddy playing hockey on a frozen pond. The friendly game becomes unintentionally violent when the too-big Buddy takes to the ice. Though it was shot, it ended up being chopped from the finished film.

11. Elf was shot on location in New York when it counted.

Like many productions, this one took advantage of the financial benefits of filming in Canada, and much of Elf was shot in sound stages in Vancouver. However, when Buddy comes to New York, it was important to Favreau to shoot on location whenever possible. This includes all the Manhattan exteriors, as well as scenes shot at Rockefeller Center, Central Park, and Central Park West, where Buddy's dad lives.

12. Some of Elf’s sets were built in a horror factory.

Okay, technically it was an abandoned mental hospital, where the production team constructed the interior sets for Walter's Central Park West apartment, Gimbels's lavish toy department, and that grim prison cell. The facility is called Riverview Hospital, and it has played host to a long list of film and television productions, including The X-Files, Final Destination 2, Jennifer's Body, and See No Evil 2.

13. Macy's stood in for Gimbels.

The sprawling department store that takes up a whole block in Manhattan was digitally altered to transform into Elf's Gimbels. A bit awkward: Gimbels was once a real department store, and a noted rival of Macy's. Though immortalized here and in the 1947 classic Miracle on 34th Street, the department store closed its doors in 1987, its 100th year of operation.

14. Will Ferrell broke James Caan.


Warner Home Video

The Academy Award-nominated star of The Godfather was hired to play Walter in part because Favreau wanted a stern persona to play against Ferrell's giddy Buddy, and Caan took the comedy of Elf seriously. He knew it was crucial for Walter to be annoyed—never amused—by his supposed son's antics. But when it came to the blood test scene where Buddy bellows when pricked by a needle, Caan cracked. Watch closely and you'll see he turns away from the camera so as not to ruin the take.

15. The studio didn't get a joke from the mailroom sequence.

This was the last set piece shot for Elf, and one that filmmakers were wavering on from its conception late in production. Grizzled Mark Acheson's casting as Buddy's drinking buddy concerned execs because of the line, "I'm 26 years old." The studio noted the actor does not look 26, to which Favreau—who had previously cast Acheson in a small role that had been cut before production—responded that this disconnect was part of the joke.

16. Will Ferrell went method with those jack-in-the-boxes.

In the scene where Buddy suffers as a toy tester, he's subjected to popping open an endless stream of menacing jack-in-the-boxes. The anxiety etched on Ferrell's face in these scenes is real. Rather than standard jack-in-the-boxes that would pop at the song's end, these were remote controlled by Favreau, who purposely manipulated their timing to toy with his star and get authentic reactions.

17. Will Ferrell frolicked all over New York City in character.

The final day of Elf's New York shooting was pared down from a massive crew to just three people: its star, its director, and one cameraman. Together, this trio traveled around the city, looking for mischief for Buddy to get into with random passersby turned background extras. This included him leapfrogging across a pedestrian walk, happily accepting flyers, and getting his shoes shined, all of which made it into the movie's cheerful montage.

18. That epic burp was real, but overdubbed.

Though uncredited, that lengthy belch came not from Ferrell, but from noted voice actor Maurice LaMarche, who might be best known for Brain of Pinky and the Brain. LaMarche shared his secret to such an impressive burp with The A.V. Club, saying, "I’ve always been able to do this weird effect, where I turn my tongue, not inside out, but almost. I create a huge echo chamber with my tongue and my cheeks, and by doing a deep, almost Tuvan rasp in my throat, and bouncing it around off this echo chamber, I create something that sounds very much like a sustained deep burp."

19. Elf made its star stick.

In the movie, Buddy is happy to gobble down an endless supply of sweets, including maple syrup-coated spaghetti and cotton balls made of cotton candy. But this sugary diet played havoc on Ferrell, who told About Entertainment, "That was tough. I ingested a lot of sugar in this movie and I didn't get a lot of sleep. I constantly stayed up. But anything for the movie, I'm there. If it takes eating a lot of maple syrup, then I will—if that's what the job calls for."

20. Will Ferrell refuses to make Elf 2.

Though the comedian reprised the role of Ron Burgundy for Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues and returned as Mugatu in Zoolander 2, he flat out rejected the possibility of bringing back Buddy, even after being offered a reported $29 million. In December of 2013, he told USA TODAY, "I just think it would look slightly pathetic if I tried to squeeze back in the elf tights: Buddy the middle-aged elf."

21. Elf became a hit Broadway musical.

From November 2010 to January 2011, Elf the musical ran on Broadway, boasting songs like "World's Greatest Dad," "Nobody Cares About Santa," and "The Story of Buddy The Elf." This run was a huge success, taking in more than $1.4 million in one week, a record for the Al Hirschfield Theater where it debuted. Plus, The New York Times called it, "A splashy, peppy, sugar-sprinkled holiday entertainment." A revival hit in time for Christmas 2012, and national tours have been recurring.

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