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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.”