One Fan’s Journey to Bon Temps

July 14, 2009 by  

medium_bat-dave-walker-the-times-picayuneAs many are aware, this past week Alan Ball‘s True Blood was doing location shoots in Clinton, Louisiana. is thrilled at the opportunity to present one hometown fan’s journey home and into Alan‘s dark world of True Blood.  Depicted in this article is the author, Arlene’s, own story and her experiences that she’s so generously offered to share with us all.  Thank you so much!  An additional note, the photo at right is of Holly O’Quin, a crew medic, treating one of the extras on location in Clinton, LA who had difficulties when turning into a bat.. [Editor’s Note: OK OK it’s a real bat extra!]

HBO, home to the critically acclaimed series “The Wire”, has produced yet another mega-hit known as “True Blood”. When “The Wire” ended in Season 5, I thought that nothing could ever come close to taking its place. I must say that though “True Blood” is a different type of series, it has certainly stolen my heart. Sunday evening just was not the same for me after “The Wire” ended – until the airing of Episode 1 of “True Blood”. I was bitten by that proverbial bug – no pun intended – and I have not been able to stop watching it. I am addicted, plain and simple.

I had an opportunity this past weekend to watch filming of the show up close and it was quite an experience. Situated in the rolling hills of what is commonly referred to as “The Felicianas”, the southeast Louisiana town of Clinton has been the backdrop for quite a few films and television shows over the decades. Years ago, most of “The Long Hot Summer” was filmed there. “Sounder” was filmed in Clinton in the early ‘70’s. Back in 2005, much of “The Dukes of Hazzard”movie was filmed in the area. Filming of that movie drew quite a crowd, but quite honestly, I think the filming of “True Blood” that took place this past weekend has that production beat by far.

My fascination with the show is ironic, as vampires have never interested me in the least – until HBO introduced “True Blood”. I attribute the interest to the actors who bring the multi-faceted characters alive. Who would have expected this little town forty miles north of Baton Rouge and only five minutes from Southwest Mississippi to be transformed into the ficticious town of Bon Temps, Louisiana? Clinton has its share of cowboys and eclectic individuals, and now it can add vampires and vampire admirers to its list of esteemed inhabitants.

Louisiana, especially South Louisiana, has as much charisma and mystique as any place one can imagine. Quaint little towns located here have so much charm and unique culture, but despite that, nothing really exciting happens on a regular basis. Clinton is my hometown and though I resided there for the first seventeen years of my life, I cannot recall anything quite like what I experienced on Saturday. The town came alive with the buzz about the production of the show and from what I can understand, it had been alive and kicking for more than twenty-four hours at that point. Now, that is a first and if you have ever visited there, you would understand this. I spoke with a local businessman who told me a story about how he had to sneak through security to get back to his office in the middle of one of the nights. It was funny to hear him tell about his trek there, as it was nearly impossible to navigate in the area during filming without creeping around and through the roadblocks set up by multiple police agencies hired to provide security throughout the weekend. It was definitely interesting to hear him talking about how the town was completely lit up overnight, while filming continued. Clinton is normally one of those small towns that shuts down at a certain hour, save for a few night owls that may pass through on their way to other destinations. For the most part, there is just really nothing to do after dark – unless you are a vampire – or a “True Blood” cast or crew member.

I live on the other side of the state now, but I traveled to Clinton to visit with family for the weekend. As I drove into town Friday night, I passed lighting equipment, security and policemen, and various stage props. I was not sure what on earth was taking place and I was sort of shaken up after taking in the scenery. I will not elaborate any further so that I do not give away any secret details, but I was soon informed that a “vampire movie” was being filmed. I believe my first reaction was, “Uh, is that what is going on?” I must admit that I was not real excited at the thought. After all, the only “vampire movie” I ever looked forward to seeing was “Interview With A Vampire” and that was only because Brad Pitt was starring in the film. It did not cross my mind that “True Blood” was what was filming not too far away.

On Saturday morning, I was visiting with my mom at the nursing home where she resides when one of the nurses mentioned a character named “Lafayette”. I nearly flipped my lid because it was then that I realized what was actually taking place in town. I recalled passing by the old Dollar General Store building and seeing what I figured was the catering and equipment storage areas. I decided at some point during the day, I would try to make my way back there to see if I might be able to scrounge up an interview or two. Little did I know at that time that I would get to see some of the main characters and crew and even get to meet some very interesting people along the way.

I left the nursing home to pick up a few items for my mom and then headed back to my dad’s home to eat lunch. After heading back into the downtown area, I was informed by a crowd of police officers that I could not take my usual route. I grew tired of traveling around various roadblocks for the next few minutes and I finally gave up on getting home anytime soon. I decided I would try to make my way toward the action and hang out until filming stopped and traffic began flowing. I headed toward the old Dollar Store building to see if I might be able to speak with anyone who could put me in touch with any of the actors for interviews or even members of the production crew. I was able to navigate around the area well because I am familiar with every little nook and cranny of the town. I grew up only a couple of blocks from there and both sets of my grandparents lived just across the street from the courthouse square. The building that once housed the Dollar Store was in years prior, the town’s Western Auto that had been owned by the father of one of my friends from middle school. I remember we used to sit in the back near the auto bays blasting cuts from Prince’s 1999 album on my friend’s jambox. The visit brought back some fond old memories and became the backdrop for some new ones.

I pulled up between two large luxury motor homes and parked my car. Once I stepped out into the parking lot, it was not long before I met a lady on the sidewalk. I stopped and talked with her and she introduced herself as one of the extras. I met several others who explained that they were waiting around for their parts and all of them seemed so interesting. There were two young ladies from Baton Rouge who sang to pass the time. They were really, really good singers who exhibited some impressive skills. One of the other extras was a retired judge from Arkansas who has had several parts in major movies, including “W” and “Year One”. I also made fast friends with Rusti Liner, who works in emergency management in South Louisiana. Rusti was not only interesting to speak with, but she has quite a resume. In addition to having a B.S. in Geography from Louisiana State University and a Master’s degree from the University of Southern Mississippi, she is also an aspiring music artist. Rusti tells me that she is a fan of “True Blood” and that this was her first experience as an actress. I would have not guessed that because she seemed as comfortable as if she had years of experience in the business. She quickly earned the nickname of “Rookie” because of being the neophyte in the group. Rusti hopes to have the opportunity to work again with the cast of “True Blood” and even mentioned getting together a group of interested individuals for a road trip next year to L.A. for the next “True Blood” casting call. Rusti later shared that she attended the wrap party late Saturday night. She is a folk music performer and of course, she had her guitar handy. She had a chance to show off her skills when she had the opportunity to play during the party. Rusti has played many venues in the past, but the excitement in her voice was enough to let me know that this was one of her most memorable performances. Who knows? Maybe one of her originals pieces will be featured on a future episode of “True Blood”. We may get to see a lot more of Rusti in the near future.

Shortly after my arrival, I had the opportunity to meet Ryan Kwanten, the actor who plays the character Jason Stackhouse. I sat and talked with his publicist, Myra, in hopes that he could squeeze in a short interview, but unfortunately, his schedule did not permit such a meeting. It was not a waste though, because Myra held a fascinating conversation. I was happy with just meeting Ryan and Myra as my afternoon began. I saw Ryan several more times throughout the afternoon as he was preparing for scenes near the courthouse square. He speaks with an Australian accent and it is hard to believe that he speaks with a perfect southern drawl while playing Jason Stackhouse.

It began to rain about mid-afternoon, but it was not long before filming ramped back up. I left briefly to pick up my nephew, as I did not want him to miss seeing the happenings around town. He was as thrilled seeing the action as I – as I mentioned before, the area does not have a whole lot of excitement on a regular basis. We walked several blocks down near Landmark Bank and stood and watched many takes, before we headed back to “ground zero”. Once there, we stood outside chatting with Rusti and the other while some of the actors walked through the buffet line and while doing so, I observed Anna Paquin, the award winning actress who plays “Sookie Stackhouse”, entering the building. She grabbed a bite to eat and promptly exited and headed back to her trailer. Immediately after, Stephen “Vampire Bill Compton” Moyer himself drove up in a green Range Rover. I had to chuckle to myself at the sight. I do not know what I pictured him driving, but it was certainly not a Range Rover. Perhaps I was visualizing a BMW since that is what Vampire Bill drives. He very non-chalantly entered the building and headed straight for the buffet table, before selecting a place in the dining area, only about six or so chairs down from where we were then seated. I heard one of the females within earshot describe him as “hot”. He looked somewhat different in person than what I imagined, but I would have to say the description she gave was accurate.

I was ecstatic to have the opportunity to see Ryan Kwanten, Anna Paquin and Stephen Moyer in person, but I was nonetheless disappointed when I learned that Nelsan Ellis was long gone. He is the actor who plays the character, Lafayette Reynolds. I listened to several people describe how much fun he was to be around on Friday and how he took many photographs with locals and extras alike. He was described as “personable”, “approachable” and “real” and I was disappointed that I did not get the opportunity to meet him. It would be hard for me to pick just one “True Blood” character that I adore, but if I had to do so, it would be Lafayette. He is unbelievably complex and the Julliard educated Ellis makes Lafayette jump off the screen. Growing up in Clinton, I actually knew someone very similar to the character portrayed by Ellis and I believe that just endeared me even more to Lafayette. I do not think a more fitting actor could have been selected to play the part. He just brings Lafayette to life and he makes you feel like you are really watching him in action. I look forward to seeing him on television and the big screen in the future. In the meantime, I will continue to look forward to Sunday evenings so that I can find out what Lafayette is up to on each episode. He never disappoints!

After talking to numerous people, including several people with HBO Publicity, we made our way back to my car. Our path should have been a straight one, as we were parked blocks away near the Methodist church in town. We got about half way to the car when we nearly walked right into the middle of another scene being filmed on Main Street. Two of the technical assistants quickly hurried us along and my nephew and I began running down an alley, through the side yard of a doctor’s office and then through a parking lot of a soon to be opened convenience store. By the time we were back at the car, we had run three blocks. It was hilarious and we laughed about it afterward.

It was a great experience and hopefully, it will not be the last one. Now that I know that there is a good chance the cast and crew of “True Blood” may film in Clinton more often, I will certainly make plans to be there each and every time. I look forward to seeing much more of “True Blood”, both on and off the screen. I am sure the town of Clinton looks forward to it as well. The experience was indeed one of my favorites. Not only did I have a lot of fun and laughs, but I met some very interesting people and actually made some friends. I look forward to interacting with them in the future.

If you are ever in Clinton, make sure to check out the newly opened restaurant, Josephine’s. I understand that the owner of Josephine’s was gracious enough to remain open to cater to the crowds. Though I have not had an opportunity to dine there, I certainly will do so the next time I am in town. I heard nothing but great things about the food from various members of the cast and crew. If you do visit, you will also want to make sure you check out the historic sites in town, as they are all in the general vicinity of where filming took play. Lawyers’ Row and the East Feliciana Parish Courthouse are both on the National Historic Register, as are quite a few other buildings in the same area.

In the meantime, stay tuned to the show. You never know what Lafayette, Bill and the Stackhouses have in store.
(Photo credit: Dave Walker/The Times Picayune via