Sam Trammell Reflects on True Blood and Sam Merlotte

August 2, 2010 by  

Sam Trammell, who plays shaper-shifter and bar owner, Sam Merlotte on HBO’s True Blood, has a lot in common with his screen alter-ego, but there are just as many things that set them apart.  In a fascinating article appearing in Venice Magazine, writer Andrew Fish explores what makes both Sams tick.

Born in Louisiana, Trammell moved to West Virginia in fourth grade, attending high school and junior high there, but much of his blood family is back in Louisiana.

Unlike some of his fellow actors on the show, the acting bug didn’t bite him early. His initial interest as a freshman at Brown University was in physics, but he later majored in French philosophy (spending a year studying in Paris) and semiotics.  It wasn’t until his senior year that an actor friend encouraged him to audition for part in a play.  For Trammell it was a life changing experience.

“So I went and read for one and got cast in it. It was a success and I immediately was in love with the whole process, I remember having my lines over Christmas Break and just being so excited to learn them and think about how I would do it. So I did that one and I did one or two other plays. And I was like “Now I’m not going to go to graduate school. I’m going to move to New York.”

And so just like in a movie Trammell arrived in New York on a bus, a suitcase in hand, with no job and nowhere to live.  A friend put him up for the night and soon he was out pounding the pavement looking for a break.

“I walked into a couple of casting places and {then to] an agency with a picture and resume and a couple of monologues memorized. So I went and read for them a couple times and they started freelancing me and that’s how it kind of started. I think the first part I got was a play in Winnipeg with Tony Award winner Len Cariou. … It was called “Another Time.”

After paying his dues in regional theatre and off-off Broadway productions, his first legitimate off-Broadway production was Patrick Marber’s play called “Dealer’s Choice”.  The highlight of his stage career so far was the Tony nomination he garnered for his part in Eugene O’Neill’s “Ah, Wilderness!” in 1998.

At about the same time Trammell was acting in a number of indie films, including The Hotel Manor Inn (1997), Childhood’s End (1997), Fear of Fiction (2000), Autumn in New York (2000), and Undermind (2003).  He then moved to Los Angeles to try TV.  He has appeared in numerous shows such as “House M.D.,’ “Judging Amy,” “Bones,” “Numb3rs,”Dexter”,”Cold Case” and “Law & Order: Criminal Intent”.  And then “True Blood” came along.

“There was a script out there for Alan Ball‘s new show for HBO. I knew I wanted to do it even before I read it because it was Alan Ball, and it also took place in Louisiana which is where I’m originally from. So I read it and I really loved it. When I met him for the audition I think he might have told me that Sam was a shape-shifter. I think that’s when I found out. I remember he had the first two episodes written and the third was half done, and he gave me those and I looked at them and then I got the books.”

Spurred on by memories of being rejected by his adoptive parents when he shifted for the first time and by a conversation with the ill-fated Daphne (Season 2), Sam goes in search of his origins in Season 3.

”I think even more than last year, every character has a serious journey where everybody changes.”

And Sam Merlotte is sure learning about his origins.  Talk about being careful what you wish for.

“I don’t think Sam‘s intentions when he goes to meet the family are. I want to start a relationship with them,” necessarily. And certainly not when he finds out who they are. It’s sort of like going to see yourself. You’re going to see who your biological parents are and find out more about who you are. And it’s also just curiosity. He’s sort of tamped it down his whole life, and it’s time. And now it’s this Pandora’s box that I open and I can’t put it back.”

Would one of the things that needs to go back in the box, perhaps, be his father Joe Lee’s not so tighty whiteys?

“Oh, my Gosh! Cooper Huckabee is great!  He’s the sweetest guy. He’s a real Southerner. He was in Urban Cowboy: he’s the real thing, man. Yeah, that wardrobe is pretty offensive.”

Another supernatural species we meet in season 3 are Werewolves.  Shape-shifters like Sam, don’t have a high opinion of their furry cousins, explains Trammell.

“Werewolves are physiologically inferior to shape-shifters. That’s our point of view. Werewolves can just turn into wolves. That’s what they do and they don’t have a lot of control over that. Shape-shifters are much more advanced in the Darwinian universe. We can turn into anything and we kind of look down on them a bit. We see them as dirty, unsophisticated creatures — and we actually get all of that from Charlaine Harris and the books. That’s the deal!”

It seems that Sam has had a rough couple of months, but, as Trammell explains, it’s nothing like as bad as his past before Bon Temp.

“I think he’s rebuilt his life in Bon Temps, and it’s a real oasis for him. It’s something he has to have. And I think he has to keep his place alive and keep it livable for himself. I think he would fight really hard for that town because this is a place where he can reinvent himself, which is what he’s trying to do there. So to answer your question, he’s been through worse, believe it or not. He has bigger fish to fry than being bummed out about Sookie not liking him, or Tara.”

Filming scenes on location in Louisiana has brought back treasured family memories for Trammell, but also thrown up some odd moments – odd like running naked across land that just happened to have been once owned his grandfather.

“I looked on the call sheet when I got to Shreveport and it said we’re going to Doyline. I was like. “What?” Because when I lived in Alexandria, Louisiana, we used to go there to see my dad’s aunt and uncle to have Sunday dinner there, or lunch — we call it “dinner” in the South. I couldn’t believe it. I was like, “We’re shooting there?” And they said. “Yeah! The gas station is in Doyline,” which is where JasonRyan [Kwanten] — was shooting. “And then we’re going to shoot on Lake Bistineau, that’s just south.” I was like. “Oh, my God!” So I called my dad and told him and he couldn’t believe it. He said. “Lake Bistineau.  My grandfather used to own Lake Bistineau.” It was around the turn of the century and he sold it to the state as a state park. But we literally drove through Doyline to get there. And there I was, right there. You could see the cemetery where my grandmother and everybody are buried as we drove through. So that was just a trip! A total trip. When we finished the episode I drove south and saw my family in Alexandria for a couple days, and when I went home I drove back through Doyline and I went to the cemetery and looked at all the graves — and said. “Please forgive me for running naked on our old land.”

But spooky coincidences aside, Trammell enjoys every moment working on True Blood.

“It’s so fun! I always say that it’s a genre show, but what we really are is a character drama in a fantastical world. So we have this really good character writing and character development from Alan Ball but we’re in this insane world where you get to do all this fun stuff — like turning into animals, and there’s lots of blood, and it’s a really fun show to do. We’re just so lucky because it never gets boring; it always gets more and more challenging.”

There’s a lot more to this interview, so if you get a chance check it out in Venice Magazine.

Source: Venice Magazine