True Blood’s Experience In Louisiana

August 9, 2009 by  

true_blood_season_2_episode_4_maryannThe cast and crew of Alan Ball‘s hit HBO TV vampire series True Blood not only left a mark on the small town of Clinton, Louisiana recently but, the town also left a lasting impression with the entire cast and crew. Although Baton Rouge was the production base for the three day shoot for the 110 member cast and crew of True Blood,  Clinton was officially designated to provide the backdrop for the fictional town of Bon Temps.  The townsfolk of Clinton didn’t mind that their town was being taken over and made to look like mayhem occurred in their town with trash and clothing strewn everywhere and graffiti desecrating the 1909 United Daughters of the Confederacy statue.  They enjoyed sitting on their lawn chairs off-camera watching the actors recreate the scene where Maryann‘s spells has turned the town upside down.

During filming, traffic had to be routed around Clinton’s downtown, creating a minor nuisance for cross-parish travelers, but more than 50 Louisiana residents were employed by the show, including Audrey Faciane, executive director of the parish’s Chamber of Commerce and a parish tourism commissioner, who got a small part as one of the Bon Temps residents turned crazy by Maryann‘s mood magic. She states that she could see an annual True Blood festival arising from Clinton’s association with the series.

While in Louisiana several cast members took the opportunity to do some sightseeing of New Orleans (highlighted by a cast-and-production-team dinner at Galatoire’s) and take in the atmosphere of the area.  The Los Angeles sound stage can only provide so much in terms of realism however, by being on location the production crew can feel (mosquito bites), smell (crew-member funk after a day of shooting in the sun) and taste (poisson meuniere amandine, brabant potatoes) the real thing.  As Adam Davidson, the director for the episode states:

“You can talk all you want when you’re sitting in Los Angeles about the sweltering heat of Louisiana, but until you’re here and experience it, you can’t understand,” Davidson said. “It’s good for them to feel it.”

The important aspect of shooting on location is to hear the accents and to try to be as true as possible when recreating on the show.  As Brian Buckner, writer for 3 of the episodes shot in Clinton states, meeting the people from the area and hearing the way they talk and their stories, it helps him see if he is being realistic or not to the audience and doing justice to the people of the area.

“I’ve often wondered on our show, ‘Are we OK on this show if all of our characters have slightly different accents?’ I haven’t heard any two accents that are exactly the same, so now I feel like we’re more honest that way.”

Several of the actors in the series see the opportunity of going on location as a way to look at their character and see if they are being true to the South.  At the same time they see it as a learning experience in how to improve their characters.  Stephen Moyer describes how he is always trying to improve his accent in his portrayal of Bill Compton and how, at the same time, it sometimes creeps into his everyday life:

“Any time that he would say couldn’t, can’t, won’t, shan’t — he does the long version of that,” Moyer said. “And I really like that.  It’s funny, actually. It’s kind of come into my speech a little bit with my kids, because now it has more power if you say ‘I will not’ than ‘I won’t.’  It’s a beautiful accent to do. I love it. I love the way it sounds in the mouth. I love the way, as soon as I get to the set and start speaking as Bill, I take on a different speed and a different rhythm. My voice drops. Bill is probably three or four notes lower than my normal register.  The pace of life in the South is very different, and I was very infected by that. I like that there’s no hurry.”

Australian Ryan Kwanten, who plays the town Casanova Jason Stackhouse, explains that it is not only the accent that helps in perfecting his character but, just part of who Jason Stackhouse is.

“It’s not (about) getting it down 100 percent,” he said. “Obviously, I never will. That’s for someone who grew up in the area. (Series co-star Sam Trammell, born in New Orleans, wasn’t in scenes shot in Clinton, and so didn’t make the location trip.) It’s about getting within 80 percent, then the rest of it I can kind of sell with the acting and with the character. That is what has worked best for me.”

Anna Paquin, on the other hand, did work with a dialect coach to achieve a southern accent that fits the region and the styling of the show.

“I’m from New Zealand, so I’ve never worked in my original accent,” said Paquin, an Oscar winner as a child actor for her role in the 1993 film “The Piano.” “The process is the same no matter what accent you’re learning. You work with a coach. You go through the lines and chart different vowel sounds, what they are in your accent and what they become. You drill them. It’s basically like any other good vocal training. You go through and practice the sounds over and over again, you listen to reference tapes of people who have similar accents.”

Both the actors and the townfolks benefited from the 3 day shoot. The actors had the opportunity to hone their accents and mannerisms to better reflect the vibes of a southern small town.  At the same time, the local residents were hired on as extras for the episodes and local businesses gained exposure and recognition for their goods and services.  Whether it was the local eateries being discovered by the cast and crew of True Blood and re-discovered by locals to businesses selling their local wares.  As Audrey Faciane states:

“I heard one of the makeup artists on a long-distance phone call to California, and it was her parents or brother or sister, and she was saying, ‘They have blueberry, (so) what kind of pie do you want me to bring you?’ Faciane said. “I was thinking, ‘Yes, this is what it’s all about, for our little ma-and-pa shops.”

Not only does True Blood provide for their fans, week after week, nail-biting suspense and action but, it also gives back to the communities that help tell their story.  To read Mr. Dave Walker’s in-depth article please click here.


(Photo credit:  HBO Inc.)