TrueBloodNet.com Exclusive: We’ve Been Bitten By Deborah Ann Woll
September 13, 2009 by KS Rose
Deborah Ann Woll’s performance as the newly turned vampire on Alan Ball‘s hit HBO TV vampire series True Blood has captured the attention and hearts of millions of True Blood fans who tune in each week to the show. Recently, we here at TrueBloodNet.com had the wonderful experience of interviewing this extraordinarily talented young actress, who, based on her popularity and the various offers that are coming in to work on several projects, is a rising star to watch in the coming years.
Hi Deborah. Thank you so much for talking to us today. We’re so excited to be talking to you.
Deborah: Oh, absolutely. I love your site. It is really good, well put together and good information.
TBN.com: Thank you! So you’ve seen it?
Deborah: I have seen it, yes. Every once in a while my mother or my boyfriend will direct me to certain articles that I should read.
TBN.com: Oh great! That’s always nice to know. You had mentioned previously that you research your part every time a new script comes to you. Can you explain the process you use for preparing for each scene?
Deborah: Sure. I use a lot of things. I like to go to a lot of other artists, poets or painters. I find that each part that I approach has a style or a theme to it, and I might look for visual artists that might paint within that same style or theme. I know when I did “Threepenny Opera” I looked at a lot of George Grosz’s work because it’s very fragmented and dark but also has these bright colors and over the top expressions. I tend to find if I’m searching through a lot of photographers or artwork, suddenly something will hit me and I will say, “Ah yes, that’s the right feeling for what I’m looking for in this particular scene or this particular character,” and it’s a good jumping off spot.
TBN.com: So you actually use visual cues as inspiration?
Deborah: A lot of visual art. I watch a lot of animal videos with different creatures and watch how they move, and if there’s a certain movement that an animal does that affects me, that makes me feel a certain way, I’ll go, “Well, that would be interesting if a human being did that, maybe it would have another kind of effect.” So just things to play with.
TBN.com: You use artwork too. Colors can move you?
Deborah: Absolutely. The nice thing about artwork is it can be abstract as well. It isn’t always necessarily a concrete image. I think in most acting, what you see in the finished cut appears to be pretty easy to understand and follow. But a lot of what goes on within our minds and our subconscious is much harder to define and sometimes you need something off kilter and abstract to help you find that.
TBN.com: Oh, that’s great. Did you learn that in school. Or is that something you just picked up?
Deborah: My school was really great in that way actually. They didn’t teach a specific method or anything like that because those of us that went there were perhaps not interested in choosing one method. They really asked us to think about how the world affects us, and then use whatever *that* is in your work. That doesn’t necessarily mean bringing personal experiences into the work, some actors do that, but more about if I know that color affects me in my life then I look for color in my work because I know I’m sensitive to it.
TBN.com: Well that’s really interesting because on top of everything else we’re also interviewing the set decorator and the set designer and so that leads me into a question. Does how the set look have an effect on how you do the scene?
Deborah: Absolutely! I mean 100 percent. They are so good. I just met Suzuki when we were in Louisiana for the first time because, unfortunately, pre-production and production and post-production are all a little bit separated from each other except under specific circumstances. I told her I was a little bit star-struck meeting her because I have used her work and what she’s done in all of these beautiful sets so much that I really feel like I’ve stolen from her a bit. Jim Parrack and I have been rehearsing a lot, and if we can, we’ll always ask if they’ll let us work on stage because even things like the texture of the sofa will change how you feel in a certain moment, whether you’re going to sink back into the cushions or if you’re sitting on a hard wooden chair. It changes who you are and how you feel, so it’s nice to be able to work within the environment that you’ll be performing in. And an Emmy shout-out for them, too! Woot woot!
TBN.com: Oh fascinating! Some students who study acting never get a chance to land any roles while others, such as yourself, have managed to get great guest spots and now the series. Do you have any personal opinion on why? I don’t want say you’re lucky, but you’re getting ahead so quickly.
Deborah: What’s that old saying? Luck is just being prepared for when opportunity knocks or something like that. I think people talk about tips and tricks and how to weasel your way into the business, but I really think that, honestly, the only tip I can offer is to be excellent at what you do. It’s an art form, so it’s never going to be perfect, but I work my butt off for every single audition and doubly so for production, because if I expect to be paid I had better bring something to the table. There are a lot of really talented, beautiful individuals out there, and if they keep working and studying and giving it everything they have, eventually someone will notice. I didn’t do anything exceptional. I worked hard, I cared, and someone recognized that and was willing to give me a chance. I wish the best of luck to everyone with this dream.
TBN.com: What changes have you seen in Jessica from season one to season two?
Deborah: Well, certainly a bit of maturity. When I was first turned, we looked at it as not only teenage impulses but also ‘new born’ impulses. So there was a bit of terrible twos mixed in with the teen angst, which is quite a combination. I think now that those ‘new born’ feelings are beginning to subside, we are seeing the consequences of this situation as well. I think it will be very telling about Jessica’s personality when we see how she deals with these new problems and difficulties that arise as a more mature vamp.
TBN.com: What’s interesting to me is that since vampires don’t age, the whole maturing thing is kind of waffle-y too, and it’s unclear to me if vampires, like Godric, the one who’s so young, do you ever think he’s going to mature? Do you see Jessica acting like a 60-year-old woman at some point?
Deborah: Well yeah. Is maturity based specifically on an age or is it based on experience and time? I have known 16-year-olds who are incredibly wise and 40-year-olds who don’t have a clue. I think that while Jessica might be physically 17 for the rest of her un-life, these experiences are going to force her to grow up very quickly, and hopefully she’s up to the challenge and she’ll learn from it. I think eventually, if she stays away from wooden stakes, she’ll be a thousand-years-old and have the experience of those thousand years even if she still looks only 17.
TBN.com: Your portrayal as a newly liberated young woman is extremely honest and captivating to watch. Do you as an actor have room to develop and explore the role how you want or are you restricted by the vision of the producers?
Deborah: I don’t have any literal effect on the storylines, but I hope that my work inspires the writers for Jessica’s future. One of the great things about this set and this whole production team is that it is really very collaborative. I read the scripts and the notes that are given to us from the writers, producers and directors, and I do my work and then the writers, producers and directors see my work and hopefully take something from that, continuing in a direction that feels natural. I am not a writer at all. I don’t have that ability, so I do have to depend on them in a lot of ways to come up with the best way to express what we all think should be Jessica’s growth. They often surprise me with the direction they take her, and if I trust it and go with it, some pretty cool stuff can happen.
TBN.com: So it’s a give and take basically?
Deborah: I think so. Well, I hope so!
TBN.com: You make your part seem so down home, innocent and so cute, how close to your real personality is Jessica’s demeanor on the show?
Deborah: Hmmmm. There are certain parts of me that relate to Jessica, but she is not me. For instance, I am terribly shy; and there are moments where Jessica is too. But I also think that one of the things I admire most about the character, what they’ve written and what I get to portray, is a continuance or evolution of her childhood. Imagine spending your entire life within a family and a culture that has always made you feel ‘less than’ and finally you’re breaking free from that restriction. Well, now Jessica is finally able to stand up and say “never again will anybody make me feel less than everything I am capable of being and becoming.” That is an incredibly admirable trait, I think – and one I wish I had more of. I can be a doormat and in a way, when I perform, I find that I tend to learn much more from my characters than the other way around.
TBN.com: Very Interesting. So it is a growing experience for you, the acting?
Deborah: Oh, yes.
TBN.com: From all the scenes that you have done, which was your favorite scene to perform and why?
Deborah: Pick one? Well certainly in episode three, the Merlotte’s scene meeting Hoyt. I love that scene. I am quite proud of Jim and myself for those moments. I remember that I loved what was written on the page just as soon as I read it, and being so intrigued, I jumped right into it. It was so easy to do my homework on it because I was just fascinated by the struggle that was going on inside Jessica. In character, I discovered that I had come to Merlotte’s to find prey — or to find something. I’m lonely and without a sense of identity — and then suddenly I’m completely changed by a stranger. It was such a nice scene to do – coming into it in one place then allowing the other person to change who I am and what I’m thinking, even change what I want – or thought that I wanted. It was so much fun to play. And I can do that with Jim Parrack because he’s so good. I remember being very nervous about it, but the second I walked in there’s a sign behind the bar at Merlotte’s that says “Under 21 not allowed” and I remember thinking, “Well, I’m 17!” So just knowing exactly where I was in that moment, that this was totally new and forbidden and I was doing something just for me because I wanted it. It kicked me off in the right place. I decided after that scene that if, by the end of the season, everyone was as in love with Hoyt as Jessica is — I would have done my job successfully. I wanted everyone to see him as Jess saw him.
TBN.com: I just want you to know that all the fans cheered when you two got together, we were all hoping for it.
Deborah: Jim is just the nicest guy and a tremendously talented actor, and he’s a good, good friend of mine now, too. We go to movies and we hang out. Yeah. So I’ve made a really good friend out of the storyline, as well.
TBN.com: Which scene was the most difficult for you and why?
Deborah: Well, I would say the most difficult scene for me was attacking Maxine Fortenberry. All I can say is this… sometimes I get home from work and I feel like I’ve been beaten up, emotionally and physically, and my body hurts, my heart hurts and my soul hurts, and those are very, very hard scenes. You hope at the end of the day that whatever you have experienced and gone through to have those scenes come about are worth it, because hopefully you’ll tell a story worth telling in the end. But those are very difficult scenes, and I do come home just wanting a hug and hot chocolate and my favorite movie.
TBN.com: If you had any influence in the development of the character Jessica, what would you like to see happen to the character?
Deborah: Again, I’m not a writer. I guess all I can say is that like any person I have hopes for myself as Jessica. I hope for happiness and some sort of… I think Jessica’s been very alone. I think that’s what first impacted me when I read the sides, and what I relate to the most is that very lonely feeling that nobody likes you, nobody wants to spend time with you, nobody cares what you think or feel. That’s why I think the connection between Jessica and Hoyt is so special, because this is someone who does, for the first time in my life, care about me, truly. So, as Jessica, that’s what I’d hope for, but obviously that’s not terribly dramatic or interesting storytelling. I think it would be nice to be continually conflicted by the very primal vampire place that needs to fight and feed with the more human side that wants to be loved.
TBN.com: Even Bill hasn’t really solved it, so one can anticipate that Jessica is going to be the personification of that struggle
TBN.com: Recently you attended Comic Con?
Deborah: Yes, it was overwhelming. My boyfriend and I are huge nerds, so we actually attended all five days. We went to panels and walked around the convention floor and looked at all the booths and things like that. It was great. I was terrified the whole time. I’m a little bit agoraphobic. Just the idea of being in these huge groups of people! And there were places where there were so many people that I just couldn’t move, but it was definitely worth it. They have some incredible panels and opportunities to see things that nobody’s ever seen and hear people speak, and I’m a big fan girl. I love Mystery Science Theater and Riff Trax, and I went to their panel and saw my heroes, and I got up to the microphone line, and I was shaking with excitement and fear. I wanted an autograph and all of that, but it was on the day True Blood did our panel, so I couldn’t go. My BF got one for me though. Perfect man. And then the actual day that we did ours, I couldn’t believe it. I’ve never seen anything like it. People waited hours and hours just to hear the panel speak or get an autograph! That kind of commitment and dedication and passion is inspiring. I mean, to love something so much and be willing to give so much for it is humbling. I was really scared the whole time with my agoraphobia, and all my cast mates were so supportive and they held my hands through the day. Kindred spirits.
TBN.com: That’s so sweet. So you like Mystery Science Theater, and what was the other one you that you really liked?
Deborah: Riff Trax, because when Mystery Science Theater ended in 2001, Riff Trax became its continuation. It’s the same guys. I own every single episode they’ve ever done, which is upwards of 200. I am a huge fan girl when it comes to them. Huge crushes on them all.
TBN.com: We just found out that you are going to be on SVU, so we have some questions for you regarding that… Rumor has it that you will be going this weekend to New York for a guest spot. Are you looking forward to working with Mariska Hargatay, Chris Malone, Ice T and the gang?
Deborah: Oh my goodness, yeah. They’re great! Everybody who’s involved has accumulated awards and just incredible accolades. It’s always nice to get to know different people and how they work and test yourself against somebody else’s style. It’s really nice that this fell into my lap and I get to work with some renowned performers.
TBN.com: We hear you’re going to be a very different character from your role on True Blood. Can you shed some light on this?
Deborah: Well, I’m certainly not going to be a vampire! I don’t think anybody is like Jessica. I think it’s impossible to repeat that character. I don’t want to spoil anything either. I would say that it is very different just because True Blood tends to live in a more heightened supernatural realm, and Law and Order is a much more realistic natural world. The sort of problems we’re dealing with in Law & Order are perhaps a bit more relatable in terms of a real life situation. Most of us are not worried about killing the people around us like we are on True Blood, and this one’s a bit more human that way. Less vampire more human.
TBN.com: Have you met the guy that’s gonna play your boyfriend yet?
Deborah: Totally cool dude, sweet and a lot of fun to chat with. Can’t wait to see more of his work.
TBN.com: Will you be bringing any of your preparations for Jessica or your character elements into this role? Are there any similarities?
Deborah: No. Each role you approach is its own. The greatest thing about being a human being (or a vampire) is we are all everything at some point in our lives. It’s just finding a different aspect of that when you play a different role and allowing it to blossom until it is beyond you.
TBN.com: Ryan Kwanten did a spot on SVU last season. So have you asked him any pointers? Has he given you any words of wisdom?
Deborah: I would but he’s off in Australia being a movie star. Go Ryan!
TBN.com: So how long ago did you try out for this role? Did you do it during filming?
Deborah: For Law and Order? Oh no, Law & Order was an offer. I guess they watch TB and saw my work on it and asked me if I wanted to do the part.<
TBN.com: How nice! Well hopefully more of those will come your way. We have to say congratulations for being renewed on Season 3. We’re so excited to hear about it last night.
Deborah: I know! Officially it was renewed. It’s so exciting!
TBN.com: We knew it was coming. You can’t be the top rated show on the whole network and not be renewed. Is there any word, and we don’t want details, but is Jessica returning for Season 3 do you think?<
Deborah: Um, I hope so. Every script I read I keep looking out for wooden stakes!
TBN.com: You have already told us that you visit fan sites and read about True Blood, but do you only do it when others have pointed it out or do you ever just sit around and wonder what’s going on out there in the fan world?
Deborah: Oh boy, that’s a tough one. It is very intriguing and it’s not something that I am terribly proud of being intrigued about. But the idea that there are people out there, millions out there, that have these opinions about you and your work is hard to ignore. Now, I do my best. I think that whether what’s being discussed is positive or negative, it just isn’t for me. They’re not writing it for me to read. And the thing about the fan sites and the message boards is that it’s also anonymous, so you can say whatever you want to on those boards without taking any responsibility for it. So people feel free to be more vicious (read honest) than they would if they were talking to you face to face. And that’s okay because they don’t mean it for your eyes or ears. In a way I feel like I’m respecting the fans by not going on. It allows them to express their opinions without fear of hurting my feelings or something like that. So I do try and stay away from them. Every once in a while if a family member or a friend sees an article or a specific blog or something that focuses maybe on my character, they might send me a link and I’ll check it out. I do go to the sites every once in a while because I’m just as interested about some of the news myself. I want to read Rutina’s interview and Michael McMillion‘s new comic book. I want to see all the info about my friends and co-workers as well, so I usually go for that more than my own stuff.
TBN.com: I was curious, since you were a fan of other shows before working on True Blood, did you ever participate in chatting online about other shows?
Deborah: I never really did. The shows that I was interested in were very weird, small, cultish shows like Mystery Science Theater I am part of the fan club for Mystery Science Theater I got their newsletters and things like that, but it was so long ago, it was all done by mail. I was never much of a blog reader or a message board poster. The first time I really ever posted on a message board was recently to thank some people. My boyfriend has a charity event he’s doing and a number of people signed up for that and I wanted to say thanks to them.
TBN.com: Do you have a favorite charity?
Deborah: Oh yes, my boyfriend has an eye disease called Choroideremia that slowly erodes vision into total blindness. It’s hereditary, so he, his brother and his two little nephews have it. It primarily attacks men, but women are the carriers. There is no cure yet, and my boyfriend is down to less than 20% vision. There’s a link at http://www.curechm.org/ where you can donate money to the charity for research and funding to find a cure. Right now, he is recently trying to lose some weight, so he got together a sponsorship program where people can sponsor him per pound lost and donate to the Choroideremia Research Foundation. It’s a great, great thing and a lot of people from The Vault got together and pooled their money and all ended up with 20/30 dollars per pound to donate, and I know he’s up to 120 dollars per pound or something like that, so it’s really going well for him.
TBN.com: Well make sure when you send the transcript back you can give us any links to that.
Deborah: Yes absolutely. The link to follow his weight loss campaign is: http://chmweightloss.blogspot.com I’ve been so impressed by the True Blood fans. They just seem to be so giving and kind. The thing that I’m the most impressed about the fan sites, when I do go on, is actually how positive and fair the commenting is. Even if they disagree with something, they’re very honest and not vindictive. I’ve been very impressed.
TBN.com: It’s more like a critique than, “Oh that sucks.”
Deborah: Right, exactly.
TBN.com: If Jessica dies, what would you want to put on her headstone?
Deborah: My main image of Jessica is this blaze of fire, so it would have something to do with that. Something like, “She lived her life in passion and went out in a blaze of fire!” Let’s hope I didn’t just predict my character’s death by sunlight. Yikes!
TBN.com: Are there any questions that you would like to ask the fans?
Deborah: People always ask us, as the actors, what we think is so fascinating about vampires and this genre. Why do people watch it? I’m always surprised by that because in a way we’re not the ones watching it, you guys are. So I always wanted to put that question out to the fans. Why do you watch? What is it about the vampire genre specifically that attracts you? — Because you’re the ones that keep coming back for it. I know what intrigues me about it, but I feel like they ask the wrong person when they ask me that question. I think, turn around and ask all the fans behind you, because they’re the ones who know why this is interesting.
TBN.com: Okay, would you be interested in the answer to that?
Deborah: I would, absolutely.
TBN.com: We will ask the fans then, and we’ll send you off the answers.
Deborah: I think that sounds really fascinating. It’s always interested me that they ask me, and what do I know? I just play one on TV. I mean I’m fascinated for sure, but it’s different. I’m not a fan of Jessica‘s. I portray her; I love her; I’m compassionate about her. It’s a different kind of intrigue than what I think the fans see.
TBN.com: Yeah, you’re trying to get more at her from the inside, right?
TBN.com: And they’re just enjoying the outside.
TBN.com: So do you have any other projects coming up?
Deborah: Other than Law and Order: SVU, I have a couple of things on the table, a couple of features. Mother’s Day, Little Murder and Highland Park: a thriller and two dramas. It’s fun! It’s going to take me all over the country, and I’ll get to work with some great people.
TBN.com: I want to go back. Earlier you were talking about how shy you are. Is it hard for you to do these interviews?
Deborah: I certainly get some heart palpitations before I call, and I have to take a deep breath and remind myself that we all put our pants on one leg at a time. You guys aren’t all that scary really, but I still get nervous. These are a little easier. It’s easier for me to talk about my work then it is to talk about me, whereas I might be really scared meeting someone for dinner, or going shopping, or going to a bar. Those sound like my worst nightmare. Talking about my work is different because I do feel like I have something to say about that and I have something to share.
TBN.com: Do you think acting is a way to get past your shyness?
Deborah: Absolutely. Judy Dench once said that acting is the shy person’s revenge. I think she’s absolutely right. For me, since I do have some trouble expressing my feelings and my emotions with my peers because I’m nervous and shy about them, when I act it’s total permission. In those situations I’m allowed to think and feel and do whatever I want to. It’s such a release and a real form of expression for me. Also, I’m a huge scary movie fan. I love roller coasters. I like being scared. Part of the idea of being a shy person and having to really share yourself: it’s just a scary thing as well. I get a little bit of a kick out of that adrenalin rush.
TBN.com: You mentioned when you were at Comic Con, you were walking around the whole five days to different panels and events. Did anyone recognize you and stop you and say, “You’re Deborah…You’re Jessica.”
Deborah: Well. I’m a little bit of a sloppy person; so if I’m in my civvies, I wear a hat and people don’t really recognize me. I don’t look like I’m on TV or anything like that. I also think I look very young on the show and I maybe don’t look quite that young in person. But a couple of people, if I loitered long enough in one area so that they could get a good look at me, recognized me. People were really very sweet about it actually. They were like, “Okay, I know you’re hiding, but I love the show. Would you mind taking a picture?” I’m always totally happy to do that. I’m so honored that people like the show so much that anything I can do to give back I’m happy to do.
TBN.com: And is your boyfriend handling all this attention well?
Deborah: He’s a little nervous about it, and there’s some attention from men for me that worries him. He’s protective. I’m still getting used to it myself. This is all very new for the both of us.
TBN.com: Our prediction: it’s only going get worse.
Deborah: Well it comes with the territory. I’m a pretty conventional person. I imagine any interest in me personally will be pretty tame. I’m too big a square for controversy. But hopefully my roles will continue to interest people.
TBN.com: Jessica has been the most fun character this year. Last season, when she first came on, the consensus was, oh no, here’s something else that’s just going to come between Sookie and Bill. But then the interaction was so funny, right from that first episode, and since then, you can have a lot of compassion for her that her presence has been a much needed comedy relief.
Deborah: I am so happy to hear that. If there’s anything at all that I think the show should be, and Jessica specifically, is that it should be fun — and a little dangerous maybe.
TBN.com: Thank you so much for all your time today!
Deborah: Thank you and all the fans for your interest in the show.
We had a marvelous time interviewing Deborah. She was very warm, open and sharing and generous with her time. We’re really looking forward to watching her on Law and Order: SVU and can’t wait to see if she and Hoyt reunite during tonight’s True Blood season 2 finale! We were also very touched by her boyfriend EJ’s Choroideremia and would recommend following his weight loss and contributing to his donations drive by asking you to visit: http://chmweightloss.blogspot.com/.
(Photo credit: HBO/ Jaimie Trueblood, HBO/ Jaimie Trueblood, HBO/ John P. Johnson, HBO/ John P. Johnson)