Sam Trammell Talks ‘True Blood’ and Indie Flick ‘White Rabbit’

by Arthur Vandelay on June 24, 2014

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This interview originally ran in the December 2012 issue of Scene Magazine. He is currently starring in the seventh and final season of True Blood on HBO.

Known nationwide as Bon Temps bar owner Sam Merlotte on HBO’s True Blood, Sam Trammell’s not faking it. “I actually lived in New Orleans twice. I was born there, lived there for a year, then moved to Texas and North Dakota,” he remembers. “Then, back to New Orleans for pre-school, kindergarten and first grade.” While back on set now filming True Blood in Los Angeles, Trammell recently wrapped filming the new movie White Rabbit in Louisiana. “I’m the only person from Louisiana on the show, and I feel very connected to the show because of that. I just feel like I know it. Even thought I didn’t grow up my whole life in Louisiana, most of my relatives did, and I’ve been around them my whole life. I know the people.”

On True Blood, Trammell plays a cranky bar owner with a shape-shifting problem. “The whole series is based on books that Charlaine Harris wrote and Sam Merlotte is a character in those books. It’s funny because I’ll travel around the country meeting fans, and a lot of the fans will tell me that I seem like the person that’s in the books,” he says. “That’s always nice.”

“The casting was pretty straightforward,” recalls Trammell, who at the time had seen success on the stage, but was unknown to film and television fans. “I went in to audition for Sam Merlotte and they decided they liked me for the part and wanted to cast me. I met Alan Ball before the test. I read with him and he gave me some notes on the character, just little, tiny things. Then, you go in front of all the executives at HBO – the way you do if you’re going to be a regular on any television series – and then you audition. You also sign your contract. It’s kind of nerve racking. But I was fortunate enough to get the part.”

Trammell’s latest project also filmed in Louisiana. Produced by Shaun Sanghani and Jacky Lee Morgan, White Rabbit is a dark film filled with subversive comedy. It stars Trammell as the father of Harlon, a teenager played by The Descendents star Nick Krause, whose character suffers from visions of a white rabbit he hunted as a child. “I think it will be pretty controversial. It’s just that it’s a tough subject. It’s about this kid who has a really tough childhood, and he doesn’t really fit in at school. His father is a very stern man. He’s very strict. He’s an alcoholic and he’s also got a drug problem. He smokes meth. He’s just very hard on his son. He wants his son to be like him, a hunter. And the son has a tough experience where [he and his father go hunting] and he shoots this rabbit but he only injures it. And it kind of haunts him for the rest of his life. He starts having hallucinations. He’s very into comic book characters and comic books. I play an old-fashioned guy and to me, it’s weird. I make him tear it down, and he starts seeing the comic book characters in hallucinations and also, a white rabbit. There are definitely some twists and turns. It’s definitely a dark story, but it’s got some really nice humor in it as well.”

When asked about his hunting skills, Trammell replied, “My dad was a duck hunter. He doesn’t really hunt much anymore. A lot of my family were duck hunters, I grew up in Louisiana! I did a little hunting too. I’m not a gun owner now so I did have to brush up a little bit. But it wasn’t foreign to me at all.”

Trammell is now best known for his on-screen personas, but his real start was on stage. “I went to Brown University in Rhode Island. I wasn’t doing any acting at all. I was kind of interested in it, but I was intimidated by the theater department at Brown. But I auditioned for a play my last semester of college and just loved it so much that I decided to forget about my graduate school ideas and just move to New York.”

Though now busy with projects on the big and small screens, Trammell doesn’t plan on abandoning the stage forever. “When I do go back to the stage, obviously you have to have your voice in shape. It’s a whole different thing, performing live for people that are far away from you as opposed to performing to a mic and a close up, where you just have to whisper or talk in regular voice. When I don’t do theater for a while and then go back, I always remember how scary it is, going out and doing performances in front of people. It always comes back to me, but I’m sure it’ll be a bit of a culture shock, if you will, when I return to the stage.”

When he’s not working, Sam Trammell supports the Surfrider Foundation. “They basically clean up beaches,” he explains. “They do a lot of water testing to see how much pollution is there and try to clean up the water. They’re a great foundation.”

White Rabbit is currently in post-production with an expected 2013 release date, and the new season of True Blood will also return next year. Find out more about the Surfrider Foundation at www.surfrider.org.

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