Vampire Bill

by Micah Haley on June 27, 2011

Stephen Moyer speaks with a brisk enthusiasm for life. In between takes while shooting the highly anticipated fourth season of True Blood, we discussed balancing work and family, his newfound love of motor sports and why working for HBO’s blood-soaked vampire soap has been a dream gig.

Q: It’s great that you have your son with you on set! What it’s like being a dad working in television?
A: Well, I’ll tell you what I look like: I’m speaking to you now, we’re in the middle of a scene where I, as usual, I am covered in blood. I’ve got silver chain marks on every single part of me. I’m crying blood tears. I am walking around to chat with you on a mobile phone and my son is being kept 200 yards away and, uh, that’s what he gets to see! He lives in London so he usually gets to see these things on Skype. So it’s very nice for him to actually be here and just be a part of it. The crew here, it’s all our same crew that it has been for four years. And they all know him very well from Skype and every year when he comes out. So, they’re all making a right old fuss with him and he’s doing clapper loading and sitting on the dolly, and being pushed about on the dolly. He’s having a good time. So this is what he gets to see on kind of a regular basis with this crazy, odd job that we do.

Q: Being a very family-oriented guy working down in Louisiana, it’s always great for me to see people in this industry keeping their family close.
A: Well, I think I’ve got to say, what you guys are doing down there with Scene is just fantastic. It’s an amazing enterprise and I’m really impressed! As you know, I’m doing this silly race at the moment, but as soon as they told me what was going on, I said, ‘Look if there’s anything I can do to help I’d love to do so.’ You know, our show is set in Louisiana.

Q: It’s set here, but as you know, most of it is shot in California. Will you guys be coming down again soon for a visit?
A: We were coming down a little bit more often in the beginning. The problem is that when a show becomes successful, they build the interiors. The lot that we’re on, we used to take up about four stages of, and it’s an eight-stage lot. So we’d always be in with two other jobs at a time or three other jobs. Now, with the size of our show, we have the entire lot. Every single studio here is full of our stuff. And what that means for production is that it’s very expensive to shut it down, A. And B, to bring the whole crew down to Louisiana to do exteriors is expensive. Now, there’s an authenticity that Louisiana gives our show that you just cannot match anywhere. But, Sookie’s house, my house, Jason’s house, Lafayette’s house, have all been built now up in the Santa Monica Mountains. And they do an amazing job of replicating the feeling of Louisiana, with Spanish moss and that kind of thing.

Q: Shooting in Louisiana early on, what experiences added to what you were doing in building the character of Bill Compton?
A: I always talk about the fact that when I got off of the plane, the very first time we got down to Louisiana, I couldn’t believe the heat. I’d never experienced anything like it! I’ve been to Vietnam and traveled all around the world, really, but there’s nothing like that. And so that kind of infused the feeling that I tried to get into Bill. This idea that there’s just no need to hurry. Nothing is that important that it needs to be done quickly! So, I really like just making everything take a lot longer to do because there’s no need to hurry. And also, as a vampire, my character is 123 years old, so it’s not like he’s in a rush.

Q: Earlier in your career, you did a lot of Shakespeare, whose character development is unparalleled. But how can a character that’s 123 years old change when he’s already experienced so much?
A: One of the really interesting things about Alan Ball’s writing is that he, very cleverly, only lets the actor know so much. What that consequently means is that you’ll suddenly go in 1922, and you’re in Berlin. What was I doing in Berlin? You were doing this. And so suddenly you’ve got this aspect of a character that you had never even expected before. You’re going back to shoot something that your character’s already experienced. One of the great things about flashbacks in the show is that you’re able to do stuff that you had never considered that your character would have thought of, you know what I mean? So, it’s a really interesting thing. In this season, we go back to London. In the previous season we were in the ‘30s in Chicago. These things kind of start layering more and more, with what you’re doing all the time. So, it’s a really interesting way around. I’ve never thought it could be more, that it could get more and more interesting as you do the same character more and more but actually, it’s getting richer and richer as we go.

Q: Can you talk about your character in Priest?
A: I play Paul Bettany’s brother. And I play a character who is stuck out in the wilderness, trying to make the earth yield resources, if you like. My character is a father out in the desert, out in the world, an apocalyptic world many, many light years different from the world we live in now. He’s sort of an outsider. We realized very quickly that he has been put there, he is out there, living the life he is living to protect his daughter and to protect his wife and the beginning of the film starts with us in a kind of classic homage to The Searchers.

Q: Your shooting schedule with True Blood leaves you only a brief hiatus to work on features like Priest. Because you have to be so selective, what kind of roles do you look for? What kind of characters do you want to play?
A: That’s a good question. I did this really great thriller written by Michael Brandt and Derek Haas called The Double with Richard Gere. Really great, intense thriller in the style of those old, post-Cold War Russian, like No Way Out and stuff like that. Michael and Derek also wrote 3:10 to Yuma.

Q: I’m very familiar with them. They’re really brilliant writers.
A: Yeah, they wrote Wanted. And Michael directed this. I play a Russian prisoner and it was absolutely a ball. And so Michael and Derek are working on something at the moment, and I’m very much hoping I am able to do that. It’s about filling it all in at the moment. It’s happening in Marseilles down in the summer. I have another really fantastic thriller with a director I worked with before called Nick Copus, has asked me to do something for him. He’s another really interesting, up-and-coming thriller genre director. And there is a great thriller that I’m hoping to do as well called Winter, that would be toward the end of the summer. By the very nature of the title you can tell we need to be in the snow. So, I’m very much hoping that comes off as well.

It’s an interesting time at the moment in terms of fiction, because I’m constantly sort of bemoaning the fact that we live in a world where only one of the movies that was nominated in the 2010 Oscars was a real sort of big studio movie and everything else was indie. You can get financed for these huge, crazy tent pole movies, and every year, all the ones that people are really interested in terms of the Oscars are the interesting indies. There is an amazing script that I absolutely adore – which I’m not going to tell you about (laughs) – I’m just keeping my fingers crossed ‘cause it’s quite extraordinary and I’m just hoping that comes off!

Q: Is it all top secret?
A: Well I just don’t want to jinx it! I would be over the moon if it came off and I promise you…I’ll make you a promise: if it comes off I’ll call you and tell you. But it’s one of those things where it’s a really interesting time making decisions to keep doing what I’ve done before, which is to play these really interesting characters in really interesting films and maybe play the lead in a really low budget movie or whether you take a couple of small parts in big studio movies. And, we work bloody hard on our show so I want to spend time on it as well (laughs). We’re lucky [on True Blood] because we shoot twelve-hour days, we’re lucky because it’s HBO, we know what our window is, we shoot from November to June every year. We have June to November off and not many people get that opportunity to have that kind of time off. Most people who do shows, especially network stuff, only get a couple of months off. Two and a half months, maybe three. We’re lucky because we get five or six. So it is possible to get stuff in. It’s a great gig, Micah, it’s a great gig.

Q: It’s great to hear that you have enthusiasm for what you’re doing and you just have such high hopes for what you’re doing next.
A: I just love doing what I do. I started out from a small town outside London where nobody in my family had ever been an actor before. Nobody I knew was an actor. I didn’t even know how to do it and I went from this world, pre-internet, where you transmit some kind of way into it was hard enough back in the days where you had to write letters to everybody. And to be here, to be working as I have been, pretty much solidly for twenty years, doing what I love is just an unbelievable gift for me.

Q: If nobody in your family was involved in the theater or in film, what brought you into acting?
A: I sang in the church choir. I got noticed by my headmaster at the school I went to, like my second school. He’d seen me singing in the choir and he asked me to play the lead in Tom Sawyer at school. So I played Tom Sawyer and it was a musical version of it, when I was like ten or eleven, and from then on I did a show every year and started joining little amateur companies outside school and by the time I was sixteen, I was in like three or four different companies, plus doing school stuff. When I was sixteen, I started my own theater company, which was very successful, and it was just kind of snowballing. By the time I went to drama school I had done over sixty shows. And it was just one of those things where I just found what I wanted to do. I’d never thought of being paid to do something that I wanted to do so badly. I didn’t even need to be paid (laughs). I feel very lucky.

Q: We were actually very fortunate to spend some time with your True Blood co-star Alex Skarsgard when he was down here shooting Battleship. He was such a super nice guy, very gracious to us.
A: He’s a great guy. It’s a very family orientated show and by that I mean, everyone that’s on the show is very much part of what we call a “warm family.” Meaning, we’ve got very similar taste in music, we talk about that a lot. We’re just so lucky. There are so many people I would consider great friends on this job. Y’know, Alex obviously has quite a lot to do with my wife [in the new season]. But I’m glad it’s him because I’m really close to him and we’ve got a lot of love and a lot of trust, and that’s a very important thing. So, it’s a dream gig with a dream bunch of people.

Q: That’s amazing to hear. Can you tell me a little about the Toyota Pro/Celebrity Race you’re driving in?
A: (Laughs) It’s like a dream come true, oh my God. We’ve got Frankie Muniz racing with us and Frankie gave up acting for five years to go and be a racing driver. I’d happily do the same thing. I totally understand why he did it. There’s a kind of visceral momentum, this beautiful kind of…you’re propelling through the air at this crazy speed and it’s unbelievably relaxing. I feel totally chill. So yeah, we’re going to have a ball. I’m going to take [Frankie] out. He’s so dead. There are a lot of people that are doing it. Tito Ortiz is doing it, the MMA fighter. He’s had a couple of run-ins.

Q: I can’t imagine who would want to have a run-in with Tito.
A: I mean he’s had a couple of run-ins with a couple of walls!

Q: Have you had any crashes yet?
A: I’ve spun out a few times in the rain. But the truth is – and I’m totally being serious – I wanted to see what it took to make the car spin out. And, and we were doing it on a track where it was a very flat track and I figured, “If I’m going to do it anywhere I just want to do it here. In the rain.” I want to push the car to the absolute edge and see where it breaks. And that’s what I did and I’ve got to be honest, as I was spinning around at like eighty miles an hour and skidding across the grass, spinning in circles, it sounds mad, but I couldn’t have been happier. I was like, “This is awesome!”

Q: It’s sounds like being a child again.
A: Yeah, I guess honestly…I just love it, Micah. I’m a big baby.

zQ: There’s nothing better than hanging on to your childhood.
A: Anna said to me the other day – I just kept saying to her, “I can’t believe how excited I am, I can’t believe it!” And she said, “Did you crash cars when you were little?” I said, “How can I have crashed them? I still have them all.” And she said, “Well, I used to collect dolls and I used to collect high heel shoes and now look at my closet: it’s full of high heel shoes and I’m an adult now and that’s my collection.” And she said, “You’re just doing exactly what you wanted to do when you were a kid: drive racecars.” And I was like, “God, I love my work.”

Q: Have you tried to convince her to drive with you or to race as well?
A: I’m trying to get her to do it next year. We’ll see. She’s only been driving for about a year and a half. ‘Cause she was a New Yorker so, she had absolutely no need to drive. So we’ll see. I hope I can talk her into it.

During the qualifying race, Stephen rolled his car, completely flipping it after colliding with a wall. That didn’t stop him from posting the fastest time of any celebrity (and besting one pro), earning the pole position in the 35th annual Toyota Pro/Celebrity Race. “I was really thinking about the charity,” he said afterwards.

While the inherent danger of racing clearly doesn’t bother him, after considering that a possible injury would affect not only his family but the still-in-production fourth season of True Blood, Stephen decided to pull out of the final race. “While I’m disappointed I won’t be racing, I know it’s in the best interest of my True Blood family,” said Moyer. “I look forward to cheering on my fellow racers and following all the race day action.” He donated his winnings from the qualifying race to Facing the Atlantic, a charity that funds life-changing facial reconstructive surgery for children around the world.