Rohin Guha, from BlackBook.com has just talked with Michelle about her portrayal of one of the most horrific forces in contemporary culture, a force that appears immortal no less, but remains frightening in her moral ambiguity. Keep reading, if you would like to find our more about how does an actor prepare to play The Maenad (I'm listening to Lydia Lunch as I type ;)), what is her view of the world, the 'Cooking with Carl and Maryann' project, Michelle's favourite characters on True Blood, an upcoming love scene...and much, much more.
There's a clue at the bottom of the post. ;)
In True Blood, you play Maryann Forrester—a character we now know to be god-like and malevolent and essentially diametric to your portrayal of Kate on In Treatment. How did you adjust to the part of Maryann Forrester?
Kate was down-to-earth and had no self-esteem whatsoever. Bless her heart. Maryann is quite the opposite. She tends to laugh at all the things that would fill the rest of us with terror. Initially it was suffocating to sit in her expansiveness. Most of us are led by fear or guilt or sorrow. She’s absolutely fearless. Then it became the most fun game in the world.
How did you prepare for this role—were there any characters you drew inspiration from?
I watched a lot of Ken Russell films. These women are running around dancing and drinking. Running through the hills of the countryside of England—being mad. Those were the two places thinking about “abandon” and hedonism in a way that certainly we’ve experienced time and time again. I also thought a lot about Lydia Lunch in the 80s in New York. She was a woman who had no boundaries and was very sexually free. And sort of revolutionized music with all of that chaos and destruction of rules and boundaries and limitations. So many people in New York City were doing the same thing, really trying to breakdown these social ideals and be creative in a different way. It came through the funnel of chaos and destruction.
What do you find liberating about playing a character with so few limits?
For 18 hours a day, you’d have to be completely free. It was a joy to go to work. Run around in evening dresses. Causing mischief. I went to Montréal to do this dark series called Durham County—it’s about a woman who’s in the middle of all this loss. It’s about trauma and dead children. Sorrow and pain. And then I popped into In Treatment before stepping into True Blood. I don’t take my characters home with me. It was nice to shake it off and get dirty and dance a little.
We initially saw Maryann only briefly at the end of the first season. But then her influence continued to expand. Now she’s at the very center of the series. When you signed on, did you realize you’d assume such a critical role in the soap?
It was a little mysterious, that first season. But because it’s Alan and his wonderful writers, you just have massive trust. She still is a bit of a mystery to me. But in that second season—all of us were anxious about the next script. We had a few chats about what a maenad is and Dionysus and Greek mythology. I was told a lot of things that came into play. So you keep that knowledge in your heart but you kind of don’t know how that is going to play out. And it was really amazing because at the end of the season, all the storylines come together.
In the past you said that the character’s barbaric nature isn’t necessarily due to any evil predisposition, but because she lives in a different moral construct than us. Having seen how brutal she can be, do you still maintain that?
I do believe that she’s a character that’s all about perspective. If you think that this is an immortal being. She’s been around since the beginning of time. She’s lived in certain periods of our humanity, where there were people who would sit and watch other men tear each other apart for sport. Children were sacrificed. It’s not unheard of in history. In her mind, she’s seen it all. I think what’s great about the storyline is that it challenges our belief system. You and I can sit here in 2009 and say it’s outrageous that someone would sacrifice humans. My belief system, as a vegetarian, can’t believe that animals are being sacrificed. I stand by that in Maryann’s mind, there’s nothing malevolent. She has a different way of looking at the world.
And what are we to make of her relationship with Tara—why is she so intent on breaking Tara up from her mother?
This entire town for her is just a town full of crazies. It’s ripe for Maryann’s mischief. Everyone is so fragmented in such a wonderful and quirky way. Tara, as we see in the first season, is so susceptible to someone as predatory as Maryann. She’s the conduit to everyone in town, to Sam and Sookie. She’s had such a hard life and is so vulnerable and lost that when Maryann finds her, she’s an easy target. And it’s exactly why she targets her.
What surprises you the most about Maryann?
It’s the most fun I’ve ever had at work. I usually take part in more slit-your-wrists TV than True Blood. To go to work and run around in evening dresses and giggle and laugh and do all these insane things the writers ask us to do. It was a blast. You always look forward to going to work. I just went in and did some post-production for the finale—it was wonderful. It was so good to step back into her shoes again. And experience that glee and that freedom. It was a good feeling—to put those earrings and eyelashes back on. We had an amazing time this season.
Apparently, the appearance of Sophie-Anne—the vampire queen of Louisiana—is going to factor largely into Maryann’s undoing. Can you explain anything further?
In the last three episodes, Bon Temps has been turned upside-down. Now it’s just a matter of getting to the bottom of it and cleaning it up.
On another note, I was advised to avoid anything you cooked. Mostly because of Maryann’s Hunter’s Soufflé. How good are your cooking skills off-screen?
Absolutely deplorable. In fact, I had to go in and have a flambé lesson and cook that heart—a 5am. flambé lesson. My cooking skills are not to be discussed. I suggested to our writers to have a bad public access show with Carl and Maryann. Like Martha Stewart on crack—we would make doilies and scarves and headdresses with feathers. I love that duality of Maryann—that primal, feral wild-child side of her. Then this other side. That’s domestic and loves arranging flowers and fruit and the spread of food. And loves to dig in the dirt.
Off-camera, which character do you relate to the most?
I’m also a fan of the show. The storylines were so separate for most of us that we had such gifted actors and such gifted writers. I couldn’t wait to see what everyone else had done. I wanted to finish shooting—and see what the boys were doing. I’m critical. It’s also you stand back and objectively look at everyone’s work. I’m amazed by that. The production work and the costume designers. I’m lucky in the fact and see the entire production as a company and not be a narcissist. And see that the whole thing is working together. It’s so heightened sometimes and occasionally over-the-top. Everybody had these massive challenges on paper shouldn’t work but work beautifully—with scoring. I become a small portion.
What I know is that my favorite character changes by the theme. One minute Hoyt is my favorite; the next scene, it’s Hoyt’s mother. Then Lafayette. Then Andy Bellefleur. Then Jason—I can’t wait to see what he’s going to do next. I can’t really remember another show where I felt like that, where I’m fascinated by everyone and I get gooey. As far as identifying, maybe Tara, when I had a chip on my shoulder. Maybe Detective Bellefleur, mucking things up—when I’m going through a spell where I can’t get anything right. I identify with Sam Merlotte who’s always trying to do the right thing. I think that’s why so many people are responding to the show you can always find someone to identify with. I love how we saw the darker side of Bill Compton this year. He was wrestling with his past and his humanity. He’s going to be here for a long time figuring it out. I identified with him where we’re always trying to reconcile the past. And have a better future. We all want to be Sookie, getting up to all sorts of hijinks, being followed by all these gorgeous guys. On some level, I identify with all of them. Or want to be them.
That said, have you ever lobbied to have Maryann’s character end up romantically involved with any of the show’s leading men?
I will just say this. In the finale, I have one of the most interesting love scenes I have ever done. I still giggle about it.
What do you think about this disturbing character is making an impression on audiences?
I think it’s because we’re in a time right now that’s repressed—coming out of the last eight years of this administration. Christianity sort of ruling where we are and who we are and we’re coming out of it in a different way. It’ll be interesting to see where we end up in another five years.
What type of work does an actress seek after such a superlative role like Maryann Forrester?
It’s hard to find anywhere as fun as the world about Alan Ball has created. It’s about the town drunk, the shapeshifter-boss. It’s about Tara and her coming of age as a woman and understanding herself. It’s about a telepathic waitress. This entire community. The intelligence behind Alan and our writers, their ability to tell stories so beautifully and complex, will help with True Blood’s longevity.