We all know Dale Raoul best as Maxine Fortenberry on True Blood. But Hoyt’s momma has a long resume on her name with numerous theater, film and TV productions.
I recently chatted with Dale via Skype and I asked her when her love for acting began.
I actually grew up in Montana, of all places. My grandfather was a politician, I went to the university there for a bit and then I moved to California because I was interested in acting even from an early age. I started out in the theater in San Diego, did a lot of regional theatre, was in New York for a year. Things kept drawing me westward though so I ended up moving to Los Angeles and then I got married. I did some traveling with theater but mostly I’ve been here pretty steadily for the past 20 years.
You play a role in Convincing Clooney, a new film about the struggle to make it big in Hollywood.
It’s a fun movie by a young filmmaker. The plot is about this production company who is desperate to convince George Clooney to be in their movie, but they don’t succeed of course [laughs]. It’s a good dream.
When I first moved to Los Angeles I had a job typing scripts, that was before the days of computers and we typed them on typewriters. My mother had made me take typing in high school; I hated it at the time, but blessed her later in life because it did support me [laughs]. In the meantime I tried to get agents, studied and did classes. I got to do some commercials that allowed me to quit my job, which was a happy day. Then I started slowly working in television and movies.
You made your television debut in 1986. How has television acting changed over the years?
It goes faster. The process has to go faster because it’s more expensive and needs to be very efficient. An episodic television show, especially on a network, can be shot in 7 or 8 days. True Blood shoots between 11 and 13 days because on HBO it has a little more luxury and it’s also a difficult show to shoot. Television particularly is a lot about money, so it has to go quickly and it has to be efficient, so that’s why actors who are coming in as guests have to be very well prepared and perform on the spot. I think with network shows the scripts are not as strong as they once were. Writers are nowadays retreading older ideas and I feel as if that we’ve seen a lot of what we’ve seen 20 years ago.
Hollywood is all about youth and physical perfection, how does a character actress like yourself find her way in that world?
In one sense it’s a blessing because I don’t have to worry about getting older. I also feel, especially now as I am older, that I represent real people on camera and in story telling. I have always been more interested in acting for the sake of the craft or art as opposed to being famous or making zillions of dollars, although that of course would be nice. I just feel that I am very fortunate to be able to make a living, especially as a character actress. It’s harder for older people to find work as they age. When I was younger I struggled with it, but at this point it’s just fine [smiles].
Did you ever expect that you would become part of a fandom?
No, I didn’t. I certainly figured that with Alan Ball involved it would have a very great chance of being a wonderful success. I had done an episode of Six Feet Under some 10 years ago and I felt very fortunate to do that. I remember meeting Alan and he was very lovely and funny and smart. So when I went in to audition for True Blood, I had actually auditioned for a smaller part in the pilot, which I didn’t get and as it turned out I was glad of that [laughs]. I went in to read for Maxine and I felt I really had a handle on it and I understood her, the audition material was fun. I was well prepared, but I was nervous because there were a lot of people reading for the part. I felt I had a good handle on it right away and then of course to have it continue and turn into such a wonderful part of the show has been just fabulous. I love playing her, the writers are just incredible, they give me crazy wild things to say and do.
Would you be offended if I said I am glad Maxine’s not my momma?
Oh I wouldn’t be offended at all! [laughs] Believe me, I understand completely, I don’t think anyone would want Maxine for their mother. But I see the tender side of Maxine, I try to make her understood. She has a tough time, she’s lonely, life has not treated her the way she thinks it should have.
Yes, there is that side to her, but she is so controlling!
Yes, she is. I can’t wait to see what will happen in season 5, because I don’t know. Jim Parrack has said that he doesn’t want Hoyt to go back to his mother. Mmmm we’ll see [smiles].
How did Tommy ended up living with Maxine?
Tommy obviously needed a place to live, but more than that Maxine needed someone to take care off. Hoyt had been such a terrible disappointment to her that Maxine just needed to have son, so she took Tommy under her wing. Maxine was very able to overlook his terrible character flaws and tried to mold him into what she wanted him to be, which of course didn’t work out very well.
Did you base Maxine on anybody you know in real life?
Well I could never say that… [laughs], but actually yes. I have three people that I know that I have taken parts of their personalities and put them into Maxine, little character things. I actually know someone who sort of looks like Maxine which is kind of scary. I have a friend from Louisiana so I try to listen to her voice, because she’s got the good accent.
Is there also a little bit of Dale in Maxine?
“I think I put a little of my sense of humor into Maxine, but I can’t take too much credit for that, that’s the writers putting that dialogue into my mouth.”
Dale thought hard to come up with something else she has in common with Maxine. “I do like makeup.” [laughs]
Do you like dolls?
No, I don’t. I really don’t. [laughs]
What is it with those dolls? They creep me out!
Maxine likes fluffy things and girly things. And it probably also has to do with her great maternal urge, dolls are probably a substitute for children she didn’t have and she probably sees them as her friends, because I don’t think Maxine has a lot of friends.
You didn’t have any scenes with Jim Parrack this year. Did you miss working with him?
We were very sad because we enjoy working together. I saw him when we got together for the table reads, or at parties, I have great fondness for him.
What’s the biggest challenge in playing Maxine?
Maybe my biggest challenge is to make her completely real. Because there are people that are like Maxine is, but I don’t want her to be too cartoony. The writers keep her very grounded in reality, so I really try hard not too overplay her extreme characteristics.
One of our favorite Maxine scenes is when she played with the Wii in season 2, had you played Wii before?
[laughs] I played a tennis and golf before on the Wii with friends. That was really fun because you can just be insane and crazy, we had our black contacts in, yes it was a blast.
What was your favorite scene to play?
One of my all time favorites is in season 2 where Hoyt and Jessica come to Merlotte’s and I first meet her and she and I kind of get in to it. I really enjoyed that, it was really fun to work on. And of course the scene where she bites me was really fun. And in season 4 where I got to be Tommy.
How did you prepare for that scene? Did you study Marshall?
They gave me some footage of when Sam turned into Tommy, which was helpful except for that we never saw Tommy become Maxine, so it wasn’t quite the same. I tried to pick up characteristics that Marshall used for Tommy, he had a very kind of flip way of talking he had a cockiness in the way he walked and then of course I had to remember that it’s Tommy trying to act like a woman. So I tried to make Maxine a little more butch, a little tougher and that he was uncomfortable in his clothing and as if Tommy had done his makeup and the hair was terrible. It was really a blast.
Maxine seems a bit indecisive about vampires. She hates Jessica but at the same time she seems quite taken with vampire Bill.
Very taken with vampire Bill. She loves vampire Bill. He is so sexy, that’s why! [laughs]. In season one when he was giving the speech in the church, she didn’t expect to be, but Maxine was very taken when he was talking about losing his family. She took that very much to heart and she was dazzled by his persona and the pain he’d had in his life. And he is wildly attractive of course. Somehow for her it was like seeing a rockstar and she gets all fluttery when he’s around [laughs].
If you could give Maxine a piece of advice what would it be?
[thinks hard] Well….. she could use a better wardrobe [laughs]. No, Audrey Fisher our costume designer finds these amazing things to put Maxine in and they are perfect for the character. Advice for Maxine… I suppose it would be to be more compassionate and to try to put her son first and not to be so controlling, but then she wouldn’t be Maxine if she changed, so we would like her to stay in conflict all the time, that’s much more interesting.
Would you watch True Blood if you weren’t in it?
Yes, I would. I am not necessarily a vampire fan particularly, or wasn’t, but what I like about our show is the writing and the characters are so fantastic. My favorite parts are really the triangle between Sookie, Bill and Eric. The creativity and the imagination is so out there that anybody would want to watch it even if they weren’t big fans of bloody, heart ripping, wild sex, orgies in the middle of the night stuff. And it’s funny. And all those cute boys! Oh my gosh and they keep coming too![laughs].
If you were Sookie… who would you pick? Only one!
[thinking very hard] Ohhh, well… I am partial to Bill I must say even though of course how could you …. I mean Eric and Alcide… how could you…. I don’t know.
I think they make such a great couple and they have such chemistry, but then again Eric and Alcide are pretty fine specimens.
If you could write a scene for Maxine what would you have her experience?
I would like for Maxine to get a boyfriend. I can’t quite picture what he would be, but I think that would be very nice for her and it would calm her down quite a bit [laughs].
Could he be a supernatural?
Oh I guess he could be. Maybe a shapeshifter. Yes, that’s a good idea. He could shapeshift in a bunny, or something she would like, she doesn’t like dogs or cats. Or maybe just a nice vampire.
The True Blood sets are all so rich in detail and realistic. How important is the set quality for you as an actor? Does it influence your performance?
Yes, absolutely. The house that Maxine and Hoyt have is someone’s real house actually, but our wonderful designers have decorated is somewhat differently inside to make it more Maxine like with dolls and pictures of Hoyt. But when I am in there I have no trouble at all feeling at home, it’s exactly where Maxine would live. Then you get in Sookie’s house and Bill’s mansion and Merlotte’s and Fangtasia and they are just perfect. So when you are there you feel that this is what it would really look like. The designers are remarkable.
Thanks to the Internet actors now receive an immediate response of the public to their work. What are the pros and cons for you of the whole online experience?
I love hearing from fans that watch the show. I heard from people who dressed up as Maxine for Halloween. After each episode airs I hear from people, it’s very nice to be acknowledged for your work and to know that people are enjoying the show and your character and are anxious each week to watch it. It is very gratifying and it’s a whole new world on the Internet so it opens up all these possibilities and I’ve met some lovely people, it’s really fabulous.
Dale on Facebook
Do you visit other fansites or messageboards to read fan comments?
I look at everything The Vault sends out, but I don’t do too much, I don’t have time for it, because you can get lost it in, it goes on for ever and ever.
Do fans recognize you on the street? Did you have any fan encounters?
Yes, I do. It’s a new experience for me. For the most part people are absolutely wonderful. I live in Los Angeles so there are a lot of showbiz people who also enjoy the show and they always stop and talk to me. It’s a lot of fun and my husband gets a big kick out of it when we are at the grocery store and people want to take our picture. It’s crazy to be an older character lady and to have this happen now, but it is a lot of fun [laughs]. One day I was at the dentist and this man next to me started talking to me “Oh my gosh, you are on True Blood!” And here I am getting my teeth cleaned… I thought this is a down side.
Are you working on any other projects at the moment?
I’ve been working on a web series this summer, it is called “Dumbass Film Makers,” I play the mother and it’s about a young guy’s journey to California from the Midwest and I really enjoyed it.
I am on the board of directors of a theater company called INKubator which develops works for new writers and we produce a series one Sunday a month at the Skylight Theater. I am also auditioning, I am on hold at the moment to do an episode of a television show, I can’t say what it is yet. Things are fine.
What do you enjoy doing in your free time?
We try to travel as much as we possibly can. We are big moviegoers. Readers. We do like to entertain. We go to a lot of theater of course because we have a lot of friends that are in productions and we just enjoy it.
One of the organizations your support is the Alzheimer foundation. Would you like to tell a bit about your personal involvement?
My mother died with Alzheimer’s in 2007. As everyone knows it’s a terrible disease and it affects families and friends, everyone. So that is where I would like to put most of my energy as far as charity work goes. I do fundraising, the walks and any kind of events they have that I can participate in.
I read the information about your mother on your bio page. It sounds like she was an extraordinary woman.
She was. I miss her as everybody misses their mother, for most part usually. But what I have sorrow about still that I think she would had been a grand old lady. She died in her early seventies, too soon, she wasn’t fearful of getting old, she enjoyed so many things and I think she would had been a nice role model for me and for other people just to figure out how to be an old lady with grace and humor and curiosity.