Last week, I met in Los Angeles with the woman who plays, Willa Burrell, Amelia Rose Blaire. I wanted to interview her to not only find out more about her but what it must have been like to play the character she plays on True Blood, the governor’s daughter.
We sat down at The Grove on the terrace of Barnes & Noble for our chat.
First, here’s a little bit about Amelia:
Amelia’s young, but energetic and seems to be navigating her way in the difficult world of being an actor in Hollywood. I predict that if her character doesn’t last out the season, she will find work elsewhere because coming onto to True Blood in it’s sixth season and to havoing to play most of your scenes immediately opposite Alexander Skarsgård must have been daunting for anyone, and in my opinion, she passed the test with flying colors.
Amelia has not worked on a series before. Prior to her role of Willa she has only guest starred in episodes of various TV shows. She does have a good solid acting education though. She graduated from the Sanford Meisner Center Two Year Program in NoHo CA, has Studied with Oscar-nominated actress Lindsay Crouse and has graduated from The Atlantic Acting School Program in NYC & LA, founded by David Mamet and William H. Macy, where she studied with Felicity Huffman, Clark Gregg & Camryn Manheim.
Why did you decide to become an actor and what are your goals?
When I was younger, I was a ballet dancer. I was a hard core bun head and wanted to be a prima ballerina, but there was something about Ballet that I was always self-conscious about and my parents would tell me that whenever they would see me on stage dancing I looked insecure and looked at the people next to me. I had a Parisian dance teacher who was very strict and I felt like I was motivated by fear. And, then when I was in middle school I did a production of Bye, Bye Birdie. I got this tiny little part, I was this vaudeville dancer. And, I went on stage the first night and I never felt that free before ever and I just lost myself on stage and after that, no more dance, I want to focus on acting.
Are you from this area?
Yes, I was born in New York, but grew up here in the LA area.
Why did you decide to study the Meisner technique and how has that helped you?
That was amazing. When I turned 15, I decided I wanted to be a serious actress and the best actress I could be and so my mom started researching all these different schools and found the Meisner Center and they didn’t have a teenage program like all the other schools, but that’s what I decided to do. I didn’t want a teenage program; I wanted to do an adult program. I interviewed with them and they said, we don’t take anyone under the age of 18 and I said, just let me try because I’ve been doing hard core ballet so I have a very thick skin. They let me try it and two years later I graduated. It really formed who I am as an actor.
You had done some schooling in New York, right:
I went to the Atlantic Theater company Conservatory in New York and I did that for two years and I stayed at David Mamet and William H. Macy School and NYU also has one of their studios there so I was in the conservatory program next to all the NYU kids. I loved Atlantic; we were living a breathing and eating acting day and all night. I didn’t want to come back to NY and when I grew up here (in LA) it’s difficult going to high school because you want to grow up so fast and you’re in Hollywood and everyone is being so cool and doing all this stuff and it’s easy to get swept up in that. So, when I left LA for New York, I was leaving for good. I felt like I was fleeing to NYC and was scared to come back to LA, but I got into the Atlantic program and it was a totally different LA than I left since I was a different person and my social circle was totally different, I was navigating the city differently and it taught me a really good lesson that, the city is what you make of it. Now I love it here.
You’ve done some guest appearance on TV shows what period of time does that represent.
I started about 2010, so it’s been about three years. What I love about all the roles that I’ve gotten to do is that they are each very different, I don’t feel like I’m playing the same character with a different name. They all have very distinct flavors and that’s what excites me the most about being an actor is playing with different flavors.
How many auditions did you have to do to get those parts and how do you deal with the rejection?
100’s. My manager said something to me when I was first starting to audition and got really close to a part and then, lost it and got really sad. She said something that really changed the way I look at auditioning, she said, “sometimes they’re going to be looking for burgundy when you’re red, so work on cultivating the truest shade of red” And, that’s how I look at it because I have a lot of friends and we’re all actors and I see them plenty of times at auditions and allot of times, they book the job and I don’t and I could take it really personally or they’re just a slightly different shade of red, they’re more burgundy or more like blood red than I am. I just can’t see it as rejection.
Were you a fan of True Blood before you got the part? Did you watch the show?
Oh yeah! Yes, I remember when it first came out. I was so into it and I’d watch it with my friends and we’d go over and have True Blood parties and watch it all. So to actually be on the show, I can’t believe it.
GETTING THE PART ON TRUE BLOOD
Did you only audition for True Blood once?
No, it was my first time auditioning for True Blood and I auditioned twice. I had auditioned for other parts for the casting director many times for other projects and when they brought me in for True Blood, it was my second audition this year. The first time I went in I auditioned for the director, and allot of the producers, writers and casting director and there were tons and tons of girls there. Then, they called me back the next day and it was just me and one other girl. Everyone in the room was the same as the day before, but it was between me and a blonde actress.
Did Alexander Skarsgård have any say in who was chosen for the part?
I don’t know.
You didn’t have to audition with any other cast members right?
How have things changed since you got the part?
Honestly, my day to day hasn’t changed that much. I got recognized for the first time last week and that was very exciting, I was shocked. I was out at this really cool music venue called Sassafras and I was listening to Tara Buck’s husband play on his birthday and this girl came up to me and she was like, “Are you an actress? I love you on True Blood, can I buy you a drink?” I was just as excited as she was since I’d never had anything like that happen.
Is this your “big break?
Yes, this is the biggest show I’ve ever been on and I’ve never had an arc this big before.
Has it been challenging and scary?
All of the above; that’s what I’ve loved about it. My favorite part about acting is going to the places that scare me and reading a scene would be like, uh I don’t know if I could do that; it’s terrifying and end up doing it anyway. And, playing Willa has given me countless opportunities to do that. Every episode I read there was at least one scene where I said “I don’t know if I can do that.” So I feel that as a person, I’ve definitely grown. I feel more grounded in ways and more confident in myself, but otherwise it’s not really changed outside.
BECOMING WILLA BURRELL
What was the first day on the set like, and what was your very first scene?
My first day on set was when we were shooting at the Governor’s mansion in Pasadena. It was in episode two where I walk down the hall and ask my father, the Governor, to please let me go out. And, we also shot on that same day, the opening scene of episode 3 so, that was an experience. They made a lot of rewrites for that scene and originally when he (Eric) is glamouring me on the bed and he threatens to bite me he was going to bite my neck and then, in the van on the way over (to location), we got rewrites. And I read it and said, “Oh, OK this is going to happen.” And Alex and I were running lines and I said, did you know that this is happening now and he said, “I did not, but this should be good.” So, I take that as my first day because that was probably the most involved scene.
So, was that scene with Alex as you were sitting on the bed intimidating?
I thought the scene turned out really well and it was actually a lot of fun to shoot because I’d never been in a situation like that and I’ve always been attracted to like twisted, darker situations in roles and that was so twisted with that dynamic and yea, that was like my first time meeting him (Alex). I had met him very briefly at a table read, but at that time, we just introduced ourselves.
Why is Willa so interested in helping the vampires? What’s her motivation for it?
I think that the fact that her mother has been with a vampire and her mother has been pushed so far away from her and her father has kept her secret and apart from that. She has been very sheltered and there’s a part of her that she wants to get to know and explore and that’s why I think she stands up for vampires. There’s also a part of her is really fascinated.
Do you think her father is anti-vampire because of what happened with Willa’s mother?
I think that definitely had a lot to do with it. When I was in the first few episodes, something I was really interested in was what was the relationship between Willa’s parents and how did that come to break and what did that do to her and did she choose sides, did she get on the right side that she wanted to?
Did she want to stay with her father and how has he changed?
I really believe that she wants everybody to be able to come together and her father has been turning into this darker and darker character and she’s seeing him disappear in front of her eyes. And I think that his hate for vampires makes her want to bring them even closer together. And, then becoming a vampire, I imagine if someone was sheltered for many years and then they got this whole new set of powers and abilities it’s totally liberating. She has all these powers and sensations and she can act on them and she’s like, free.
Ok, the big one, what was it like being made into a vampire by Alex Skarsgård?
We actually filmed that scene on two separate days. The exteriors were filmed in Griffith Park and everything in the grave we filmed on one of the sound stages. They built this half grave and it was truly surreal. I was very excited to shoot that scene just because, when do you get to be turned into a vampire? Actually shooting the part in the grave, I don’t really remember. We shot it in many different increments so we stopped and had to add tubes and stuff so it was very kind of separate. I remember going into it thinking I was going to be really brave and it’s going to be really romantic and he can like sweep me off my feet and then, when we actually did it, it was kind of terrifying because he went in and the sensation of getting your neck bitten, and then feeling this warm liquid starting to pour down my body and then I looked down and it’s red and then he pulled back and he had all this blood in his mouth. I remember my hands were shaking, I started getting light headed and it was completely unexpected. The next morning I woke up and I went through this huge array of emotions, I was really, really angry and I was really, really sad and really, really happy and like angry again and I was just like going in all these different directions and I was like, “what’s happening to me?” Wait, I died last night. It was very surreal.
We always ask this, but how did you adjust to the vampire teeth?
I think for me the hardest part was putting them on and taking them off because you shoot the scene and you say the line where you fang out and then stop to you put the teeth in and then, say the line again. So, doing that was really difficult because I wasn’t able to get them in and I thought I had to do it really quickly or it would kind of like take me out, so I think that was the hardest part, putting them in and taking them off. But, I didn’t have to speak in fangs for a while.
Some have been comparing your scene of being made with the first intimate love scene between Sookie and Bill. Willa is a virgin and she wears a similar gown as Sookie did, do you see any comparison?
That’s very flattering that they are compared. I think that the similarities when Sookie and Bill finally got together is about a loss of innocence, so having the white dress and the blood makes is similar, but I don’t know, Bill and Sookie have this huge love story that was building up to a climax. The whole dynamic with Eric and Willa is very different. So I think that the similarities only come in with the “loss of innocence.”
Jessica was turned as a virgin when she was turned, will Willa have the same problems since she was also a virgin?
I guess so, I don’t know. She hasn’t done anything yet, so we’ll have to see how that comes out.
THE EXPERIENCE OVER ALL
How was it working with the True Blood cast?
Everyone loves each other and there a no divas and everyone is always joking and it’s just a fun group of people to be around. You’re doing all these really intense scenes but in-between people are cracking jokes with each other and like, making funny noises and trying to distract other actors while they’re doing something and it’s been really special to be a part of that. I have this memory of walking one day after we were shooting in Fangtasia, we had a table read or something but I was walking with Alex, Kristin and Rutina and we were walking to the table read and I thought, this is so cool that I’m walking with the three most bad ass Northmans right here. This is unreal. It’s the most bad-ass family to be a part of, so I’m honored.
Who have you worked with most on the show?
Probably Alex is the one I’ve worked most with on the show and he was really wonderful to work with, I learned allot.
Who helped you the most on the show?
I’ve always really loved Deborah Ann Woll’s character, Jessica so as soon as I met her, I wanted get to know her because I think that Willa and Jessica have a lot of similarities and watching her work and seeing how she navigated in front of a camera and what she would do in between takes, I learned a lot from her. We’re a similar age group and we have a lot of mutual friends, but everyone I worked with helped me in different ways advising, “don’t take is so seriously, have more fun, or let loose and be kind of crazy with it, etc.,” but I definitely admire what Deborah has done.
Who haven’t you worked with on True Blood that you would like to work with?
I really wanted to work with Rob (Kazinsky); he’s so funny, so I really would have loved to work with him. I didn’t get to work with Anna very much, we were on set some days but we actually didn’t have any scenes together so; I would have loved to be able to work with her since she’s the star of the show. Oh, and all the werewolves.
What did you think of spending all your time in prison scrubs?
I didn’t really mind, but it’s hard to be sexy in those clothes. I really liked that white nightgown. I got very attached to it, so when I had to leave it behind for the blue prison scrubs, hmmm. They are more comfortable, but I was definitely glad to take those off.
What do you think about the sets on the show?
They’re incredible. They are so detailed. It’s just very easy to give over to them, yes, I’m in a hard core prison camp and it puts you in a state of mind to be able to create.
Were you affected by the big changes that happened in the running of the show this season with the exit of Alan Ball and then losing the first show runner and now it being Brian Buckner?
I actually wasn’t aware until after the fact, because I came in at the end of episode two, when they started shooting episode three, so I think that had already happened. But, the ship kept sailing and Brian is a dream to work with. He is a wonderful boss and he handles his job with such grace, has a wonderful sense of humor and has done such a great job this season and I really like the direction he’s taken it.
In a recent episode, your father dies, but Willa doesn’t know yet. How does Willa feel about her father now that she is a vampire? Could she feel his death? The show has never explored if there would be any feeling between human and vampire, so I wondered if Willa could feel that something had changed drastically for her father.
I think that Willa still loves her father but with everything that happened, like him putting her in the camp, it was like a huge disappointment. He has let her down in every way possible.
Did she know about the camp before she was taken there?
Yes. I don’t think she knew about the extent of it and I definitely don’t think that when she went back to him that she thought he was going to send her there. That scene when Willa came back to her father made me so sad because she got what she wanted; she got him to see her as his daughter and accept that. It was her own new instincts were her downfall. That scene to me was really tragic, but then when he sent her away and actually put her in this camp and put her in solitary confinement, I think was just a huge disappointment for her.
Did Willa know he was fooling around with Sarah Newlin?
I don’t think so. I think she still loves him but it’s covered by all this disappointment and sadness.
Will Willa be in Season 7?
That’s something that we’ll have to find out.
Well, if she’s not in Season 7, do you feel that this part has given you a broader base so that when you go out to look for more work it will be easier?
Yes, I’m so incredibly grateful to having been given the opportunity to be on the show and to play this character. She is so multi-dimensional and fun and scary. Over the past few months, I’ve done things that I never thought I could do so, I’ve stretched myself in many, many ways and I’m really thankful for that. You don’t get opportunities often, as an actor, to really stretch yourself in many different facets and to do that on such a fantastic and fun show on HBO, is unreal.