“The True Blood set is the best place to be”, says Jim Parrack via Skype from his LA home. He smiles and leans back into his chair as I watch his dogs Stella and Jack getting comfy on the couch behind him. Jim is happy to be back on the True Blood set again, but he didn’t let the hiatus between the two seasons go by idle. The shooting of the sci-fi action movie “Battle: Los Angeles” brought him to Louisiana and he wrote and directed his first independent movie called “Post” starring his wife Ciera Parrack and his own family as lead actors.
I learned that Jim is not a very technical guy, but he did manage to make the webcam work. Not too bad because until last August he didn’t even know what Skype was, it was Stephen Moyer who pointed out to him that it was a great way to talk to his wife Ciera while apart.
Jim says about himself that he talks too much. “Keep on talking”, I answered him and he did. The 3-parter that I joked about to him became reality. In this first article Jim talks about True Blood, the parts about “Battle: Los Angeles” and his directing debut will be published at a later date.
Jim loves the American theater and attends lessons of Robert Carnegie at Playhouse West in North Hollywood. The approach of acting taught at this institute seems to work best for him. He explains that he works from a personal place within himself in order to understand the situation the script has given him. That means that in an emotional scene he wants to feel and experience the emotion. “I want to have a real experience up there”, Jim explains. “And that unfortunately involves feelings and when the experience the writers give you is “your mother betrayed you the same day your girlfriend leaves you”, you have to go find some pain within yourself and it has to be real. I try to wake something up inside me, pay attention to my partner and let their behavior affect how I am going to say a line, the same way as we do in real life. It sounds easy enough but unfortunately it has taken years of training [laughs].
But that is what I like about acting, the emotional story you tell.”
Jim’s True Blood alter ego Hoyt Fortenberry didn’t play a prominent role in the first season but when the storyline of the cute momma’s boy took a few very interesting and unexpected turns in the sophomore season the fans’ interest was suddenly raised. Torn between his vampire girlfriend Jessica and his selfish and overprotective mother, Hoyt finds himself caught between a rock and hard place and it is painfully clear that life as he knew it is no more.
Shadaliza: How do you look back on Season 2 of True Blood? Are you happy with the result?
Jim Parrack: “I actually am. It’s probably the first time professionally I feel like I was able to tell the stories the writers have given me. Of course I am always thinking about how I could have done better but overall I was able to get into that story and live it out.”
“That to me is kind of the measure of did I get it or not, was I able to experience it instead of showing, and it’s not to say that I did that perfectly, but Deborah [Deborah Ann Woll who plays Jessica] and Dale [Dale Raoul who plays Hoyt’s mother, Maxine] make it all very, very easy to go in there and experience something. They gave us about as good a story as you can get to act and I am super grateful for it; it’s the most satisfying thing I have done professionally and I actually feel ok about what I did.”
Hoyt Fortenberry is a young man with very little life experience and to my surprise that was exactly the thing that presented the biggest challenge to Jim in his portrayal of Hoyt.
“I had a tough time getting to a place where all of this would have been brand new”, explains Jim. “The thing that I had a really tough time with was imagining myself as someone who had never had a relationship because I am 28 and I have probably lived about 55 years in those 28 [laughs]. So that was a real challenge, how do I, a 28 year old person with plenty of experience in heartache and falling in love, get to a place where it is all brand new and fresh. But I found a way… I found a way… [stops talking and laughs].”
Do you care to explain or is it a big secret?
“No, it’s not a secret, but it would lose its potency for me if I would talk about it. I promise it is not a secret; I just keep it to myself. “
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I love the scene in Merlotte’s when Jessica and Hoyt meet; it is one of my favorite scenes from season 2.
“Yes, it’s my favorite too”, Jim says. ” At Merlotte’s and later at vampire Bill’s house, those two are my favorites. That was the first day that I ever felt ok about my acting on True Blood. I thought that Raelle [Tucker] wrote the best scene, that’s my favorite scene of the whole series, if I wasn’t in it, it would still be my favorite scene.”
Jim continues to explain what makes the “Hoyt meets Jessica scene” so special for him. “More than anything that I’ve shot that most directly was the moment of Hoyt coming in contact with the one thing that he’d love his whole life and hopes of. Hoyt is a person who really wanted real, true love and have someone appreciate him and like him, but also someone he can be there for and Jessica was kind of a combination of all those things and she walked right into his life. The excitement any time you have a character that so badly desires one thing and then has the opportunity to have that or lose out on it when it comes along, then you have a good situation to act.”
Hoyt was hanging out in Merlotte’s with no place to go, he doesn’t want to go home and in walks this beautiful girl….
I was thinking you don’t want to go home because mom’s there; one of your best friends died two weeks ago, your other best friend has disappeared to run off to live with a group of religious fanatics. There is nobody else in town for him, he was completely alone.”
“I thought I am going to play it as if I were sitting in that booth praying to God “please give me a girl, I’ll be a good boyfriend, I’ll treat her the best I can and than bam she walks in the door. That way something very real started to happen inside and it carried over to the scene. For the rest of the season I was able to say that it’s not just a girl I like, but the girl God sent to me.”
Jessica is obviously a girl with a few extras… can Hoyt handle a girl like that?
“Yes, there are going to be a lot of problems, but I know for certain that Hoyt is the kind of person who believes that love and going through something together will smooth out all the rough spots. In the end there will just be little bumps in the road, but I don’t believe that there being a difference of that kind makes it impossible. Just because Hoyt is new to all this doesn’t mean that he is not made of the stuff a person needs to be to have a relationship. Hoyt is probably more capable of having a real relationship than people who have been doing it for a long time. He is made of the stuff that you need to have good relationships: tenderness, lovingness and selflessness. He is the perfect guy to be in a real relationship. “
“But Hoyt has been deceived all along about whom his mother is. He picked his mom over his girlfriend and he picked the wrong person. Hoyt made a mistake when he sided up with his mother. She wasn’t the one out of those two who really loves him. She is not. But I never thought that was the kind of thing that couldn’t be reconciled; I never thought that what he said to Jessica made a relationship impossible from that moment forward. He was hoping that if he would show up with flowers, they could pick back up where they left off and he could apologize properly, but Jessica is not there…”
How would you describe the relationship between Hoyt and his mother?
“Unfortunately I think it’s a pretty realistic relationship. I know there is a lot of humor in it and there is a lot of things that jump out as being bit extreme, but I know quite a few people, man and women, that have that kind of relationship with some kind of matriarch that has convinced themselves that so long as they are a mother they are a good person. They have to keep their children as babies so that they can continue to be a mother. It’s made funny when you take a big giant person like myself and put him in a situation like that because it is so clear that he is not baby. “
“It’s a selfish relationship on her part and selfish relationships can never be real relationships. That is the thing I came to realize in the last couple of episodes of season 2. I don’t know what they are going to do but personally I would be ok for Hoyt to not speak with her until she makes some kind of change in her life.”
Hoyt’s mom is of course played by Dale Raoul and Jim has nothing but praise for her.
“Dale is just such a wonderful gal. From the beginning I really liked her a lot and felt very comfortable with her. She is fun; she is supportive, gentle and encouraging. I count myself so blessed to have the kind of two-fold way the story went last year, on one side there is Dale and on the other side there is Deborah and in both cases generous, patient and just wonderful people who are so encouraging.”
How do you look at yourself onscreen?
[laughs] “Cautiously. At that point there is nothing than be done. If I like it, I don’t get too excited about it, but if I don’t like it, I get really down on myself because it is there for good now. The curse of film is that once it’s there, it’s there. “
“I am beginning to feel more comfortable in front of the camera, which you think by now should be easy, but it really isn’t for me. Deborah actually helped me out a lot. She taught me to think of the camera in a certain way that made it more familiar and comfortable to me. She told me to treat it the way I would treat an audience when I do theatre, which is that you don’t pretend that they are not there, you are glad that they are there, you just don’t let them worry you. She is a lot smarter than I am [laughs]. And it was good because in theatre the only thing I have ever concerned myself with is having an experience. That means that if you had the experience, and it went well the audience relates to it, but with the camera people relate to an image and I have always felt a little uncomfortable about the image. There is suddenly another thing to think about and it prevents, in my case, the experience from happening. So Deborah said not to worry about it and not to be afraid of it. It snapped me out of something and it’s been something that I was able to take over to “Battle: Los Angeles” as well. I am very grateful that she taught me that little lesson.”
So it is safe to say that it’s been a pleasure working with Deborah?
“Absolutely. It’s been absolutely a pleasure, she is a dear friend now and of the people I’ve got to really work with professionally, I enjoy working with her best.
Dear friend or not…. Jim did bruise Deborah’s arms while shooting a scene.
“I felt horrible in that scene where I have to pull Jessica off of my mother, we shot that so many times and I had to pick that girl up and move her and I felt terrible because at the end of the day she had a bruise on her. A couple of days later there was the season 2 premiere and EJ [E.J. Scott Deborah’s boyfriend] was there and he said: “Thanks man, you fucked her up.” [laughs].
How did you prepare for the intimate scenes, did you rehearse those?
“Not so much, because I am married and Deborah is in a serious committed relationship with EJ. We know that we’d be fooling ourselves if we said we have to go practice kissing. You don’t need to work on that [laughs].. . or she and I don’t need to work on that, there might be people who need to practice but….”
You both have mastered the technique…
“Yes, yes [laughs]. So when we would rehearse, we would look for the essence of a scene, the behavior and the emotion of the scene, we would try different things and when we get to the physical aspects of it we would just pull back because what happens next is that you kiss and you don’t need to practice that.
“You really have to trust the other person especially when you are in a relationship or when you are married, you have to trust that the other person is doing this for the story you are telling, not to get some kind of kick out of it. Deborah and I have that trust and we maintain that trust and when the time comes to do it you really open yourself up to the other person and what you feel for them and let yourself feel as much as you can for the other person and that usually takes care of the intimacy. “
“Ciera and EJ are both in interesting positions, my wife’s husband and EJ’s girlfriend are in a love story together. I tried to reach out to him early on and let him know that I have no other intention than to tell that story with his girlfriend. Ciera and Deborah have become friends and it’s a better way to handle the feelings of everybody to consider them first. And it frees Deborah and me up a lot too not to have to worry about how they feel because we know that we are doing the right thing in terms of taking them into consideration.”
“If I were to act out killing somebody, you don’t really do it, but when you act kissing somebody, you do. Of course it’s still acting and it’s an imaginary circumstance but it’s kind of the one place where you can’t fudge it and you can’t fake it, you really have to do it and that’s where trust comes in.”
How do you feel about onscreen nudity? How far would you go for a scene?
“I am open to it. If somebody could convince me that it was a better way to do it than without, I mean somebody I trust like Alan [Ball], than yeah I’d do it.
I just directed my first movie with my wife and my family and I’ve written other things and most of the time I think if there is anything else you want to say in a scene and you put nudity in the scene that other thing will get missed [laughs]. If you have just the sex scene and that is all… then yes, when people are having sex they are generally naked one way or another. But if you want to reveal someone’s heart while they lay in bed smoking a cigarette naked and they’re topless, than, at least from a male point of view, everything goes away except for the nudity so you miss storytelling in favor of sensationalism and that I am not for. In just purely sex scenes there is nothing that you would miss by having nudity but I don’t know if a ton is gained by it either. So somebody would have to build a good case for me in order to convince me. “
Besides Deborah can you tell me what have you learned from your other True Blood colleagues?
“Yes, I can try, but people are going to get left out, I learned something from all of them.
What I learned from Ryan Kwanten is to enjoy myself and not put so much pressure on myself to perform, that I can trust myself and enjoy my work.
What I learned from Stephen Moyer is that this thing has a dignity and has to be taken serious, but that doesn’t mean that you have to take yourself seriously.
What I learned from Anna Paquin is that we actors have an endurance that we probably have not tapped into and she proves it day in and day out.
Chris Bauer and I have a lot of philosophical discussions about acting and we approach it in different ways but we are after the same thing.”
“I am amazed that there is nobody on this show that comes at acting the same way, none of us have the same approach. But my God, look at the work on this show. I learned so much just spending time watching other actors work; it is an education in itself. By maintaining what is my approach now, but staying open to the way everybody else approaches their work, I am bound to learn something because these people are too good.”
“It is such a generous group of people. We don’t fight, there are no egos, and there is none of that nastiness that you get on almost every other set that I have ever been on. There is a willingness to help the person across from you with the scene and help them to do the best they can do, you share in their joy when they do it well and you encourage them if they feel bad about and it’s a pretty ideal place for this type of creativity.”
“The True Blood set is the best place to be and I mean that.”
We are all dying to know some more about season 3, but although Jim has read the scripts of the first four episodes, he is not allowed to reveal anything about the storylines. But what he did say is : “In my personal opinion season 3 is even more exciting than season 2 because it’s more active. There is more adventure.”
I would say that season 2 was pretty active…
“Yes it was, but I would say that this is even more … dynamic is a better word.”
Ok, that’s a good description, because I don’t want to know yet what will happen in season 3.
“I do. I’d like to know where we are headed.”
Stay tuned for part 2 of the Jim Parrack interview where he talks about his new film “Battle: Los Angeles”.