Michael McMillian is Rev. Steve Newlin, the leader of the Fellowship Of The Sun Church. Before True Blood Michael played roles in Veronica Mars, What I Like About You, Without a Trace, Big Love, Saved and The Hills Have Eyes II.
There is something off with Steve Newlin, but he doesn’t have a secret career as a porn actor. Michael McMillian gives us a little inside information on Steve and on his own life.
You come from a small town in Kansas. What makes a Kansas boy want to take up acting and move to LA? Do you come from an artistic family?
Well, to be straight, I grew up in suburb of Kansas City, KS called Olathe. It technically wasn’t a small town, but it was far away from Hollywood. I grew up during a time when there was fortunately a lot of theater available for kids and high school students in the community. So I grew up doing shows like “Guys and Dolls” “Bye Bye Birdie,” and “Oklahoma!” For a while I thought I was going to be an animator when I grew up, or a comic book artist- my sister and father are both good artists- but theater brought a much larger collaborative and social experience along with it. I liked showing off and there were always pretty girls hanging around… I knew by 15 that I wanted to be an actor. Then it became about getting out of the Midwest and getting somewhere where I could achieve that. I started taking it more seriously as I got older.
Which actors did you look up to and influenced you?
Harrison Ford was a household name in my home. My family had its differences, but he wasn’t one of them. Steve Martin, Tom Hanks, Michael J. Fox and Bill Murray were my heroes. We also watched a lot of Cary Grant and Jimmy Stewart growing up, and even though the movies were old, those two were just as contemporary in my eyes. I think Jimmy Stewart in particular had a big influence on me. As I got into high school I became obsessed with guys like Phillip Seymour Hoffman, John C. Reilly and William H. Macy- that whole Paul Thomas Anderson crew.
What was your first paid acting job? Do you remember what you did with the money?
I got cast as a non-speaking role in WONDER BOYS my freshman year of college. I was basically a glorified extra. You can see me sitting next to Katie Holmes in the first scene. I’m pretty sure I’m staring directly into camera. I probably spent the money on comic books and beer.
Did you have any interest in the vampire genre before True Blood?
I’m a horror movie buff and a genre geek, so vampires have always captured my imagination. I loved movies like LOST BOYS and FRIGHT NIGHT as a kid. I read a couple of the Anne Rice books in high school, but never fully got into any of the vampire literature until TRUE BLOOD came along and I read the Sookie Stackhouse books.
When you first read the script of True Blood, did you like it immediately? What did you think of it?
When I heard that Alan Ball was doing a show about Vampires, I got really excited. After SIX FEET UNDER, of which I was a huge fan, I was expecting TRUE BLOOD to be about depressed, dysfunctional vampires sitting around the dinner table and not communicating with one another. I was surprised to discover how steeped in genre the pilot script was. Obviously that stems from Charlaine Harris’s books, but it was so much more colorful than I had predicted. I loved it. I loved the setting, particularly Merlotte’s, and dug the murder mystery aspect. The moment where Bill walks into the bar for the first time really captured me. It’s an important scene. The whole series spins out of that meeting between he and Sookie. It’s the same moment in the book where the reader falls for Sookie’s world and I thought it translated to the screen very well.
Can you tell us something about how you got the part of Steve Newlin. What was the audition process like? Did you originally audition for the role of Steve Newlin or were you up for another role?
I originally auditioned for Sam, which is hilarious, because it’s so obviously not the right role for me. Sam Trammell is just absolutely a perfect fit. And it showed too, because my audition was pretty lousy… I was lucky casting brought me back in for Steve Newlin. That was episode 3 of the first season, and the part was tiny, but there was talk of it becoming a larger role in the second season. Alan Ball was there, whom I had read for years before on SIX FEET UNDER. He’s the best guy to go in a read for in a room- he really makes the actor feel comfortable- he just gets it. We worked the scene a couple times, I went home, and a few hours later I got the call that they were bringing me on for a couple episodes. True to their word, the role carried over into the second season. It was a rare audition process where this single casting session lead to a series regular role. I kind of slipped in the back door, I guess. I got lucky.
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How was the look of Steve created, how did he come to life? Did you have any say in his looks?
I believe the design came down to talks between Alan and Kelly Kline, our lead hair stylist, and Audrey Fisher, our costume designer. In the first season, I wasn’t around much, and Steve’s look was a bit more generic- sort of a conservative politician. But when the Newlins’ got fleshed out for season 2, the look evolved into something that evoked a TV evangelist style. It was very big and very Texas. Fantastic stuff. So much of what informed me about the character came from the look. Kelly and Audrey did half the job for me.
How did you prepare for the role? Did you read the books by Charlaine Harris?
I read the first 6 books as soon as I was cast in the first season. I’m planning to catch up with the rest this summer. Steve is such a scary character in LIVING DEAD IN DALLAS and I really wanted to stay as close to that original vision as possible, while staying true to what the writers were cooking up for the show. I spent a lot of time researching the Religious Right and watching documentaries, The Bible Network, 700 Club, etc… shows that I thought would be the kind of forums Steve would appear on. I really did my best to watch how these personalities presented themselves in the public eye. I was cast in an election year, so there was such a wealth of political personalities on TV, and Steve being a politician himself, I paid very close attention to the debates and speeches. I wanted Steve to be comfortable and cocky in front of the camera.
Did you model yourself after a particular evangelical personality in order to prepare for the part?
Not one in particular but I watched tons of footage of Jerry Falwell, Ted Haggard, Pat Robertson and Joel Osteen. There’s also a little bit of George Bush in the character. At one point I realized that Steve played the role of spiritual coach at the Light of Day Camp, and I started thinking about some of the gym teachers and football coaches from my high school and middle school back in Kansas… I never played sports myself, but the coaches rule the roost back in the Midwest, where athletics are held in such high esteem, and their presence was always well known in the hallways and classrooms. It occurred to me that Steve is probably a huge Friday Night Lights fan. I think he sees himself as a Coach Taylor type- this evocative and empowering youth leader that young men look up to and want to be.
How would you describe Steve Newlin? Does he practice what he preaches?
Definitely. I think viewers are waiting for his moment of glaring hypocrisy, but I think the character is pretty consistent. He’s dangerous because he thinks of life in dual terms: black and white, right and wrong, good and evil… We are living in times where this old system of thinking is being challenged. It might be outdated, and even more so the leading cause of hate and conflict in the world. But Steve isn’t afraid live and die by the book. He’s doesn’t struggle with confusion. In some ways, he’s one of the least conflicted characters on the show. There’s nothing wrong with himself- it’s the rest of the world that’s the problem. He is on a self-proclaimed mission to save humanity and if he gets enough power, he’ll go for it. He’s also motivated by revenge for his father’s death, which blinds him. He may be more green than he thinks to get the job done.
Are there any characteristics that Steve Newlin has that you also see in yourself?
Geez, I really hope not. Although we’re probably both less cool than we’d like to think of ourselves.
Combining religion with hate is a very dangerous business, especially when it is preached with a smiling face. Does Steve realize how explosive the situation is that he is creating?
He’s a smart guy. He knows he’s going on TV and stoking the fires, butt I think he’s trying to smoke out the bad guys. He’s actively provoking a war to reveal the true evil agenda of the Vampires. In his eyes, this is Armageddon. God is on his side. The end justifies the means.
The fang-loving fans of True Blood all take side against the FOTS, they are a creepy bunch of course but do you believe that they are right when they say that vampires are a danger to human society?
Well, I mean, they certainly aren’t harmless. Even Bill has his questionable moments. The vampires have gone mainstream, but they still carry out their private system of justice, which is basically, “If you are human and you trespass against us, you are screwed.” I think the scene in the first season where Jessica is turned is all the justification the FOTS needs. Here was this innocent girl who was kidnapped and used as a prop in a Vampire court. She unwillingly lost her humanity. It’s really awful if you think about it. I’d wager if Vampires really did exist, there would be more people on Steve’s side than Sookie’s. In fact, I guarantee that would be the case.
Most of your scenes are with Anna Camp and Ryan Kwanten, what is it like working with them?
I love them both dearly. They really made the season a joy to work on. Seriously, we spent most of our time just laughing and having fun on set. They are two of the cleverest, talented and giving actors I’ve had the privilege to work with. I will never hear a word against them!
On the Fellowship of the Sun website there are several videos of Steve and Sarah. It all seems so real. What do you think of this marketing strategy?
It’s a really fun move on HBO’s part. In the context of the series, the FOTS Church is supposed to be media savvy, or at least trying to be, so the concept really lends itself to TRUE BLOOD’s viral campaign. I think it gives viewers just that little extra taste of “reality” to watch the show with. It’s exciting that our audience can find canonical material outside of the episodes themselves, and hopefully they will find the FOTS website fun and worthwhile. We sure had a lot of fun shooting it.
Do you check out the True Blood message boards or True Blood fan sites to read fan reactions?
Not really. I’ve kind of learned in the past to stay away from that stuff. There is much love for the show, but the Internet is fair ground, and a lot of people like to voice nasty opinions. And you know what? That’s what the forum is there for. If you don’t like something, by all means fire away. But posters have anonymity that actors or the show creators don’t, and that makes us easy targets. Sometimes the trash talking can get discouraging. But again, that’s part of the job.
Are you aware of the huge internet fan activity, like on Twitter and on Facebook?
Yes, but I’m not involved directly… Again, I think it’s cool that these outlets exist to expand the experience of the show. I hope the audience has fun with it.
Will you be back in Season 3 of True Blood?
Well, we readers of the books know that Steve makes an appearance in CLUB DEAD, which the 3rd season will presumably be based on. But Alan Ball and the writers are switching things up, so let’s keep our fingers crossed that Steve gets out of season 2 alive first…
Has your life changed since you’ve been seen in True Blood?
In a small sense, I’m getting a taste of what it’s like to work on a hit show, which is new for me. It hasn’t changed anything, really, I’m just happy to know that I get to do work I love and people are watching. After all, what’s the point of being an actor if you don’t have an audience? So I’m pumped that we’ve got a strong following. It makes the hard work the cast and crew put into TRUE BLOOD seem worthwhile.
Do True Blood fans recognize you on the street? What do they say?
People are slowly starting to come up to me about Steve. I’ve repeatedly heard how creepy and “hate-able” I am. It’s pretty hilarious. I guess I’m doing my job.
Many of our members have asked if Rev. Steve Newlin is the person (rose clenched between his teeth) in the Vampire Adult Film called “His First Fangbang” that Sookie flips to whilst she is sitting on the couch in her hotel room in Dallas….. Anything you want to tell us?
That is genius. That’s not Steve, but that is a really funny idea. He really is the kind of character that screams “skeletons in his closet,” isn’t he? It would be really fun to explore the double-life of Steve Newlin. If he has one.
What are you personal interests, what do you do in your free time?
Well I’m a huge nerd, really. I’m an avid reader and movie nut. I love comics. I write. I drew all the time growing up and I’m trying to get back in touch with that neglected talent. I love nature… I’ve recently begun to explore some of the better hiking trails around the L.A. basin. The San Gabriel Mountains are another world that I never knew existed. I have a bit of an adventurous bone in my body- I love to travel and explore. Any chance I have to get away from the city and escape I take it.
What are your favorite TV shows that you watch?
I pretty much watch everything HBO does- and this is before I started working on TRUE BLOOD. I love MAD MEN. I love LOST. 30 ROCK is fantastic and I’m a fan of THE OFFICE. Right now I’m more than halfway through the boxed set of THE WIRE. It is almost unbearably good. How these actors and writers pulled of such a rich and complex story and got lost under the radar I will never understand. I am eagerly awaiting the new GAME OF THRONES series from HBO, based on George R.R. Martin’s A SONG OF ICE AND FIRE novels. I would kill to play a role on that series. What a great, wonderful and tragic epic. Fans of TRUE BLOOD should rush out and get those books.
You have a series that is In Production called ” Rockville CA ” – can you tell us anything about this series and your role in it?
It’s a web series created by Josh Schwartz that’s up now over at thewb.com. The story follows a group of young, LA hipster doofuses set in a rock club. I play the best friend of the lead guy in four episodes, sort of this hapless, music nerd looking to get laid.
Are you working on any other projects at the moment? Tv, film or stage?
I’m about to make a very cool announcement at Comic Con this week in San Diego about a new endeavor I’m really excited about… Stay tuned. I hope TRUE BLOOD viewers will be excited.