So what’s it like to be a werewolf on True Blood? I had the chance to find out the answer to that question – and many more – in this exclusive interview with Jamie Gray Hyder.
How is it to actually be on a True Blood set?
Jamie Gray Hyder: “It’s actually pretty fun. There is a lot, lot, lot going on with all the special effects and the animals – and the stunts. You’ve always got to watch out for something, but it’s a lot of fun.”
When you first signed on to the series last year, did you really know what you were signing up for?
Jamie Gray Hyder: “I knew what was happening last season; I didn’t really know how this season was going to go, or if I was even going to be coming back. I didn’t really know what was lying ahead for me, but I’m happy with how it turned out. I’m happy to be more involved with the show this season. I think this upcoming episode [episode two] is my favorite for my character. Yeah, it’s been a good ride.”
Did you have any qualms about taking on the role of a werewolf? Or did you know it would be fine because the show’s been so successful?
Jamie Gray Hyder: “I think it’s a really fun opportunity. There is so much hyper-realistic stuff right now in a lot of the sitcoms, so it’s really interesting to be able to play a more complex character. I grew up in theater and so I always got to play all these crazy characters, all of these different age ranges. Then when you come into television, it’s much more specific as to how you are really. Being able to play something fantasy or sci-fi, you just get to experience a lot more and it’s a lot of fun.”
Were you a fan of the series before you joined the cast last year?
Jamie Gray Hyder: “I had never really watched it. I watched it here and there with friends, but I don’t even have a TV.”
That’s a good excuse then.
Jamie Gray Hyder: “It’s funny, but I don’t have a TV. I had heard of the show and my friends were all obsessed with it, and I watched a few episodes here and there but I had just never watched it regularly. As soon as I got cast I had to watch all four seasons in like three days, but I was immediately hooked. I loved it! I don’t get to read the scripts for the episodes that I’m not in, so you also really become a fan because you get invested in it but you don’t actually know what’s going to happen all the time. A lot of it’s a surprise for the people on the show as well.”
What’s the reason for not having a TV?
Jamie Gray Hyder: “I don’t know. I used to have a really big one where I lived, and then I moved and I didn’t take it with me. I just never bought a new one.”
You don’t feel like you are missing anything?
Jamie Gray Hyder: “I don’t. I watch Netflix. You can find anything online. I’ve got an iPad and I watch a lot of stuff on there. I just kind of like not having a TV in the house. I know it sounds crazy.
I end up being more productive, I guess. Don’t get me wrong, I watch just as many shows on my iPad. Yeah, I just don’t have one.”
Did they give you any background information whatsoever on Danielle? Is there a detailed backstory to her?
Jamie Gray Hyder: “Not really. She didn’t have an established backstory or something that was in the books or anything like that. But the writers are so great at writing characters that you still have a sense for who she is and her history. She was very much always trying to vie for the attention of whoever is in power. She wants to just belong to the pack. I don’t think she really had belonged to a big family or had many friends in her life before. I imagine she just wants to belong to a group and probably didn’t have a very good home or family life prior to this.
As you go, that is something that is so interesting about TV, as the show develops the character develops with it. That has been one of the most interesting parts for me is that I don’t necessarily know where my character is going. You have to really be in the moment and have enough of your character’s characteristics and all of that really figured out and solidified from the beginning, and then you just alter that based on the situation you’re in. So it really calls on me to be in the moment and react to everything very honestly, because you don’t necessarily know your arc. You get a little bit of information, but everything can change three days before.”
What I find interesting with True Blood is that over the seasons the writers seem to react to how the fans embrace characters and actual give some characters bigger roles in the storyline based on fan response. So the writers might not even know where your character is going, because they probably have not totally figured it out yet.
Jamie Gray Hyder: “It is about fan reaction, it’s about what’s going on in current events. There’s so much involved in the production that a lot of it can also be with scheduling. There are so many little things that, honestly, can affect the plot and what they have to consider when writing.
Yeah, the fans are just insane and so supportive. They love the show and they are so involved and interactive in social media stuff. You just get such a sense of how people are reacting to the show. The producers, the writers, and the directors really respond to that. They’re very loyal to the fans, and that’s caused them to deviate from the books at times but that’s why True Blood is so successful. Sometimes we’ve been criticized in the media, but the fans are just so loyal and that’s who we make the show for.”
And speaking of fan reaction, one of the most talked about scenes from the sixth season premiere was your threesome with Joe Manganiello and Kelly Overton. That was definitely hot and steamy.
Jamie Gray Hyder: “I know! I didn’t know I was going to make such a splash.”
Can you talk about what it’s like shooting that sort of scene?
Jamie Gray Hyder: “It was a challenge, although it felt more comfortable than it should be as far as everyone on set’s used to it. It’s very much a normal day for most people involved. The cast and crew is so used to nudity on the show that they’re very respectful, and they figured out all the ways to make you feel comfortable and take care of you while the scene is happening. When you’re standing outside naked for 10 hours in 30-degree weather it can get a little trying.”
It was really just 30 degrees?
Jamie Gray Hyder: “Yeah, it was freezing cold.”
How do they make you comfortable? Is it that they don’t have very many people just hanging around that aren’t necessary? What is it they usually do to help put the actors at ease?
Jamie Gray Hyder: “Absolutely. First of all, there is a lot of dialogue that goes on before it’s being shot. I had conversations with Steve Moyer on the phone about it. He directed that episode, so he just wanted to make sure that I was comfortable. We talked about the context a little bit for my character and all of that. I had worked with Joe and Kelly all last season as well, so it was nice to have that scene with people that I trusted and respected and had worked with in the past.
Then, they have a closed set. There’s a skeleton crew, only the people that really need to be there. They treat it like any other shoot at the same time, so it’s not a ton of focus on it. You’ve just got to shoot it. You’ve just got to do it, got to commit and go for it. You’re just waiting until the last second to take your robe off and then the robe comes right back on the second they call cut. You go along as the shot moves up, once they get the full shot and they come in a little tighter so I can put shoes on, and they get a little tight and I can put sweatpants on, a little tighter and you kind of work your way back into your clothes.”
Are we going to see more of this relationship this season?
Jamie Gray Hyder: “I think they cover it a lot in the first episode. You’re still going to see a whole lot of different dynamics between the wolfpack. You will see Rikki [played by Kelly Overton] and Alcide [played by Joe Manganiello] and Danielle in different ways. It’s definitely still an action-packed season to come. I know the premiere was just packed with so much. I’m really excited for everybody to continue to see all of the stuff that we’ve got.”
The show does a great job of balancing the amount of time the audience gets to spend with the central characters. Viewers get fed a little bit of everything, so we don’t feel like we’re missing out on seeing the werewolves. I would imagine it’s interesting when you get your part of the script to know exactly how much you are going to be in an episode, given the large ensemble cast.
Jamie Gray Hyder: “Yes, definitely. I think they have actually streamlined the storylines a little bit this season. In the past there was so much going on that it was hard to feature everybody every episode. There was so many different plotlines and everything. I was absolutely excited to see we had two big scenes in this episode. For the wolves, now we’re just starting a new chapter. There’s a lot to figure out and a lot going on in Bon Temps too, so we’re trying to maintain tight as a pack while everything else is falling apart around us.”
And working with Joe Manganiello – everyone’s favorite sexy werewolf pack master?
Jamie Gray Hyder: “Joe is definitely an attractive guy. He is really low key, down to earth, just a smart guy. We all have a really good time on the set, and I have a ton of respect for him. He is one of the most disciplined individuals that I have ever been around.”
Jamie Gray Hyder: “Absolutely. He is so dedicated to his work, as he should be. The amount that he trains and the discipline that he has for his body, he follows that very seriously. For actors, that is really important to see and be reminded of. We have our body and our voice, and you’ve got to take care of both of them, otherwise you can’t do much.”
Are you on the set when the real wolves are around?
Jamie Gray Hyder: “Oh, yes.”
What’s that like?
Jamie Gray Hyder: “In fact, this season after we shot the couple of days for this first episode, I had worked with my wolf on multiple occasions and at that point the trainer actually let me pet my wolf. This was after being told the entire night that you can’t look at them, you can’t get near them, can’t touch them, and can’t eat anything within 100 yards. Now all of the sudden I got told that I could pet my wolf because I was the one who was working with her the whole time. That was a huge highlight for me. They’re wild animals. They’re real wild animals and we have a whole group of them that will work at a time. Some of them are hybrids, half wolf/half Huskies, and we do have one full-blooded wolf that we work with as well.
It’s serious stuff. They are insanely well trained. They hit their marks every time. They don’t get distracted. Every now and then they do, but it’s amazing. They work like anyone else. You have to constantly remind yourself that they are wild animals, and although they are well trained they still have the instincts of a wild animal.”
You have to give them respect.
Jamie Gray Hyder: “It’s a really rare opportunity, I think, for an actor playing such a role to be able to interact with the same exact animal that you are being influenced by. To actually watch their behavior in person…it’s just such a rare opportunity. It’s not typical to be able to interact that closely. Especially when you are playing a werewolf, to actually have wolves around is a really cool thing, I think.”
Most productions use CGI wolves, but not True Blood.
Jamie Gray Hyder: “People are always so shocked by that. They always go, ‘Oh my God, they are not CGI?!’ I’m like, ‘No.’ When we’re all standing in the scenes together you’re standing a few feet from them. They just do their work and they get taken back to their kennels up on the hill, away from everybody. With the shifters on the show they have tons of animals, when you think about it.”
Jamie Gray Hyder: “So, we have the wolves but then if you think about how many times Luna or Sam have shifted into bulls, and pigs, and dogs, and birds…”
Just about everything.
Jamie Gray Hyder: “There is a lot going on.”
How was it to be directed by Stephen Moyer?
Jamie Gray Hyder: “It’s great. He actually directed me in an episode that I was in last season as well. It’s a really cool thing. We switch directors a lot on True Blood, which is an awesome opportunity to work with different people. You get a sense for different styles, both in the way they direct and just the general style of the episode as a whole. Working with a director who is also an actor is a really cool opportunity because they communicate with you in a different way.
Stephen is very collaborative. He’s got all of his own ideas and absolutely comes in with what he wants. He always also gives you room for adjustments or to offer things that you want to do or thought about. It’s a very much an open conversation. For me, it was particularly helpful to have him as the director for this episode because he has done so many nude scenes and things like that in the past. To have someone who has been through it directing you and being aware of that is also a huge asset for that episode.”
He could put himself in your shoes and know what you are going through in that situation.
Jamie Gray Hyder: “It’s just a different type of consideration, I think.”
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