True Blood's Michelle Forbes Ponders "The Riddle of Maryann"
Michelle Forbes, True Blood
Michelle Forbes likes that her True Blood character, Maryann Forrester, is such an enigma. It reminds her of how she got the acting gig. "I was told a lot, yet very little, and that is the riddle of Maryann," she says, quizzically. "I was so lost initially." Join the club. You may have heard that Maryann is a maenad, and that's technically accurate — but it's certainly not the whole story. Forbes was gracious enough to help us understand Maryann's maybe-not-so-evil-after-all ways in this two-part interview. (After you watch Sunday's episode, come back Monday morning for the juicy bits of Part 2.)
TVGuide.com: When I heard Alan Ball was going to be doing a vampire show, I thought: Oh, no! I'm not generally a fan of goth or genre-type stuff.
Michelle Forbes: That's what's so fascinating about [True Blood]. For someone who seems to be known for her sci-fi career, I had not thought of vampires for more than five minutes in my entire life. But this show is not about vampires. It's looking at all these different beings — a telepathic waitress, a shape-shifter bar owner, or, you know, Stephen Root's lonely accountant vampire — and it gives such a real face to this world of the supernatural that I always found rather goofy.
TVGuide.com: And the end result is both fun and sophisticated.
Forbes: You have this landscape for social commentary, for questioning injustice, compassion and our pack-mentality thinking allegorically.
TVGuide.com: Were you a fan of Charlaine Harris' Sookie Stackhouse novels?
Forbes: I'd never even heard of them. I bought them, read the first one and then put them down because we are telling our own story. For the "book-ies" out there, everyone has to remember that it's an adaptation, not a translation.
TVGuide.com: There is a character who's similar to Maryann in the books though, isn't there?
Forbes: Yes, Callisto — she shows up in the second book. I was like, why didn't we use that name? It's so much prettier than Maryann.
TVGuide.com: What did they tell you in advance about Maryann?
Forbes: There were discussions about Greek mythology, and yet you open a script and you're dancing to the B-52's. It was a little hard trying to understand how the two mesh together, but with these writers and [series creator Alan Ball], the trust factor is massive. Everything became evident the more I sat still.
TVGuide.com: What exactly did you talk about?
Forbes: We talked about Bacchus and Dionysus; what a maenad is, how they're led by appetite, how they thrive off other peoples' appetites, chaos and destruction. But, you know, that was the diving board, but it wasn't the pool.
TVGuide.com: So Maryann is a hybrid of some sort?
Forbes: Yes. With these characters, you can do as much research as you want, but you're not going to find out that vampires sometimes wear tracksuits and flip-flops. So you take that foundation, and then you jump into the pool. You just get wet.
TVGuide.com: So then how did you make Maryann contemporary?
Forbes: I watched a lot of Ken Russell films. I thought a lot about New York in the '80s, [avant-garde punk singer] Lydia Lunch, when there was just freedom and excess and people were just knocking down walls, and there was chaos and destruction. On the Lower East Side, there were rats running through the street and people loved it! Stepping over bodies to walk home! The burning trash cans. There was just this creativity.
TVGuide.com: But then, Maryann's veneer is very calming and kind of New Age.
Forbes: She's happy; she's happier than all of us. It pisses me off actually.
TVGuide.com: What do you like about playing her?
Forbes: I tend to play a lot of tortured people, so it has been liberating playing Maryann. There is a sense of contentment that was, to be honest, initially horrifying and frightening to me. She's not afraid of anything, and not in that clichéd way, she's truly just OK. She's not afraid. She can eat what she likes, she can have sex with whom she likes, she can play with whom she likes. She can dress in beautiful clothes. She has everything at her fingertips. There's nothing she doesn't need.
TVGuide.com: Speaking of the clothes, did the wardrobe help you find her?
Forbes: Yes. She is that Ibiza party girl. She's the girl who never left the party, but it hasn't hurt her. Those people are usually quite tragic, but she's not. She doesn't give one blink as to what people think of her. She's free of all those constraints.
TVGuide.com: Why is Maryann so focused on Tara and her relationship with Eggs?
Forbes: Tara is just the one of the moment, the conduit into this town. Before her, it was Eggs. Before Eggs, it was someone else. After Tara, it will be someone else. The goal is much larger. Tara is just the most vulnerable and the most susceptible right now.
TVGuide.com: What language did Sookie hear when she read Maryann's thoughts? Are we to assume it's Greek?
Forbes: Yes, it's Greek, and you'll be hearing a lot more of it.
TVGuide.com: What exactly is happening when Maryann vibrates?
Forbes: The vibrations are very integral to who she is. She thrives off the energy of the people around her. When they are in a place of ecstasy, that feeds her. Her appetite is fed off the appetite of others.
TVGuide.com: But isn't she also creating their behavior?
Forbes: It's a mutual energy flow, if you will. She sets it in motion and then she receives the energy from it.
TVGuide.com: Are those vibration scenes really weird to film?
Forbes: You do feel a little nutty. There's some green screen; it depends because it happens in different ways at different times. It's a bit technical at times and you have to brace yourself for the fact that you're standing there shaking in front of the crew.
TVGuide.com: What's up with the pig? Is it a shape-shifted human? Like maybe Karl, Maryann's butler?
Forbes: We'll keep finding out. I mean, animals of all sorts play their part as the season progresses. The pig is important, but it's not as important as you think. There are so many other animals that come into play.
Come back Monday morning for Part 2 of our interview with Forbes, when she reveals other facets of Maryann's complicated identity.
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