Stephen Moyer, True Blood

Stephen Moyer curls back his upper lip, revealing one of his — surprise — natural fangs. The star of HBO's True Blood (Sundays at 9 pm/ET) explains that, in his other bloodsucker role, for the 1998 British television series Ultraviolet, "they just whitened these so the camera would pick them up." He runs his index finger down the unusually sharp canine and prods the pointed tip. Playing a vampire, it seems, comes naturally.

These days, a lot of women wouldn't mind baring their necks for Moyer. But while his character, 173-year-old reformed vamp Bill Compton, has the power to "glamour" mortals (control them through a hypnotic stare), Moyer's off-screen magnetism comes from a down-to-earth friendliness. Not to mention intense blue eyes, a cut physique and the habitual use of words like "luv" and "dahling" delivered in a British accent.

If Bill's sexiness is restrained and brooding, Moyer's is more lively. Between takes on the True Blood set, he walks so fast that even his constant companion, Splash, a spaniel-collie mix, has trouble keeping up. "I don't muck about," Moyer says. Growing up in England's predominantly blue-collar Essex County during Britain's Thatcher era, "I was a bit of a geezer — a naughty, not very clever, bad boy. We all were." Moyer and his mates built forts in the forest, lobbed rotten tomatoes at posh golfers and got away with underage drinking at the local pub. His mischievous streak hasn't completely vanished. "He teases me all day long, and pretty much has since Day 1!" says costar Anna Paquin, who plays fetching waitress Sookie Stackhouse. But when cameras roll on a love scene, Moyer kisses her gently, as if he's afraid she might break. When director Alan Ball calls "Cut!" the two stars break into laughter and Moyer gives Paquin's rear end a playful swat. "He's so talented," she says. "And he's great to play off."

With the on-screen heat generated by these two, it's no wonder rumors are swirling about a real-life romance. Though neither will confirm an off-screen relationship, Paquin says that the chemistry between them was instant. "We clicked," she says of the first time they read together. "Bill is a true gentleman. He's polite, respectful, charismatic and very bright. Steve is all those things, too."

Bill's good qualities can't make up for the fact that as a vamp-human couple, he and Sookie face some dangerous, unusual challenges. Moyer has plenty of experience playing a star-crossed lover. Following his graduation from the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art and a two-year stint with the Royal Shakespeare Company, he toured the world playing Romeo.

After being cast in a British television series at 24, he moved into a purple houseboat on a London canal, where he once entertained rocker Pete Townshend and other famous guests. "In my twenties, I wanted to be at the apex of the adventure and craziness," he says. His partying phase ended when he turned 31, after the birth of his son Billy, now 8. (Daughter Lilac followed two years later.) Moyer and their mother, a writer, separated two years ago and the children live mostly in London with her. During the 15-month shoot of True Blood, they visited L.A., and he flew to the U.K. Still, he understands the pain of Bill's permanent separation from his family. While shooting a scene where new vamp Bill sees his children for the very last time, "I was absolutely in bits," Moyer says.

Nevertheless, he proclaims, "I can't imagine being happier than I am at this exact second. I'm really proud of the gig." It almost didn't happen. After years of sporadic work in Hollywood (such as The Starter Wife mini-series), Moyer decided to return to London permanently. Then the True Blood script arrived. "It was when it wasn't important anymore that somehow I was ready," Moyer says of landing the role. For a moment, he looks as pensive as Bill Compton. Then he smiles. "It's a wonderfully calming position to be in. I feel very honored." And with the show renewed for a second season, fans are eager to see what he'll sink his teeth into next.