In case you haven't noticed, the men of True Blood don't mind taking off their clothes. During wardrobe changes for this cover shoot at the Good Luck Bar in Los Angeles, they casually stripped down to their skivvies in a supersize RV, parked curbside, that doubled as a dressing room. One visitor wasn't exactly sure how to keep from staring. As executive producer Alan Ball puts it, "They're all insanely beautiful."
But it's not just those hot bodies that draw more than five million fans to HBO's unholy trinity of hunkdom each week. Their characters have a lot going on under the skin, too, and in Season 4, they're grappling with some major emotional shake-ups.
Take Stephen Moyer's Civil War-era vampire Bill Compton. He had to accept that it's over with the love of his very long life, Sookie Stackhouse (played by Moyer's real-life wife, Anna Paquin), and focus on his new role as vampire king of Louisiana.
Meanwhile, Alexander Skarsgård's commanding Viking bloodsucker and cool bar owner Eric Northman is under a witch's spell that's stripped him of any memory of his badass personality, leaving him vulnerable and dependent on Sookie for protection.
Finally, Joe Manganiello's working-class hero werewolf Alcide Herveaux is settled down with the woman who last year tried to kill Sookie — while he was serving as her bodyguard.
What's next? "There's some fun stuff with Sookie and her men coming down the pike," promises Ball. "The discovery that Sookie is still alive throws Alcide's world into turmoil." As for Eric and our favorite telepathic waitress, fans of Charlaine Harris' books won't be disappointed. "The spell has created an Eric that never would have existed before, and that is the person Sookie is falling for. They're both genuinely falling in love." And where does that leave Bill? "He doesn't like it one bit," says Ball. "But eventually the clash between the witches and vampires is going to bring everyone together." First, we brought the guys together for a chat.
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TV GUIDE MAGAZINE: What's it like to play your characters now that they're in such different circumstances this season?
STEPHEN: Bill had to let Sookie go. And in doing so, he's become a better man and a better king. It's been great as an actor having that sort of guiding light for him.
JOE: Alcide is wrestling with that beast inside him. I like moments where that thing inside him that he's so afraid of is also this place of great strength.
ALEX: I love Eric's vulnerability. But it's tricky because even though he doesn't know who he is, you can't play it too flat. You can't chop off his balls. Then there's his inner struggle. If they break the spell, then Eric finds out about all the things he's done in the past and who he really is, and that scares him. He's like, "Hey, I'm kind of happy in this little house with Sookie."
STEPHEN: Eric and Sookie are the tipping point of this season. The best stuff that's in the show is their stuff.
TV GUIDE MAGAZINE: So fans are finally going to see them together! Has it been awkward for you, Stephen, since Anna's your wife?
STEPHEN: It could have been really difficult, but it's about being professional. And we all really like each other. It's tougher for Anna because she's having to show emotion with somebody else, and it's been the same people on our crew since she and I got together when the show first started.
ALEX: If it was awkward for us, that would spread to the crew. They see us being so relaxed with each other and it's so obvious when the camera is rolling and when it's not, you know? And Anna's great. She's a very generous actress, very professional. In fact, we shot a scene the other night and it was one of those where...
STEPHEN: It will get people talking!
TV GUIDE MAGAZINE: What is Anna like when the cameras aren't rolling?
STEPHEN: She's merciless in her ridicule of everybody, and she expects the same back.
JOE: I spent half of last season dressed in what she refers to as "Giant Joe's Giant Jumpsuit." So Anna and Rutina [Wesley, who plays Tara] came up with a dance routine and a song that they would perform every time I wore the Giant Jumpsuit.
ALEX: [Singing] Joe and his giant jumpsuit...
TV GUIDE MAGAZINE: Joe, when you came in on the third season, was there an initiation?
JOE: The new guy on a show can feel like an outsider. There can be egos and things like that. But Anna was completely friendly, welcoming. Still, the guys won't let me make eye contact.
STEPHEN: I make him get on his knees so we're eye-to-eye.
JOE: But I guess the initiation would be wearing the "sock" [a wardrobe item that protects an actor's modesty in a nude scene].
ALEX: I put it on him. [Laughs] Someone had to show him, you know?
TV GUIDE MAGAZINE: That sounds romantic.
JOE: Alex and I did this Valentine's Day shoot. There's an animal involved.
ALEX: And a big body of water.
JOE: Water, an animal, lots of nudity and lots of screaming.
TV GUIDE MAGAZINE: Should fans expect the show to delve into new sexual territory this season?
JOE: We do some werewolf sex this year for the first time.
STEPHEN: It's quite interesting. There are different ways of... Um, yeah, I'm going to stop now.
TV GUIDE MAGAZINE: You guys have to be naked a lot. Who works out the most?
STEPHEN: Joe's insane.
JOE: Yeah. I work out twice a day, six days a week. I eat constantly.
STEPHEN: I do three days a week. I just don't want to watch this show 20 years from now and look at myself and say, "Who is that white blob?"
ALEX: I do three days a week, too. But with Joe, it's all about the pecs. He can make them dance.
JOE: Alex hasn't looked me in the eye once. I'm like, "Up here, Alex. Up here."
For more with the men of True Blood, pick up this week's issue of TV Guide Magazine, on newsstands Thursday, July 14! Check out our video below: