In the fantastical world of Bon Temps, danger is pretty much always afoot. And on this week's Season 5 finale of True Blood, things get especially hairy. Eric (Alexander Skarsgård) and Co. struggle to save Bill's humanity while shapeshifter — and mostly all-around good guy — Sam Merlotte (Sam Trammell) infiltrates the Vampire Authority headquarters to rescue his lady love's daughter from the hands of corrupt bloodsuckers. But here on the beach in Santa Monica, the action is considerably more mellow. As Trammell, 43, gears up for a morning of catching waves, he talks surfing, semiotics and why there's no one left in Louisiana without a superpower.
TV Guide Magazine: How does a guy who set out to study physics at an Ivy League school end up in Hollywood?
Trammell: I went to Brown University thinking I'd become a theoretical physicist, but then I realized that it was all math and not any fun. So somehow I got into semiotics — I went to Paris and studied that during junior year — and by the time I got back, I was a little bit burnt.
TV Guide Magazine: How off-the-charts pretentious did the semiotics talk get?
Trammell: It's the most pretentious there is. We were all wearing black, smoking cigarettes, thinking we were the smartest people in the world. "The hegemonic transcendental signified forced upon the proletariat" — that was the kind of thing we were talking about. It was ridiculous.
TV Guide Magazine: After college, you got an agent, worked the theater circuit in New York, moved to L.A., then True Blood came along.
Trammell: Literally every other actor in town auditioned for it. [Creator] Alan Ball had just finished Six Feet Under, so I knew it was a big deal. After I got the part, I had lunch with him, and he told me the character was a shapeshifter. I thought Sam was just a guy who owned the bar.
TV Guide Magazine: Fast-forward to Season 5, and there are virtually no regular humans left in Bon Temps. What gives?
Trammell: Right, who's the normal person left to react? It's all in the [Sookie Stackhouse] books — they divvy out the supernatural creatures as the story goes on. But now even Tara's been turned! The show keeps getting bigger and the writers need something to work with.
TV Guide Magazine: For being the folksy town barkeep, Sam sure has a checkered past...
Trammell: It was so fun getting that background [on him] after I spent the first season pining after Sookie [Anna Paquin] and warning her about vampires. Anytime you get to hold a gun in a show, it is fun.
TV Guide Magazine: Is it just me...or does the food at Merlotte's look really good?
Trammell: Ha! That bar is incredible. The amount of detail they put in is unbelievable; if you go and look behind the bar, they have real cards for carpenters from Shreveport. I actually see the food, so I don't think it's that good. But the menu looks great.
TV Guide Magazine: Sam's been pretty unlucky in relationships. Do he and Luna (Janina Gavankar) stand a chance?
Trammell: He does have trust issues — that irrational fight-or-flee impulse. But I think he's found real love [with Luna], and he's learning how to hold onto it. It's about that moment when you know you want to pursue it in a serious way.
TV Guide Magazine: Think he still carries a torch for Sookie?
Trammell: Oh, sure. We've gotten pulled off in our different ways, but when you think about it, it's only been about a year and a half or two since the action started. It seems almost like a reasonable thing for them to end up together.
TV Guide Magazine: How close-knit is your cast?
Trammell: Funny enough, none of us ever hang out. Most ensemble shows take place in the hospital or the law office...us, it's all over the place. We all have separate story lines, so some of us never see each other. It feels like a lot of independent contractors. That's part of the reason why we get along really well; we're not with each other enough to dislike each other.
TV Guide Magazine: Your costars Anna Paquin and Stephen Moyer are expecting twins — how hush-hush was it when they first got together?
Trammell: They were very good at keeping it secret. I didn't know until Stephen came and told me. All of us were like, "Oh, my gosh, what's going to happen? I hope they don't break up!" But it's only made things better.
TV Guide Magazine: What's the feeling about Alan Ball leaving after this season?
Trammell: We would prefer that he stayed, for sure. But he's gonna be involved; he's not going to be completely gone. Alan is that hand on the tiller. He's made a lot of the choices that have made this show a success in the first place.
TV Guide Magazine: The love scenes are so realistic...what's it like shooting them?
Trammell: I'm usually wearing a sock, and you kind of have to hide and block everything from the camera, and it gets to be like a dance. It's not as awkward as you would think, but it's not devoid of awkwardness. There are a million people around. It's so unerotic.
TV Guide Magazine: Have you ever been shy about nudity?
Trammell: Absolutely not. It's just that as you get older, it's hard to keep your body looking...not even great, but just TV-passable. Especially when there are a lot of naturally fit people on the show—like Ryan [Kwanten], Joe [Manganiello]—the bar is very high. You just try to keep up. It's more effort than you think just to not look horrible!
True Blood airs Sunday at 9/8c on HBO.