III. STEPHEN MOYER

Stephen Moyer, at 40 years old, refers to himself as an "older bloke." Though he's often facetious, this characterization doesn't carry a trace of irony. Maybe it's that his two kids, Lilac and Billy, are now 7 and 10, respectively. Maybe it's that his fiancée—costar Anna Paquin—is just 27. Or maybe it's that the British actor has grown accustomed to playing the 173-year-old vampire Bill Compton. Granted, as vampires go, Bill's a mere lad compared with his 1,000-year-old nemesis, Eric Northman (played by Alexander Skarsgård). But whereas the tracksuited, club-owning Eric is youthful beyond his centuries, Bill is the epitome of a throwback. A laconic farmer turned Confederate soldier who was returning home to his wife and children when a female vampire "turned" him (don't you hate when that happens?), he has led a life mired in tragedy that's mapped itself across his face. And even though Moyer declares his life to be "fantastic," he somehow exudes a kind of personal ballast—a seasoned quality that suggests he's seen enough to know a thing or two.

Moyer grew up in the working-class county of Essex, about an hour outside London, where his father sold glass for a living. "He's 69 and still doing it," Moyer says. "No pension—it's the kind of job you just keep doing until you drop." When Moyer was 11 he played Tom Sawyer in a school play and knew he wanted to be an actor.

"I didn't want to do film or commercials or television," he says of his early days, first as a student at the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art and then as a member of the Royal Shakespeare Company. "That was cheap. That was selling out. I was the classic liberal, left-wing, 'Theater is going to change the world' kind of person. You know, very, very boring."

He was serious, mind you, for quite a while. But then he was offered a commercial ("It was for coffee—fucking cheesy shit"), which he agreed to do because it would run exclusively in Scandinavia and no one he knew would see it (though Skarsgård grew up watching it in Sweden and likes to tease him about it). Moyer was well compensated for his trouble ("1,000 quid, which was shitloads back then") and used the money to buy a boat moored on the canals of London's Little Venice, where he lived for seven years. Today he and Paquin live on the canals of Venice, California—albeit in a house on terra firma.

"I have to live in places that are called Venice," he says. "I'm a Venice-zuelan."

"THERE'S THIS DESIRE TO BE OVERPOWERED, WHICH ISN'T VERY P.C. TO SAY. PRIMAL SHIT. AND DEVIRGINIZATION. IT ALWAYS HAPPENS TO A PIECE OF SKIN THAT DOESN'T HAVE A HOLE IN IT—A SHARP, LONG THINK MAKES THAT HOLE AND THEN BLOOD COME OUT AND IS SUCKED UP . . . I MEAN THAT IS SEXUAL STUFF. EVERY TIME I TALK ABOUT IT I GET A LITTLE BIT HOT UNDER THE COLLAR."—MOYER

Moyer takes a sip of the water he's ordered at an airy café—art gallery not far from his home. He compulsively taps out the rhythm to the Dave Brubeck tune playing over the stereo—"I'm really enjoying this musical selection," he says—stopping only to wave through the window at a friend passing by. Unlike Bill, whom he plays as a composed, almost motionless figure ("He doesn't have a pulse, so he wouldn't twitch or make unnecessary movement," he explains), Moyer is animated and charmingly revved-up, perhaps even a tiny bit hyper. He likes to swear, though his English accent makes this sound salty rather than crass (he also likes to call women "luv" and use words like chuffed, which is British for stoked). And he's talkative. Despite endless tabloid scrutiny, he has no qualms about discussing his relationship with Paquin, which he entered into with great caution. "To get a pilot that runs to a series, it's big shit to people," Moyer says. "And so to come along and go, 'Oh, let's have a quick fuck,' and then risk arguing and being a nightmare when you're playing the two people who are together the whole time—that would be immature."

Which is the opposite of how things worked out. Moyer, whose children are from two different relationships, has never been married, but he and Paquin publicly announced their engagement in August 2009 (just don't ask him if they've set a date; he's taken to saying it'll be in 2020). "It's HBO's fault," Moyer says of their hookup. "They put us in the same hotel." Not the same room—at least "not to begin with," he snickers. "No, I'm joking. They put us in these hotel suites, and we hung out for a while and got to know each other. The attraction was there, so it was a matter of whether we acted on it or not."

"When it got back to me that they were an item, I admit I thought, Oh boy," says Alan Ball, True Blood's creator. "But I trusted them to be adult about it, and they have been. And when they got engaged, Anna said to me, 'I've never been so happy in my life.' So how can you not be happy about that?"

If Moyer's relationship with Paquin seems both organic and infused with courtly devotion, the relationship between their characters is no different—despite the fact that Moyers gorges himself on her blood (it's a sugarcane mixture that tastes, he says, like "strawberry-flavored corn syrup").

"He's in many ways an old-fashioned romantic, like Mr. Rochester or Heathcliff," Ball says of Moyer. "A lot of people auditioning thought playing a vampire meant acting insane. I was looking for someone who brought a dignity and gravitas to the role."

And yet, like all the vampires on the show, Moyer delivers a primordial charisma. If Skarsgård plays it to ethereal, almost sylph-like effect, Moyer conveys a brand of sex appeal that's brooding, clenched, and so earthy you can almost feel its scabrous texture. And then, of course, there's that voice—husky and clipped and heavy on the consonants, particularly when he utters the name of Paquin's character, Sookie. For reasons that baffle Moyer, his pronunciation has become a subject of public fascination.

"We were given that pronunciation very early on by Charlaine Harris herself," says Moyer, referring to the author of the True Blood books, as we get up to leave. "Sookie rhymes with cookie. It doesn't rhyme with kooky."

I ask him if he calls Paquin that at home.

"All the time," Moyer deadpans. "When she's chained up."


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