Over the course of nearly five full seasons of True Blood, Sam Trammell has played Sam Merlotte, the shape-shifting owner of Merlotte's Bar & Grill. While most of the Bon Temps, Louisiana, residents have a mean streak, Merlotte has been the lovable nice guy who can morph into reptiles, birds, and other animals. The current season finds Sam becoming the target of local hate groups who seem to be growing increasingly weary of nonhumans by the second.
Details spoke with Trammell, 43, about the deeper meanings behind True Blood, staying in shape for nude scenes, and the likelihood of vampires and shifters getting it on.
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DETAILS: In last Sunday's episode ["Somebody That I Used to Know"], your love interest, Luna [Janina Gavankar; pictured above], shifted, into, well, you. How was it playing a woman trapped in a man's body?
SAM TRAMMELL: It was really challenging. I didn't want to do a cliché and do a totally effeminate thing. I wanted to do Luna. I did Tommy [Marshall Allman] last year, and he had more of a hook, more of an accent. Janina was tough. There's nothing really extreme about her, about how she does Luna. It was difficult, but she was great. She helped me out. I watched her, she read the scenes with me, and I went for it. It's funny, because you always think you're doing something extremely large, but when you see it on TV, it plays less big than you think it is.
DETAILS: Well, you did sway your hips at one point.
SAM TRAMMELL: I did. That is one thing she does that's very different from me, her walk. [Laughs] I remember my hips being sore the next day from that, believe it or not.
DETAILS: Stop. They were sore?
SAM TRAMMELL: Yeah, I was doing it big, but it didn't show up like that.
DETAILS: Sam is much more of a vigilante this season. Why is that?
SAM TRAMMELL: Well, his two friends who were shape-shifters got shot. Then he got shot. Then Luna got shot. You get mad when you get shot. I say they shot us because of who we are, a hate crime, pretty much—at least to Sam. You can see the good ol' boys that were doing it, that it wasn't random, that it was specifically because of who I am.
DETAILS: It's interesting the way this season is getting into the overarching theme of acceptance, whether it's vampires or shifters, and the politics of being different.
SAM TRAMMELL: I guess you could compare it to the original valid archetype? The non-mainstreaming vampires would say it's them. The humans are saying that about the shifters—it's not racist, but it's an "ist."
DETAILS: It seems to mirror a lot of real life: People hating on other people, shooting people with guns, all that stuff.
SAM TRAMMELL: Yeah, you know what it is? It's fear. The good ol' boys afraid of what's different, and one vampire group afraid of the different philosophies of another vampire group, and what way of life is better. If you're not scared, if you're not threatened, it's not an issue. But if you are, you start shooting and killing.
DETAILS: You spent your teen years in West Virginia. You must have had some experience with good ol' boys with moonshine and pickup trucks.
SAM TRAMMELL: [Laughs] Yeah, I spent my teen years in West Virginia, and when I was a kid, in Louisiana. I definitely have that exposure to two different sorts of rural: the South and Appalachia. A lot of West Virginia is untouched. It doesn't have as many strip malls, it has these old towns that feel like it used to be how it looked. Charleston has this river that runs through it, and it's really beautiful. I enjoyed it. My father's a surgeon, and he moved up there and started a practice there.
DETAILS: It seems to be hard for Bon Temps residents on True Blood to maintain a steady job. How has Merlotte's bar stayed afloat all this time?
SAM TRAMMELL: Oh my God. It's funny, you know, Lafayette [Nelsan Ellis] the cook has been off everywhere. Terry [Todd Lowe] was making some jailhouse chili, but he's off cooking now. Sookie [Anna Paquin; pictured above] is not that committed. But I guess she doesn't really have a mortgage to pay because she has her grandmother's house. I lost Tara [Rutina Wesley]. Daphne got killed. Holly [Lauren Bowles] and Arlene [Carrie Preston] are off on witchcraft. I feel like we have some vending machines that have some cinnamon rolls and beer.
DETAILS: It's clearly the most recessionproof place on the planet.
SAM TRAMMELL: Obviously Sam's a good businessman. He owns a bar and has done fairly well, but he's a softy. If you work for him, you can pretty much do whatever you want.
DETAILS: In earlier seasons, Sam and Tara had a thing going. Now that she's a vampire, could they get back together? Do vampires get it on with shifters?
SAM TRAMMELL: You know, it would be great. I really loved getting to do stuff with Regina. I thought Sam and Tara made a really interesting match. I thought there was a lot there. She's a vampire now, so I think it's less likely. But who knows?
DETAILS: She could make requests. Like if she wanted to feed on a goat, you could shift into a goat.
SAM TRAMMELL: [Laughs] I could shift into a very large-quantity blood-producing animal, like a cow or something. Why not?
DETAILS: This is purely unscientific, but I'm pretty sure that of all the cast members, you've done the most nude scenes.
SAM TRAMMELL: You know what, I think you're right. Ryan [Kwanten] was up there. But this year, I may be in the lead. The rest of the season, I'm naked a lot.
DETAILS: Do you have to watch what you eat? Do any butt exercises?
SAM TRAMMELL: Oh my God. I'm going to have an eating disorder by the time this series is over. You're not 20 anymore, and we all know: Think about having 10 pounds added. It takes a lot of effort in eating and exercising just to look passable on camera without your shirt on. Then you have people like Ryan and Joe [Manganiello], who are super-human and they're very, very cut. The bar is pretty high on True Blood.
DETAILS: Are you a meat-and-potatoes guy?
SAM TRAMMELL: I definitely like to eat. I like sugar, and I like to drink beer. Which you can't even drink during the show. I drink wine. That's part of the not-so-glamourous part of being an actor.
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—Mike Ayers (@themikeayers) is a New York City-based arts and entertainment writer. He'd rather be a shape-shifter than a vampire.