Arts & Entertainment
Life after death
With 'Six Feet Under' laid to rest, creator Alan Ball gives us a new TV series to sink our teeth into
by Chris Azzopardi
Originally printed 09/04/2008 (Issue 1636 - Between The Lines News)
When Claire Fisher drove into her family's future during the series finale of "Six Feet Under," fans of the five-season-running HBO drama likely wept much like they had lost someone in their own life. Alan Ball did - and then he quickly moved on.
"It didn't take me time to move away from 'Six Feet Under,'" the out creator says during a conference call with LGBT press. "When we ended the show, I was ready to end it. ... All of us who worked on the show sort of grieved the show as the show itself was ending. And it was really sad, and everybody was hugging and crying."
When his tears dried, his eyes sucked up every page of Charlaine Harris' "Southern Vampire Mysteries" - and he was wholly enthralled by the author's entertaining take on vampires. Plus, the shift from something as real as death to the totally unreal world of vampires in his new HBO series "True Blood," which airs at 9 p.m. Sept. 7 on HBO, was like taking a dip in a pool on a hot day. There are still deeper themes, but the human condition - which Ball has often tackled in "Six Feet Under," movie "American Beauty" and his latest film "Towelhead" - veered toward something far less dramatic (but equally edgy) and, well, less human.
"I got so sucked into this world," he recalls. "Each chapter ended with a cliffhanger, and I would end up reading seven chapters when I had basically said to myself, 'I'm only gonna read one chapter, 'cause I have to get up tomorrow at 6 a.m.'"
He immediately yearned to adapt the first book - about a local waitress played by Anna Paquin whose outsider aura allows her to integrate with vampires - into a feature film. He read the rest, and thought: This is a series.
"The world was big enough," he says, "and there were enough characters to support it. To distill it into one movie would be to simplify it in a way that I think would've done it a disservice."
Teeming with metaphorical parallels, especially those concerning outcasts - and hot vampire whoopee - Ball's adaptation stays relatively true to the books. He used creative liberty when it came to the characters, including the major gay player, Lafayette Reynolds (played by Nelsan Ellis), a short-order sorta-smart-ass grill cook who flips meat in club clothes and eye makeup.
"I felt like there was more there," Ball says. "I think, because of the ways he's (Ellis) approached the character, the character has grown in his importance within the world of the show compared to what he was originally conceived as being."
Much like "Six Feet Under" - of which Ball says, "I wanted David and Keith's story to be of equal weight; not less important, not more important than Nate and Brenda's" - "True Blood" is more diversified than a big-city subway. A gay chef. Pansexual vamps. And later, more sexually-varied characters, including a bar-working vampiress named Pam who "exudes a certain lesbian energy in a really kind of entertaining and seductive way."
As television shows shift to encompass the many faces of our community, Ball's a step ahead of other creators - and it's not because he feels he has to be. Now that we've moved away from AIDS-doomed and psycho gays, his characters aren't defined by their sexuality - or as PC instruments. And when they are, he says, it's condescending.
"Once it becomes like overtly-political and consciously-political it terms of that, it becomes less interesting for me. I know that's an answer that'll probably piss a lot of people off, but I'm just being honest."
Plus, "I live in a dream world, but that dream world is where being gay is about as interesting and important as having brown hair, and that's the way I try to approach it," he says. "I don't try to approach it as, 'OK, we have to have a gay character, 'cause goddammit, we're people, too.'"
Not like he has anything to prove. In "American Beauty," the Academy Award's 1999 Best Picture winner, there's the ultra-gay couple. And though his upcoming film "Towelhead" is poof-less, we can look forward to gay sex galore as "True Blood" progresses.
Keeping within the select-nasty-bits boundaries of broadcast television - but just barely - the vamp coitus could make us wish fanged bloodsuckers were our next-door neighbors.
"We've tried to approach the idea of the supernatural as being something that, instead of existing outside of nature, is a deeper, more primal manifestation of nature - and also, I think, when you've been around hundreds of years, you've kind of learned a thing or two."Chris Azzopardi is the entertainment editor of Between The Lines. To comment on this story, send an e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.