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Blonde Ambition: Televisionary Talks to Anna Camp of HBO's "True Blood"

HBO's seductive vampire drama series True Blood is positively overflowing with memorable and flawed characters but one of this season's most indelible and dynamic character additions is that of naughty preacher's wife Sarah Newlin, played with delicious aplomb by South Carolina native Anna Camp.

I had the opportunity to catch up with Camp earlier this week in an exclusive interview where we talked about Sarah Newlin, Camp's original audition for True Blood (for the role of Sookie, no less!), the love triangle between Sarah, Jason, and Steve, Sarah's darker side, Camp's theatre work (opposite Daniel Radcliffe in Equus), whether the Newlins are gone for good, Mad Men, and lots more.

So what are you waiting for? Toss your hair, flash your pearly whites, sharpen a stake and let's see what Anna Camp had to say about True Blood.

Televisionary: How did you get involved with True Blood? What sort of audition process did they put you through?

Anna Camp: Actually, I auditioned for Alan [Ball] for the pilot a while ago... for Sookie! (Laughs) And of course didn't get cast. Then a year later when he was looking to cast someone for Sarah, he called me up and offered me the part, which was really exciting. (Laughs) So I didn't have to audition; we just talked on the phone, so it was the best kind of audition in a way.

I just fell in love with the storyline and, being from the South originally, I had to be on this show at some point. It's just so creative and not like anything else on TV right now and I was really glad that he gave me that call.

Televisionary: How familiar were you with Charlaine Harris' novels?

Camp: I had watched the entire first season of the show and fallen in love with it. I wasn't originally acquainted with the books but I did read the first two.

Televisionary: Sarah Newlin seems to be a mass of swirling contradictions. How would you describe your character?

Camp: I think that she is discovering who she is all the time too. She comes in very strong and knowing who she is and believing in God and following her husband. Then she faces all of these situations that he's putting her through and surprising her. She's definitely taken down a journey that she didn't expect to go down. She meets Jason Stackhouse and is thrown off guard by that relationship when she's already doubting her husband and her faith.

She's faced with something that's completely the opposite of what she was brought up to believe and seeing how her husband treated Sookie and seeing he wants to cross the line into killing the vampire sympathizers, that's not something that Sarah wants to do.

She's lost and she's confused. She does believe that everything happens because God is willing it to be. She truly believes that Jason was sent here for her and that's why she's taken aback in Episode Seven when she believes that he was a spy. She's definitely confused and lost right now.

Televisionary: When you spoke to Alan initially then about coming on the series, how much of Sarah's backstory did he and the writers tell you before shooting? I was very surprised to learn about the pro-vampire stance in her past, for example.

Camp: I was actually very surprised too! (Laughs) They never really tell me anything! I found out when I got [the script] for Episode Three that that was what was driving her to be so forthright against standing up against the vampires. They didn't really tell me much. They just told me that [Sarah] was the wife of Steve Newlin. We talked about it once we got on the set that we were relatively a new couple, very young and been married for about four years. We sort of came up with a lot on the spot so I didn't really get too much backstory.

Televisionary: When I interviewed Alan a few weeks ago, we talked about the unexpected chemistry that develops between you, Ryan Kwanten, and Michael McMillian in the first few episodes of the season. Did this come as a surprise to you as well? And what was it like working with the two of them?

Camp: It was absolutely a surprise. I just think that the dynamic-- Of course, Ryan [Kwanten] is so perfectly cast; he's nothing at all like his character but he is incredible and a really great actor. And Michael McMillian as well; just great casting. I think we all just hit it off. You can't take it too seriously. You just have to have fun and really believe in your specific part.

When you get three people who are all really committed to playing their roles and you put them all in a situation like that, some magic sort of happens. We all looked forward to those scenes. It was rare that we'd all three get to be in a scene together but when we did it was really, really fun. Lots of improv, lots of keeping each other on our toes, and making jokes. We really hit it off. It was a great surprise.

Televisionary: Despite being terrifying in their fundamentalist beliefs, Sarah and Steve often provide a bit of comic relief in the series. Is comedy something you enjoy doing?

Camp: Oh, absolutely! It's one of my favorite things to do. I didn't really realize it. I grew up acting since second grade and always watched these old movies and these dramatic scenes and wanted to be a very dramatic actor. But it's just so refreshing to have fun, to truthfully have fun and play with the other actors in a really safe, fun environment where you all want the same goal and trust each other so that it's really easy to be funny.

It's also really easy to be funny when you're working with funny actors. It is something that I really love to do and I hope I get to do more of it. I love to make people laugh and it's also fun to balance that line because Sarah has some great scenes where she wasn't funny and was incredibly distraught. To be able to go from scene to scene believably, hopefully, is great and it's great that the writers gave me such diverse scenes to play.

Televisionary: One of the strengths of True Blood is that it enables the characters to exist in a range from comedy to tragedy, sometimes in the same episode.

Camp: Oh, yeah. It's so much fun for an actor to play because you never know what you're going to get. It's all about sort of balancing that [range] and it's also fun for the audience to watch and be totally surprised. A character that's surprising, that surprises from scene to scene and show to show, is the best kind of character to play.

Televisionary: So, who do you find to be more frightening then: the vampires or the Newlins?

Camp: (Laughs.) I'd say the Newlins are pretty scary. I mean, I grew up in the South and I went to church. I was never a very religious person but I knew people that really truthfully believed that God was willing them to do things: that if they got a good grade in school, that was because God said so; if they got in a car accident, God said so. When you really put that much belief into this unknown, undefinable thing, it's really scary how far you can take your beliefs and there's war going on right now because of religion and it's scary. The vampires are pretty scary too but they are also pretty charming and sexy, so... (Laughs.)

Televisionary: We last saw a extremely vengeful Sarah Newlin getting chucked on the side of the road by Jason and then she popped up on television sniping at Steve. Will the Newlins be in the last three episodes of the season?

Camp: Um.... I don't know if I can say. Sort of, not really, I don't know. I read the last three scripts and I was very surprised, I'll say that. (Laughs.) That's all I can say I think.

Televisionary: So can you give us any hints then about what Alan Ball and the writers have planned for Sarah?

Camp: I can't. I actually have no idea what their plan is. But you know what I would love to see happen? I'd love to see Sarah go to her darker side and become incredibly lost and lose all faith in God and go the exact opposite way. I'd love to see her really act out and rebel against the Fellowship of the Sun. That's what I'd write if I was a writer, but I'm not so we'll see. But I'll keep my fingers crossed that they want to have me back.

Televisionary: I was going to say that everything seems to be so hush-hush about next season, so can you tell us if you are returning for Season Three?

Camp: I've heard some rumors that Michael [McMillian] and I will be back in some aspect. I don't know to what extent and I don't honestly think that they know yet to what extent. From the last episode that we get, it's left pretty open so I am hoping that they let us come back in and cause some more trouble or do something fun and exciting. We'll see.

Televisionary: As much as I love the Newlins, I think you guys definitely need to get your comeuppance.

Camp: Don't you think? (Laughs.) I know. I would love to see us totally change heart or have them come after us. I'd love to see the Newlins either have some explosive ending or something exciting happen to them. It was sort of a build up to see them this season and then-- I don't know, you'll see!

Televisionary: You mentioned earlier that you wanted to see Sarah go to an even darker place. I'm wondering what would Sarah do if she were running the Fellowship of the Sun rather than Steve?

Camp: Oh, man! I think after being betrayed by Jason, if she took over the Fellowship of the Sun, she'd be really ruthless and out to get revenge. I think she'd go after the Stackhouses without stopping and really show how strong she can be. This season she was saying that she wanted to be the great woman behind her great man but I think it would be great to see what she could do on her own if she took over and go even crazier. Which would be an awesome job for me to portray as an actor.

Televisionary: In addition to your television work, you're also a well-known theatre actress and you appeared opposite Daniel Radcliffe in Equus last year and with Tony Shalloub in 2007's The Scene. Which medium do you find more challenging or rewarding?

Camp: Oh, my goodness. They're both incredibly, incredibly different. When I first started doing TV and film, it was a scary place. On stage you can be incredibly free because you can do so much physically and with your voice, because you're trying to reach over 1000 people in a room. And when I got [in front of] the camera, I became a little more constrained because I was worried about not being too big or not being over the top.

But then you realize it's very freeing as well because you can say something just with a glint of your eye that you could never do in the theatre because the person in the back row could never see it. So it's really rewarding with how focused and how small you can be. I'm really, really enjoying being in front of the camera these days. But theatre is hard work; there are weeks where you can't sleep, you can't eat, you walk into the same theatre every day. I had a great time in Equus but I was happy to not be naked eight shows a week and I think Dan [Radcliffe] had the same thought. They're both very different but I am finding film very rewarding at the moment.

Televisionary: On that tack, you've become known as an actress who takes risks with her roles, such as the often-nude Jill Mason in Equus. What is it that attracts you to such challenging roles?

Camp: I would rather do something that's challenging rather than something that's easy, always. I had a lot of thought; I didn't even know if I was going to do Equus because of the nudity and because of the high profile [aspect] of it. But you only live once and you have to take those risks because you'll only be a better person or actor because of it. And if you can get through it and learn something and truly challenge yourself, I think that's really the only way to live.

I think those are usually the most fun, rewarding parts to play, the ones that are more challenging and scary. I always said there's a reason why I get offered the parts I get because there's something I need to learn about myself or be challenged by in order to step away from a project and become a better actor.

Televisionary: Unlike many of the actors on True Blood, you are actually from the South. What about the Southern Gothic trappings of True Blood did you find especially appealing?

Camp: I think it's a show that does a great job balancing that comic-booky aspect with the way the Southern Belles, Sookie and Sarah and Tara and Jessica and everyone, acts. I love the Southern women and the way the gentlemen aren't really gentlemanly. It does a really great job of painting the South and is pretty truthful. I've been to Louisiana once in my life but I just love the mystique of it and the location. The relationship between the men and the women are pretty on point for the South. Bill is a very gentlemanly vampire and I think it's just mysterious and sexy.

Televisionary: Because most of your scenes this season were with Ryan and Michael--and one pivotal one with Anna [Paquin]--I'm wondering which other actors from True Blood would you like to have a scene with?

Camp: I would love to work with a vampire! I'd love to be with any of the vampires: Bill or Eric or any of them really. Jessica, I'd love to work with her. I was really sad that when the war finally happened in Episode Eight and Sarah was still out on the dirt road, you know? (Laughs.) I was like, god, it's the culmination of everything she's been fighting for but she gets sidetracked, of course, with Jason.

But to be there and have those two worlds meet, I was really jealous of Michael because I would have loved to have been there to see the two worlds come together. And to participate in the war would have been a great, fun time. So I would love to work with a vampire if I got a chance; I think that would be awesome.

Televisionary: Besides for True Blood, what are you watching on television these days?

Camp: I am watching Mad Men right now. I'm catching up on my Mad Men. I just got Season One so I've been sort of addicted to that and would love to be on that show on some point. (Laughs.) I'm watching HBO, of course: Entourage and Hung.

But Mad Men is taking over my life at the moment. This Don Draper, what is he about? He is the most mysterious man in the world! And then he turns his brother away? That was pretty upsetting but it's just like, what is going on with everybody? I think everyone is just so perfectly cast and it's just beautiful to watch. I just love the time period and I think the acting is incredible.

Televisionary: Thanks to Mad Men and True Blood, Sundays have become the most stressful night of television now.

Camp: (Laughs.) Everybody is dying to watch it but they're just like, oh my god, what is going to happen? I can't wait to see the last three episodes of True Blood. I think it's really going to blow everybody away.

True Blood's final three episodes kick off this Sunday night at 9 pm ET/PT on HBO.

Photo credits: HBO/John P. Johnson


Veronica said…
Oh my gosh - first an interview with Deborah Ann Woll and now the fabulous Anna Camp. You are the best! I loved this interview with Anna. I think she is so fantastic as Sarah Newlin - the perfect blend of sexy, perky, funny, and feisty! I really, really hope that the Newlins will be back next season because I love them!
Mazza said…
I am always so jealous of the people you get to meet Jace!!!! Another amazing interview but I never expect anything else from this site

Anna sounds soooooo adorably sweet. I'm happy that she is getting some well deserved recognition as she is awesome as Sarah N. Really hope she and Steve come back next year as TB wouldn't be the same without them!!!
AskRachel said…
I came to True Blood late in the game but it was the supporting characters, like the Newlins and Jessica and Hoyt, who totally won me over. Don't get me wrong, I like Sookie and Bill, but it's the supporting characters who really bring life and humor and depth to True Blood.

I think that Anna Camp was pitch perfect as Sarah Newlin and I look forward to seeing what else she can do. Thanks for the great interview!
kimberlea said…
Love the interview! Anna sounds awesome and I hope she gets to stick around on True Blood and have some screen time with the vampires. Or, they could always make her and Steve vampires. That would be brilliant!
rockauteur said…
Great interview! I hope Anna Camp sticks around on True Blood... Imagine she got turned into a vampire as revenge! That would be awesome! And a great comeuppance!
ewench said…
Great interview and I think she plays Sarah perfectly and is hilarious as well - the scene where she was chasing Jason down the road in the jeep, hair flying, what a riot!
theTVaddict said…
I think it's a testament to Camp's acting that I completely didn't make the connection between her work in TRUE BLOOD and her work on stage of Eqqus, which I saw last fall on Broadway.

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