If Steve Newlin had a journal all about our favorite vampires and other residents of Bon Temps, what do you think it would say? I found myself mulling over the same question as I made my way to the Warner Bros booth on Friday morning in the middle of Comic Con 2013. Before Michael McMillian headed off to sign teaser copies of his new book, A Field Guide to Vampires (and Other Creatures of Satan), I intended to find out just what this new release from Chronicle Books is all about. Co-written with Gianna Sobol, who is best known to Truebies from the Inside True Blood Blog, the True Blood cookbooks, and the True Blood comics, A Field Guide to Vampires is full of research and observations about the characters of Bon Temps complied and written by Steve Newlin himself. But when he was kidnapped and turned into a vampire, the guide was found in his car unfinished by the police and eventually made its way into the hands the vampires with hilarious results!
In the interview that follows, Michael and I not only discussed what fans can expect to see when A Field Guide to Vampires is released this fall, but also discussed the best parts about writing in the True Blood universe, and if he was prepared for the True Blood panel the following day.
Congratulations on True Blood’s season seven renewal. How does it feel to be part of a show that is still so popular and strong 7 years later?
“It’s honestly the luckiest job for an actor to have. To be part of something that lasts and not only lasts but resonates with an audience is really the most that an actor can hope for. And then you throw on top of it that it’s the most fun and the best role that I have gotten to play in my career and working with great people that that I get along with and have made lifetime friendships with. At this point coming off of season 6 we really are a family.”
“I’m not sure I prefer one over the other. They both scratch different creative itches that I have. The thing that I love about writing is that I can get up and go into my office, sit in my boxers and work all day and feel like I’ve actually done something. But too many days in a row of that and I start to feel like a recluse so being part of an actor’s company and being a part of a TV show is good for the social animal in me. Just making sure that I’m around people and collaborating in a face to face kind of way.”
It gives you a sense of community and being a part of something as opposed to something you have to rely on yourself to do and you’re not really sure if it’s good or not but if you are a part of a company you get a sense.
“Yes exactly. And the good thing about writing A Field Guide to Vampires and the True Blood comics is that it ties into my day job so it’s just another aspect of working within that family. “
Steve started out as human so what does it feel like now playing the vampire side of him? And how did you do with the fangs?
“I’ve always wanted to play a vampire so when I found out I would be turned I was thrilled! The fangs were a bit tricky. You have to practice a little bit. I came to set one day and borrowed the fangs and sat in my trailer and just rehearsed the first scene that I had from episode 5 to get used to it. But I also kind of figured that Steve’s learning to use his fangs too. So I could get away with a little bit of sloppiness. It’s really when you’re a 1000 year-old vampire like Eric that you have to have that mastered. You have a lot of time to practice with those fangs. And Steve’s also a funny character so I didn’t worry too much about it. But you don’t want it to be too sloppy.”
“This was an idea hatched by Gianna Sobol who is an associate producer on True Blood that she pitched to Chronicle Books and HBO. She asked me during the pitching process if I would help her out with a couple of ideas and insights as to what Steve might have been writing about in his personal journal during his research about vampires when he was a human. And so we talked for about an hour on the phone. Then a few weeks passed and she called me up and ask me if I wanted to write it with her which I thought was an extremely generous offer. And I of course jumped at the chance. Gianna has been the story editor on the HBO side for the comic book so we’ve gotten to know each other well over the past couple of years and she’s gotten to know me as a writer and vice versa. We worked really well together and we wanted to make the book as funny and as insightful as possible.”
I miss Gianna so much on the Inside True Blood blog! It’s such a great way to count off the days and also see that you’re all actually working on the show while we wait for the season to start. This isn’t your first venture into True Blood related media though. You’re currently writing the ongoing True Blood Comics series. So what is your favorite part of working in the True Blood universe?
“As an actor it gives me the chance to play other characters and a way to get into the mind sets of the other cast members and characters and speak through their voices which is really fun. To be able to sit down and write dialogue for Pam (Kristin Bauer van Straten) is just as enjoyable as you think it would be. It’s clear that the writers love writing for her because she’s such a vivid, funny character. So I like to think that I have enough range to get into the minds of the other vampire and human characters. It gives me a chance to do something else besides play Steve.”
“Yeah exactly. The comic books have provided flashbacks to the past and given us prequel stories as to where the characters were before the show started. And then with Steve Newlin’s Field Guide to vampires we’re really filling in the blanks as to what Steve was up to between the end of season 2 and when he re-emerged as a vampire at the end of season 4. And so there was a whole storyline between Steve and Sarah (Anna Camp) and we find out that Steve was actually stalking a lot of the characters and following them around. And he was keeping tabs on Jason (Ryan Kwanten) and Sookie (Anna Paquin). Meanwhile he was dealing with a divorce from Sarah and the follow out on the attack on the [Fellowship of the Sun] by the vampires. That was really fun to provide the story for the readers and viewers and also to do some of the character homework for myself. And flesh out that gap.”
Does this work help you gain more insight into your character?
“Yeah I think the more hours you live in your character’s shoes and speak through his voice, the easier it is to go out onto set and play that character. It’s really like working your body out for an athletic event. It’s getting your body in shape, getting your muscles in shape for the job that you’ve been hired to do. We wrote this at the very beginning of season 6 so by the time we finished the book, I was jumping into episode 3 which was Steve’s first episode back this season and I felt totally warmed up and ready to go.”
What has the process been like writing Field Guide to Vampires as opposed to the True Blood comics and your own book Lucid?
“It’s definitely different in the sense that it is a book and that you’re writing prose as opposed to a comic book which is like scripting a story board. You break it down panel by panel, describe to the artist what should be drawn, and the writing is just dialogue. This was a totally different format and also essentially getting to write through the voice of Steve Newlin directly. So it was just another fun way to break into the world of True Blood.”
“Yes so Steve went missing in the beginning of season 4 and the story behind the field guide is that this is his personal journal that he had been working on all through the end of season 2 and season 3. And then the year Sookie disappeared, Steve went missing sometime when she was gone. So this book was found unfinished in Steve’s car by the police and it was given to a Fellowship of the Sun member Pam met protesting outside of Fangtasia. So Pam got the journal off of them and is going through his research and making comments and handing it off to Eric to make his own pass. In the book you have Steve’s typeface and then you have Pam’s handwriting crossing phrases out, making fun of Steve’s writings, and then passing it over to Eric (Alexander Skarsgård). And then eventually you’ll see as you read the book that the Field Guide makes its way into vampire Steve’s hands. And he has a chance to reflect on his former life.”
So how does he feel looking back on what he wrote? Has he changed his opinion?
“You can read the book to find out the complete story. But once he made that transition to vampire, he was so excited to be a vampire and to be out, he just quickly dismissed it saying that he got some of it wrong but it doesn’t matter because because he believes he has been born again having the gift of immortal life. So I don’t think he worries too much about anything that he does human or vampire.”
“I think so. There’s details and follow up with characters we haven’t seen in a while. There’s definitely some insights like in Steve and Sarah’s relationship and where they were when vampires came out of the coffin. Steve’s relationship with his father is in the book. There’s also a great anecdote about the first time Steve and Sarah meet a shapeshifter which will be a great chapter for the audience and is sort of a nod to the shapeshifter that was in the Charlaine Harris books. We try to make the mythology and the world of True Blood feel as rich as the show.
I have one Comic Con question for you. Tomorrow is your first True Blood panel. Are you prepared for the rockstar-like sense some of your cast members have described?
“Absolutely not. I have no idea what I’m in store for! I haven’t been because I’ve always been busy signing comics and doing other things so I’ve never been to the panel because I’ve been on the convention floor.”
Is there anything else that you’d like our readers to know?
“I just hope they check out the book. Gianna and I wrote it to be the definitive guide to the world of the show and it covers seasons 1-5. And I think it’s a really cool idea. It’s an artifact from the show and it really puts the reader right into the world of the show because they get to read straight from the character’s point of view. Gianna had a great idea with it and we’re really happy with the way it turned out. I can’t wait for people to check it out.”
Thank you to Michael McMillian for taking time out of his busy schedule to speak with me and giving a fantastic interview! Thank you also to Janine McGoldrick from HBO and Sophia Todisco and Annie Kanter from BHI for working with me to make this interview happen at Comic Con 2013 and providing insight into the book. Their help was invaluable!
But our 2013 Comic Con coverage doesn’t end here. Stay tuned for more coverage coming soon!
Image Credits: HBO, Inc., Chronicle Books, and True Blood Fan Source.com