On the hit HBO series True Blood, wrapping up its fourth season on September 11th, actor Chris Bauer plays Bon Temps Sheriff Andy Bellefleur. Unappreciated by his town, he tends to use his authority to his advantage, no matter how much it turns off his friends and neighbors. With the addition of a V (vampire blood) addiction this year, he has become more alienated and socially awkward than ever.
During a recent exclusive phone interview with Collider, Chris Bauer (previously known for his work as Frank Sobotka on HBO’s The Wire) talked about bonding with Alan Ball over a cup of coffee before he was offered the role, making the most of the screen time that he is given, how Andy has realized this season that he can’t do everything alone, how he’d love to see Andy learn to relate to someone on an emotional and intimate level, and that it’s been a challenge to continue to humanize the character. Check out what he had to say after the jump:
Question: How did you get involved with the show?
CHRIS BAUER: I had a cup a coffee with Alan Ball, which I so enjoyed. It was an hour and a half of a really great conversation. We talked about theater and writing and, for a few minutes, we talked about his script and critics. I thought, “This guy is so real,” which I always respond to because I like to see myself that way. In my experience, it tends to be a real reflection of someone’s intelligence, confidence and sensitivity when they can just be real. I felt very comfortable with him, and the actor in me always wants to link himself to a leader who’s inspired. At the end of that cup of coffee, he said he’d love for me to do the show and I told him that I would love to do it.
Was there something specific that you had identified with, in regard to the show and the character, or was it gradual, as you got to know who he was?
BAUER: I have gotten to know him gradually, and as I have gotten to know him, that sense of identity has increased. At the same time, I’m not one of those actors who sits around the table and intellectualizing anything, or discusses much of anything. Everything for me is intuitive and instinctive. When I read the pilot script, in the scene that Andy had with Jason (Ryan Kwanten), there was a dynamic present there that I responded to. It’s like a sculptor. There’s an unformed mass, and you just slowly and patiently will it into a certain form. The most gratifying thing about working on True Blood so far is that Andy has taken the form that I hoped he would. That’s exhilarating because I didn’t do this myself. In fact, I probably did the least amount. It’s a staff of several writers, over the course of four seasons, who continue to contribute to the evolution of the character. It’s pretty cool that he has ended up in the place that matches where I always saw him.
How did you feel about the year jump in time this season?
BAUER: Devices like that are as good or as bad as you make them. We have such good writers that they take real advantage of any opportunities they can find to put in timeline stuff and flashback stuff. They do such a good job with giving you a sense of dimension to character when we’re talking about what feels like 100 different characters. Between the acting and the writing, you get a really specific, memorable impression, especially of the main characters, which is a miracle considering that everybody is talking about between five and 10 minutes average, of screen time. My screen time comes and goes, so not only do I feel like I have to make the most of what they give me, but I feel like, if you’re a pro, that’s what you’re supposed to do. You shouldn’t need 60 full minutes to create a portrait that an audience doesn’t forget. You should be able to make an impression that’s lasting and resonant with one scene. Alan Ball gets so much credit for so many things that he deserves, but one of the things that people don’t talk about as much is what an incredible eye he has in casting. What he does so well is that he just casts exactly who’s right for the part in our show. Our show has a particular tone. Somebody might walk in the room who’s won five Tony awards and been nominated for a couple of Oscars, but if they don’t strike the same note that’s right for the tone of our show, he’ll hire somebody who you’ve never heard of, which I love. Alan and the producers just have a really great, intuitive awareness of who generally can make that kind of impression, and you really can see it in the cast.
How do you see Andy, as a person?
BAUER: The thing that I love about True Blood, that applies to my character and everybody’s character, is that it’s very much what you see is what you get. There’s not a lot of camera time where people monologue about things that happened to them in the past. You hear little bits and pieces that are plotted in, here and there, that usually end up having a story relevance, either in future episodes or future seasons. They’re very economical, that way. I think that every time you get to see Andy Bellefleur, you understand a little bit more of what makes him tick. There are a couple of specific biographical things you get to know, but more than anything, it’s the cumulative momentum that continues to give you a sense of who he is, so that you’re like, “Oh, okay, so he’s not just an asshole.” If somebody is emotionally underdeveloped and the only tool they have is to growl and scowl and yell, but they feel the whole spectrum of emotion, from vulnerability, grief, fear and loneliness, all the way through ecstacy and gratitude, that person has to end up alone because they don’t have the emotional vocabulary to express what they need. The best thing about this season, for me, is that Andy really realizes, once and for all, that he can’t do it alone, which is cool.
What was it like to have Courtney Ford on the show this season, and how was it to explore the relationship between Andy and Portia?
BAUER: Portia is their grandmother’s favorite. She’s the one who is able to manage adversity and continue to succeed at a high level. She is seemingly unbothered by the past, and Andy is tortured, hamstrung and anchored to the past, and has not managed to sort through any of his issues successfully. That’s reflected in how they’re perceived in their community. She’s pretty popular. He’s the sheriff because he’s good at it and he’s devoted to it, but I don’t think that he’s going to win any popularity contests.
How was it to have Katherine Helmond play your grandmother?
BAUER: She’s a very elegant, kind lady, who has been around and around and around. It was a real highlight. Her career speaks for itself. She’s incredibly talented. She was just delightful. It’s always such an affirmation, when you get to work with someone like that for a couple of episodes. Gary Cole, who did the first episode, is as good as they get, in my opinion. He’s so talented that he can do anything. I think he’s one of those actors who has a great disposition for making things real and inviting you into whatever reality he’s in. The first show that I ever did, where I actually spoke on camera, was an episode of Midnight Caller, the series that he did in the late ‘80s. My part in the credits was “Tow Truck Driver.” Whenever someone like that comes on and does the show, it makes you feel like, “Well, this must be a cool place to be, if they’re here.” When you strip away all of the vein, bullshit temptations that are there to judge your career by, you’re supposed to be able to play people that the audience thinks is real, no matter what. The people who do that well are the ones I respect.
Do you think Andy will ever have any better luck with the ladies, or are you glad you don’t have to worry about doing the nude scenes that so many of your castmates have to do?
BAUER: I would never go so far as to not worry about it. Anything goes on our show. I’m the kind of guy who would say, “Yeah, I’ll do that!,” and then, when it came down to it, I would be absolutely petrified. Those days have passed me by, but I would do it. If it meant that I was in a scene naked with a woman, or anybody romantic, I’d be into it. I think that’s a dimension of Andy’s life and character that I would love to explore more, and I can’t do it alone. I’d love to see him figuring out how to relate to another, in an honest and intimate way. Who knows.
BAUER: I hope that viewers can relate to him and are sympathetic to him. I sense that they are. What I love about Andy, and playing Andy, is that in a lot of ways he is the one who has, however brief, the most realistic reaction to one implausible circumstance after another. I think viewers need to see somebody having an even minimal version of a genuine reaction to the mayhem going on in Bon Temps, in order to maintain our own suspension of disbelief, and then you get on with enjoying it. But, if there was nobody on the show going, “What in the hell is going on here?!,” then it wouldn’t have that sense of reality. There’s some bones to that, that you can hang a lot of crazy story stuff off of, and I do love that. I love being that guy. I wish I had a bonus for every eye roll that Andy has. When Ryan Kwanten and I do a scene together, sometimes it ends up seeming really funny, but neither he nor I ever intentionally play it in a comic way. I play the guy so real. I play the guy like so many men I’ve seen, who are trying to maintain this attitude of authority, superiority and control, in the middle of the circus. I’ve seen so many men like that, growing up, and I feel that way myself sometimes, with my own kids. But, I think it’s hilarious when middle-aged white men try to take themselves seriously. It makes me laugh.
Had you been a fan of genre shows and films before, or was this a new experience for you?
BAUER: It’s new to me. I’ve just always been a fan of really fringy, outsider things, and I’ve always been a balloon in the wind, in terms of where that takes me. There were some horror things that I liked, there were some comedic things that I liked, and some musical things that I liked. I think True Blood has a huge musical identity, also. But, what I’ve learned about the fans who like our show and who so avidly support our show is that there’s a cohesive summary of taste that adds up to genre. Sometimes it comes from people who are super into the comic book thing, or are super into the horror thing, or are super into anime, or whatever it is. There’s a whole lifestyle to it, and I just was never one of those guys. I’m a total collage.
Do you enjoy having interactions with fans of the show?
BAUER: My demeanor and appearance and vibe in the present is so different than Andy Bellefleur. I meet people all the time who don’t realize I play that character, for the first 10 minutes of our conversation. Those of us who go through that convince ourselves that it’s a compliment, but I think it is. I take it as a compliment, but it’s also really weird sometimes. I don’t mean this in a bad way, but you can gorge yourself on eye candy, on our show. If you’ve tasted that kind of candy and you see it in person, you know exactly what it is. Nobody hides, and nobody can hide on our show.
Have there been any challenges in playing this character?
BAUER: Yeah, the challenge has been to continue to humanize him. When you have a belligerent, aggressive, needy guy who is, in so many situations, mistreating beloved characters on the show, you have to find out where that’s coming from and reveal his insecurity and his neediness as much as his sense of power, so that the audience continues to fall in love, or at least in like, with someone who isn’t all that pleasant, all that often. The challenge has been to continue to let his actual humanity and vulnerability leak through in a way where you do find him loveable. With the writers’ help, I think I’ve been able to do that, little bit by little bit, and keep it balanced in a way where, when he is being a jerk, I can commit to that and not soft-shoe that. A jerk is a jerk. When he’s being that way, you’ve got to go for it. Who cares if people hate you? That’s how it’s got to be. That will always be a challenge. I’m not a guy who likes cliches. I don’t think that stereotypes and cliches are the end of the line, when it comes to a performance. You can always find contradictions and hope, in hopeless circumstances, and a sense of redemption in somebody who makes the same mistake, over and over. So far, so good. That’s how I put it.
With such a large ensemble cast, is there anyone you haven’t gotten to work with much that you would love to have some more scenes with?
BAUER: Selfishly, because I think she’s so talented, I would love to work with Deborah Ann Woll. She is so good. I really wish we could have at least one scene together, so that I could see what it felt like to work with her. That being said, I have done so many scenes with Ryan [Kwanten] that I’ve enjoyed. Bill Sanderson, who used to play Bud, was an enormous pleasure to work with, as was Michelle Forbes. I’ve gotten to do scenes with Sam Trammell, Carrie Preston, Stephen [Moyer], Anna [Paquin], Alex [Skarsgard], Rutina [Wesley], Nelsan [Ellis], Jim Parrack and Todd [Lowe], who plays my cousin, Terry, and there’s not a lemon in the bunch. It’s a really interesting array of talent because everybody does something different and everybody does something well, and they’re really nice people. It’s awesome. I’ve been around. This is the sixth TV show that I’ve been a regular on, and I don’t want to slight any of my past experiences, but I could. That’s a great compliment to Alan. I know that he has been through experiences in his career where he was subjected to crazy people, and he doesn’t want to be around that anymore, so I certainly think that goes into the process. He’s a smart man. He doesn’t want to be surrounded by people who are going to steal his energy. It is a great group, and everybody minds their manners.
Is there anything you’d like to see Andy get to do or go through, before the show is done?
BAUER: After the fourth season, I’m a very satisfied customer. That being said, I really hope we have a few more seasons to get even more specific and more dynamic with who the characters are, mine included, because there are so many stones unturned and avenues unexplored. When you describe the given circumstances of the show, it might look like an inventory of one outrageous thing after another, but the themes and the implications and the stories that are told are all extremely applicable, really human and really immediate. Therefore, I’d like to see Andy learn more about other people, how to be with others, how to exist in a community, how to love, how to be loved, how to overcome fear. All that stuff applies in our world, more than any.
BAUER: Yeah, I’m waiting for somebody to make me the next Gene Hackman. You name it, I’d like to do it. I’ve never told anybody this before, but I love any challenge that comes my way, and I’ve been lucky to have many. I like being able to play a really broad and wide array of characters, and that’s covered a lot of territory for me. But, the hardest thing in the world to play is something close to myself. The idea of a regular-looking guy who is the lead of something – whether it’s a movie or a show – is something that I really hope I can grow towards. I think that I have a certain everyman appeal, and there are a lot of possibilities in that. I love being a clutch member of the team, but I hope, in the future, I get a little bit more story on my shoulders and a little bit more responsibility to keep the world of a story up in the air. I really, really welcome that challenge.