On Season 4 of the hit HBO vampire series True Blood, actress Courtney Ford plays Portia Bellefleur, sister of Andy (Chris Bauer) and granddaughter of Caroline (Katherine Helmond), who is a confident lawyer, very proud of her family heritage. Things were really shaken up this season, when Portia unexpectedly and rather shockingly found out that she was the great-great-great-great granddaughter of Bill Compton (Stephen Moyer), but that didn’t deter her desire to get involved with him sexually. However, on account of the torch that he’s still carrying for Sookie Stackhouse (Anna Paquin), which proves insurmountable for him, he used vampire magic to ensure that Portia would lose interest.
During a recent exclusive phone interview with Collider, Courtney Ford talked about being a fan of the show and auditioning for two other roles before landing the role of Portia, learning to overcome her own anxieties of being nude on camera, how worried she was about the fan reaction to Portia coming between Bill and Sookie, the challenge of being so secretive about the show and her role, and how gracious the cast was to work with. She also talked about what she enjoys about working with her husband, actor Brandon Routh, with whom she co-stars in the upcoming drama film Missing William. Check out what she had to say after the jump:
COURTNEY FORD: I auditioned for Season 2, for Daphne, the shape-shifter. And then, I auditioned for Season 3, for Debbie Pelt. The feedback was, “Oh, we really like her, but we really want Joe Manganiello and he’s 6’5″. That will be a foot height difference, and that’s just not going to work out.” That was heartbreaking because I was such a huge fan of the show. I never missed an episode. And then, I got an opportunity to audition for Season 4, for Portia Bellefleur, and that was it. I met with them once. I went in and casting was there and Alan Ball was there, and then I went to my car and right when I got home, I got the call that I got the role.
Having auditioned for the show twice in the past, how did you not get discouraged about going back again?
FORD: You can’t. If I let myself get discouraged about anything, I would have stopped a long time ago. I almost did, actually. Talk about being discouraged, after hustling all those years, I almost stopped right before Dexter. I hadn’t seen the show and I thought, “I don’t really want to do this anymore,” but they said, “Oh, it’s a recurring role, you should go out on it.” So, I went over and it was for producers, and Clyde Phillips was there. I went in and did it, and I didn’t think I was going to get it at all, but I ended up getting the role. That was crazy. And then, that changed the trajectory of my career and it changed my plans.
When you get a casting notice that says “the actress must be comfortable with nudity,” what is that like? Is that something you have to put thought into before agreeing, or is that something you’re comfortable with, depending on how it fits with the character?
FORD: There are so many ways to think about it. Both on Dexter and on True Blood, people are getting killed and there’s blood everywhere, but then if you think, “Oh no, I see boobies! How dare you?” something is wrong there. How can you be okay with murder, but not be okay with the natural state of the human body? I think that’s more of an American prudishness coming through, but then again, I am American, so I have that feeling of, “Oh, my god!” I’m not the most comfortable with it, but I have to put it out of my mind and pretend it’s not happening, and I have to call my grandmother and tell her not to watch that episode. It makes you feel very vulnerable, but hopefully – and it has been in my case – the actor that you’re playing opposite is very courteous and considerate, and tries to make a joke out of the whole thing and tries to make you laugh, so it really takes your mind off of it. It actually ends up being very technical. I know actors say that all the time, and then you watch it on screen and you’re like, “Oh, they seem so in-the-moment and passionate,” but it really, truly isn’t like that. Someone is saying, “Okay, stop and move your face half an inch to the left. Can you bend down a little bit? Can you move a little bit less? Can you move more? Don’t block his face.” You have all these people looking at you and directing your every movement, so there is no romance or spontaneity that you would have, in that situation, in real life.
FORD: I’m just now finding that out. Yeah, they’re definitely a devoted fan base. I had no idea. But, it’s great because they’re so loyal. I got to meet a bunch in person at the True Blood premiere, over at the Cinerama Dome in Hollywood, and they were all so kind and really a lot of fun. It was really cool, getting to meet a bunch of them in person.
Who is Portia Bellefleur? What kind of woman is she to you?
FORD: I was able to read some of the books. I read Dead Until Dark, Living Dead in Dallas and Dead as a Doornail, and Portia is physically a little bit different on the show, but I think she’s the same Portia on the inside. Portia loves her brother (Andy Bellefleur) and will do anything for him, and she loves him despite his addictions and that very massive chip that he has on his shoulder. I think Andy thinks that he’s not good enough, and there are many around that reinforce that feeling for him, his grandma Caroline being one of them. But unfortunately and unfairly, Portia gets lumped into that group, in his mind. It’s not her fault that their grandmother dotes on her, but scolds him constantly. She loves him and would do anything for him, so it’s sad. Their parents are gone. They live with their grandma, and grandma won’t be around forever. They’re all they’ve got. I see Portia as really trying to hold what’s left of her family together, and if she has to make sacrifices or do crazy things or be thought of as a bitch, so be it.
FORD: Chris Bauer is great. I loved working with him, and he really helped show me the ropes. It’s a big show. It’s a wonderful, but huge cast, and he really helped me feel more like I fit in. When he snaps and slips into Andy, it’s a great thing to see.
What was it like to find out that Katherine Helmond would be playing your grandmother?
FORD: That was so cool because I was such a fan of Who’s the Boss? I watched it every week and never missed an episode. I thought, “Oh my god, Aunt Mona is going to be my grandmother!” She’s been in the business for so long and has so many great stories about her experiences on set. She was just a real sweetheart.
What do you think it was that drew Portia to Bill Compton (Stephen Moyer)?
FORD: Portia really respected Bill’s power. She respected his intelligence, and he respected hers, so they definitely got along on that level. There was a mutual respect for each other, and that’s a lot different than their relationship in the books because, in the books, he definitely has history with the Bellefleurs and there’s a tension there. Andy and Portia dislike everything supernatural, in the books. On the show, they’re a little bit more accepting. Since practically everyone in the town has some supernatural aspect to them, you have to be a little bit more open to that.
FORD: Well, I knew they had dated in the books, but that was only because Portia was trying to get information in order to clear her brother’s name, and Bill was trying to make Sookie jealous. I was surprised when that relationship was taken further in the show, and even more surprised when Portia wanted it to continue after she found out who Bill really was to her. I had to get inside her head and come to an understanding that 1) Bill is a vampire – he’s dead. So, if you’re cool with necrophilia, you might be cool with a lot of things. And 2) this must happen a lot for vampires. Think about it – the longer they live, the more likely it is that they’re going to encounter a distant relation. This can’t be the first time it’s happened. And 3) Hey, it’s Bon Temps. Look around. Pretty slim pickings for a girl like Portia!
Were you worried about how fans of Bill and Sookie would react to Portia, when you took on this role?
FORD: To be honest, yes. Being a fan of the show myself, I didn’t want to come between them. My first day of shooting, I really had to focus because “fan” me kept saying, “Stop being so mean to Sookie!” It was hard. I also like Anna [Paquin] as a person, so it was definitely strange. But, I did know that Sookie was going to be having fun with Eric (Alexander Skarsgard), so that took a bit of the sting away. I don’t think she sat around crying in her Corn Flakes.
FORD: Both Stephen and Anna [Paquin] were so gracious and kind and really put me at ease. Anna was the first person that I worked with. The scene in Episode 1, between Sookie and Portia at Merlotte’s, was my very first day. So, it could have been a really intimidating and nerve-wracking experience, but Anna really diffused that tension right away. And then, my next scene was with Stephen, at the ribbon-cutting ceremony in the first episode. It was four o’clock in the morning and we were freezing, and he was charming, funny, kind and really welcoming to me. Once I had finished the first episode, I really felt like part of the True Blood family because of them.
What have been the biggest challenges of being a part of this show?
FORD: Not being able to talk about it! Portia is so put together, with her hair, her long nails, her pantyhose and her tailored outfits. She is so much more put together than I am, and she speaks very quickly. She’s really on her game, all the time. That can sometimes be a challenge, in itself, because she’s just so different than I am, in those ways.
Is there anyone that you didn’t get to work with much, that you’d love to have done more scenes with?
FORD: Yeah, Lafayette – Nelsan Ellis. I was a huge fan of the show and Lafayette was my favorite character. Last year, I was at the Emmys for Dexter, with the Dexter cast, and the True Blood cast was right there, walking the press line in the same group. On the carpet, I walked up to Nelsan and I was like, “I’m such a huge fan! You do such an amazing job with the character!” And then, I realized I was rambling and had to spit out, “I’m with the Dexter cast! I’m not a weirdo!” And then, that just made me sound like even more of a weirdo, but he was so kind. He had to be like, “Oh my god, this girl’s crazy!” At the table read for Episode 1, I actually sat right across from him and that was kind of awkward. It’s a small world.
What can you say about Missing William and the character that you play in that?
FORD: That was such an amazing experience! It’s in post-production right now. I can’t wait to see it! It’s an incredibly emotional movie, so bring your Kleenex. I play Abby, and she is an artist. She grew up with James, played by my husband (Brandon Routh). They grew up together, and then James had to move away suddenly, because of turmoil in his family. They were childhood sweethearts, but the years pass and people grow up. James comes back to town and Abby is married to William, played by Reid Scott, who played Laura Linney’s doctor on The Big C. He’s just incredible. There’s a horrible accident and Brandon’s character helps me cope from the fall-out from that. And, Spencer Grammer is in it as well. She plays Brandon’s girlfriend, and she was so sweet and so great to work with as well.
What do you enjoy about working with your husband? Why do you think it works so well for you guys?
FORD: We’ve talked about that, but we don’t know. I think it’s because we’re not competing with each other and we’re not judging each other. I don’t know if that’s why it doesn’t work with other couples, but that’s why it works with us. It’s just fun. Even when it’s a huge, emotional scene, it’s so fun because you’re working with someone you’re so comfortable with anyway. The more comfortable you are and the more you can relax, the more truthful your performance is. Brandon does amazing work, in Missing William. The emotions are so powerful, and I’m really excited for people to see it. There were several times, looking into his eyes when I was off camera, and he was making me cry because his emotions were coming through so powerfully and I had to cover my mouth because I was behind the camera and I didn’t want to be making noise over his lines. I don’t know. We’re grateful of the times we get to work together because, with both of us being actors, we have to travel so much. The times that we actually get to work in the same place, and we’re not separate by miles and miles, and different time zones, are such a relief.
Do you have any idea what you’d like to do next?
FORD: It’s so funny because the roles that I’ve been offered in the indie film world have been similar to each other, and the roles that I’ve been offered in the TV world have been similar to each other, but the TV roles and the indie film roles have been completely different. The indie film roles tend to be more emotional, softer, more quirky and funny, and real. And then, the TV roles have been more aggressive, sexual and sneaky. I would love to be able to play some characters on television that are similar to some of the indie film roles I’ve done, that have been so close to my heart. I would love to be on a show where I’m allowed to play a character that you’re not suspicious of, from the get-go, and who’s someone that you can just relax with, take in and like, right off the bat.