Friday, September 2, 2011

Exclusive Interview with True Blood's Chris Bauer

As featured on The Vault -

Chris Bauer, who we all know as the V addicted, Acting Sheriff, Andy Bellefleur answered my all my many questions with wit and charm, but also with an honesty and humility that has endeared him to me in many ways.

Although I've always loved Andy Bellefleur, I will be watching him with new eyes now. Just to get you tempted to read the whole interview (which you will not regret), below are are few quotes that I think will make you want to read more:
  • On what else did you want to do in life?: I, like so many actors I know, had big dreams of being a marine biologist. I was obsessed with sharks as a kid. So that was my big plan. Then I took a real math class.....
  • On what he does in his free time: You may never know it from the portrait of Andy Bellefleur, but I’m a compulsive exerciser!
  • On Fame: I am close, but as far as I’m concerned, I’m a nobody who hasn't made it yet. On Acting: Whether it's live and in your face, or in front of a camera at 4 o'clock in the morning, it beats digging ditches.
  • On how True Blood has changed: In a nutshell, it’s bigger, stronger, and more powerful. It's the bionic man of TV shows.

Like many of his True Blood cast members, he is full of talent and knows his craft. I am so happy that he granted an interview. Thank you Chris! I can't wait to see what's next for Andy Bellefleur.  


Tell us something about yourself that you'd like the fans to know.
Many aspects of 'True Blood' have changed my life and I'd like the fans to know I hold them responsible for that! For everyone who watches, buys the DVD’s, creates these websites, writes letters, goes to events, Facebook's, etc., etc., etc. Thank You. I am grateful for you.

I have noticed that you travel to the east coast often, but you grew up in LA. Where do you call home now, and do you have a favorite?
At this point, if my wife, kids, and I are all under the same roof, then that's home. For the first two seasons of 'True Blood', I commuted between New York and Los Angeles. That sucked. It wears you out and you feel like you're always on the verge of reciting the American Airlines L.A. to New York schedule instead of your dialogue. So for the last two seasons, we've lived here [LA] while we're shooting, and gone back to New York for the summer and fall. It’s a little schizophrenic because you have to deal with two of everything; schools, homes, towns, etc. And obviously it's expensive. But I have no problem spending all my money if it means my family is together. I love New York, and I love Los Angeles. It’s my birthplace; my parents were born here as well. We’re old-school Angelinos, but instead of agonizing over a preference, I really just feel grateful that I get to spend so much time in two places that I love.

What was it like growing up in CA?
I love California. Growing up in LA, there was lots of beach time, lots of football in the street, lots of motto-cross, Van Halen, and skateboards. In junior high, my family moved to Northern California and you would've thought we went to the moon. It was so different and I was extremely alienated for the first couple years up there. It’s probably where I cultivated a deep dislike for the 'in-crowd' and why I take such refuge in playing misunderstood characters.

I know that Yale School of Drama has a fabulous reputation, but did you choose to go there because it was on the east coast or because of its reputation or both? Honestly, it chose me. I was a college dropout and although I knew I wanted to train as an actor, I never even considered Yale an option. First of all, thousands of people auditioned every year, 10 men and 6 women were admitted. Second of all, I’d never been east of Colorado and it was no man's land as far as I was concerned. A man named David Chambers saw me audition for a play in San Francisco and asked me if I’d considered training at a higher level. He was on the faculty at Yale and asked if I’d consider attending there. Punk’d didn't exist yet, but if it happened today I’d be convinced I was getting punk'd. Anyway, I got in. It was the beginning of a ton of benevolent intervention on my behalf by generous, caring people here and there and it is a universal favor I try to re-pay in every way I can.

Have you always been an actor or did you ever want to do something else?
I, like so many actors I know, had big dreams of being a marine biologist. I was obsessed with sharks as a kid. So that was my big plan. Then I took a real math class.....

You took the 'it gets better' pledge for the Trevor Project. Do you have personal experiences with bullying?
I think bullying is pathetic and it repulses me. Sure I was bullied. There were also occasions where I was less than vocal in protecting others who were being bullied. In my opinion, we have a simple duty: take care of one another. There was a boy in my high school who committed suicide one summer. It was devastating. His problems were numerous, but he was relentlessly teased. That was over 25 years ago and I’ve never forgotten him and I never will. My own son has dealt with being bullied and it enrages me. However, things like the Trevor Project focus that rage and have created a network of relief and consciousness that assure people they're not alone, and help empower kids to resist that group mentality that can lead to cruelty and violence. There are bullies everywhere and they're all driven by fear. I’m so grateful for the people who create things like the Trevor project, stomp out bullying, protect our kids, etc., they're champions.

What do you enjoy doing in your free time?
You may never know it from the portrait of Andy Bellefleur, but I’m a compulsive exerciser! That’s a daily thing. I surf. I spend a lot of time with my kids, doing what they want to do. I read. I think too much. Then I exercise again.  


You've done lots of TV and film; can you talk about your favorites?
"True Blood" has been an incredibly profound experience. It has involved a combination of intoxicating success and humility that comes from a once in a lifetime thing. I so enjoy who I work with and the character I play, and yet there are some enormous personal challenges that have forced me to grow. I’m grateful for that. "The Wire", also on HBO, was an incredible experience that I benefit from every day. I have been so fortunate to have been hired by the writers I have, particularly in TV. Having done two series' for John Wells, one for David Simon, and one for Alan Ball sort of removes my right to ask for more. But I’m greedy so I look forward to more relationships with authors of their caliber. 61* with Billy Crystal was so fun, 'The Notorious Bettie Page' playing Lily Taylor’s brother was amazing. In the movies, I've been able to work with Woody Allen, Robert Redford, Joel Schumacher, Taylor Hackford, John Woo, and Clint Eastwood. I did a crazy movie years ago that Steve Buscemi directed called "Animal Factory". I did 'Streetcar Named Desire' on Broadway with Natasha Richardson who was the greatest actress I've ever seen. I’ll treasure that time forever. I mean, this has all been an education. I am close, but as far as I’m concerned, I’m a nobody who hasn't made it yet. But the opportunities to absorb these folks' inspiration, aesthetic and work ethic have been wonderful. As I have said over and over, I’m a lucky actor. Below is a scene of Chris in "The Wire" and the trailer for his film "The Notorious Bettie Page."  

The Wire


The Notorious Bettie Page as Irving Klaw

Do you prefer TV over film work or do you prefer theater? I love answering this question and I’ll try to keep it simple. As soon as I've figured out how to do sublime, inspired, elegant, selfless, transcending work every time, then I’ll be arrogant enough to declare a preference. In the meantime, acting as an art, is far more difficult than it's thought to be, and any chance to do it, regardless of the medium, is a chance to get better. Whether it's live and in your face, or in front of a camera at 4 o'clock in the morning, it beats digging ditches.  

In Streetcar Named Desire with Natasha Richardson
What kind of actor are you? Do you think of yourself as a type or actor, for example, a method actor? How do you approach each part you play?
What a generous question this is because you risk serious boredom in hearing the answer! I can tell you this; I have studied just about every major trend in modern theater. Being a compulsive opportunist, I have borrowed bits and pieces from everyone and everything to assemble my own idiosyncratic technique. It primarily involves commitment, courage, preparation, imagination, and disregarding my mind. That’s how I’m best armed to bypass my ego. The last main ingredient is humility. I begin every job and every role with the firm resolution that I have no idea what I’m doing and I can't rely on past experience to provide the answers. Each situation is new, as is each character, and I have to patiently await the rules of each world to reveal themselves at their own rate. What does that mean? It means I’m never the guy who talks a lot in rehearsal because I have very little theoretical information to add. But I am the guy who will jump on his feet and into a scene before I know your name. It’s about action, not ideas. At this point, it's virtually all intuition; following another logic besides the one occurring in my mind.

Who do you look up to in the acting profession? Do you have any favorite actors?
Believe it or not I look up to....actors. Over the years, it's become obvious that the hallmarks of real actors are courage, sensitivity, generosity, subversiveness, humor, humanity, compassion. I am attracted to these and so many other traits that characterize actors. And in my opinion, I've just described maybe 15 % of all people who call themselves actors. Real actors put their asses on the line, are vulnerable and open, don't mind the ugly aspects of their humanness and are willing (however reluctantly) to be judged on the terms of a character. Everyone who works that way, are my favorites. Gena Rowlands, how 'bout that for a name?

Do you have any interests other than being an actor? For example, do you have any interest in doing work behind the camera?
I wish I could write; too much ADD. I love to direct and hope I can do it more. I (teach, eww) work with kids (anyone who is 44 or younger is a kid, as far as I’m concerned) from NYU on occasion when inspiration strikes.


What is the best part about working on True Blood? What first attracted you to the character of Andy that made you decide to audition for the part?
For me the best part of working on "True Blood" is the people I work with everyday. Without going into everyone, it's just the most delightful group. They are almost to a person, humble folks who give up a lot of glory for the sake of the show; funny, smart, talented. and I’m speaking of the whole; cast, crew, writers, etc. my initial interest in the show came from reading the pilot script and being a fan of Alan’s. His work to that point, in my opinion, was as insightful and courageous as anything I’d ever seen. We had a very nice cup of coffee in New York in the spring of 2007 at the end of which he told me he'd like me to be a part of the show. I can't tell you how rare it is for anyone to have the kind of confidence and vision to offer an actor that kind of opportunity right then and there. He had my loyalty instantly and I try to repay that confidence by delivering the most memorable and dynamic version of the role I can.

As a True Blood veteran, having been on it since season 1, how do you think Andy has developed and changed?
It is such a pleasure to have been on the show since the pilot and see how it's evolved, see so many great characters come and go, as well as the actors who play them. I still miss Bill Sanderson who I learned so much from, and Michelle Forbes is one of the most solid actresses I’ve worked with. I think Andy’s evolution has been appropriately slow considering the time line for 4 seasons of True Blood only covers a little over a year in the life of the characters. I think. That stuff is hard for me to keep track of. But I think very slowly, Andy has become more dimensional, and more complicated as a real person actually is. In the broadest way, he started as a functional "just the facts ma'am' type of character who is now, in my opinion, an essential part of the human fabric of Bon Temps. His sensibilities represent the time and place in which this story takes place, and his struggle to change and keep up with the times illustrate its context. I do not feel comfortable playing one-dimensional characters, and I've worked hard with the help of the writers to evolve Andy into the contradictory man he is.

How has the show changed in production, writing, etc. since the early days of season 1?
In a nutshell, it’s bigger, stronger, and more powerful. It's the bionic man of TV shows. I kid, but when you compare the quaintness and simplicity of season 1 to the scope and scale of seasons 3 and 4, it's obvious the show, like everything else in nature, has grown and evolved. That’s just what happens. The vision of True Blood is ample enough to support enormous storytelling and I admire the ambition of our writers. They have the talent and intelligence to finish almost every war they start. At the same time, I’m a sentimental guy and there was something nice about how simple season 1 was. The production aspect of True Blood is very aircraft-carrier like. There are several elaborate systems that have to be coordinated to work together and our producers and crew are super-human in their ability to pull off season after season. We are all cogs in a giant wheel; fine with me.

Do you think the success of True Blood will continue?
Yes, but I mean that very specifically: it's been my experience from the first episode that True Blood is the type of show that is fun to watch over and over. In that way, I’m confidant lots of folks will be watching this show for a long time. Whether it's an episode from an old DVD, or the season premiere of season 10, who knows, everything has a lifespan. I've always summed up the 'TB' experience like this: so far, so good.

What are the table reads like?
I would imagine each actor would answer this question differently. Me? They’re like a psychic side show. Lots of people crowded into a room, lots, lots of actors and lots of bodies. While nobody in authority is wielding power, the energy can feel like the Roman Coliseum. Maybe it's just because it's the only time during the season that everyone gets together and there's a 'first day of school' kind of excitement. I never liked the first day of school.

We hear that the schedule can be grueling. Can you talk about that?
The schedule is grueling primarily for the crew. They are the first to arrive, the last to leave. It’s almost inconceivable how hard they work. And here's where Alan deserves major credit as well, he oversees everything throughout which must be exhausting. On the other hand, the actors may do a few nights in a row, but rarely more than five. Obviously Anna, Steve, etc. work more than I do. I’ll just speak for myself. I have to remind myself that this is 'work'.

Almost everyone I've spoken to says that the cast of True Blood are close and it's like a family. Do you agree? Do you have an example?
Well.....this may be where I’m a crotchety veteran who rains on the parade. 'Family' is a big word to throw around in my book. My description would be this: everyone on True Blood gets along very well. We treat each other with respect, compassion and good humor, but a family? I have a family as does everyone else. I would say we treat our families like family, and our co-workers like friends. In other words, families have conflicts, highs and lows, levels of loyalty and love that are unique to themselves. In four seasons of True Blood, we've had very little conflict which is such an outstanding compliment to our entire team. Usually jobs like this are fraught with conflict, especially when a show is successful. We have maintained a pretty even keel, and it's my theory (just my own) that it's because we respect each other's boundaries, don't ask for more from one another than is naturally available, and relate primarily as valued teammates in a game we want to keep winning.
You seem to work closely with Ryan Kwanten, can you tell us a bit about working with him? Working with Ryan is one of the greatest aspects of True Blood for me. He’s mega-talented, tough as leather, spontaneous, generous, selfless, hilarious, and just as genuine a man as there is. Too bad he's so ugly. Seriously, he has the soul and talent of a character actor which is an enormous compliment. Doing scenes with him are the highlight of the show for me.


In what ways are you like Andy? In what ways are you unlike Andy?
Oh gosh, I don't know. As I've said before, I relate to Andy’s desire to be accepted and respected. I understand how frustrating it can be to be unable to manifest your potential. I've felt deep resentment and the emotional inertia of childhood trauma. I can be over-sensitive and lose touch with my effect on people. I would say those are all traits that characterize Andy Bellefleur. But I’m not crazy. I’m not so quick to anger. I dress better. I don't think I’ve got everything figured out. I don't growl when I talk. And I’m married to a gorgeous woman.

Andy seems to have a lot of internal struggle going on this year in addition to his addiction to V, how did you prepare for that and is it hard to express?
To be honest, our writers are so explicit in their intention that any good actor could play what they write and find themselves in the right place in terms of performance. But internal struggle just happens to be in my wheel house so it's a good match of circumstances for me. Themes like addiction and self destruction are great to play because they're so big. I am comfortable with both and have tried to honor the true nature of those themes by adhering to as realistic as possible portrayal of them to the point of obviously alienating the audience to some degree. To which I say: so be it. I know people are sometimes more comfortable when things stay on a superficial plane but that's not what I do. Addiction and self destruction have ugly consequences and that's my storyline this year. It’s not pretty.
Do you like Fresca? No. (Are you in shock at the brevity of my answer?)

Do you think Andy is a good acting sheriff? No. thank God for Jason. He’s keeping the town together.

We have all been wondering how Andy got addicted to V. What's your opinion on how he got on the stuff and why?
For all his devotion to his job, Andy’s distaste for all things vampire kept him from knowing the real properties of V. Before the raid on Hot Shot when he learned of the real power of vampire blood, I think a light went on for Andy. His broken arm was keeping him out of the action. I think he put two and two together and thought "if I take a bit of that stuff, maybe my arm will heal faster." thinking like a true addict: I’m not taking drugs to get high; they're medicine I need to heal. My guess is he was 2 minutes into his first dose before he was thinking about another hit. Regardless, the stuff makes him feel powerful, and his lack thereof was making him miserable; perfect storm.

What is the biggest challenge for you in playing Andy? Honestly, the most difficult thing for me in playing Andy is committing to and playing his real nature. I know how unpleasant he can be. I know how intolerant he can appear. Frankly, I know how plain he looks. If anyone thinks I’m not aware of how Andy is regarded in this sea of sexuality and beauty, they're wrong. We all know how people react to what we are doing. You hear things sometimes that are brutal and hard to take. Fine, we're all tough and well rewarded for what we do; it's part of the job. But when it comes down to it, I have to be very careful to stick to my guns and not allow cracks in this character that might make him more likeable than he's supposed to be. It’ll come. He’ll soften up. But not before life has humbled him, and taught him how to be soft. In the meantime, I have learned so much on an ego level playing this part and I’m grateful for the growth as a result.

If you could give Andy any advice, what would it be? I’d put a hand on his shoulder, and in a very Jason like way say," Let go bubba. Let go".
Even though he is addicted to V, Andy looks better in shape than ever. Did the part require you to work out or do you just want to look your best next to Ryan?
First of all....thank you. And second of all, yes, to both. Again one of the properties of V is a steroid like effect. Nobody said, 'Chris, get big', but to stay true to the story and add that layer of visual support to make it more real, I had to tighten up and get a little bigger. So I did. I still have a fucking double chin on camera. It is what it is.


Would you consider yourself a fan of the show?
Absolutely! In fact my primary relationship to the show is as an audience member, as weird as that may sound, think about it. I only see the scenes I shoot. I don't see episodes as a finished product until you do. And I love them. That’s when I get to see my friends kick so much ass with their talent, that's when I get to be surprised by a director, that's when I get to hear the words in their dramatic context. And I’m a fan of all of the above.

I remember the story about getting noticed that you told at the Paley Fest. Do you get recognized in public now? How does that feel?
I get recognized frequently and it feels fantastic because, for whatever reason, people are generally really kind and complimentary. I DO NOT have to deal with the 'will you bite me' type stuff and I would hate that. For the most part, people remark that they enjoy what I do. I always thank them and walk away thinking everyone should be so complimented for whatever it is they do. In fact I try to do that to keep the circle complete. By the way, did I mention you ask great questions?!?

Do you go to fan sites, read about yourself or go to message boards?
On occasion I have. But it's kind of like a bad neighborhood, I’m just better off not going alone. I've read some incredibly flattering things about me, and some nasty mean things about me. I’m a pretty tough guy, but you don't want to hear that people think you're fat, ugly and hate your character. Speaking for myself, it's only my ego disguised as curiosity that takes me to these places, and I deserve what I get. Once you get over the "hurty-poos" the real danger is that you adjust your character to appeal to more folks. That’s taboo as far as I’m concerned. In this day and age, the cyber-audience has more and more influence. The support can be enormous, but it's a slippery slope when the people creating the shows begin to allow the audience to affect their story telling. I’m sermonizing. Having been to some sites I would just quote lady sovereign and say ' if you love me than.....thank you! And if you hate me than......fuck you!" At the end of the day, when it all comes down to it, I am living a life beyond my wildest dreams. Because of what I do, that could not be without the support and passion of an audience. As I said in the beginning, I am grateful for all of it, good and bad. Wouldn't change a thing!

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