The wonderful thing about the world of make believe is that anything is possible, and that is certainly true in the hit HBO drama True Blood. Based on The Southern Vampire Mysteries series of novels by author Charlaine Harris, the show is set in Bon Temps, a small fictional northwestern Louisiana town where vampires and humans coexist thanks to a synthetic substance called Tru Blood, which has eliminated the vampires’ need to feed on humans.
No longer forced to hide themselves away in the shadows, some of our toothy brethren often get together in nearby Shreveport at the bar Fangtasia. Primarily a hangout for vampires, it also serves “Fangbangers” (humans looking for sex with vampires). Not surprisingly, it takes a certain type of person to work at such an establishment, including Ginger, whose job often involves more than just taking drink orders. When actress Tara Buck first booked the Ginger role, she never imagined that her character – who is best known by loyal True Blood fans for her screaming – would spend seven seasons waiting tables at Fangtasia.
“Back then I had just finished working on a pilot for HBO called One Percent, which was about a biker gang and similar to [the current TNT series] Sons of Anarchy,” recalls Buck. “Some of the people who worked on that pilot were starting another new project called True Blood, and they requested that I come in and read for a role in it. My audition was Ginger’s first scene from season one where she is dragged into Fangtasia and has her mind read by Sookie (Anna Paquin).
“Ginger was this sort of scrappy, strung-out bartender with an attitude, and also kind of too dumb to realize she shouldn’t have as much attitude. The audition went very well, and Alan Ball [series creator/executive producer], who is just amazing, was there in the room and I ended up getting the job. Initially, I thought my character was just going to guest-star in one episode, but then Alan, who was extremely complimentary about my work, called me at the end of the season to say that he wanted me to come back the following season, and it just took off from there.”
In the season one True Blood episode The Fourth Man in the Fire, Fangtasia’s owner, Eric Northman (Alexander Skarsgard), asks fellow vampire Bill Compton (Stephen Moyer) and Sookie Stackhouse, a telepathic human waitress working at Merlotte’s Bar and Grill in Bon Temps, to help find out who stole $60,000 from his bar. Sookie agrees to read Ginger’s mind and learns that Eric’s bartender Longshadow (Raoul Trujillo) is the thief. Ginger saw him take the cash, but she was then “glamoured” (hypnotized) by Longshadow to make her forget. When the truth is finally revealed, Longshadow attacks Sookie, and in the next episode, Plaisir D’Amour, Bill stakes him through the back with a broken beer tap and kills him. It was quite an introduction to True Blood for Ginger, who screamed as well as vomited when Longshadow was killed. It was an equally memorable experience for Buck.
“I was a big fan of Six Feet Under [also created/executive produced by Alan Ball], and thrilled that I was going to be on this new TV show that Alan Ball was doing,” says the actress. “I’d also heard Anna Paquin was going to be in it. Obviously I know Anna’s work and am a big fan of hers as well. I thought, ‘That’s so cool. I actually get to be in a scene with Anna Paquin.’ On the day of filming, I spent probably 16 hours with her. We were on-location down in Long Beach at a place that was the original Fangtasia in the show, and Anna was and is just the coolest, sweetest, most open, very genuine and grounded person. She’s so much like her character of Sookie Stackhouse in a way, and at the time I didn’t realize how perfect she was for this role.
“I also remember from that same day seeing Alexander Skarsgard walk into the make-up trailer for the first time. Here was this really tall, kind of Viking-looking dude and I didn’t have a clue as to who he was. He sat there while the make-up people put this wig on him and I thought, ‘Who is this handsome man with this terrible blond wig?’ The wig sort of became like the running joke of the day. Alexander wore it during the entire first season, and then lo and behold, it was written into the show that Pam [Kristin Bauer van Straten] cuts Eric’s hair. We all thought that was so hilarious, especially as we wondered if Alex had put in a request not to have to wear that wig again. He never looked back and has had short lovely hair ever since.
“The other thing I remember about my first day of work on True Blood is that we wound up spending a couple of days filming this scene because it was such a long one. In fact, it actually ends up taking place over two episodes. So we shot the acting part first, and then the next day we did all the stunts where Longshadow is staked. They had these special effects blood people on-set. I’m not sure what their exact title is, but this whole crew of ‘blood riggers’ come in and they do all the blood work on the show. Dressed in special outfits, they stand on ladders and use what look like garden hoses full of [fake] blood. For this particular scene, they literally hand-pumped blood up through the actor’s costume and out his mouth. There was blood all over the floor and everyone was covered in blood. That’s a moment I’ll never forget and one that since became par for the course when working on this show.”
While not the most forceful person, Ginger is not afraid to speak her mind and has also shown herself to be a skilled marksman. Ginger apparently has no problem working with or being around vampires, and because she works for Eric and Pam, it means she is off-limits to all other vampires. Ginger is extremely loyal to her employers but has a problem keeping secrets, so Eric and Pam have had to glamour her more than once to erase her memories of certain events. As previously mentioned, Ginger tends to scream when caught in the middle of all the bizarre happenings in Bon Temps. While some actresses might see this as a hindrance to their performance, Buck has always used it to her advantage.
“I understood Ginger right away and felt like she was fun and wonderful in such a way that there were no limitations on how just weird she could be,” notes the actress. “Fortunately, Alan specifically set the groundwork with each of our characters to the point where we felt we could do anything with them. He then took what we were doing, which Alan also always strongly supported, and used it to shape and develop our characters.
“I think what became the most challenging for me with my role on True Blood is that after season two, I felt like there were a couple of seasons where all I did was scream. I literally would come in, say a line and scream. That’s not hard acting-wise, but it became challenging in a way that if you only have one line or one little snippet in a scene, you want to fill it. So in hindsight, I think probably the biggest challenge for me was to really bring life to my character regardless of the fact that she might only be there for a nanosecond.
“There was no guarantee Ginger would come back,” she continues. “In fact, I never really thought she would, and every time they did bring her back, I wondered to myself, ‘How many times is this screaming gag going to be funny? It’s bound to come to an end at some point.’ So with every scene I was in, I tried to figure out new and interesting but also very real ways to be in the moment, even if it was just for a small amount of time.
“Ginger was and still is to a degree this splash of comic relief and sort of sparkly fun addition that was put into the story every once in a while, but I didn’t know how to string all those moments together. They were like individual pearls that didn’t make up a necklace. However, rather than trying to figure out how to make that necklace, I just trusted in the fact that I didn’t need to figure that out. There were a team of writers and producers who know what they’re doing and are the best at what they do. So I think at some point I gave up trying to fit all the pieces together and instead just trusted that they were creating this whole picture with Ginger that I didn’t see yet. My only job was to then deliver just the material that I was being given and make sure that my character continued to have relationships in the show.
“To me, what’s the most interesting thing about these characters are the relationships that they have with one another and seeing how much they care about each other. I mean, Pam and Eric were really Ginger’s entire world, you know? So even if I was just standing there in a scene, it was always about those two and how Ginger felt about them, what she was trying to get from Pam and Eric, and what she was hoping they would be proud of her for. It was all of those things, and for me, the greatest payoff of all is when I showed up for work this [seventh] season and the writers had written these wonderful scenes that filled all of that in for my character. They actually brought to life what I had imagined Ginger was wanting, thinking and doing, but that was never actually seen on the screen. They created all of that, and we had never even talked about it. It really was a dream come true for me.”
The seventh and final season of True Blood premiered last Sunday, June 22nd @ 10:00 p.m. EST on HBO. Buck can first be seen reprising her role of Ginger starting this week in episode two, I Found You, and, not surprisingly, the actress was eager to get back to work at Fangtasia.
“I love every bit of the material that was written this season, and when I read the scripts, I was giggling with excitement,” she says. “I immediately called Kristin Bauer, who’s a good friend of mine, and when she answered the phone, Kristin said to me, ‘Can you believe what you’re doing.’ We were like a couple of kids and couldn’t wait to start filming. Once we all got to set, everyone had a terrific time. This season is definitely like six years of a payoff for me, and I hope it is six years of a payoff for the audience, too, which I think it will be.
“When it comes specifically to Ginger, I think you will get some insight into why she has put up with all the strange, weird things that she has been asked to endure over the years while working at Fangtasia. You kind of get the story as to why she has stayed there and why they’ve kept her on, because when you stop to think about it, Ginger messes up all the time. She’s a terrible employee,” jokes Buck, “so why the heck do these vampires keep her around? In season seven you get to kind of figure out the inner workings of that dynamic and how that has lasted in the face of not seeming like it would be a good human/vampire match. You get to see why Ginger is still employed, when really she seems like the worst employee of all times and a huge liability. There’s a reason, though, why she’s there,” teases the actress.
Does Buck have a favorite episode from True Blood’s seventh season? “I can’t go into specifics, but I can tell you that I loved episode four this year,” she reveals. “This season, when it comes to the Ginger we all know and who you think you can count on, you’re going to see the other colors of Ginger, and that was a blast for me to play.
“One of the great things about the characters on True Blood is that for good or for worse, they really are trying to grow. I think that’s what we’re going to see across the board this year, and Ginger is no exception. As flawed as these characters are, they’re genuinely trying to evolve, connect and find love. Ginger is trying to be loved in whatever weird way that translates for her, and she is going to give it everything she’s got. It’s an amazing season for her along with those around her, and the writers did a beautiful job of wrapping up the storyline.”
Born in Idaho, the actress decided at a young age what she wanted to be when she grew up and had what she felt was a very good reason to back up her choice. “I was around eight or nine years old and went to see [the 1985 feature film] Back to the Future,” she says. “That’s when I fell in love with Michael J. Fox. He was my first real crush, and after the movie I went home and thought, ‘OK, how is this going to work?’ So I came up with a plan; the only way Michael and I would ever meet, fall in love and spend the rest of our lives together was if I became an actress. So that was my goal, and here I am today.”
One of Buck’s very first paid acting jobs was playing a character named Blueberry in The X-Files episode Orison. “That was another of those dream come true moments for me,” enthuses the actress. “I was a huge fan of The X-Files and when I booked that job it was rather scary and intimidating, but at the same time I felt like I had won the lottery. I couldn’t wait to be on The X-Files. It was an epic show, it still is, and it was so cool for me to be in a scene with such amazing actors. The crew was great, too, and I had a wonderful time. I played this tough runaway, and I remember spending one whole day doing a photo shoot where I sat naked in a bathtub of [fake] blood with just my head poking out. That was, I guess you could say, the precursor for me to True Blood right there. That was like my first real ‘blood bath.’”
Party of Five, Sabrina, the Teenage Witch, Without a Trace, JAG, Six Feet Under, Nip/Tuck and Longmire are among the other TV shows that the actress has appeared in, while her feature film credits include K-11. Medeas and The Night Visitor. Although her original motivation for joining this profession may have been that of a little girl’s dream, that dream has over the years grown into a genuine passion for acting and one Buck clearly expresses when she speaks about her work.
“I truly love to act,” she says, “and it’s one of those things where you sort of have to be given an opportunity. The whole idea is that you are connecting with another human being and that connection then translates to an audience. So when you’re given the opportunity to be part of a project that does just that, it’s thrilling.
“It has been incredible for me to realize now that there are people all over the world who I have never met and never will meet, and somehow they connect to what I’m doing or get what my characters are trying to say. The fact that I get to act is to me the most rewarding thing in the world, and the fact that people care amazes me. I fall in love with the characters I play, and sometimes I feel like, wow, this is a really unlikable or weird character and nobody is going to get her. However, when I then find out that my work translated to someone and they felt like I was talking to them or that they related to my character, that is, to me, the most rewarding thing about this profession.”
As noted above, all True Blood photos by John P. Johnson and copyright of HBO, so please no unauthorized copying or duplicating of any kind. Thanks!