ABOVE: DEBORAH ANN WOLL, PHOTO COURTESY OF MARK SEGAL.
Jessica Hamby, the 17-year-old vampire played by Brooklyn-born Deborah Ann Woll, was never intended as an integral True Blood character. Woll’s two-episode stint, however, was quickly extended. As Alan Ball’s show enters its fifth season, Jessica has gone from being the irritating “redheaded stepchild” of Stephen Moyer’s Bill Compton to one of the show’s key characters and the subject of a love triangle between well-intentioned Hoyt and the very promiscuous Jason Stackhouse.
In anticipation of season five of our summer guilty pleasure, Interview tracked down Deborah to chat about how she became involved in the show, how she’d like Jessica to kick the bucket (she wouldn’t like it), and dealing with oddball fans when stuck on a cruise ship with them.
EMMA BROWN: Hi, Deborah. Do you go by Deborah, or Deborah Ann?
DEBORAH ANN WOLL: Either is fine.
BROWN: Let’s talk about season five of True Blood. From the first trailer they’ve released, it looks the focus is more on vampires than the other supernatural characters?
WOLL: [laughs] From the one trailer. They’re very careful about what they put in the trailers. There’s the shifters and the were[wolves]—there’s plenty of activity there—but I would say the main storyline, the political storyline, is with the vampires and the different factions that come with that.
BROWN: Do you ever worry that you’re going to divulge some secret and get in trouble?
WOLL: All the time! I’m really terrified about it. We’ve been working on [season five] for months, so the narrative is very natural, second-hand to us. Where last season left off, and where this season begins… I have to be careful in my conversation as to what I let slip.
BROWN: When you were first cast as Jessica Hamby, how much did you know about the role? Did you know that you were going to be a series regular?
WOLL: No, I knew almost nothing about it. The show hadn’t aired yet, they were about halfway through shooting the first season. [When] I came on, they said it would be, a two-episode arc. I was this punishment for Bill, so I had to be the frightened human child in the first episode, and then the annoying, bratty teen in the second episode. In that episode, Bill drops me off with Eric [Northman, played by Alexander Skarsgård], [so] I was like, “Well, that’s great!” That means over the next couple years, if they ever [Sookie and Bill] go to Fangtasia, I’ll pop up here and there. They ended up asking me before the end of that first season if I would like to come back and be a regular the next season. I guess they saw some potential in the character.
BROWN: Jessica doesn’t appear until the end of season one. Were you allowed to read the scripts of the previous episodes, or did they let you watch them? How much of the story did you know?
WOLL: No, I had no idea. I think I was given a breakdown of the concept of the show, the vampires, and I knew about the first Charlaine Harris book, [but] I didn’t read any scripts or see any footage. I [was] cast and starting shooting four days after that. Very quick.
BROWN: So when you finally did watch the first episode, were you a little shocked?
WOLL: Not shocked, but I’d done two and a half episodes of the show when I saw the first one. I kind of knew it was an edgy, violent, sexy sort of show.
BROWN: I just ask because when I talked to Janina [Gavankar], she said that the vampire sex in the first episode freaked her out.
WOLL: [laughs] That’s funny.
BROWN: There’s a lot of violence in True Blood, many opportunities for characters to be killed off at any moment. Have you thought about how you would like Jessica to die?
WOLL: Oh gosh, I don’t want her to die! I have less fantasies about how I would like her to die, and more nightmares about how she might die. I would imagine there would be a spurned lover or something like that. I think, if it were happen, I don’t know… Last season, season four, we had this accident, Jessica was in the wrong place at wrong time and consequently the witches’ spell got her. I sort of see that as Jessica’s path, that someday it will be your time, almost an accident.
BROWN: If Jessica lives, where would you like her to be in five years?
WOLL: My grand hope for Jessica is that she comes to terms with these dual sides of herself—the side of herself that’s an animal, that’s a vampire that wants to feed and hunt and live out these adventures, and then the more human side of her, which is sweet and vulnerable and kind. I think Jessica’s long-term story is about experimenting with both sides of herself, and learning to balance them or to merge them in some way. I eventually hope that Jessica finds some peace in that.
BROWN: Do you worry about playing an eternal 17-year-old?
WOLL: I do! I’m already about 10 years older than my character, but I think I still have fairly young features, and if we don’t put on too much makeup, I can look young. But Jessica’s also maturing, so even though physically I’m supposed to be 17, my worldview and my personality can become more nuanced.
BROWN: Do you try not to wrinkle your face lest you get frown lines?
WOLL: [laughs] I don’t think too much about it. My skin is pretty low-maintenance, but I’m a big sunscreen wearer, which I think is the big thing when it comes to wrinkles, right? I think I’ll be okay. If I use my sunscreen and my Lubriderm, I’m okay.
BROWN: If you could play another character on the show, whom would you want to play?
WOLL: Maybe Bill. I can cross genders with that, right? It was a fantasy question. That character is so interesting to me because of all the different changes that he goes through. We see these vastly different sides of Bill, and I’m very curious about Bill’s endgame. I think we can tell that he’s had a few genuine connections; I think he had a genuine connection with Sookie, a genuine connection with Jessica.
BROWN: Obviously True Blood has a very strong fan base. What’s the strangest thing someone’s ever said to you about it?
WOLL: I went on a cruise with my boyfriend and his family, and there was this very funny older couple that recognized me from the show. The man—he couldn’t remember my character’s name—so every time he saw me he would call me a different name. I think I was Barbara and then I was Chelsea—a whole bunch of different people who apparently sounded like Jessica to him. Every time he’d come over he’d go “Rawr” and give me a sassy-cat-hand-claw thing. I was thinking, how could that possibly be related to vampires? What does sass cat have to do with vampires? But he was very excited, and every time I saw him, I’d get a little “Rawr, Chelsea!”
BROWN: How did you respond to that?
WOLL: I just smiled and waved and said thanks. I mean, he wasn’t doing anything wrong. I didn’t know if I should go and tell him the name was Jessica.
BROWN: Or that your real name is Deborah.
WOLL: Right, my real name.
SEASON FIVE OF TRUE BLOOD BEGINS THIS SUNDAY, JUNE 10TH, ON HBO.