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True Blood’s Rutina Wesley on Her ‘Feisty’ Character, the Origins of ‘Hooker,’ and Getting an Action Figure

Orgies. Exorcisms. Bludgeonings. As an unwitting party to all of the above (okay, she meant to beat the bejesus out of that bipolar vampire with a medieval mace), poor Tara Thornton has lived a life full of drama and sorrow. But in season four, True Blood's resident martyr looks like she may finally get a shot at happiness. Where's the fun in that? Vulture spoke with actress Rutina Wesley, a soft-spoken Juilliard grad with a soft spot for comic books, about her Emmy-reel, getting an action figure, and her future as Wonder Woman.

Would you agree that, out of the entire True Blood cast, you probably have the most clips for your Emmy reel?
Yeah, totally! It's like, "Well, let's see: being duct-taped to a toilet or tied to a bed." I never know what they're gonna do, you know? The one time I was really surprised was in season two when we had to do those scenes out in the woods. [Laughs.] We were like, "Wait. What are we doing? This is an orgy scene!" But it's True Blood. I've never questioned anything that they've given me.

[Spoiler alert.] When producer Alan Ball said a character was coming out, everyone assumed it would be Jason. Were you surprised it was Tara?
It makes sense to me. I don't think it's all of a sudden her coming out. She's a little more stable and calmer [this season], and the next thing she knew, love was in the air. She didn't really know what to do with it, but to go with it.

Will anything this season disrupt her calm?
I think Tara's always gonna be Tara. She's always gonna be feisty. She's very sassy, which I love. Tara is the voice of reason at times, because she just tells it like it is. She has learned to handle things in a different way, but she is gonna get caught up in things that are going to challenge her. There's gonna be lots of tension. There's definitely drama.

You have many scenes with Nelsan Ellis, who plays Lafayette. What is your relationship like?
We went to school together at Juilliard, so we're actually very close. Coming on this show and getting the chance to work with someone that you know is such a plus. The connection you see is real. We actually really enjoy each other's company — and he keeps me on my toes.

Does he get to call you "hooker" off-camera?
Oh, he calls me "Rutini." [Laughs.] He actually made ["hooker"] up. I don't think that was in the script. He just said it one time to me. And that's why I was like, [in Tara's voice] "You got one more time to call me 'hooker'! You got one mo', one mo'!" So it just became this running joke between us. He says it so well. It kind of just rolls off his tongue.

Do you ever miss Franklin, that wackadoodle vampire obsessed with Tara?
I do. It was amazing working with James Frain, because he's just so right on. He's the sweetest guy. But when it was time for Franklin, he just like turned it on. He was also very funny and charming. You kind of felt bad for Franklin. You kind of wanted him to have this bride. But with Tara, you don't want to see her be the victim anymore.

The books mention Tara's dad, but there's no mention of him in the series. Will he ever appear?
I don't think so, but that's kind of an interesting part of her life. I think that the fact that her father is missing makes a lot of sense why she doesn't have very good luck with men.

Were you surprised to get this role? The original pilot was shot with another actress, Brooke Kerr, playing Tara.
I was, yeah. It's one of those things that happens all the time, unfortunately, in this business: They're constantly recasting. It's a tough business, really.

And it's even harder for black actresses.
It is. There's not a lot out there. A lot of people I know auditioned for this part. There are not a lot of parts, so when one does come up, we're all vying for that role. I try to support whoever gets the part. It shouldn't be a competition.

Bill, Sookie, and Eric are getting action figures. Will Tara have one?
Who's to say that that won't happen? I'm in a comic book now. That was cool. That's something that I'm still sorta reeling about, 'cause I read comics as a kid. Someone drew me, and actually did a pretty good job!

What did you read as a kid?
I loved everything in the newspaper, all those little guys. And then, you know, Wonder Woman, Superman, the superheroes. It was kind of like, I wanted a cape.

Since the Wonder Woman pilot never took off, they may want to develop the movie again. And why couldn't she be a black woman?
You know, that's true! I feel like it should always be about who is best for the part. At this point in 2011, it shouldn't be about race anymore unless we're talking about a specific period in time. You know, like, if we're doing something from the 1900s, 1600s, something like that, and you're talking about specific stuff. Otherwise it's like: Please, it could be whoever.

So Vulture can officially announce your candidacy for Wonder Woman?
[Laughs.] Yay! Yes!

Photo: HBO