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True Blood’s Valentina Cervi on Why Vampires Have the Right Idea About Sex

Sookie who? In Sunday’s episode of True Blood, the ancient vampire Salome (yes, the Salome who requested the head of John the Baptist on a silver platter), got a taste of both Bill and Eric in just one afternoon. To our recollection, Sookie’s only dreamt of having the two vamps at once. Italian actress Valentina Cervi, whom you might remember as the hidden wife of Michael Fassbender’s Rochester in last year’s adaptation of Jane Eyre, talks to us about channeling the Bible’s original femme fatale and the real benefit of being a vampire.

How do you audition to play a vampire?
The only note Alan gave me was, “Don’t be afraid of your sexual power.” So I just went for it. I put in some fake hair because I had short hair at the time, and because I thought Salome, or the archetype of that kind of woman, would be dancing with this long hair. And a really tiny dress. But I think they were looking for something that was more ancient. In the end, I didn’t overthink it. I was also drawn to her naturally. When you meet some characters, you feel immediately like you know who they are and where they come from.

Salome manages to bring all the boys to the yard in a single day. Bill, Eric, Roman. Should Sookie just give up?
But I love Sookie! Those relationships are just on hold. What Bill and Eric have with her, I think, will never end and will always be there. Salome is a woman, but she’s got a more masculine side to her, you know? She’s not someone you want to protect. She doesn’t have that. So in that way, she might be intriguing for the boys. And of course between vampires there’s this sexual freedom. They can have sex without meaning they have responsibility to each other. That’s the beautiful part of being a vampire. All the conventional lead-up is unnecessary. Exploring your most primal instincts is where you start.

When you sign up to do True Blood, it’s true that even the non-vampires agree to a fair amount of sex and nudity.
I know. Oh my God. I have to say, Salome is someone who’s free with her body. That’s very freeing for me. It’s very freeing to use your body as a costume almost. Of course, on the day we shot that scene where I was talking to Roman, I wasn’t supposed to be naked.

Hmmm. What happened?
The writer asked me to be naked on the bed, and I kind of said, “Oh … ” but she explained to me that Salome is free. She doesn’t cover herself up. I totally got that, and it helped me out in the scene. She’s showing her fragility with Roman. Yes, they’re lovers, yes, they work together, but in being naked, I felt almost fragile, and I felt that that might have helped the scene. The way she is with him is not the way she is with the rest of the world.

When you were cast on the show, word was that Salome would be this season’s “most powerful person in every way.” Does that turn out to be true?
She’s powerful in that she is 2,000 years old, and in the vampire world there’s a lot of respect for the elders. If she says something, people are going to listen to her. I don’t know, though. You might think she’s a seductress, and she is, but that’s only her public persona. That’s where she hides. The real Salome is not that.

When Salome tells Bill about her real history, that in fact she was the victim of her mother, is it a moment of truth for her? Or is she just playing Bill?
That’s the scene where I started to understand where her wounds are. She has scars. She’s been betrayed. I think that’s a moment of truth, but I think she uses that truth to bring people to her side. So she’s using truth, but she’s also really opening up to him.

I loved when she’s trying to coax information out of Eric, and she’s coming on to him, and he says to her, “Are you lonely? Is this how you make friends?”
[Laughs.] I know. He gets her. And she gets him. She says, “You’re cold,” and that’s because it hurt. She doesn’t trust Eric, but at the same time she understands where he comes from. He knows who she is. It’s difficult to sway Eric. They react to each other knowing who the other is.

Her heart really belongs to Roman then.
They’ve been lovers for centuries. But I think you’ve seen that Roman might be a little too dogmatic in his thinking. There are going to be issues between the two of them, for sure. She honestly loves him, and she’s going to try to make him see things in a different way.

The cast of True Blood might be larger than any other currently on television. Is there anyone you wanted to work with but didn’t get to?
You’re touching a sore spot, because I love every character on the show but I only had a chance to work with a few — Bill, Eric, Roman. I did get to work with Denis O’Hare — that was my big dream when I was cast. I kept asking, “Am I going to get to work with Denis?” I would have loved for Salome to meet Lafayette. I was hoping by the end of the season we would have had something, but not really. Nelsan is fantastic.

What did you get to do with Denis?
He’s the coolest, most generous and incredible actor. I learned a lot from him. There’s one moment where he’s like, throwing me during this very powerful fight scene between the two of us. Shooting that was scary and fun at the same time. It was internally bloody, a lot of rage coming out. Russell’s 3,000 years old, so he’s an older vampire than me. I hope I’m allowed to say we fight.  

Photo: HBO