After years of small but important roles in such TV series as Star Trek: The Next Generation, Battlestar Galactica, In Treatment, and 24, Michelle Forbes carved an indelible new niche for herself — sexy psycho — as the troublemaking, orgiastic maenad Maryann on True Blood. The native Texan (who sounds strangely British on the phone) adds to that portfolio in season two of the Canadian crime series Durham County, which airs on Ion Sundays at 10 p.m. In this eerie drama with a noir touch, Forbes plays a wounded and mysterious forensic psychologist who has a central role in this year’s creepy murder case. Vulture spoke with Forbes about her cult following, her varied career, and making bloody meat pies.
Had you heard of Durham County before taking the part?
No, not really. My agent told me about it, and I happened to see a trailer for it online, and I just thought it was so visually compelling. I just got seduced by the tone of the show and the score, and jumped at the chance to meet with Adrienne Mitchell, the producer. I was on a plane a few days after that, right after the first season of True Blood.
It’s a little creepy for my taste, to tell the truth.
Yeah, it has sort of a bleak, Eastern European thing going on sometimes, and some people are into the bleak and some won’t be. It has the darker parts of our psychology in there. Certain people are going to enjoy it, but the people that are into lighter fare, not so much.
What’s with you and playing psychos?
I’m really not sure. Because I keep seeing these words behind my name — sinister, dark, villainous — and look, all work is good, but I have played a lot of other roles, they just don’t have quite the rabid fan base of True Blood. And even though Maryann may have had that reputation, actually acting in True Blood was like being in a playground every day.
There is that side of her that’s fun, and she’s a party girl that’s just dancing and wearing fabulous clothes — that was the part I loved to do. Everybody goes, “Ooh, that was really frightening and dark.” I didn’t get any of that until we finished filming it and I saw it.
You really didn’t think that cooking a meat pie out of guts and instigating domestic abuse would play out as a dark scene?
That scene seemed to freak everybody out! But playing it, I was really just cooking dinner for my children. A special treat [Creepy laughter]. Maryann just lives in a different place, that’s not dark for her, death isn’t dark for her: She’s immortal. I had the time of my life on True Blood, especially after Durham County and that grim, bleak world we live in.
So you, personally, aren’t a psycho, right?
I’m not like that at all! I was really quite perplexed why Alan [Ball] had this strange idea to cast me as Maryann, because in my eyes, I’m just clumsy and shy. To play this completely uninhibited, extroverted, graceful person — I was really quite perplexed. It was kind of nice to tap into that side. You know, that girly, fluid side.
Do you think True Blood has expanded your fan base?
I guess so. For whatever reason, every project I do becomes sort of a cult, or a cultish show, you know, like Battlestar, or even a film I did years ago, Kalifornia, people refer to it as a cult film.
You seem to have arcs on a lot of shows, but you haven’t lately been a series regular. Why not?
I’ve gotten a reputation for being a big commitment-phobe, because those seven-year contracts have always sort of put the fear of God in me. There’s something really terrifying about playing the same character for seven years. But actually I think True Blood is the one that got away, because you can never get bored on that show.
So there’s no chance that Maryann’s going to return from hell or wherever she is?
I think that Maryann story was definitely told and told in full.
Bummer. I saw someone at Halloween dressed up as Maryann.
You’re kidding! Oh deary me, that is funny. Did they have bullhorns sticking out of their torso?