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True Blood’s Chris Bauer on Manly Andy, Working Through Addiction, and Rescuing Moles

True Blood’s Chris Bauer. Photo: Jason Merritt/Getty Images

Andy Bellefleur, the character Chris Bauer plays on True Blood, started out as comic relief, but as the show progressed into its seventh and final season, he has evolved into the kind of guy you can legitimately cheer for. And so much has happened to him! [Warning: There are spoilers from here on out, so come back after you’ve watched “May Be the Last Time,” the most recent episode of True Blood.]

For every high we’ve rooted for (e.g., proposing to his girlfriend), there’s been a corresponding, and usually bizarre, low for us to ponder, such as when his faerie children went missing or became tasty vampire snacks. This week, while searching for his only surviving faerie daughter, he finally reached his breaking point and had what Bauer calls “a total collapse, just existentially not being able to manage anymore.” (And it’s not because the birth mother warned him that he had a sacred duty to see that at least two of them survived to adulthood). Bauer chatted with Vulture during his own rescue mission (saving an animal that fell in his pool) about freaking out, slut-shaming, and overcoming addiction onscreen and off.

Let’s talk about Andy’s freak-out …
I think he reaches a point in a very subversive and dangerous way, the most taboo state of being for a character on television, let alone for a real person, which is, I do not know what to do next. I am totally dissembling. I don’t know how to breathe next. I don’t know how to think next. I don’t know who to ask for help. The given circumstances of my life have become too overwhelming to manage. And rather than reinvest in some external aspect of his identity — the cop, the redneck, the hard ass — he just crumbles. Which is so exciting, because that means vulnerability has become an acceptable state of being for him, and by submitting to that, Holly comes to his rescue and says, “You are not alone.” He gets out of that moment on the strength of knowing that he’s not alone, which circles back to the theme of the whole show, which is we cannot do it alone. We have to learn to get along together, especially those who scare us.

What’s been exciting about it from the beginning is this is about how do real people get along with others who don’t feel real to them? In other words, if you’re a vampire, if you’re a werewolf, if you’re a shapeshifter, I don’t really have to take you that seriously, as a human, because you’re weird. You’re different. You’re not like me. So that theme, however much we might have strayed away from it in the middle seasons, has always been the backbone, and now in the seventh season, starting to look at these characters who you’ve gotten to know express some pain and exasperation that has come from them trying to survive in this world full of difference is really powerful. And ironically, totally realistic. At the very least, watching a character such as Andy, who started as this character who as soon as he got onscreen you were waiting for him to trip and fall, winding down the series as a viable manifestation of maleness and authority, is a great, great journey.

And he’s gotten to have some incredible moments lately, on a human level, such as confronting Jessica. Take out the supernatural element and it’s still meaningful.
In a way, it’s like bringing this whole experience slowly back down to something that’s more tangible on a human level, by having these characters express what it has emotionally cost them to live in this world. It’s as much about the real world as the crazy supernatural creatures populating it. On that level, what does it cost you to stay emotionally present in this world of chaos, loss, grief, hope? And it’s the kind of insight that you don’t really have access to, unless you’re starting to chill the fuck out and stop inflicting yourself on the world. Instead you’re inventorying who you are, and what’s going with you. Introspective and reflective. That’s a massively foreign state of being for the Andy Bellefleur that started on True Blood. And then to take it to another level, by offering that information to Jessica, I don’t think he’s trying to say, “Hey, do me a favor and help me feel better.” I think he’s trying to say, “You’re a vampire, I’m a human, but there’s a common solution that can make both of us feel better and move forward in our lives.” It’s a mini–peace treaty. And these characters having compassion together has a very unifying effect on the whole town.

Maybe too much unity can be a bad thingEven when they’re warned, these two teenagers don’t seem to be aware that they’re almost committing incest …
Well, look — I feel like telling teenagers anything is like putting a couple dice in your hand and just throwing them on the table. [Laughs] I also think that if there is something that subtly determines what does or does not happen in Bon Temps, it is the laws of nature. We’re all trying to catch up to momentum and the ferocity of nature, and when we fight it, it generally does us no good.

Which is why Holly backs down from calling Adilynn a slut just because she’s fae. It’s nice that they settled that argument without shaming female sexuality, even if Holly might not think of Adilynn’s faerie mother in the best light.
It’s dignified, and nobody ends up being called a name! And by the way, if faeries were sluts, I don’t know if this logic tracks, if Andy Bellefleur is walking through the woods, especially fifth season Andy Bellefleur, and Maurella, who is a ten in the real world and the faerie world, picks him, there has to be more motivation behind that than tapping into her slut jones. There’s something about his demeanor and energy, similar to the maenad Maryann Forester. She saw an energy at that time that was just unadulterated rage in Andy, but saw an energy that invited a supernatural interest in his humanity, because he’s such a real guy. He’s such a real guy that especially these female supernaturals find him intriguing.

He’s a magic magnet.
I know! What’s up with that? That’s a shout-out for the bald 47-year-olds! [Laughs] I think he’s so real that they see nature manifesting in him on its own terms, and that’s something they’re just drawn to. [Pause] Oh! There’s a little mole that just fell in my pool. I gotta get this out.

A mole fell in your pool?
Yeah, and I’m now putting it in the net.

So you’re rescuing it?
[Laughs] Yeah. I’m rescuing a mole while I try to sound glib and smart.

There was a whole story line about Andy in the earlier seasons where he was struggling with his addictions, overcoming his addictions. And while you were doing that story line, you were also in recovery. How surreal was that for you?
[Laughs] Can I just say that I think it’s so great and so funny that you’re asking me about that literally as I drop this little creature who fell in my pool back into my garden, where I’m sure it’s going to do nothing but damage! [Laughs] But I feel better. And that’s pretty much where I end up in my aspect of my life. I just had to walk away from a bottle of booze, forever, and I feel better. It’s so weird, I have these incredible powerful, spontaneous surges of emotion lately when I talk about certain aspects of my life, and certain aspects of True Blood, where they overlap. And in that second season, nobody knew that I was newly sober, certainly not on a production level. And to be able to play out fictionally, because if you remember, Andy was in a full relapse, off his rocker, basically on a season-long bender, and to be able to fictionally play out that behavior and the consequences and perceptions in this town that he was helping to run, was the most generous universal affirmation of my own personal choices to clean up my act. And without ever talking about it, I just felt like I was the beneficiary of the most benevolent, loving universe for that season, because it was really helpful. And everything that I’ve learned about my inner life and my outer life has come from art and the writers and the people that I have been totally coincidentally mixed up with throughout my career, and I just feel like I owe those people and I owe my work my entire devotion. And the audience, because they’re the ones who sit down and watch, with the same open eyes and same open heart that I do. It just had such a profound, deep, positive effect on my life.

So, therapy through True Blood? Makes sense.
If I remember this right, the last episode of the first season, there’s a short scene where I’m sitting at the bar with Tara, and I talk about how the Bellefleur family used to own all this property in town, and it’s where Andy takes the first drink of whiskey after not having a drink for a long time. And of course it’s water with caramel food coloring in it, but when I looked at the “whiskey” in that glass, Alan Ball, who directed that episode, said, “This should be a confusing emotional beat for Andy,” and I looked at him, and I looked at that “whiskey,” and I said, “Don’t worry. It’ll be plenty confusing and plenty emotional.” [Laughs] And when I touched it to my lips, tears flew out of my eyes! I didn’t have any thoughts at the time. It was just pure sensation. Pure flow. Which a lot of this job was for me.

I was always wondering about that! I always figured it was iced tea for whiskey, and grape juice for wine. Thank you for clearing up that mystery.
It’s all of the above. Some people like iced tea. Some people like flat Coke. Some people like water with food coloring. I personally like water with food coloring, because the way the ice looks in that is a little more viscous. I’m a sucker for authenticity! [Laughs.]

Chris Bauer on True Blood, Addiction, and Moles