Note: This interview with Howard Deutch contains spoilers through the penultimate episode of True Blood. Don’t click through until you’ve caught up.
The penultimate episode of True Blood seemed to close out a number of important story lines and teed things up nicely for the finale. To find out more about last night’s eventful hour, as well as to satisfy our endless need to discuss Pretty in Pink and other things John Hughes, we called up director Howard Deutch, who has helmed many a True Blood episode, including this one. He chatted with us about the rekindled Jessica-Hoyt relationship, how his films Pretty in Pink and Some Kind of Wonderful prepared him for the show’s love triangles, and not letting go on True Blood.
You directed three pivotal sex scenes this season: the Eric-Jason sex dream, the Lafayette-Jason encounter at the party, and then, of course, the reunion between Hoyt and Jessica. That last one was both epic and erotic and established them as the ultimate couple of the show. How much of that scene was in the script?
Erotic, yes, I agree. It’s really all Bucky [showrunner Brian Buckner]. Honestly, I was just executing the script, because it was all on the page, the way it was constructed. The only thing that was not on the page was to allow Deborah Ann Woll and Jim Parrack to create a sense of reality for themselves, sexually, in terms of the sex, so that it could be as free as the actors felt comfortable with. It had to come from this longing and this sense of need, as opposed to just passion and being sexual. That was the most important thing to him.
And the interesting twist to this love scene, as opposed to all the other Jessica-Hoyt love scenes, was that although every time is a first time for Jessica, this was finally more about it being a first time for Hoyt, based on his memories, or lack thereof.
Right! Yes. It was good. Bucky really felt strongly this would surprise people, and he’s a brave writer. And believe me, there was pushback from a lot of people, because they had set up for years that Jason and Jessica were going to wind up together. So the surprise of it and the shock of it to everyone when they read it was there. And Bucky was right. And Deborah drove … She was the engine of that scene. Because Hoyt has no memory of it, so in the dance, if you will, she’s the lead. It’s usually the other way around in that kind of a scene. So she did drive it, and she did it beautifully.
Is it true that after seeing these scenes, someone at HBO said that you should consider doing porn films?
Yeah. [Chuckles.] Yes. Exactly. I’m available! [Laughs.] But honestly, directorially, the movies I’ve done, Pretty in Pink, Some Kind of Wonderful — these are not movies that are erotic. But my training is that it be truthful in terms of the choices for the actors. So when it comes to the kind of scenes that are in True Blood, I think it’s a great opportunity for the actors and for me, because I get to find the truth in it. The direction to “make it sexy,” well, that’s a general term. They’re not going to find any surprising choices that way. But when you allow them to play it from a place where the actors are unburdened, they get to have different colors, and it’s a place that they believe in, where they can believe in what those characters want in the scene, then it can be highly erotic. And even more important than erotic, more relatable to the audience, where they can go, “I can believe that.” That’s all I’m after.
Do you feel like having directed both Pretty in Pink and Some Kind of Wonderful gave you an extra understanding of the love triangles in True Blood?
Absolutely! Bucky and I talked about that. And even if it was subliminal and not conscious, the triangle is something I have experience with and I always believe in executing it, the most important thing is that the audience not know how it’s going to end up. To not be telegraphed. To not have a sense of, Oh, this is how it’s going to go. The air never goes out of the balloon until the last second. You’re never quite sure: Is this thing going to happen? Are they not going to get together? And that feeds the eroticism, because there’s a forbidden fruit aspect to it.
With Pretty in Pink, there were two different endings.
Yeah. When we test-screened it, the audience loved it. The movie was cooking on all cylinders until the last five minutes, when they booed it. They did not want Andie to end up with Duckie. The girls wanted her to get the boy that she wanted. It was that simple. Politics aside, they were like, “We want her to get the cute boy.” And that was it. John [Hughes] and I sat around, and it took a while, but he knew there was a way to fix that, but it took him a while to figure out exactly how to. And one day he came into the editing room, and he sat on the floor and he said, “I got it. Blaine has to come alone to the prom.” And that was the key. And then that meant the world to her, and then Ducky could sacrifice, make the ultimate sacrifice, and he did. And then John gave him the little Duckette. That to me was an example of — the whole script was built for true love — Ducky was the steadfast guy. He loved her more than life itself. “I live to love you.” And it was built for that. The whole thing was geared for the audience to get that, that true love overcomes everything — but not if you’re a guy! It’s the girl who makes the choice. It’s always the woman who makes that decision. And that was my lesson from this movie. So all the women in the audience knew, and they wanted her to get what she wanted, and that was that. She’s got to get the prince, not the frog.
In Some Kind of Wonderful, the girl doesn’t get to make the choice. Watts just waits for him to realize she’s been there all along.
Yes, she did. Keith was brain dead. He’s just a guy, you know? Guys are stupid. He thinks he’s in love with the popular girl. He thinks she’s it, the way the movie is constructed. But Watts is the real deal and would give anything for him. And then, at the last moment, he realizes how great a love she’s been. It’s driven by her. The whole engine of that movie is Watts. I always see it as, Watts made the choice. He just reacted. He’s receiving. He’s the batter, and here comes the pitch, “Oh my God, it’s right across the middle, I can hit this!” She makes it very clear, by her walking away from him, in the state that she’s in. And then Lea [Thompson] — Amanda — says she’d rather be alone for the right reasons than with someone for the wrong reasons. That’s the turning point. You could make an argument that he picked, but he didn’t pick — he was never going to be with Lea. She was never going to have it, because she knew the right thing to do was let him be Watts. People love that movie. I got to tell you, it didn’t do that well when it opened. It was a disappointment to the studio. And then, as time went on, it became more loved. People really like that movie. Lea tells me she got more mail about that movie from kids having troubles, considering suicide, than any other movie. It endures.
Apparently, you and John Hughes were hoping to do a third film together, Oil and Vinegar?
Yes. That was John’s favorite script and he was saving it for himself, and I convinced him to let me do it. It was the story of a traveling salesman that Matthew Broderick was going to play, and a rock-and-roll girl, a real rocker. Polar opposites. Molly [Ringwald] was going to play that. And I had to make a personal decision about whether to go forward or not. We had rehearsals in a couple weeks, and I was exhausted, and my girlfriend [Lea Thompson], who became my wife, said, “You’re going to die. You can’t do this. I’m not going to stick around and watch that.” And I think it was also sprinkled with the fact that I wanted to do one movie that was my movie, not necessarily in service to John, even though I loved John. So between the two things, I didn’ t … It could still happen. I would do it. Not with Matthew and Molly anymore, but the script is still there. It doesn’t need anything. It’s one of his great scripts. He had so many great scripts. For instance, he would stay up all night, music blasting, and at like 5:30 or 6 a.m., he’d hand me what was supposed to be a rewrite on Some Kind of Wonderful. We needed five pages, and it was 50 pages. I said, “What did you do?! What is this?” and he said, “Oh, I didn’t do that. I did something else. Tell me what you think?” And it was Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. He wrote the first half of the movie in, like, eight hours, and then finished it a couple days later. That was John. I never knew a writer who could do that. No one else had that ability. Even the stuff I fished out of the garbage was gold.
Back to True Blood — Bill also releases Jessica in this episode. And when we’ve seen a maker release his progeny before, it’s usually painful. As Pam puts it, it’s “like being kicked in the cooch by a wallaby.” But it didn’t seem that way for Jessica.
That’s the brilliance of that actress. Deborah makes things her own, and she carves out choices for what that character would do, and she chose not to go with physical pain because she was so overwhelmed by what was going on. That’s my favorite scene, that cold opening, her reaction, and the way Stephen [Moyer] tells her how proud he is of her. It makes me cry every time. That’s black-belt acting to me. This is the best cast in television that I’ve ever worked with, honestly. They’re all black belts. That’s why it was special. You don’t find a cast like that anywhere. It’s quite unusual. Anna [Paquin] is the pro of all time. The most professional. She’s the first one on the set, “Let’s go! I’m ready!” It’s all about the work with her.
On the comic-relief side, Ginger finally got to have sex with Eric.
Yeah, that was fun, wasn’t it? It lasts a nanosecond, and then she comes, and that’s it! They have sex — for real, in the scene. No, I’m joking. Bucky was there, and he asked Tara Buck to do that pirouette before she mounted him on the chair, which was cute, in terms of the approach. Both of those actors are amazing. Alex Skarsgård is a dream actor. Alex, whatever you want, even if it’s the last thing he wants to do, he’ll go, “I’ll try it!”
Was there a lot of pressure because this isn’t just about setting up the next episode per usual, but because the next episode is the series finale?
I felt pressure, yeah. I felt it because this is a big deal after seven years, and I wanted to make sure the cliffhanger aspect is there, and we have doubt, as an audience, about what is going to happen. What’s going to happen with Bill? Is he going to do what we think he’s going to do or not? You go to that last episode not sure. All of that is Bucky. Directing is interpretation, so hopefully I was able to honor the spirit of what he wrote. Elia Kazan said the job of the director is to turn psychology, or the text, into behavior. So that’s what I’m trying for. Like in episode five, when the vampire with a crush comes up to Arlene, and she’s trying to hide behind Sookie, and she’s drunk, that whole scene for me is something that rang my bell. I’m not sure any other director would have kept it like that, but I felt like that was exactly what it ought to be.
And there’s a moment in that episode when Anna comes outside drunk to talk to Stephen and thanks him, and they hug. We did a couple of takes, and I said, “Let’s just do one more.” And while they were in it, I asked Anna, “Don’t let go of him.” He had to pull away. And that’s the one we used. And every time I see it, it moves me, because that’s her true love. And that’s his. He doesn’t want to pull away, but he has to. That little moment for me elevated it. That got me.