many happy returns

Jim Parrack on His True Blood Return, Hoyt’s Dream Girl, and Drinking Blood IRL

True Blood’s Jim Parrack. Photo: Tibrina Hobson/Getty Images

Warning: This interview contains minor spoilers for “Almost Home,” the latest episode of True Blood.

Earlier this season, when Jason Stackhouse called up his old friend Hoyt Fortenberry to let him know his mother died, you just knew we’d soon be seeing Hoyt back in Bon Temps, not only to bury his mother and take care of her possessions, but also, quite possibly, to bump into his ex Jessica. Hoyt and Jessica had too much history — from their meet-cute at Merlotte’s all the way up to her glamouring him so that he’d forget her — for them not to interact onscreen again. But to save her and Jason both in one fell swoop? That’s a final-season True Blood reunion done right. Jim Parrack, who plays Hoyt, called up Vulture while en route to the airport for his “first vacation in my adult life” to chat about drinking blood, bursting vampires, and Hoyt’s hero complex.

I actually ran into you back in April at the opening night of your Broadway play Of Mice and Men. It seemed like you were hinting that you’d be doing more True Blood, because when someone asked you what you wanted to drink, you said, “Blood.” So I figured you were being cagey about returning to the show.
Oh! Interesting. No, that’s not what it was. I was being literal. I like the real deal.

Um, I guess for the same reason some people want alcohol? Or for the same reason some people want, I don’t know … milk? Or Kool-Aid?

Oh, okay. Do you drink blood on a regular basis?
I wouldn’t say regular, no. No, not regular.

Well, how often do you drink blood then?
Uh … [Laughs.] I don’t know. Maybe a couple times a year? It’s more like on an impulse. When you make me spell it out like this, it sounds strange, but I just want to be clear — that night, I was being literal. There was something about that night where I had that impulse. I guess the best way to put it is sometimes I just like the way it tastes.

Are you particular about whose blood it is, or which person, or which animal?
Absolutely. I’m absolutely particular. [Laughs.] It’s not like it’s just anybody’s! That particular night, it was my girl. Yeah.

Okay. For a second, I thought you might have gone to a butcher’s shop and procured pig’s blood or cow’s blood.
No, no. That to me does not sound appealing. No, I don’t mean copious amounts of blood. I’m not getting a glass of it or something. But if you drink it, it does something to you emotionally. It’s hard to describe. It’s kind of like you’re in the moment, and the impulse comes, and … I like it.

So let’s talk about Hoyt’s return to the show. First there was the devastating phone call…
We actually shot that at a cement mixing factory right by the lot where we usually shoot, and they just doctored it up a little bit, and made sure the cameras were pointed toward the sky, so you wouldn’t really get any reference points of where we were. I thought it was a good way to come back, because it was unexpected for the character as much as it was for the audience. I was more curious than anything else, because they didn’t give me much information about what would be next, which is pretty typical of the show, that you kind of get it as it comes to you. I knew Hoyt was coming back because his mom had died, and the rest just sort of unfolded, the way that it did.

Was it easy to slip back into Hoyt after not playing him for a while?
Yeah, but I was thinking about what made him change. The reason for going was as much to become who I wanted to be as to get away from whatever had happened. So I had to think about what might be different, and what struck me is that it would have been the first time he was free from the influence of anybody else, to see who he was and what he was about. And it either makes you quit or it makes a man out of you. I thought about it like, it was probably a relief, and probably something I’d be excited about, to be able to create an identity for myself. Start over. And I imagined his life in Alaska to mostly be about work. And they told me I met a girl up there, had a girlfriend, so I filled that in for myself, and made some things up that worked for that, that didn’t do any sort of violence to the plot points which unfold. So I imagined Hoyt working, getting respect from people based on his ability to work, and meeting a pretty girl, and things kind of coming together that way, to the point where, by the time he arrives, I feel like Brigette would probably be his wife. You know? Things are moving in that direction. Like things were going so well in Alaska that I probably went home thinking, This is the girl of my dreams.

Since he can’t remember Jessica, what do you think Hoyt’s dream girl would be like?
You know, I never asked myself that question! Someone like Brigette, or if not Brigette, someone whose personality was like Brigette’s, but wasn’t so white bread. Like more diverse. Just because it would be really breaking away from the identity that was forced upon him for so long when he lived in Bon Temps, because there was always this great pressure to date somebody like his mother. Maybe an Eskimo girl. Or somebody from some place exotic, interesting, or challenging, in a cultural way.

Hoyt’s gotten in his fair share of altercations and fistfights, but I don’t recall him ever killing a vampire before.
Right, right. But it was mostly just a reactionary thing. It was not really heroic, or part of a stance against vampires. It’s just, My girl ran off. I want to see where she is, I walk into this room and there’s this hellish torture unfolding. I guess the reaction to that would be, if you had a gun, to shoot whoever is carrying it out. That’s sort of the way I played it, just like, Holy shit! This is different! And then he’s got to smoke the person who’s causing the problems. And he saves a whole roomful of people. But it’s not because of a decision that’s made as much of a response to what’s happening in front of his face. But it was bloody! Oh, yeah. Oh, hell yeah. It mostly squirted all over, and it splashed. You know how the effect is when they get smoked, so Violet left a big mess. In a way, it was sort of exciting. I guess the idea of walking into a situation like that, it’s sort of how I feel about home protection. There’s something in men that like the idea of protecting people who need protecting. The gratification of that, not just of someone getting spun like a top and falling over, but actually bursting? There was something thrilling about that.

How do you feel you’ve evolved as an actor since True Blood
You know, I don’t like when actors go around and talk a ton about how they approach their roles, because it’s a little like pulling the curtain back on Oz, for me. I don’t like when before a movie comes out, somebody says, “I chained myself to a radiator in a cancer ward for 14 months and I told my mother she should go fuck herself, and that’s how I really found the part.” I would rather not know that. I like the mystery of seeing someone like Mickey Rourke do his thing. I don’t know how he does it, but I’m glad he does it. He puts his finger on something that gets him going, and I enjoy that. But he doesn’t ever go and talk about it! I like that a lot. It’s just too personal. If you’re dealing with personal kind of acting, you’re not going to want to open up and expose it to everybody, because that’s where the power lies, you know? It would be a little like showing your hand in poker, and then hoping you can still win. I actually got to hop off, sweetheart, because I’m at the airport! Have a good week!

Jim Parrack on True Blood and Drinking Blood