Kristin Bauer van Straten: Summer of Pam
“I’m in no mood for lesbian weirdness tonight, Pam,” said Sookie Stackhouse in response to Pam’s flirtation last season, but we’re always in the mood for Kristin Bauer van Straten’s scene-stealing performance as True Blood’s most stylish vampire. Risking the wrath of secretive gay series creator Alan Ball, the 44-year-old actress sinks her teeth into the subject of Pam’s sexuality, takes a bite out of her backstory, and shares a taste of her exciting new story line in the fourth season, which premieres June 26 on HBO.
The Advocate: When members of the press receive advance screeners for a new season of True Blood, we also receive a letter from Alan Ball that lists the plot points he doesn’t want us to discuss in our coverage. Do you worry about getting in trouble for revealing spoilers or saying too much?
Kristin Bauer van Straten: I do. Honestly, I wish you could send me a copy of that letter. I’m not told specific things that I shouldn’t say, but I just feel like I shouldn’t say anything. But now I’m doing interviews, so would you like me to play the radio for you? [Laughs] It’s totally stressful.
What can you tell us about Pam this season?
Pam has a pretty wild story line this year. It’s not in the books, and it’s not something I think people would ever guess. It’s a unique, exciting story line that was really fun and challenging for me, and I think it will be pretty memorable. So we’ll see.
Have you read Charlaine Harris’s Sookie Stackhouse novels on which True Blood is based?
During the first season, I followed along with the first book as the new scripts came in, and that was a little confusing. So for the second season, I decided I would read the book after the season. Then I thought, Why am I going to read the second book when we already shot it? I could read the third book, but it’s not doing to be exactly what we’ll do in the show anyhow ... So I suspect that one day, when the whole show is done — hopefully in 17 years — I’ll spend a week in Hawaii and have a lot of fun reading them all.
Pam is a major part of the fourth book, Dead to the World, which aligns with many of the themes in the new season. I hope that means we see a lot more of you this year.
We do see a lot more of Pam, and we see a whole other side to her.
We know from previews that Eric, Pam’s maker, has somehow lost his memory at the start of the season. How will that affect Pam?
She’s got to take on a leadership role. Also, I’ve found out this year conclusively that Pam is not a strategist; she’s a reactor. Someone’s messed with her maker and messed with their relationship — he doesn’t remember anything, so he doesn’t remember their history or their feelings for each other — so she jumps right in to try to right the situation and make those who did this to him pay. She’s not a chess player.
Last season Pam unexpectedly became a motherly mentor to Jessica, the vampire newborn played by Deborah Ann Woll. Will we see that continue this next season?
We do see more of that, and I love their dynamic. It’s incredibly fun for me, and Deborah’s mentioned how much she loves it too. I also love the incredibly wrong advice that Pam gives her — “Did you call the hypothetical hardware store and buy a theoretical chain saw?” That’s so fabulous to me.
Some of Pam’s best scenes take place with Jessica in the bathroom of Fangtasia, the vampire bar that Pam co-owns with Eric. Have you ever noticed the creepy paintings on the wall in that bathroom?
Yes! Aren’t they hysterical? They’re so odd, but for some reason so perfect.
I’m dying to know more about Pam’s backstory, but we don’t learn about Pam’s human life until the seventh book. According to the books, Pam grew up in Victorian-era London. She was only 19 when Eric turned her, so Pam’s history on the show will obviously be at least somewhat different. Denis O’Hare told The Advocate that he took the liberty of creating his own backstory for Russell Edgington, the vampire king of Mississippi. Is that something you’ve considered?
Well, Denis O’Hare totally put us to shame. When I was doing scenes with him, I was so unbelievably impressed with him. On his second episode, when he was sitting there telling me of his whole 3,000-year backstory, he looked at me and said, “So, what’s your backstory?” I was like, “Well, you know, um, I like to leave it to the writers.” I hadn’t done my actor homework. Really, what I’ve been compiling for Pam has come from the writers. In the special features of the season 2 Blu-ray, I have a couple of lines about my relationship to Eric. The line I remember is something about the Victorian era, when her parents were grooming her for a life with small men and small people. She said that we she met Eric, her world split apart — and so did her legs. I thought that was pretty funny. Also, when Pam threatens Lafayette at Merlotte’s, she says, “I am not a hooker; that was a long, long time ago.” So all I have are those two pieces. Probably when we get around to the full disclosure, it’ll be so much better than anything I could’ve come up with.
Do you think Pam was a bitch as a human, or is her attitude the result of more than a hundred years of suffering fools?
In my head, she came from a time when women had no mobility and no choice. She was looking for a way out and she got it. What I love about her is that she really is the poster child for vampires, because she loves and embraces the entire life, and she’s never looked back. Something inside Pam was unleashed when she became a vampire. It’s exciting to play someone who’s so unapologetic about who they are. On some level, all of us are trying to fit in and to be liked, but she doesn’t. That’s incredibly refreshing, and I think we could all borrow a little bit from Pam.
We’re also happy to have Pam represent the LGBT community.
Yes, and I’m proud to do it.
According to the books, Pam seems to be something of a late-in-afterlife lesbian who didn’t discover her attraction to women until well after she became a vampire. As we head into season 4, how would you describe Pam’s sexuality?
Well, it almost feels that way to me — she’s been around long enough to figure out what she really likes. She isn’t bound by any constraints, so she doesn’t try to suppress who she is. In my head, I assume she had some type of relationship with Eric in the beginning, but at this point it feels like she’s decided she’s gay, and she’s been living that life for a while.
I’ve read various articles that have described Pam as bisexual or omnisexual, but we’ve really only seen evidence of her attraction to other women — most memorably when she pleasured Yvetta, the Fangtasia stripper, last season.
Right. Sexually, she hasn’t shown any interest in men so far. Maybe she’ll feed on men because they’re food, but they’re an appetizer to the main course.
I don’t suppose Pam will be settling down into a meaningful, monogamous relationship anytime soon.
I can’t imagine it, but wouldn’t it be fun and exciting to see the person that could settle Pam down? It would have to be someone who was in no way predictable, boring, or weak.
How would you describe Pam’s style? I can’t wait to see what outfit she’s going to wear each episode.
Oh, my God, I look forward to every wardrobe fitting in the same way. What I love about the way Pam dresses is that every single day or event is an opportunity for dressing. You’ll see this season that there’s never a moment too dire or too extreme for her not to find an amazing outfit or put on makeup. When we had the vampire trial in the first season, Pam wore a safari dress, because she was going hunting. She also wears sunglasses on her head, even though she hasn’t seen the sun in a long time. That’s really our costume designer, Audrey Fisher, who comes up with the concepts. She puts so much attention and care into every detail.
Where does Pam find those outfits in Shreveport?
I imagine Pam has what Kristin Bauer has: people. [Laughs] You gotta have people to help you with all that. Oh, I can’t wait until we see where Pam lives. Her closet has to be as big as a house, because she’s never repeated anything.
Speaking of clothing, just about everyone has gotten naked on the show but you. What’s the deal? I only ask on behalf of your loyal lesbian fan base.
[Laughs] I don’t know. I guess I’ve gotten lucky. Honestly, I just told myself, Oh, my God, I got through another year. So this hiatus I’m working out. I got P90X, because there’s just something about the idea of being naked in front of millions of people that will inspire you to work out a lot, even if you’re in pretty good shape already. It’s a little nerve-racking. All of us in the cast watch what we eat, and we’re all exercising more than we ever have — the show’s probably adding years to our lives. Of course, the women want to be smaller, but the men want to be bigger.
Does a naked Alexander Skarsgård on set even faze you anymore, or can you still appreciate it?
Oh, I can still appreciate it. My dad used to say, “I’m married; I’m not dead.” You can appreciate beauty on a set just as you can appreciate beauty in a museum, and there’s a lot of beauty on our show. I can also appreciate the women, so I can look at all of it and go, “Wow, that’s pretty fine.”
You appeared as a member of the popular “A group” in another gay fan favorite, Romy and Michele’s High School Reunion. What was that experience like?
That was so much fun. Like True Blood, that movie had a lot of big scenes that you’re filming for a good month, 17 hours a day, so you really get to know the people you’re standing next to. I’m still very good friends with my costars Elaine Hendrix — Elaine is a fellow animal-rescuer — and Julia Campbell. That’s an iconic movie, but you don’t know that when you’re filming it, so it’s fun to see your work live on and continue to be appreciated. Now my nieces are watching that movie.
After 15 years, do fans still recognize you from your infamous Seinfeld episode?
They do. I usually see a pretty funny expression on peoples’ faces when they find out that Pam is also “man hands.”