It’s always fun to spot a favorite stage actor in the movies or on TV. And in the case of HBO’s hit vampire series True Blood, stage vets are everywhere! Given the fact that show creator Alan Ball began his career as a playwright, it’s not really surprising that so many theatrically trained performers have taken up residence in the Bon Temps bayou—and in this new feature, we’ve gathered production shots of 10 vamps and shape-shifters (and the people who love them) as we enjoy seeing them: live and on stage!
You know that True Blood’s fearless heroine Sookie Stackhouse was one of the youngest Oscar winners ever in real life (for 1993’s The Piano). But Anna Paquin is also a skilled stage actress, as she proved in a Drama Desk Award-nominated off-Broadway debut as a baby-faced serial killer in 2001’s The Glory of Living (pictured above, with Jeffrey Donovan). She went on to co-star in Neil LaBute’s The Distance from Here and was terrific opposite former flame Kieran Culkin in After Ashley.
Dreamboat bar owner and secret shape-shifter Sam Merlotte (a.k.a. actor Sam Trammell) began his career on the New York stage. Trammell enjoyed a magical theater season in 1997-98, when he jumped from off-Broadway’s Dealer’s Choice and My Night with Reg to Lincoln Center Theater’s Broadway revival of Ah, Wilderness! (pictured above) as teen hero Richard Miller. His charming performance in Eugene O’Neill’s sunniest play earned a Tony nomination and a Theatre World Award.
Before she became Sookie’s hard-luck BFF Tara Thornton, Rutina Wesley took the stage in the Public Theater’s developmental production of In Darfur (pictured above). Before that, Wesley played Julianne Moore’s student in the 2006 Broadway premiere of David Hare’s The Vertical Hour, directed by Sam Mendes. (Fun fact: Wesley attended Juilliard with Nelsan Ellis, Tara’s flamboyant cousin Lafayette.)
Sassy, much-married waitress Arlene Fowler is a far cry from Carrie Preston’s stage debut as Miranda in The Tempest (pictured above, with Kamar de los Reyes), an acclaimed 1995 Shakespeare in the Park production that transferred to Broadway. Preston co-starred with Patrick Stewart as Prospero and later played Honey opposite Stewart’s George in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? at the Guthrie. A vet of numerous off-Broadway and Broadway shows, Preston is married to stage actor (and Lost villain) Michael Emerson.
Attention! Nelsan Ellis’ priceless performance as gay fry cook/drug dealer Lafayette Reynolds was preceded by the role of Corporal Bernard Cobb in Second Stage’s 2005 revival of Charles Fuller’s A Soldier’s Play (pictured above, with James McDaniel, Anthony Mackie, Taye Diggs and Steven Pasquale). While attending Juilliard, Ellis wrote Ugly, an award-winning play about domestic violence.
True Blood fans know Chris Bauer as endearingly dumb sheriff Andy Bellefleur; New York theatergoers know him as a longtime member of Atlantic Theater Company’s ensemble, alongside his costume designer wife, Laura. In 2005, Bauer received rave reviews as Mitch, the mama’s boy who comes close to proposing to Blanche DuBois in the Broadway revival of A Streetcar Named Desire (pictured above, with the late Natasha Richardson).
O’Hare takes on a syrupy southern accent as Russell Edgington, the wily vampire King of Mississippi, but theatergoers have seen this versatile star play everything from baseball fan Mason Marzac in Take Me Out (a Tony-winning performance, pictured above), Christina Applegate’s shy lover Oscar Lindquist in Sweet Charity, President Garfield's killer Charles Guiteau in a Tony-nommed turn in Assassins, Nazi sympathizer Ernst Ludwig in Cabaret and the title role in off-Broadway’s Uncle Vanya.
The juicy new role of Sam’s birth mother, Melinda Mickens, is just desserts for stage stalwart J. Smith-Cameron, whose resume includes a Tony-nominated turn as an 18th century Australian sailor in Our Country’s Good (1991) and a signature performance as glam con artist Alexa Vere de Vere in Douglas Carter Beane’s 1997 off-Broadway hit As Bees in Honey Drown (pictured above, with Cynthia Nixon, Mark Nelson and Josh Hamilton). Most recently, Smith-Cameron played Matthew Broderick's betrayed wife in The Starry Messenger, written by her husband, Kenneth Lonergan.
The scary Magister knows his way around a courtroom: Zeljko Ivanek’s most recent Broadway appearance was a 2006 Tony-nominated performance as Captain Queeg in The Caine Mutiny Court-Martial. It was the third Tony nod in Ivanek’s distinguished 30-year theater career: The first was as big brother Stanley Jerome in Brighton Beach Memoirs (pictured above, with Matthew Broderick), followed by Two Shakespearean Actors. We could go on: Cloud 9 off-Broadway, The Pillowman on Broadway, Damages and NBC's forthcoming series The Event on TV—Ivanek is in demand.
Creepy stalker vampire Franklin Mott made his Broadway debut as prodigal son Teddy in the 2007 Broadway revival of Harold Pinter’s The Homecoming (pictured above, with Raul Esparza). The British-born actor began his career in productions at London’s Royal Court and Almeida theaters and played Thomas Cromwell in the Showtime series The Tudors.