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'True Blood' trivia: Secrets of the sets!

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There was no new episode of True Blood on Sunday (HBO ran a mini-marathon of Season 3’s first three episodes, instead). But we’re feeding the beast. After taking questions from readers, we phoned the show’s production designer, Suzuki Ingerslev, to talk about the inspiration for some of our favorite sets (and their hidden gems).

The King of Mississippi’s Mansion: Ingerslev and her art director took a little side trip to Natchez, Mississippi last year, and found Longwood, a National Historic Landmark and the largest remaining octagonal home in the U.S., which she was told had never been filmed before for TV or features. “The interior was never completed. After the Civil War, they walked away from it,” she says. “But we just needed it for the exterior, because there’s nothing like it in the whole world. So we convinced our producers, begged and begged, and they let us go down there and shoot it.” As for the interiors, they were created from scratch after studying the furniture, chandeliers, and wallpapers in plantation homes. “The wallpaper in the King’s dining room is completely Mississippi wallpaper,” she says. “It’s got the river, it’s got Spanish moss and alligators. It’s really amazing that we found that in a wallpaper book.”

When it came time to acquire Bill’s much-storied bed, Ingerslev admits she felt some pressure to find one that would live up to those expectations. “That kind of a bed is probably $20-, $30-, $40-, $50,000. Our producers wouldn’t have liked that,” she says. They settled on a rental from Warner Bros., which was probably used in a lot of old studio films. Another decision that required some thought: How to decorate the table. “At first, we were like, ‘Let’s get all this great silver,’ and then we realized we couldn’t use silverware in there because vampires can’t touch silver. So we ended up going with a gold flatware. We used a lot of glass displays and crystal. Waterford was kind enough to loan us some pieces because apparently, they’re fans of the show.”

Lou Pine’s: The wolf-related signage in the bar — e.g. Howl and Red Wolf beer — is an obvious homage to what lies beneath in its werewolf patrons, but for a more subtle clue, check out the table lights. When they couldn’t find any they liked, the prop master got an idea: “They look like normal lights, but they’re actually silver doggie bowls and cheap plastic domes,” Ingerslev says.

Lafayette’s home: “Basically, we started with a leopard carpet and some foiled wallpapers that we found in an in-stock book here in the office. It’s not often that you get to combine those two anymore,” she says. “Also, there was a book called Bachelor Pads that we used as a resource.” They wanted to incorporate religion into Lafayette’s life. “He’s not just a one deity man, he goes to different deities, so we represented all of them,” he says. His home is a location right now, but eventually, if they get to build that set, we may finally get to see his bedroom in all its glory. “You only see little glimpses of it. We have a feather boa in there, and some kind of crazy art, more foiled wallpaper. We would love to go to town on that. His little boudoir. That would be a fun one.”

Fangtasia: Definitely another fun one. “We found that poster, I think it was from The Colbert Report, with Bush biting into the Statue of Liberty, so we put that in there,” she says. “We found a guy somewhere in the Midwest who usually paints serial killers, and we convinced him to paint some of these velvet paintings of our crew members for us and send them over.” In addition to a lot of anti-religious artifacts — “We have a Last Supper that lights up,” she notes, with a laugh — they figured Eric would make it look like Disneyland. “He’s stereotyping what vampires are just to draw people in and make money, and so we did a souvenir stand, too,” she says. “We created these little postcards, and apparently, every time we have extras in there, half of them disappear because everyone takes them as souvenirs.”

Eric’s office they keep pretty plain because he keeps his personal life hidden from everybody. “We tried to make it look functional. Like bar owners will lock up their alcohol in there. There’s Tru Blood boxes. We had Hot Sauce on his desk in the first season, and that was a joke from my decorator since vampires don’t eat.” What did he use it for? “I don’t even want to know with him,” she says. We’re guessing maybe for what he used the basement for earlier this season. “Yeah, we worked with the props on that one,” she says of Eric’s memorable sex scene with Yvetta, “and we’re all trying to figure out: Is it ropes, is it metal, a chain, what is it that they’re using [as constraints]? It’s so funny having these discussions trying to figure out how to torture people, or hang them, or have sex with them. That was a crazy set to build anyway. We started with brand new metal, brand new concrete, and then we aged it all down. And then we do a wet-down [before shooting] so that it seems even more dank and disgusting. When you’re in that set, you feel like you need to shower afterwards.”

Eric and Pam do have homes away from Fangtasia, but we won’t be seeing them this season, Ingerslev says. “Eric’s would be a tough one,” she imagines. Really, we just want to see Pam’s closet. “I know, right?” she concurs. “That’s probably the entire space. And she has a little casket she sleeps in.”

Merlotte’s: They’ve always tried to incorporate Southern products — “I think we added Zapp’s Potato Chips this year,” she says — and to make it a homey atmosphere. “We went on eBay and got those old-fashioned coasters and we resined them into the bar top. Even in Sam’s office, we have a doggie doorknob on it, which is like a little dog face. Nobody’s gonna really see it, but our actors see it and everybody gets a kick out of it. A lot of the crew donated pictures for that set. The beauty queens of Bon Temps are my art director’s family — grandmother, aunts, and stuff. We even have a picture of Alan Ball and Charlaine Harris behind the bar.”

Sookie’s house: The heart of the set, in more ways than one. Two readers asked how Sookie managed to clean up the blood that’s been spilled there with a mop. “My theory is that Bill should be helping her because if he can do everything at vampire speed, he’d have everything cleaned up in like half an hour, right? The blood, luckily, has landed basically on the wooden floors, and I do believe you could clean that up. One of the recent episodes, she’s scrubbing the carpet with the blood, and I don’t know how well that’s gonna come out,” she admits, chuckling. “But it’s true with all our things. We spent a lot of time on the pilot. The house was so delicate and beautiful and represented grandma. And then you get into the series, and everything’s about destroying, and fighting, and impaling people. and imploding. And it’s like, Ohmygod, this is one of a kind furniture. Grandma’s house is still in a state of disrepair after Maryann was there. It used to be so cute and quaint. We’ve actually had people visit the set and cry in there and say it reminded them of their of grandparents’ house, and now it’s like this mud and mess. I hate it. I’m sick of it,” she continues. “When we first did it, our construction guy Mike Wells’ mother-in-law passed away, and her daughter donated a lot of her dishes and crotchet items like little pill bottle tops, and Kleenex box and toilet paper covers, and all that stuff. Everybody in the crew has donated stuff, so it feels like everybody’s family has something in there. Lois Smith [who played Gran] has pictures in there of when she was younger. Even Alan Ball has pictures of his family in there. You walk in there, and it does have that homey feeling, and I understand why people maybe cried or it feels like a time gone by.”

As for other reader questions: The most difficult piece for her to find ended up being, believe it or not, the farm-style kitchen sink. “We called all over the country, looked everywhere we could — we’re very, very good on the Internet here — and we could not find someone to sell us that particular thing. We ended up renting it from a prop house, and we have to give it back in the end.” Will the house ever get another coat of paint? “It looks like that probably will happen eventually,” she says. And Sookie drives an ’83 Honda Civic.

Jason’s house: Speaking of a time gone by, “This is the house he grew up in, and he hasn’t done anything to it — so that’s why it’s that kooky wallpaper. But he’s added a different layer on top of it,” Ingerslev says. Literally. “A detail my decorator added on the pilot, which was brilliant, was to use that old-fashioned big box TV that used to be furniture, and then put the new flatscreen TV on top of that. I love that. He’s the bachelor, so we always have all the beer bottles around, the ordered-in pizza. We just feel like he’s not out there really shopping or taking care of himself. And then we have the black satin sheets for him, of course. Stereotyping him a little bit. [Laughs]”

Bill’s house: She based the built interiors on traditional layouts of plantation homes, but “I wanted it to be older and peeling, and not in the sense that it was a haunted mansion, but just that it had been years and years since anybody had loved or cared about this house. I feel like it feels romantic, and it doesn’t just feel spooky,” Ingerslev says. More than one reader wanted to know why gentleman Bill chose to sleep under the house. Will we ever see him upgrade his daytime quarters? “No,” she says. “In the books, Charlaine Harris talks about how they create a cubby hole for him at Sookie’s house in between the floorboards of the first and second floors, but in our show, we haven’t addressed that. I guess it goes back to their instincts, and they do like to bury down into the ground, so even if he’s a gentleman, he has that animal instinct to go down and hide. We felt comfortable doing the light-tight rooms in the vampire hotel because there’s security there, and it’s not easy to break into a room. But in his house, he’d be pretty vulnerable.” For the reader who asked why there was a bowl and sponge outside Bill’s home in the recent flashback, “Apparently when people used to pass away in those days, as a warning, they would put the bowl and the sponge outside the front door, and it would let people know sickness was in their house.”

The Meat Puppet! For this multiple Emmy nominee, who also worked with Alan Ball on Six Feet Under, being asked to create the 12-foot statue of steel, meat, live bugs, and snakes for the season 2 finale was one of those This is my job? moments. “We hired a local artist who created the basic form, which we based on Burning Man sculptures, and then we had to go to the supermarket every couple of days to get like $500 of meats and fresh vegetables because Alan really wanted it to be authentic. You can imagine after a day or so what that smelled like,” she says. “And we had it outdoors at Greer Ranch, so we had to put security guards on it, because there’s animals up there and we were worried we’d come back one day and it’s torn apart and eaten. That was huge and exhausting in itself, bigger than any set we’ve done. When you’re talking to the bug wrangler to make sure the bugs and the snakes don’t go into the sculpture too far and that we mudded it enough…” It sounds like another Emmy nomination? We’ll find out next Thursday…

More True Blood:

Alexander Skarsgard is on our Summer Must List

True Blood: TV’s most twisted sex scene of all time?

Bill and Lorena’s angry tryst: 20 of the most disturbing TV scenes ever

Ken Tucker’s recap of the latest episode

What did I do wrong, @RyanKwanten?

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