SPOILER ALERT! If you’ve yet to watch this week’s episode of True Blood, stop reading now and come back when you have…
Fans have long been expecting Tommy, Sam’s screw-up brother, to exit the show. But even if you were one of the viewers who’d hoped it’d happen sooner, Marshall Allman’s death scene had to move you. At least that’s what the actor, who knows Tommy had haters, hopes. He admits it’s tough playing a polarizing character.
“To act, no matter how the character is, you have to love and have compassion for the character you’re playing,” he tells EW. “You can’t judge a character that you’re playing because then you’re fighting against doing what the character’s doing. People were pretty vocal about not liking Tommy, and I would have to understand and just hope that the True Blood team would give Tommy some sort of redemption so that he’s not just hated and forgotten, and people are just like, ‘Well, glad he’s dead.’ At this point, at least it’s not pure hate. That’s all I’m grateful for.” He laughs. “I was so honored that they would give me that time in the show. I love Tommy so much, and for other people to see him the way I see him would be a joy. And to all the Tommy fans who believed in him from day one, it’s like a rebel crew of people, they’ve got a soft place in my heart.”
Producers told him early in the season Tommy’s end was near. “I was sad, but then I was seeing where the story line was going, I don’t know that Tommy could ever go on forever,” he says. “When I saw the writing that they were doing for me, I was like, ‘Man, if Tommy’s gonna go out, this is a really great way to go out.’ The reason why it was perfect is because Tommy tried to do good, but then he messed up. He tried to defend Sam, but he didn’t hold on to the shift to make them think Sam had died. He failed at being a martyr, which is perfect for Tommy. He messed that up, too.”
Why did Tommy make so many bad decisions? The answer is in the advice Allman gave costars Sam Trammell (Sam) and Dale Raoul (Maxine Fortenberry) when it came time for them to act as if Tommy had shifted into their characters. “All I gave them was that through everything that Tommy’s doing, whether it’s good or bad, he’s always got this junkie part of him that gets a high off the adrenaline,” Allman says. “And that’s what turns [his] decision-maker off. He’s more about the adrenaline of the moment than he is about the wisdom of is this a good decision.”
The most difficult part of acting the actual death scene was getting the biology right. “Basically his insides had exploded. How does that physically look, what was shutting down at what times, and the breathing — that was mainly the challenge of the scene,” Allman says. “The heart, what Tommy says, that’s what I’ve been feeling for two years working on the character. Caring about Sam and wanting a family — that part was easy. And like any great scene with Tommy, he has some self-loathing. So it was nice that there was a little bit of comedy, a little self-effacing humor. It was just a beautiful scene.” (For that, he’s grateful to writer Nancy Oliver.)
Allman has become somewhat of an expert on death scenes. “There’s a running joke amongst some of my friends. They’re like, ‘You die in everything,'” he says. That includes as a guest star on Cold Case, Ghost Whisperer, Law & Order: SVU, and Grey’s Anatomy, as well as in the 2005 Bruce Willis film Hostage. “That was a pretty epic death scene, too. That was when Ben Foster threw me over a 40-foot railing and I plunged to my death in my brother’s arms,” he says. “It was the most insane setup with flames, water, and a crane, and they’re like, ‘This is a very expensive shot,’ and when we cut, they’re on a megaphone like, ‘Did you move?’ The underlying pressure is, ‘You better not have moved, because if we have to do it again, you’re gonna cost us time and money.’ That’s intense. If any actors need advice on how to die on camera, I’m right there. It varies from situation to situation.” The easiest kind of exit, he jokes, is “when you die off-camera and others characters announce your death in a really dramatic way with some sort of pop song orchestrating the emotion of the scene.” The next easiest is “when they cut away fast,” he says. Also a piece of cake: Something like what happened to his character on Prison Break. “We just kinda didn’t really hear from him anymore. So that was pretty easy,” he cracks. “Unemployment is a lot easier than a death scene. No, I’m just kidding, unemployment is harder than a death scene.”
Hopefully, he won’t have to worry about that. He has three movies awaiting release, including the Billy Bob Thornton-directed Jayne Mansfield’s Car with Thornton, Robert Duvall, Kevin Bacon, and Robert Patrick. For more updates, follow him on Twitter, where he’s listed five rules for Tommy’s funeral. (Sample: “Jessica must attend, clothing: minimal.”)