'True Blood': Jurnee Smollett-Bell talks joining the cast and her mysterious debut as Nicole
On True Blood, craziness is to be expected. It’s when things seem downright normal — like with the arrival of new character Nicole — that it begins to get creepy. Nicole debuted in the standard way last night, by stopping by Merlotte’s with friends before announcing that she knew a bit more than she was letting on: She was aware Sam is a shifter and wants to help the supernatural cause.
Prior to the season starting, EW called up Jurnee Smollett-Bell, who plays vampire-rights activist Nicole, to talk about joining the sexy supernatural drama. Smollett-Bell, a Friday Night Lights alum who recently starred in Temptation: Confessions of a Marriage Counselor, shared her audition story, her experiences with the extremely passionate True Blood fans, and the pitfalls of working with so much blood.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Ok: First things first. Nicole is human?
JURNEE SMOLLETT-BELL: I don’t know if they’re letting me say what I am or not!
Mystery! Everything is always changing on this show, because you can start human and then become a vampire!
Yes, yes, yes, yes. I know. A lot of it they don’t even tell us until it happens….I read an episode recently and was just like, ‘What?’ I did not expect that. Didn’t see it coming.
This show has such passionate fans. What do you anticipate the reaction to your character being?
I don’t think people will hate my character [laughs]. It’s amazing because the True Blood fan base is awesome. After HBO announced [my casting], I got all these people hitting me up on Twitter with these amazing usernames. They were all like ‘@ObsessedTrueBlood’ fans. Really funny Twitter user names. And they were all so excited, welcoming and warm. Every time I post something about True Blood they are so enthusiastic. It’s amazing the loyal fan base that this show has.
Tell me about how you got on the show.
Oh, I had a very funny audition. I was visiting my in-laws in Detroit [over the holidays] and we had just landed there and I got a call from my manager saying, ‘I know you just landed there but can you come back to meet with the producers for True Blood? And I [thought], ‘Dude. This is ridiculous. I never get to see my in-laws! I can’t leave’ I’m crying trying to figure out some last-minute arrangement. I had just gotten there that day. It was crazy. So casting suggested I just put myself on tape, so literally my husband and I just went into the basement of his mom’s house with the loud water heater and the baby crying upstairs – You can hear people walking around on my audition tape and the baby’s yelling, you could hear the chairs being moved. It’s so funny, we had to keep doing it take after take just because the water heater would turn on unexpectedly. It was so loud in the audition tape [laughs]. So I sent that in and they cast me based on that.
Well, it clearly worked out for you. What has been your friends reaction?
Oh my gosh. I have friends that are obsessed with the show. I have friends hitting me up like, ‘Can I come to the set?’ or trying to get plotlines out of me. ‘Can you tell me what happens in the script?’ It’s funny. I didn’t realize how many of my friends were die-hard True Blood fans. Random! People I never would think watch the show. When people are into the show, they’re like obsessed INTO it. There are a few friends I might try and sneak on. I might [laughs]. But I kind of like making them wait and see what happens and not telling them too much.
What was your first day on set like?
It was awesome. It was a scene with Sam, at Merlotte’s bar, and he was great. The cast is so warm and welcoming. It can be hard when you join a show that’s so established and so in their groove: It’s a big family and you’re kind of like the new child. It was amazing at the table read — that was technically my first day — and everyone gave me big hugs, some were fans of Friday Night Lights and others were just so warm, so enthusiastic. Really encouraging, which instantly cut any awkward anything.
This show obviously works with fangs and tons of fake blood. Any funny moments?
It’s funny because you’re just walking to the stage sometimes and you’ll just see someone covered in blood just eating some chicken as if it’s nothing! [laughs] For me, the blood can be a lot of work to reset. I noticed take after take after take, it’s a lot of work on the special effects crew. The makeup artists are brilliant how they make it look so real, but it’s a lot of work for them to reset it every single take.
What are you most excited for people to see this season?
My character, there’s a lot of action which is fun. [Doing stunts] was new for me on a TV show. I’d done it in films, but this TV show feels like a film. You’ve got special effects, and wolves, and animals and blood! All this stuff that makes it feel like you’re on a film set. It’s so cool. It’s so much fun it should be criminal.