Sam Trammell plays the character Sam Merlotte in the HBO series True Blood. It’s OK if you didn’t know this. Keeping track of the universe of supernatural characters shape-shifting their way across our movie and TV screens is no easy task. Especially when the female leads have multiple suitors and she just can’t decide. Who can keep track?

True Blood just kicked off its fourth season on HBO. Trammell talked to Made Man about work, looking good naked, strong drink and women who are witches.

How’d you circumnavigate from rural Louisiana to an Ivy League school then to a Tony nomination on Broadway and now to playing a character running a bar in a fictional rural Louisiana town, Bon Temps?
SAM TRAMMELL: My trajectory was completely off. There was no acting in my family. I don’t even remember movie theaters in our little town, and I didn’t dream of becoming an actor. I was seriously going in this other direction, taking semiotics theory at Brown and thinking of becoming a philosophy teacher. But I got burnt out and then I did a college play and moved to New York to be an actor — arguably a total waste of an Ivy League education.

Fortunately, my dad was incredibly supportive. He couldn’t understand what semiotics was anyway. So he was happy, because he knew what acting was. And when I saw the Sam Merlotte role, I said, ‘I have this in my DNA.’ I feel a strong connection to the rural south. And now being in Hollywood, I feel like that’s mine. Now I feel like I’m representing my family in a way. Sam has been a wonderful character to play.

MM: How much do you have to stay in shape for the role as Sam, considering you keep shapeshifting back and forth and sometimes end up starkers?
ST: Yeah, you do have to stay in shape because you’re naked a lot or without a shirt. Or pants. You’d be surprised how good of shape you have to be in to be in front of the camera…to look passable on camera naked. I run up in the Hollywood hills or by the beach or go surfing at the beach, get on the wetsuit and get out there. I love surfing. I try to stay out of the gym as much as possible. I also do yoga, a different take but extremely good for core strength and flexibility.

MM: You’ve hit 40 now, so how have your workouts changed?
ST: You have to be in there twice as long, or go twice as far as that metabolism changes! But seriously, what really has changed is what you eat. That’s the main thing. You cannot eat what you want whenever you want anymore. Staying off the high-calorie foods, the carbs late at night, the obvious things, just not eating cookies at nine at night. Also, things like beer, you know, lots of beer. You just can’t really drink beer like you might have before. It’s tough being an actor!

MM: You and Tara (Rutina Wesley) used to get down and sweaty. But you’ve now got a new love interest (Luna) in season four. Tell us about handling intimate scenes.
ST: The sex scenes are hard and it’s not because you have to be naked. I’ve done a few of them by now. It’s really about the intimacy and creating intimacy with someone you probably don’t know all that well. That’s tricky to pull off. Creating that connection and also doing it in front of people. And then there’s that camera, which goes back to that idea of wanting to look passable naked on camera…in front of millions of viewers.

MM: There’s a whole lot of drinking blood and other things in the show. What do you imbibe when you need a really good and strong cocktail?
ST: I’d go with our Aunt Jane Ann’s Old Fashioned recipe — straight out of Louisiana. You take a couple of ounces of your fave bourbon, some syrup, a few dashes of bitters, muddled orange and cherry and some ice cubes. One Old Fashioned will get you going. Two and you are totally into the artistry of the show. Three and you are considering just moving to Bon Temps. And after four Old Fashioneds you actually become a shapeshifter.

MM: Any parting words of wisdom about vampires, witches or shapeshifters?
ST: I’m certainly familiar with witches. I dated a witch a long time ago. And I’m not even being tongue-in-cheek. I actually did date a witch and she did turn out to be a little bit of a ‘witch’ too. So be careful what you wish for!


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