We interviewed True Blood's vigilant vampire hater, played by Michael McMillian, and learned a little more about the Fellowship Of The Sun's televangelist golden boy, who says he's a cross between George Bush and Bruce Wayne.
We got the chance to chat via email with actor Michael McMillain, and learn a lot more vampire-loathing character, Steve Newlin, who's really a complicated enigma, combining fanaticism with a sense of compassion. There's even a bit of a King Arthur sprinkled into the fold of this character's persona.
What do you think about your character Steve Newlin as a person? He appears to have it all put together, but there's got to be something looming underneath it all (as is the way with all things True Blood).
This is why Steve's a fascinating character to me. He is a living ideology. It's like trying to figure out who [George W.] Bush really was, in some ways. Like, did he really think he was a hero? Did he really think he was a great Christian? Steve repeatedly speaks in terms of black and white — this "with us or against us" terminology we were so accustomed to hearing over the past decade. Is it all just bullshit? It's almost archaic in this modern day and age. I talked to Alan Ball and the writers about where Steve is coming from, and we all agreed on the same thing: he is absolutely being true to himself. He believes everything he says. He's driven by what he was raised to believe in and his conviction that his father was murdered by agents of evil. In some way's he's like Bruce Wayne. He's setting out to ensure that what happened to his family won't happen to anyone else. And, I mean, he has a point. Look what happened to Jessica. That scene in the first season, when she was kidnapped and turned, was a nightmare. So I'm not sure how troubled he really is, beyond the fact he's troubled by the growing acceptance and tolerance of Vampires.
How did you prep for Steve? I see your hair changed from last season, who's decision was that (we love the new look by the way)?
I grew up in the Midwest and had a lot of exposure to big religion. I went to church every Sunday — my mother even sang in the choir – and most families I knew where practicing Christians. I came from a more moderate church, but even at one point I had a Sunday school teacher who preached that Halloween was Satanic. She was eventually asked to step-down, but my point is that my idyllic suburban upbringing had aspects that were extremely conservative and peripherally racist and somewhat violent. My sister went to high school where kids wore homemade T-Shirts that read "Fagbusters." This was in the 90's! My family saw people waving "Jesus hates fags" signs at the grocery store when I was back there a few weeks ago. On the 4th of July! Absolutely batshit… So on an immediate level, I related to this type of character.
Beyond that, I read the books. I wanted to be as faithful as possible to Charlaine Harris's original vision because he's just so scary in the novels. I also spent a lot of time watching documentaries about the religious right, sermons on YouTube, lots of TBN, Ted Haggard, etc. Just trying to immerse myself in the mindset of contemporary religion and also modern-day cults. If you think the Light of Day Camp is ridiculous, then I dare you to watch Jesus Camp. That movie kept me up at night. There's obviously some Bush inspiration there, I think mostly because of the daddy issues, rhetoric and both men being from Texas. The hair style design was a collaboration between Alan and our lead hair stylist, Kelly Kline. I had come in with all this research done, saw the new ‘do in the mirror and went, "Oh. That's who he is." It was like seeing Steve truly for the first time. And it just gets bigger as the season goes on.
Do you think, do you even know if the Pastor is as crazy as he seems to be, with all his innuendos and weird quips?
I don't really look at Steve as "crazy." I tried to look at him like he was the good guy. He's the hero of his story. He's the one who is going to set the world to rights. Now, obviously, we're getting into some "crazy-talk" territory right there, but mostly I tried to play him as true to himself as I could be. I really hope some people may actually like him. But watching it back on TV, yeah, it certainly is creepy. I guess they knew what they were doing when they cast me.
Were you as hilariously uncomfortable as the rest of us during the Christian sexy dance to "Jesus Asked Me Out Today"? How do you get through the insanely campy scenes, laced as they are with sexual innuendo?
That scene was an absolute blast to shoot. Brian Buckner, the writer for that episode, wrote the lyrics to that song. It was just hilarious. Anna Camp (Mrs. Sarah Newlin) and I danced on the sidelines in character and just embraced it. She and Ryan Kwanten (Jason Stackhouse) both have the best senses of humor. A lot of my favorite moments between the three of us just kind of happened on set. We had a couple moments of improv that made it in – my favorite being when Ryan turns to look out the window during the dinner scene in episode three to see the "war going on out there" — but we were always inspired by what the writers had given us. Not to mention contributions from hair, makeup and costumes. I mean, sometimes we just couldn't look at each other without laughing. Audrey Fisher, our costume designer, is a genius. So much of her work informed the performance.
Do you have your own ring of honesty? Do you wear it out from time to time?
The ironic thing is that Steve does not wear a ring of honesty. Make of that what you will.
The best part about True Blood is the multi-faceted world building with the Fellowship, the Vampire league, vampire airplanes etc. What's something about the Fellowship of the Sun that we haven't seen yet or didn't make the cut? Are there anti-vampire campfire singalongs or a make-your-own-stake craft hour? Also do you get the lyrics to any of these songs and can you share it with us?
As the season goes along, the layers of the Fellowship get peeled back one by one. We've just learned, that the camp is a recruiting tool for this new elite army, "The Soldiers of the Sun," and we'll see more of that and the agenda there in upcoming episodes. We see that these guys really aren't fucking around. We'll also get into the heart of the Church itself, and get introduced to at least one important ritual. It ain't pretty. Sadly, I think most of the singing has happened for the season. Or maybe that's a good thing?
What's been the most fun to shoot so far and why?
I can't tell you because it hasn't happened yet, but you'll know it when you see it. Beyond that, the day out on the ATV, shooting paintballs with Ryan Kwanten was a lot of fun. Paintballs really can bring two men closer together. What other show allows its actors to drive around and pretend to kill vampires? That BBQ scene was also a favorite. Anna Camp was a real trooper, dancing around for Jason's fantasy. Lesser actresses would shy away for fear of looking stupid, but Anna committed! She managed to look seductive while essentially having a clown moment. And it was completely unrehearsed. The show provides so much room to play, and really, everyday on set was a joy.
What's it like having a TV wife?
I guess having a TV wife is pretty awesome. I don't have one in real life. But when I do, I hope she makes good pudding.
Sure, Sarah is Steve's draft picker, but what's the plan once these boys are in? You've convinced Jason to stay and hang out with the guys a little more, and teach him how to shoot vamps, but what's next? There's no way that's the end of the rabbit hole.
Again, that's part of watching how the season plays out, spoilers-be-damned. Seriously — spoilers are bad for you, kids! I will say that Jason, to Steve, represents many things that Steve isn't. Alan Ball has a great quote on the commentary to the first season DVD where he says something to the effect of Jason being the kind of guy that every other dude in town hates. But I think for all those same reasons — his charm, his killer looks — Steve loves him. I mean, what a great example of intelligent design! I think Steve was probably a pretty lonely kid. There's a guy in there that is just clamoring for a real friend. And as much as a warrior he sees in Jason, I think he's just as excited that he's made a close bond. That scene with them and the paintballs… Steve's really having an adolescent moment there he probably never got. It's sad, really. Steve, as "crazy" as he is, may wind up being a somewhat tragic figure. It was pointed out to me after I finished shooting that there's a rich Arthur/Lancelot dynamic playing out between him and Jason. I couldn't believe I didn't see it at the time. That's exactly what it is.
I see Sarah, the character, has a twitter account (whether it's officially sponsored or not), and do you have one?
Hmm. I don't think I do. I'm not sure I should burst the bubble here or not, but the actors are not the same people behind the character Tweets and facebook pages. That's all part of the viral campaign. My cousin recently learned that lesson when she wrote a personal message to "Steve" on facebook thinking it was me, in which she referred to me as "Butt-Cheeks." I got a message from "Steve's" writer saying, "Hey you might want to let this person know…"
Have you (or the show) ever received pro-vampire hate mail, or on the other hand, positive anti-vampire mail? You know support from those out there looking to end the vampire infestation?
I wouldn't be surprised. We have such a fervent fan following, but I don't really know. I do know they get a lot of fan art on the True Blood Wiki page. But, where's the Steve love? It's all about that Eric. Come on, peeps. Let's see some Newlin fan art!
We have to ask, what's it like working with Ryan Kwanten? Is he anything like Jason?
Ryan's a total pro. He's more reserved than Jason, and a hundred times smarter. He brings something fresh to a scene every take and never says "No" to an idea. It's a refreshing quality in Hollywood where so many actors are worried about looking cool. I love that he's essentially a leading man type, but he scores some of the series' funnier comedic moments. I think it's a testimony to the creative casting that happens on the show. He could have easily ended up playing "The Guy" on a prime-time soap, and done a great job, but True Blood has really given him a chance to go beyond his obvious type. I think it's somewhat the same story with Anna Paquin. Nobody who was familiar with the books saw her as Sookie. But she kicks ass and it's now impossible to picture anyone else in the role. She really owns it.
Right now it seems as though the Pastor's focused on recruiting a few good men for killing a few bad vamps. Any plans for global domination?
But of course. Case in point: Sarah says the first episode of the season, Steve "could be governor of Texas one day" if he "plays his cards right." And you know what happens to governors of Texas, right? Of course, Steve wouldn't see it as "domination." He'd see it as "salvation." It's all there in the Book of Revelations. It's Steve vs. The Apocalypse!
And finally what do True Blood fans have to look forward with your character?
He's an excellent tour guide…
Steve And Sarah's Reflections, Part of the Fellowship's Viral Campaign: