Sookie, Bill heat up Louisiana

BATON ROUGE, La. - Sookie Stackhouse and her brother Jason are returning from Dallas to the tiny Louisiana town of Bon Temps. But something is wrong: Newspapers drift in the steamy air; fruit stands and flower stalls are overturned; graffiti assaults signs and a courthouse statue; and trash and clothes litter streets and lawns.

A force of nature? Or something brewed by Maryann, the dark, mysterious newcomer in HBO's hit vampire drama, "True Blood" (airing Sundays at 9 p.m.) ?

Cast and crew of the show, based on Charlaine Harris' best-selling Sookie Stackhouse stories, were in Louisiana to soak up the antebellum atmosphere of Clinton, a community of 2,000 people, 30 miles north of Baton Rouge. Main Street and the town's courthouse, surrounded by sprawling, moss-covered oak trees, were perfect as backdrops for the tale of vampires living among humans, thanks to the invention of mass-produced synthetic blood.

The sticky heat, mossy greenery, white columned houses and slow-moving lifestyle also added to the allure, and gave a dimension and authenticity to the series that can only be captured here.

"The moment you step off the plane, you feel you're in the world of the show," said "True Blood" writer Alexander Woo. "You don't have to imagine you're there."

"True Blood" blends murder, mystery, drama, comedy and romance. Though vampires and humans live together, some - including religious humans - don't believe they should coexist. The series centers on Sookie, a waitress with telepathic powers who falls in love with 173-year-old vampire Bill Compton (Stephen Moyer).

In season one, the plot revolved around the murders of women strangled shortly after being alone with Jason (Ryan Kwanten). The second season has several overlapping plots and a mysterious new creature whose motives are unknown.

Shooting the series in Louisiana, where temperatures soared to nearly 100 degrees, helped the actors get into character.

"It makes you move slower, which is interesting for character," Moyer said. "I understand now why people move so slow down here."

"You have to move slower, or you'll pass out," Paquin said, laughing.

Because of the heat, a medic was on hand to give out water and Gatorade, and the cast had to be transported by van the few blocks between base camp and the shooting location in Clinton because it was too hot to walk.

Still, said the show's executive producer, Gregg Fienberg, "It was a great town. It worked really well for what we needed."

HBO will be back in Louisiana in the fall for the filming of "Treme," a new series by David Simon named after a Creole neighborhood with a rich musical tradition. The show, which will begin airing in late 2010, focuses on New Orleans and its ongoing effort to recover from Hurricane Katrina.

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