SMOOTH SHIFTING. Sam Trammell plays a shape-shifter on True Blood. But as DA MAN finds out during our exclusive fashion shoot, in real life, he’s no stranger to shifting either. By M. Berlian
Shirt, vest and pants by Emporio Armani
There are actors who found their calling from an early age and saw their plans through to fruition. And then there’s Sam Trammell.
If destiny is truly written in the stars, then there’s a good chance Trammell had seen stardom coming his way years ago, while he was studying astrophysics at the prestigious Ivy-League university, Brown.
Yet again, if the sky did send him any sign, he probably missed it anyway, because, as he soon realized, astrophysics didn’t really work out for him.
Afterward, Trammell switched to Semiotics and French philosophy, although none of them really clicked for him. It wasn’t until he auditioned for a role in an off-Broadway play that he finally knew what he wanted to do.
Shortly thereafter, he abandoned his esoteric scientific studies and headed for New York City to pursue an acting career. Trammell worked his way through the Hollywood scene as well by appearing in numerous plays, TV shows and some ‘off-the-beaten-track’ movies.
His grinding eventually started paying some dividends when he received a Tony nomination for his performance in the revival of Eugene O’Neill’s play, Ah, Wilderness!, in 1998.
His big break came a decade later when he won the role of Sam Merlotte in what would later become the worldwide smash TV show, True Blood. A bar owner with a heart of gold who happens to also be a supernatural being, Sam (both the actor and character) has quickly become a fan favorite. Although, according to Trammell, that could change a bit as the show enters its fifth season and Sam gets more and more mysterious with each episode.
All clothing by John Varvatos
DA MAN: What can we expect from your character, Sam Merlotte, in the upcoming season of True Blood?
Sam Trammell: It’s a dangerous year for Sam. He’s got unresolved issues with werewolves. His relationship with Luna (Janina Gavankar) will be tested. Much, much drama.
DA MAN: Sam has been having a steady relationship with Luna. But have you ever felt afraid that it will end up like Lafayette’s (Nelsan Ellis), where his significant other ends up dead?
Sam Trammell: Yes, of course. Bon Temps is a dangerous town and anything can happen. Luna has been a good influence on Sam and an important part of his life. She’s opened him up and allowed the audience to see his many previously hidden
DA MAN: Which one is more challenging? Playing and trying to get fans to like the kindhearted Sam in the beginning of the show or playing the darker, more mysterious Sam in more recent seasons?
Sam Trammell: It’s been more of a challenge to play the darker Sam. The last couple of years have been a lot of fun and very fulfilling artistically. We’ve gotten to explore Sam’s history and we’ve seen him come out of his shell.
DA MAN: What advice would you give to your character?
Sam Trammell: Lighten up.
DA MAN: Has there been any dream storyline you’d like for Sam to have? And will we see it at some point?
Sam Trammell: I don’t specifically have a dream storyline, but I’d like to do more work with the vampires. I hardly ever get to see those people.
DA MAN: Your character was born as a shape-shifter; what natural gift would you like to possess?
Sam Trammell: I’d love to be able to play the piano really well.
DA MAN: Sam is known as a virtuous man; how about you? What is your best virtue?
Sam Trammell: I don’t know how virtuous I am, but I do love people and try to treat them decently and with respect.
DA MAN: Other than Bon Temps, what fictional place would you like to live in, and why?
Sam Trammell: Yoknapatawpha County, where all of [legendary American author] William Faulkner’s crazy southern characters lived.
DA MAN: Is there any particular kind of music/song you listen to in order to get in character?
Sam Trammell: Yes. I listen to Merle Haggard and Jamey Johnson.
DA MAN: You studied astrophysics and philosophy before you turned to acting. Has anything you studied in the past helped you as an actor?
Sam Trammell: Everything I’ve studied has, of course, made me who I am. So in that sense you could say my college studies have informed my acting work. As an actor you draw from all of your life experiences. However, I don’t actually employ semiotic theories to work on character. In fact, I think one of the things that drew me to acting was that it required me to get out of my head and into my body.
DA MAN: Is there any particular moment where you stopped and thought, ‘Yes, I want to act for the rest of my life’?
Sam Trammell: Being on stage for the first time in college was so unbelievably exciting. It was a true vocation—a calling. I was immediately drawn to acting and I decided to go to New York to pursue it as a career within a month or two of that first play. I had no idea how it would all work out, but that didn’t matter. I had a feeling in my gut that it was the right thing to do and I was very driven to make it happen.
DA MAN: Even though studying philosophy didn’t really work out for you, do you still follow any philosophical theory that you apply in your life daily?
Sam Trammell: There really isn’t a philosophy that I currently apply to my life but I do practice yoga on a regular basis. I think a little bit of that Buddhism rubs off on me.
DA MAN: Any favorite philosophers?
Sam Trammell: I was very into Friedrich Nietzsche, Michel Foucault and Jacques Derrida in college. One of my favorite thinkers though, and he was fun to read, is Roland Barthes.
DA MAN: We heard you’re an avid surfer. How did a West Virginia boy get into surfing?
Sam Trammell: My brother got me into surfing. He lives in Florida and is obsessed. Since I live in southern California, he insisted I pick up the sport.
DA MAN: Where are your favorite places to surf?
Sam Trammell: I surf in Malibu a lot. One of my favorite places though is El Salvador.
DA MAN: And are there any surfing spots you still want to explore?
Sam Trammell: I would love to surf the Mentawai Islands [of Indonesia]. It’s pretty much the area for getting barreled.
DA MAN: Can you tell us about the charity projects you’re involved with? What interests you about these projects?
Sam Trammell: I’m involved with The Surfrider Foundation, Oceana and more locally, Heal the Bay. These organizations are all about keeping ocean water clean and preserving marine habitats. I’m very concerned about pollution, not only here, but all over the world. We need to take care of our planet.
DA MAN: Congratulations on the birth of your twin boys, by the way. How has being a dad changed you?
Sam Trammell: I think being a dad has made me a happier person. My boys make me smile every day and have brought an indescribable joy to my life. Of course, I’m also a lot more tired. I don’t get the sleep I used to get.
DA MAN: Before appearing on TV, you were quite active in theater. Do you think you’ll go back on stage one day?
Sam Trammell: Yes, I will definitely go back to the theater. I love doing plays. I love rehearsing. I love going up in front of an audience at night. The whole experience is scary and fun.
DA MAN: You’ve been involved in some Web projects such as Funny or Die. What interests you about such gigs?
Sam Trammell: I’ve always been interested in sketch comedy and I’ve been a big fan of shows like Saturday Night Live my whole life. Doing Funny or Die is so much fun and different than what I do on True Blood. It stretches you as an actor.
DA MAN: What other character from another TV show would you want to play if you could?
Sam Trammell: It would have to be Thomas Magnum of Magnum P.I., Tom Selleck had it all. The mustache, the Ferrari 308 GTS, the ladies—and it all took place in Hawaii!
Photographs: Mitchell Nguyen McCormack
Styling: Lisette Mora