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True Blood‘s Nathan Parsons believes in second chances.
The Texas native originally lost out on the role of James on HBO’s supernatural drama to actor Luke Grimes, and subsequently moved on. However, after just one year, Grimes departed the series, leaving the door open for Parsons to re-stake his claim to the character. Now, he’s chewing up every scene as the sensitive vampire James on True Blood‘s seventh and final season.
Parsons, who also appears on The CW’s Vampire Diaries spinoff The Originals, recently spoke to SPINOFF about replacing Grimes, James’ love triangle, and on-screen nudity.
Spinoff Online: What was the audition process like for James? Did you go in knowing they were recasting the role?
Nathan Parsons: Yeah, because I actually read for James the first time around. This was almost two years ago now. This audition came up for True Blood. It was James, and there was little character description. He’s an artist, Jim Morrison kind of guy. I read for the part and didn’t get it. Luke Grimes got it. A year later, they called me back for a suspiciously similar part. I thought, “OK, something is going on here.” Reread for it and got a call a couple of days later from executive producer Brian Buckner saying, “We loved you the first time around. We’re sorry we didn’t cast you. Would you please do this part for us?” I was like, “Absolutely. No question.”
How aware were you of all the controversy surrounding Luke Grimes leaving the show, and did you share any of his concerns?
I didn’t. I never talked to him. I don’t know why he left. All I know was it was a full- contract role on one of the longest, most successful shows that has been on in the last decade. For whatever reason he left, that’s fine because it gave me the opportunity to come in and do it. Whatever concerns he had, I didn’t have any of them. I talked to Brian about what was going to happen throughout the whole season and it just sounded like a fun challenge. It was something I had never done. Why wouldn’t I want to do this? It’s a great show and a great part.
We only got small glimpses of James in Season 6. How do you feel they fleshed him out this year?
They did change the direction of the character pretty radically. He was just going to come in as this guy in the prison camp and maybe shake things up a little bit. He didn’t really have the depth when they first wrote him because I don’t think they knew where it was going. Once they realized the direction it was heading in, I got to come in during episode one for this huge story and breathe a new life into the character.
Did playing a werewolf on The Originals prepare you for True Blood?
No. They are two different shows. Although there are similarities, one is The CW and one is HBO. They are different worlds. The vampires on The Originals aren’t the same as the vampires on True Blood. It’s the same genre, but different mythologies.
How would you describe James’ relationship with Jess and Lafayette?
He’s kind of in love with both. James is an interesting character because he’s a flower child. He’s a kid from the ‘70s. Things were different then. It was a more freeing time than what we’re in. For him, when he sees somebody, he doesn’t see them as male or female. He just sees them as a person. He loves people. No matter what gender you are, it’s just a person. If they are good to him, he’ll be good to them. It can get you in trouble, though.
James has been more talk than bite. In what ways are we going to see what he’s capable of as a vampire?
That’s the funny thing about James. He’s a pacifist. It’s difficult being a pacifist and a vampire because vampires are not inherently peaceful. They suck on people. They drink blood to survive. That’s pretty violent. He’s always been in this gray area where he doesn’t want to hurt anybody. He wants everyone to get along. Free love. Let’s all be happy, but by the way, I need to suck your blood. It’s a difficult place to be. I don’t think there’s been any other vampires on the show that have the same sense of morality and peaceful nature. He’s more of a poet than he is a warrior. Although he is a vampire, and he is capable of very powerful acts of violence, his struggle lies more in not committing those acts and changing the perception surrounding what it is to be a vampire.
A rite of passage on this series seems to be getting naked. How much were you dreading that moment?
I wasn’t. Right when I signed on, one of the first things HBO does, no matter what show you’re on, is they give you a nudity waiver. “Welcome to HBO. Here’s your nudity waiver.” I knew that going in, but at the same time, HBO is HBO. They’ve done such an amazing work over the years that it just goes with the territory. With the way everything is going with Showtime and Starz, that’s just how it was. For me, when HBO calls and slaps you with that nudity waiver, it’s like, “All right. We’re doing this. It’s part of the deal. Let’s get to it. Where’s my personal trainer’s number?”
Did it feel strange being the new guy in the show’s seventh season?
I thought it would be tough. I watched all of Season 1 and Season 2 back when the show first came out. I thought it would be challenging because there is definitely a family there. But in day one, my scenes were with Nelsan [Ellis, who plays Lafayette] in the house. I was there with Nelsan and talking to him, and Stephen Moyer was directing. Immediately, Stephen took me under his wing. I was thrilled with how I was received. Everyone was so welcoming to me.
You also have a recurring role on The Originals as the werewolf Jackson. What part does he play in Season 2?
I actually don’t know. I haven’t started yet. I go back at the end of August. I’ve talked to the writers and showrunner Julie Plec. I know there’s a lot we want to do with Jackson. It was challenging in Season 1 because I was under contract for True Blood, so I was limited in terms of how much I could do. I was flying back and forth every week. I would shoot one day here in Los Angeles for True Blood, go straight to the airport, take a redeye to Atlanta, go straight from the airport to my trailer, sleep for an hour and then have a full day of shooting The Originals. Then I’d have to get on another plane and fly right back to Los Angeles. It was insane and ridiculously exhausting. Because of that, we didn’t really get to explore Jackson as much as wanted to.
This season, I’m hoping I’ll get the chance to rest up and focus in on this alpha dog that is Jackson and see his rebuilding. He gets a little broken down in Season 1. Season 2 will hopefully be about him coming back into his own and reclaiming his title.
How rewarding has it been being on two popular series like True Blood and The Originals?
It’s incredibly rewarding. It’s a blessing. Two years prior to getting both these shows, I was auditioning all the time. I got close to a lot of things, but nothing sparked. To get Originals in December and fly back to L.A. and immediately get True Blood is sort of this wild roller coaster I was thrilled to be on.
Lastly, if things got scrappy in a dark New Orleans alley, who would come out on top, James or Jackson?
Wow. I would say James comes out on top if it was the end of Season 1 for The Originals. James has been around since the ‘70s, he’s a little older, which gives him more power. Jackson is a little beaten down right now. But, hopefully halfway through Season 2 of The Originals, I think Jackson would come out on top. He’s going to be healthier and recovered. That would be one hell of a fight.
The series finale of True Blood airs Sunday at 9 p.m. ET/PT on HBO.