As HBO's True Blood barrels headlong toward its second-season finale on Sunday, audiences are on the edge of their sofas waiting to find out how Sookie Stackhouse (Anna Paquin) and her cohorts will survive the wicked chaos summoned by Maryann Forrester. The deliciously decadent and rather insidious maenad (an immortal follower of Dionysus), played by sci-fi veteran Michelle Forbes (Battlestar Galactica), has been creating a lot of trouble in Bon Temps, La., this season. (Spoiler alert!)
In her initial guise as a helpful social worker, Maryann managed to prey on the most vulnerable in town, including Tara Thornton (Rutina Wesley). But now she possesses a magical hold on the majority of its denizens as they're helping her prepare to sacrifice local bar owner Sam Merlotte (Sam Trammell) to her god.
Kinky, violent, seductive and just plain bizarre: Forbes has played it all as Maryann this season. "I've gone to some deep and dark places where I have had to be fairly brave in the past, but it's always been emotionally internal," Forbes said in an exclusive phone interview with SCI FI Wire. "This [show] is a different animal, but boy, is it fun!"
With Maryann as the instigator of many a Bon Temps orgy in the last 11 episodes, Forbes said that she's been surprised by everything executive producer Alan Ball and company have asked of her this season. "Before I started the show at the end of last season and I was talking to a director, and we were chatting about how far we would go, and he said, 'You'll be asked to do things you've never been asked before.' I remember thinking, 'Yeah, sure.' I've been asked to do some pretty crazy things. I didn't take him seriously. But I opened that first episode for the second season and went 'Okayyy. Now I understand what he meant!'"
Forbes added: "What's wonderful is that everyone is so game and fearless on that set that it just galvanizes you and makes you excited about being fearless, too. It makes you feel silly if you feel shy. By nature I am a fairly shy person, but I think Alan and the writers may have knocked that shyness right out of me," she said with a laugh.
Fans of Charlaine Harris' novel Living Dead in Dallas will know that Maryann is based on the book character Callisto, who is a similar supernatural maenad with a dark agenda. Alan Ball decided to tease Maryann's introduction at the end of season one to set up her expanded arc in season two. Forbes said that she was approached for the role not long after she completed work on another HBO series, In Treatment.
"I'd heard rumblings about Alan Ball's new series, but I sort of walked in rather clueless," the actress said about her audition. "What I remember most about the meeting, to be honest, was that Željko Ivanek [the Magister in season one] was in the waiting room, and I hadn't seen him in ages. I was really happy to catch up with him. But I did go in and meet with Alan. It was mysterious, and it wasn't clear what or who she was, but we chatted, and it worked it out fine, because I got the call later that day."
Her first scene as Maryann was taking a naked, late-night stroll on a rural road while walking a huge pig. Not a bad entrance, but Forbes says it didn't give her much to work with in terms of character motivation.
As season two has evolved, Maryann has since been revealed to be the Big Bad of the story as she's manipulated and possessed the townspeople to give in to their carnal, basic instincts through wild parties and hedonistic behavior. With her sexy Grecian togas and sumptuous temptations, Forbes is playing the rare role for her—a girlie girl—and she admitted that she loved it.
"Finally!" she enthused. "It's either five-inch heels or bare feet, and that sums up Maryann for me. She either wants her feet firmly in the earth or to be high in the air. There is no middle ground. These gowns and jewelry, the Maryann hair and makeup, as soon as that happens, you fall into this environment."
But Forbes admits it was hard to embrace Maryann's fearless ability to just let go. "The thing that was the most difficult for me to settle into was Maryann's freedom," she explained. "She has ultimate freedom, and strangely that's a very difficult thing to play. She has a different moral construct and a different construct altogether from the rest of us. She is not shackled by any of the things that we are shackled by."
As the finale looms, the stage is set for one hell of a battle as the only good guys left in Bon Temps—including Sookie, Bill (Stephen Moyer), Jason Stackhouse (Ryan Kwanten) and Andy—try to stop Maryann and her minions from carving the heart out of Sam so that Dionysus will finally appear. How it will all end Forbes won't tell, but she does rank the character as one of her favorites.
"She loves her mischief and having her fun along the way," Forbes said with a laugh. "She has a different understanding of the world and this particular plane. She doesn't see an end in the road the way everyone else does, because she has no time constraints and no moral constraints. And in playing her it is impossible for me to see her as a villain. But the same can be said of any character that I have played. Admiral Cain [of Battlestar Galactica], you could say she was a villain, but the beauty of Ron Moore's writing is that there was logic in what she did and said. The thing about Maryann, too, is that the writers have always given her a beautiful logic in what she says. I just love the entire story. I had no idea where it was going in the beginning. I, however, especially with Maryann, really enjoyed the sense of not knowing."