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‘True Blood’ Star Sam Trammell on How to Act Normal ‘In a World of Sheer Madness’

How the potential Emmy contender pulls off sex scenes — and killing-a-maenad scenes

It's said every award season that to truly determine the best actor, you'd have to have all the nominees play the same role. If you wanted to make things really tricky, you might have them all play a role on "True Blood."

Sam Trammell shares a first name with shapeshifting, secretive bar owner Sam Merlotte, but not many life experiences. He has to go entirely by imagination to decide, for example, how his character might feel after transforming into a white bull to impersonate the god Dionysus to kill the manipulative maenad Maryann Forrester — as Sam did at the end of Season 2.

If the Emmy gods are willing, this could be the year Trammell scores his first Emmy nod for his supporting dramatic work on "True Blood," especially after a third season that found him exploring his past and getting in touch with his inner rage. We talked with him about finding a new family in season 4, how to stay grounded when you're surrounded by supernatural characters, and, perhaps hardest of all, how to shoot a convincing sex scene.

Sam is kind of an audience surrogate through all the vampires and other craziness on "True Blood."
He's a sensible person. He's a responsible person in a world of a lot of irresponsibility and he's a fairly grounded person in a world of sheer madness.

You get involved this season with a woman named Luna (Janina Gavankar of "The Gates" and "The L Word"). What can you say about that?
I had the family kind of dynamic happen last season with my brother and my two biological parents, and by the end had cut them offf. And this season I have a different kind of family that I'm going toward.

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She's a shapeshifter, so I can really connect with her, and she's also very mysterious, and I think Sam is drawn to that. She's kind of like Sam in a lot of ways. He was and still is to a certain extent a mysterious character in town. … I don't think anybody knows about him killing two people.

In addition to her I meet these other shapeshifters and there's a real community of shapeshifters. This year we explore the mythology of shapeshifting.

Will we see Sam next season deal with his anger issues?
We saw him go off the edge little bit when he went on that drinking binge and almost killed that guy. But he was pushed pretty hard. It certainly was a breaking point when he beat that guy up last year. A lot of his anger issues came rolling back to the forefront. He's going to have to do a little bit of work on himself this coming year in terms of controlling his emotions.

You've played very grounded human roles. Which is harder, those roles or the fantastical world of "True Blood"?
In a way I don't have to make the choice. I really just play everything real. For the most part in the show I'm just a real guy who's interacting with other real people. The fact that I'm a shapeshifter — those supernatural elements don't come out a whole lot.

But the stakes are higher. For instance in season 2 when I was dealing with Maryann and was hearing that she's basically the devil. … Evil in our show is extreme evil and the good is extreme good.

You just do things in this show you would never do in life and try to do them justice. You try also not to push too much.

How hard is it to do so many sex scenes?

The sex scenes are really hard and its not really hard because you have to be naked — that's always sort of a thing. I don't know if by chance, I've had to do a lot of that in my career. It's really about the intimacy and creating intimacy with someone you don't necessarily know all that well. That's a tricky thing to pull off. … Getting that connection and also doing in front of a bunch of people.

"True Blood" returns June 26 at 9 p.m. on HBO.