True Blood Trails 3.0: ‘He had a Mississippi accent, can’t you tell the difference?’

By Anthony D’Alessandro After watching “True Blood” for the first time, what struck me was how well Alan Ball and co. nailed the atmosphere of the suburban swamp communities outside New Orleans and Baton Rouge. Having lived in the Crescent City for a period some years ago, the town of Bon Temps in “True Blood” reminds me of Mandeville, a town across Lake Pontchartrain.

Mandeville is the type of place that has its own Merlotte’s, a Jimmy Buffet-like venue for guys to cry over their lost shaker and salt and flip flops; a bar where Southern Belles can flex their sexual prowess in a game of pool. Off-roading jeeps through the swamp is a pastime that far surpasses a visit to the multiplex.

I even think “True Blood” is sincere with its portrayal of rural Southern characters, i.e. former debutantes who are now out of the ball’s limelight, getting by and cherishing true love in a small town. Imagining the past lives of Sookie, waitress Arlene Fowler, season 2’s Sarah Newlin (who probably married her high school sweetheart) and to a certain degree Jessica Hamby (she had a few debutante balls left in her before getting turned into a vampire); all of them fit the bill of Southern Belle tragic heroes.

It comes as no surprise that Alan Ball would have an affinity with the South since he’s an Atlanta boy.

However, survey a few “True Blood” fans and a consistent gripe you’ll hear is that Ball’s actors literally drop the ball when it comes to putting on a decent and true Southern accent, in this case a Louisiana one.

I was reminded of this so-called nuanced dilemma in last night’s episode “It Hurts Me Too” when vampire Eric criticizes Sookie for not recognizing a werewolf’s twang (I wasn’t aware that dogs speak in dialects).

“He had a Mississippi accent,” Eric tells Sookie, “Can’t you tell the difference?”

Apparently, a number of die-hard fans can tell the difference when British/Australian/non-American actors don Southern accents. Which essentially encompasses a number of the show’s leading protagonists played by Anna Paquin, Ryan Kwanten, Stephen Moyer, Alexander Skarsgard, and the list goes on….

(Aspiring U.S. actors and actresses complain the most about this since it’s not fair that non-Americans are landing roles meant for them). One of the reasons why a number of offshore actors have landed parts on the show is because Ball is a frequent patron and contributor of the theater and mines blossoming talent from the London stage.

The accent dilemma never fazed me, but I’m reminded constantly that Paquin in particular switches between a twine and a New Zealand tongue. In fact, I always thought she was channeling her best Holly Hunter, one of the actress’ role models from her “Piano” days. Slams I have heard about Moyer’s Bill Compton is that he lays the Elvis on thick.

While it doesn’t make sense for any of the “True Blood” characters to put on a full-bodied New Orleans accent, they should be forcing some sort of dialect along the lines of southern Louisiana. The outer Parish accents do stem from the New Orleans’ Brooklyn –ease (Irish dock workers from New York in the Big Easy apparently were an influence on the locals’ tongue, or so I was told when I lived there).

A New Orleans accent possesses a light twang, typically coming from the back of the throat. Thus it follows that the Louisiana accent isn’t as hard as a Texan or Georgian tongue.

One of the few actors on the show displaying a true Louisiana drawl is actor Sam Trammel aka Merlotte. Why? He’s a New Orleans native.

Then there are Southern accents from a completely different state in “True Blood”: character William Sanderson (Sheriff Bud Dearborne) hails from Memphis and has used his bluesy warble as a Vermont hick (“Newhart”) and as a North Dakota hotel owner (“Deadwood”).

It’s also interesting to note that there are some actors on “True Blood” who completely avoid a Southern drawl completely. Skarsgard, despite his character living in the south for some time, hasn’t picked up a deep-fried tongue to takeover his Viking cadence. Also, season 3’s fresh baddie, Franklin Mott (James Frain) sticks to his native Leeds, U.K. patois – it makes him more evil and seductive.

However, this is a show set in the South and Middle America largely doesn’t care about pinpointing twangs. A Southern accent is all the same to them. This gives the “True Blood” cast enough artistic licenses to get away with murder in their speech.

For all the authentic details which are put into “True Blood’s” production set (Read New York Magazine’s piece here), there are some elements that Hollywood can still fool the rest of America on.

Let me know which characters’ drawls on the show bug you the most…or not.

The worst accent ever to be uttered from an actor’s lips goes to Michael Caine’s New England idiom which was completely idiotic in “The Cider House Rules.”

Whatever dialect coach Caine worked with on that film, should be kicked out of Los Angeles.

But who cares about authenticity?

The Academy gave Caine a best supporting Oscar for his performance in that film.

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