When he first appeared as the vamp-bashing television evangelist Steve Newlin on “True Blood”, Michael McMillian landed a spot in pop culture for himself. As he went on to write comic-books, many based on the hit HBO series, he earned a spot in “geek culture” as well.
He continues to distinguish himself within these areas with his work on “True Blood: Steve Newlin’s Field Guide to Vampires”, a book he co-wrote with Gianna Sobol for HBO and Chronicle Books.
I spoke with McMillian by phone last month. Calling from his office in California, he discussed writing as his character for the new book; consulting his fellow “True Blood” actors on writing their characters; the difference between writing for books versus comic books; how fandom views actors in genre shows; and what he has in the works outside of the “True Blood” television show:
Geek To Me: I’m curious as to where the impetus for you to be involved with writing this book about vampires in the True Blood universe came from?
Michael McMillian: It started a couple years ago actually; I think when I became involved in the True Blood comic book. I’d been writing and co-writing the True Blood comic book series for a couple years, and Gianna Sobol - who was an associate producer on the show - was my story editor for HBO and for the True Blood offices on the comic book, so she and I developed a really good relationship, a working relationship and became friends.
And then you jump ahead to a couple years later, she was pitching out the idea to HBO and Chronicle Books to do a book that was based on the vampire bible that was introduced in Season Five. And I think they got into that and decided that the book was going to be a little too esoteric, and a little dry.
So eventually it evolved into this idea to do a “field guide” to all the vampires and monsters in the True Blood mythology, written through the eyes of Steve Newlin. So when that book was greenlit she asked me if I wanted to come in and co-write it with her. And I jumped at the chance to do it. I thought it would be so fun to write a book in my characters point of view. Not just because he’s so funny, but as an actor it’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. I can’t imagine another case where I’d be able to do that. [laughs] So it was such a fun project and I loved working with Gianna on it.
G2M: How did it compare to writing the comic? I know that when you write a comic you have to consider the artist and the visuals, but how did that compare to writing the book?
MM: Well, the book is really designed to act and feel like an artifact from the TV show’s universe itself, which is really fun.
So, the difference there I guess would be, from the comic book you’re sort of telling a story from an outside point of view, and with “Steve Newlin’s Field Guide” it is written by the characters. Because not only has Steve put together this journal and all this research, it eventually finds it’s way into the hands of Pam and Eric. And they’ve gone through the book, gone through the journal, and they’ve crossed out things and made annotations. And are making fun of Steve and - you know - filling in the gaps that he’s left out.
So it really feels like an active artifact from the series. I think that’s a really cool thing. It’s like you actually have a prop from the show in your hands when you read it.
G2M: Being a comic book writer you’ve had to get a sense of all the characters on the show, since you were writing all their voices. Of course, doing Steve Newlin, that’s your character, you know him really well. Did you ever consult any of the other actors, saying “you know we’re working on this book and we’re thinking your character might say this, what do you think?”
MM: Yeah, I can’t think of a specific example off the top of my head, but I know that during the comic book and a few instances when writing this, I think I remember asking Kristin Bauer Van Straten “hey would Pam say this or would she say this?” You know what I mean? Because some times you get to a point where you’re like “I’m not sure what your take on this would be.”
And the great thing about being part of the show, and being close to cast members is you can call them up. [laughs] You know what I mean? And they love that. It’s like why not go straight to the source and ask the characters themselves for what their point of view would be?
So there were a couple times during the comic and this that I would ask, you know call up a cast member and say “hey how would you say this or say this?” What would their take be on it. And that’s kind of one of the amazing resources [laughs] definitely, while working on this.
But for the most part, those voices are so distinct, so clear, and the writers have done such a great job - along with the actors - of creating these characters, that it’s not super-hard to slip into them. I think that’s a reason the show resonates so well with fans is that these voices - Pam’s voice and her sense of humor, Eric’s stoic-ness and sort of dry sense of humor - are so alive that it’s easy for people to imagine what their reactions would be. Or how they would comment on something dumb that Steve Newlin has written.
G2M: [laughs] I’ve asked Nicholas Brendan about this when it came to his character of Xander on Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and I’m sure you get asked this a lot, but how much of you do you think is in Steve Newlin?
MM: Oh God, I hope really not a lot [laughs]
MM: Oh boy, I think, like - I d have to say that the character got funnier and goofier as he got along, because that’s kind of who I am on the set and in life. I’m just kind of joking around a lot, I’m a bit of a goofball.
But as far as [laughs] how terrible he is, and how weak he is [laughs] I really hope that’s not how the writers see me. Um, I think that the Season Two Steve as a rule was pretty much mapped out, especially between the books and what they’d written already for Season Two was mapped out before I got to slip into the role.
And I think that when I came back as a vampire they were writing a Steve that was closer to my sensibilities, in terms of humor and my take on the character. And I know that they enjoyed watching me just make a fool out of myself. So I think there was that. I think they were “oh, it’s great to watch Michael look like an idiot, or to be put into these weird submissive positions. So let’s do that.”
And for that I’m honored, it’s such a great character. I find it so much more interesting to play somebody who is not cool, than say a Bill or an Eric [laughs]. You know, it was so fun to play the un-sexy vampire on the show. [laughs]
G2M: A bit about geek culture, I mean you’re a part of it really, being a comic book writer and an actor on a genre show-
MM: I’m a part of it, you know I’m a huge comic book reader, and sci-fi/fantasy genre fan. I’m sitting in an office that’s full of comic-books and Star Wars action figures, so [laughs] I’m well familiar with this territory.
G2M: You have actors - quite famously during the time of classic Star Trek you had Leonard Nimoy write that book “I am not Spock.” There’s that thing, you know? Understandably you’re a serious actor, you’re in a genre show, and suddenly people just view you as that character. And it kind of gets in the way of your acting career. But now it seems these days that more and more actors on genre shows are really embracing those characters, embracing being identified with them, and not worrying so much about how that could affect their careers. From your perspective, why do you feel that sort of change has happened?
MM: Well I think we’re just living in totally different times than we were 20-30 years ago. Even 10 years ago. You know the landscape of entertainment has changed so much, and so much of what is on TV now and in movies is genre-based, is geek-based. A lot of the jobs, I would say a majority of the jobs coming through for actors, have some kind of - not even cult following anymore - what used to be called “cult” shows are now becoming mainstream shows. Just look at all the sci-fi and superhero based and -you know - horror based stuff that’s on TV and film now. So, that’s a huge part of the types of roles that are available to actors today.
And aside from that we also have things like Facebook and Twitter, we have all these other instruments to put actors and fans in a way that never happened before. You used to have to write a fan letter and send it off to Leonard Nimoy’s agency and hope that you would get a response. And now there this direct link between fans and actors.
So I think that there’s a bigger sense, a wider sense of, “okay, this is just a role they play in this big fun thing that I enjoy. And they’re doing all this other stuff too.” You know I’m an actor who’s writing the comics books, doing all this other stuff. I think we’re just living in a world where it’s harder for actors to get pigeon-holed as just one thing. If that makes sense, you know?
And I think actors embrace it because these shows you know - I think Star Trek fans know - it’s always been great, fun quality storytelling on TV. I think that actors have kind of caught up to the fans, They see, like, sci-fi/fantasy stuff can be really, really fun to play and really great to be a part of.
G2M: Since you bring it up, what other roles do you have coming down the pipe that your fans can expect to see you in?
MM: Well, everything I’ve got coming up is sort of genre-based which is really fun. I have a new movie coming out in December called “The Banshee Chapter,” which is produced by Zachary Quinto’s production company Before The Door Pictures. They were the same guys who put together my comic-book series “Lucid” that I before the True Blood comic books.
And it’s like a really super-scary thriller/horror movie, that I think is really different from stuff that’s come out in recent years.
It stars Katia Winter from “Sleepy Hollow” and Ted Levine from “Silence of the Lambs.” It’s just a really scary story. I play a character who gets involved with some really weird drugs that he’s sort of gotten through channels that are connected through some experiments that the government has been doing over the past 20-30 years. And he goes missing, and Katia Winter plays my friend, a reporter who is trying to track him down and find out what happened to him. So I have that coming up.
And I just shot a really hilarious web-series called “Micah the A-hole Ghost”-
MM: And I play a character that is a medium - is a guy who’s like the kid from “The Sixth Sense” grown up - he can see dead people. And he’s been harassed and followed around by a 12-year-old Dickensian street urchin ghost named Micah his whole life.
And now it’s got to the point where he’s an adult and trying to live his life, and trying not to see dead people, and trying to have a girlfriend and he’s got his basically twelve-year-old best friend hanging out with him.
It’s written and directed by Rider Strong of “Boy Meets World” and his brother Shiloh, and these guys are so funny, so talented, I’m really excited for the potential with this. It’s one of the best things I’ve ever worked on.
ORDER "TRUE BLOOD: STEVE NEWLIN'S FIELD GUIDE TO VAMPIRES" FROM CHRONICLE BOOKS
FOLLOW MICHAEL MCMILLIAN ON TWITTER (@McMillz)
SEE ALL KINDS OF GEEKY STUFF ON HIS WEBSITE (MichaelMcMillian.com)
READ HIS “TRUE BLOOD” (http://www.comixology.com/True-Blood-Ongoing-Vol-1-Where-Were-You/digital-comic/36137) AND “LUCID” (http://www.comixology.com/Lucid/comics-series/4614) COMIC BOOKS