It is not at all unusual for a standout recurring character in a television series, or even a guest star, to transition into a series regular after a year or two. Boyd Crowder (Walton Goggins) had been doomed to die in the first hour of Justified and has now completed over 60 episodes. Glee's antagonist Sue Sylvester (Jane Lynch) was meant to merely recur. On Nashville, actors Will Chase and Oliver Hudson recurred in season 2 and will be upped to series regulars in the fall. Amir Arison, a guest star on The Blacklist, has been promoted to series regular. Community's Dean Pelton (Jim Rash) and Senor Chang (Ken Jeong) were originally recurring. Same with Andy Bernard (Ed Helms) on The Office. Some other legendary series favorites who evolved from recurring to starring include Gloria Reuben's Jeanie Boulet on ER, Kathy Kinney's Mimi Bobeck on Drew Carey, and Kelsey Grammer's Dr. Frasier Crane on Cheers. Family Matters' ubernerd Steve Urkel (Jaleel White) was envisioned for a single episode. Martin Sheen initially contracted for a four-episode arc on The West Wing to portray President Bartlet. On True Blood, the lusty young vampire Jessica Hamby (Deborah Ann Woll), a first season guest star, became a series regular for all subsequent seasons.
That is why I am so intrigued by the rare trajectory of her cast-mate, Tara Buck. Tara played a recurring character in season 1. And season 2. And season 3. And in every season until now, the HBO hit's seventh and final season. Starting June 22, True Blood viewers will finally greet Tara Buck as a series regular after six years! This is almost supernatural in the annals of Hollywood lore. Ginger ('she who screams'), the human vampire groupie, former Fangtasia waitress, and frequent comic relief, will be a central character in the final ten episodes.
Tara and I meet for coffee in a brightly lighted, seemingly fang-free restaurant in Larchmont Village, a small town-like Los Angeles neighborhood just south of Hollywood. Tara, who is blonde rather than 'ginger,' possesses mesmerizing electric blue uptilted eyes and appears much taller than her alleged 5'5" due to substantial wedges.
Tara remembers, "When True Blood came along, I said I know this girl. I came in for a guest star on one episode and felt I knew Ginger's whole history, her back-story, who her parents must have been. All these quirks about her." That history was Tara's private thespian's invention for six years. For the seventh season, "I arrived on set and got my first script and realized they had created a full story, similar and completely different in some ways. There are some wonderful surprises and a lot of humor. It's off the hook funny."
Ginger's startling shrieks and wails have made her a fan favorite. Tara laughs, "I didn't realize I was going to be good at screaming until my first episode in season 1 when Longshadow gets staked and there's blood everywhere." She recalls, "It seemed like a natural response and it just sort of became this trademark." To protect her voice, Tara sips warm lemon and honey water between screeches. But recently, she outdistanced herself. "I was screaming all night long and I woke up Saturday morning and had no voice at all! That's the spoiler alert! I am actually screaming again."
Tara is not a Louisiana bayou denizen like Ginger, but a native of Ketchum, Idaho, the land of Hemingway, where her parents met as "ski bums." Raised by her single mother, she grew into a stage-struck girl who moved to California immediately after high school to study at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts conservatory. After graduation, there were challenging theatre jobs on both coasts and more training at the Beverly Hills Playhouse where she learned, "You have to find the humor." She explains, "You can walk your character in any situation as long as you have some humor about it."
Numerous guest stints on numerous series followed. I remember first noticing her on Nip/Tuck as the Joker-mouthed quasi-victim Rhea Reynolds. Tara says, "People say to me sometimes, 'it worries me that you play all these crazy people. Are you crazy?' Sure I am. A little. I relate to underdogs and I love when underdogs get their day. When they get to triumph."
Tara describes herself as a character actress. "I completely disappear and become another person and these people vary in their life history, background, social/economic status; all have different stories and different psychologies." She notes, "It's about the work. You are needed for a piece of the puzzle, to tell a story. There's a lot more freedom about what you look like and fitting into a specific mold. You actually get to create that mold." Considering great character acting, she stresses, "I think about Philip Seymour Hoffman. His work and the degree he committed to every single character impacted audiences so much that people just wanted more." She remembers, "I got my SAG card (Screen Actors Guild membership) by being a stand-in for Kyra Sedgwick on Montana, and Philip Seymour Hoffman was in it. He was an amazing guy. It was my first real time on a set and he was so kind."
True Blood is much admired for it's sensual gritty soundtrack. One episode featured a composition, a spiritual called Life Matters, by the singer/songwriter/ harmonica player Chris Pierce. Tara says this is "a cool coincidence." Pierce, who also performs classic blues as Reverend Tall Tree, is Tara's husband. The couple enjoys "listening to vinyl records and drinking wine." He is the co-owner of Napa's stellar Syrah producing Ledbetter Wines (Legendary early 20th century bluesman Leadbelly's name was actually Huddie Ledbetter).
I wish we had some wine now as coffee doesn't aid my attempts at convincing Tara to reveal how Eric Northman survives being immolated upon that Nordic mountaintop at the end of season 6. Ginger is, after all, completely loyal to that powerful 1100-year-old vampire and his compelling consort Pam. "I'm their pet so I belong to them," she explains. Ginger has been "glamoured" (hypnotized, memory erased) so many times by the vampires that she is deranged. Tara Buck says, "I also think of her like a Tijuana stray dog, a Chihuahua. She just wants to be part of the group." Some of my favorite images of Tara are of her riding Pam's casket like a bucking bronco, and entering her room, the shrine of a vampire fangirl, Bela Lugosi posters and all.
Of her most unusual journey on True Blood, Tara Buck admits, "Every time I got a script, I would look through it and see if I died. When I didn't, I'd go back and read the script, and sort of breathe a sigh of relief. Oh, I've got another episode. So this year when they wanted to offer me a series regular, I was a little in disbelief. And thrilled, of course!"
She says, "It's the payoff for all the things you wondered about Ginger. What's she doing there? What keeps her there? Why do they keep her there? What is her relationship with Pam and Eric? I think the fans will be sufficiently satiated this season."
Tara Buck just completed a guest starring role on Longmire (A&E) and has two independent films in the can: At the Devil's Door (formerly Home) with Catalina Sandino Moreno, which will be released theatrically by IFC Midnight on September 12, and Medeas, opposite Brian F. O'Byrne, an award winner at film festivals in Marrakesh, Nashville, and Palm Springs.
Seventh and Final Season, June 22 on HBO, 9PM/8C