I promised myself I wouldn't watch Alan Ball's acclaimed HBO drama True Blood until they came to their senses and hired a Latina to appear on the show. The show (finally) came through for me on Sunday night, and I happily tuned into True Blood as it welcomed its first Latina (and first Latin vampire), Cuban beauty Valerie Cruz (Nip/Tuck, Dexter) to the show in the recurring role of Isabella Beaumont, an elegant, 600-year-old Spanish vampire-with-a-soul (think Rob Pattinson in Twilight) who rolls with the super-scary Dallas coven of vamps! I called Ms. Cruz to get all the deets on her biting new role, and the gracious (and super-intelligent) actress, who is perhaps best known for her role as Silvia Prado (Jimmy Smits's wife on Dexter), gave me the 411 on all things True Blood, including why the evil Dallas vamps are not to be messed with, why her character may be on Bill and Sookie's side after all and why a certain Oscar-winning Spanish actress may have served as the inspiration for her character's Spanish accent.
Your character Isabel isn't your typical vamp, is she?
As far as vampires go, no. She has a penchant for humans and a vulnerability. She wants to try to find a way to coexist with them.
So in a crowd of evil vamps, Isabel is like the Edward Cullen of True Blood—a vampire with a soul?
Yes, definitely! That is actually a very accurate description.
Except that she lived during the Spanish Inquisition and she's 600 years old! Does she feel old?
I think she does in the sense that she's become a little world-weary.
How did you come up with Isabel's Spanish accent?
I've been doing accents for a long time. The people I modeled it after would have to be Penélope Cruz or Antonio Banderas, or somebody from Spain. That was very important for me [to get the accent just right], because when you have a character on a show that has a big cast, every bit of that character matters—from her hairstyle and accent to the way she dresses.
Speaking of Isabel's wardrobe, that white dress she had on Sunday night was really elegant! Would you ever wear something like that in real life?
No! Probably not. It takes a lot of confidence to wear that thing. I'd be too self-conscious. Unless I'm feeling especially saucy that day. And that outfit is pretty tight! But the wardrobe designers and the hair and makeup people on the show are amazing. I told them my ideas and they ran with all of them. I wanted to really define where she came from—what region. I had read stuff on the Spanish Inquisition, and jotted stuff down. There's a sophistication in Old Spain and that was an element we brought in—that Isabel never lost that heritage. You will see a Spanish element to Isabel throughout.
Sunday night's episode made it abundantly clear that the Dallas Vamps—most of whom we haven't met yet—are not to be messed with! Seriously, they sound like they're nuts. How crazy and dangerous are they?
They're big city vampires. They are crazy. Stan is crazy. They are looking for domination, and there are vamps in their nest that have no qualms about taking human life. They definitely feel like they're the superior race, so to speak—if you can call vampires a race. There are definitely some crazies in there too. That's why Isabel is so intense with Stan, because she's outnumbered in regard to her feelings of starting a war—she doesn't want to start a war.
Sunday night, Isabel and Stan were acting like they were a couple, fighting as they were during the entire episode. Are they romantic?
No, they are definitely not. You'd think so, because they're kind of these sexual beings, vampires. It's like when Bill and Eric fight—there is a sexuality there, a tension that's always there between, even the male to male vampire relationships. These are two people who can bite each other in the jugular, so there's a basic carnal sensuality to those kind of people even when they argue.
I detected a little tension between Isabel and Sookie (Anna Paquin) in Sunday's episode. Does Isabel dislike her?
By next week, you'll see that that is not the case. When they first introduced me, you don't know who's where, and you don't who who lands on what side of the fence. You don't know who's for or against the heroes, which are Sookie and Bill. But that's what adds a sense of danger to the show. You'll see...
What kind of preparation did you do for the role?
I did a lot of research on 14th century Spain and the Spanish Inquisition. That was really the starting point.
How many episodes have you done so far?
Six. We're wrapped for the season because it's a 13-episode per season show.
Word on the street is that you used to be obsessed with True Blood while you were filming Dexter. Is this true?
Yeah! I was an absolute traitor! I would watch Mad Men followed by True Blood. It was so funny because every time we were nominated that year for an award on Dexter, those were the two shows we were up against—not that I don't love Dexter. I think Michael C. Hall is one of the best actors out there, period!
Did you ever think you’d be starring on True Blood?
I think I did. [Laughs] Somewhere in the back of my head, it was definitely like, "I want to be on that show." I feel the same way about Mad Men. I didn't know for sure I'd be on it, but I definitely wanted to be.
True Blood films late at night. Did you ever get scared during filming? It's a scary show!
Not really. A lot of the stuff is shot on the stages, so even if you're there until 4 in the morning, it's not super-scary because there are a lot of people around. But the creepiest location was the largest cemetery in the country—maybe the world. It was huge, and there were tons and tons of graves.
Are you 100 percent Cuban?
Yes, both of my parents came from Cuba in the '60s.
Do you know any Latinos who act like vampires? That is, who come over uninvited, don't need sleep?
I'm Cuban, so I know a lot of people who act like vampires. But wait, vampires have to be invited to your house, so maybe they are nothing like Latinos! (Laughs)
Thanks for your vampertise! Now educate me on this: What makes a Latina vampire different or unique from other non-Latin vamps?
That she has a definitive sense of style! She has a sensibility of her own sort of persecution too, which lends to her a sensitivity that the other vampires don't have.
You can also check out Cruz's film La Linea, which is now playing in select theaters and will close the New York Latino Film Festival on August 1.