Newlin Bites The Dust – A “True Blood” Exit Interview with Michael McMillian
by Shawn Depasquale on August 15, 2013
Michael McMillian first appeared as Reverend Steve Newlin in Season Two of HBO’s hit series, True Blood. The character has been through a multitude of changes from that initial appearance as a right-wing, anti-vampire nut-job, but none as drastic as the one that fans witnessed in the ninth episode of Season Five which aired this past Sunday. We talked to Michael about his exit from the show, his time writing the True Blood comic book for IDW Publishing, and his future gig acting opposite a sex robot.
Nerdist: Let’s dive right into True Blood. You recently wrapped a multiple season arc as Reverend Steve Newlin. Talk to us a bit about your feelings on how the character was handled. Were you satisfied with your final appearance?
Michael McMillian: Yeah, I mean, overall, I was really happy with what they did with the character. When I signed on in Season 2, I really didn’t expect to be around much longer after that season finale. Even though the character lives on in the books, the show was already taking a bit of a different direction. So I figured I was going to get killed off at the end of Season 2. And of course, after playing him for that full season, the thing I wanted more than anything in the world was for Steve to be turned into a vampire. I just thought that would be a really fun thing to explore, and it had nice parallels to many of the right-wing, christian, anti-homosexual leaders who turn out to be closeted gay men.
N: Becoming a vampire was something you always wanted to play, so you must’ve been thrilled when you were told how Steve would make his return to the show.
MM: Yeah, if only because I think one of the mysteries of Steve Newlin in that first season is where all that hate really comes from. A lot of it comes from the revenge agenda he had because vampires killed his father, but usually when there’s that much deep-seated hate inside someone there’s something that one hates about themselves. I think Steve’s always been attracted to power, and nobody has more power than vampires. Vampires are free from all the religious constraints he was brought up with, and when you couple that with him struggling with his sexuality, then, really, vampirism in his case was the ultimate freedom. I think that’s why when he was turned. I really thought to myself, “Well, if Season 2 Steve was the Ego, then Season 5 Steve – the vampire Steve – should be the Id. That should be the release of everything he’s been suppressing.”
N: Interesting, because one of the things we’ve noticed about your performance is a subtle flamboyance to your portrayal of Vampire Steve. Was it intentional?
MM: Well, most of it came from him actually coming out as a homosexual.
N: Did both those revelations give you more license to play him a littler broader?
MM: I think so. That’s not to say I was trying to play him stereotypically gay, but there has always been an air of flamboyance to Steve, even going back to the way he dresses when we meet him in Season 2. Once he became a vampire, he’s a baby-vamp, so he’s less in control of his impulses. I think he got more comfortable with himself, especially after his relationship with Russell Edgington in Season 5. I think he took a hint from Russell that with that sort of flair and confidence comes a kind of power.
N: Did you feel like all loose ends and any lingering questions you had about the character were wrapped up by your last episode? Was there anything left unexplored that you would have liked to spent more time with?
MM: I think there was definitely room for more stuff. The thing that I thought was really fitting about his end was that it was in a scene where everyone was behaving very much in character. So there was no way Erik was gonna let Steve go after what he did to Nora and after outing Pam as his progeny. There was plenty more material to explore between he and Sarah, a ton of different ways for that to go… Sometimes I think in TV, not just True Blood, there’s a lot of “why would that guy let him get away with that?” You know what I mean?
N: Yes. Sometimes they’ll sacrifice character for the sake of keeping a storyline running.
MM: Erik already had let Steve live once, when he probably should have killed him in Season 2. I think the writers just hit a point where they’re like, “there’s no way that Erik would let this guy live.” And so when it came to the loose ends it’s kind of like… oh, well, that’s life. I know that fans have been upset that we never learned who Steve’s maker was, and I don’t know that they’ll ever get to it on the show now, but I can tell you it was a subject I was off limits in addressing the topic in both the comics and the upcoming book (IDW’s True Blood comics and Steve Newlin’s Field Guide to Vampires). I get the sense that part of the mission this season was to condense the universe of this show, because I think we’re closer to the end point of the series than the beginning. I also liked that he basically died in a prison of his own design. There’s a fun irony there.
N: You mentioned the book, Steve Newlin’s Field Guide to Vampires. Is it a tie-in novel or another graphic novel?
MM: No. I co-wrote it with Gianna Sobol, and it’s not a novel, it’s a journal written by Steve Newlin. It’s a collection of found objects from within the True Blood universe all culled from the research he was doing from the time the Fellowship Of the Sun was invaded by vampires at the end of season 2 and when he was turned sometime between season 3 and 4. It’s designed to be an artifact from the world of the show. It’s pretty cool, because it acts as an encyclopedia of the show told via Newlin’s own observations, but then Pam and Erik have gotten their hands on the journal and so they’ve written things throughout also. Going through and making notes and corrections in their handwriting. It all ties into the show, it’s all in continuity.
N: But still they would not let you reveal who turned him into a vamp. If you had to venture a guess, with no insider knowledge, who do you think turned Steve?
MM: There is no backstory to support this at all, but Kristin Bauer and I would joke about how much fun it would be if Pam had turned Steve. Just because we wanted to work together more. At another point, Deborah Ann Woll and I talked about Jessica being a fun maker for Steve because they have a whole religious connection. Would’ve been great if Russell had turned him, but we know that’s not the case. My feeling, and this is pure speculation on my part, is that it’s probably a vampire we haven’t met yet.
N: That would make sense.
MM: At one point it was a character already established on the show. They wrote it into an early draft of a script. Then in the next rewrite is was dropped out. They never went back to it, so I don’t know if they changed their minds or what. I’m not allowed to comment on who that might have been, so… maybe they’re still planning on using it at some point.
N: Maybe you’ll get called back in for a flashback to that reveal.
MM: That would be fun for sure. The maker/baby vamp relationship was the one thing I never got to really explore, so that would be cool.
N: It’s not like you haven’t had plenty of time in this world though, because for a while you were also writing IDW’s True Blood comics. How did you get that gig?
MM: We were shooting season 2 of the show and I was working on Lucid (creator-owned, Archaia published) and one of the writers of the series, Alexander Woo, had tipped me off that they were developing a comic with IDW and I really wanted to get in on that. The first series was already up and running, but then the second series, Tainted Love, my neighbor and fellow comic-scribe Marc Andreyko came to me and said, “I know IDW and you know True Blood; why don’t we team up and pitch a storyline together?”
N: That’s fantastic. Pays to have cool neighbors.
MM: Ha ha. It worked out. I wasn’t working on the show at that point. I was still in touch with people socially over there but not in contract. So we went to IDW and pitched the story and by the time they got to HBO and Alan Ball they liked the ideas and we got hired. Then the ongoing started and IDW contacted me and said HBO was interested in bringing me back to co-write the book with Ann Nocenti. She and I did the first six or seven issues together and then she left. I inherited the book as the solo writer all the way up to the fourteenth issue when it was promptly cancelled. (laughs)
N: It was a great run though, plus writing a licensed property must have its share of negative aspects. What was the most challenging part about the process?
MM: You’re playing by somebody else’s rules and a lot of ideas get shot down, but it’s also very liberating to get to try my hand at playing the other parts on the show. Writing in Erik’s voice or as Pam has its own kind of thrill. It was fun for me, because I had a direct link to the show; I could talk to them and know what was coming down the line story-wise. They were super helpful and worked with me to make sure the comic and TV show felt like they were the same.
N: With the ongoing series cancelled, are you looking to get back into working on some creator owned titles? Perhaps back to Archaia’s Lucid to continue to play in that world?
MM: For sure. It was optioned to Warner Bros, so we’ll see what happens with that, but as for the comic, I’ve love to do more Lucid. I have a bunch of ideas. I’ve been chomping at the bit to get there, but it depends on Archaia’s publishing schedule, so the ball’s in their court for now. In the meantime I’ve got a couple new projects I’ve been meeting with publishers about. Especially after my time on the True Blood comic, I’m anxious to take what I learned from that experience and dive back into the creator-owned world for a while.
N: But when will you appear on our TVs again? That’s the real question.
MM: Ha ha. Well I have another few episodes of the other show I’m a recurring character on, Hot In Cleveland. I’m also in a movie that’s due out in the fall called The Banshee Chapter, which is directed by a talented filmmaker I went to college with (we shot a short film together) and produced by Before The Door Pictures, who did the movie Margin Call and the upcoming movie All Is Lost. I play a character dabbling with a highly experimental and dangerous hallucinogenic drug who then disappears. Katia Winter (Dexter) plays the lead in the film, who is an investigative reporter trying to find out what happened to her friend, me, and uncovers something much darker and terrifying than she could have ever imagined. We shot it in 2011 and I’m really excited it’s coming out. It was such a small movie, but we shot it in 3D and it looks amazing. I’m amazed by what they were able to do as an independent film.
N: Well, that was shot a while ago, is there anything else we should keep an eye out for?
MM: I have a webseries I co-star in, directed by Rob McKittrick (Waiting), called Jon Davis Gets A Sex Robot. My wife, played by Riki Lindhome, promises me that if they ever make realistic sexbots, I can have one. Then we jump-cut to the future, and he does get one, played by Nikki SooHoo. So I get one, but then feel kinda guilty about doing anything to it, so it sort of just becomes our roommate. It’s pretty great. It starts August 19th on the YOMYOMF YouTube channel.
N: Before we wrap up, do you have any final thoughts on the character of Reverend Newlin or the overall experience?
MM: Yeah, I want to say thanks to the fans. As corny as it sounds, I think this show has some of the best fans out there. Many people have reached out to me since that episode aired to tell me how much they enjoyed the character and my performance. They’re all very kind and sad to see him go. When you have a job that you enjoy doing as much as I liked True Blood, it is always extra sweet when you finally are killed off and the fans are moved to comment. It means people still cared about the character after all this time, which is so great. That said, he lives on in print! So I hope you pre-order the book and you can follow me on Twitter @McMillzz, and hopefully my fans will follow me onto whatever I do next.