07.22.11

'True Blood's Scene-Stealer

As Pam, the bitchy vampire, Kristin Bauer van Straten has walked off with the drama’s best lines and many of its scenes.

True Blood’s resident bitch on wheels, the 100-year-old vampire Pam, may be many things—bloodthirsty, ruthless, and sartorially blessed, among them—but a crier is not the first thing that comes to mind.

Yet, Kristin Bauer van Straten, who plays Pam on the hit HBO supernatural drama, admitted that she’s prone to tearing up.

“I’m warning you: I get weepy a lot,” said Bauer van Straten, sipping a green-tea soy latte at Priscilla’s, a coffee shop in the San Fernando Valley’s Toluca Lake. “You’ll get used to it.”

Bauer van Straten’s character Pam, the protégé of Eric Northman (Alexander Skarsgård), became a fan-favorite on True Blood after deftly stealing nearly every scene she’s in, assisted ably by Pam’s penchant for bon mots and torture, and her ability to reinvent her killer wardrobe every episode. One week, she’s in a pink Chanel suit; the next, she’s a leather-clad dominatrix. There’s an unpredictable and, according to Bauer van Straten, a “completely unapologetic” nature to this beautiful and brutal vampire, one that led creator Alan Ball to make Bauer van Straten a series regular in the third season.

“I was a maid, a window washer, a nanny, a receptionist at a hair salon,” she said. “I had every $8 an hour job.”

“She is amazing,” said Ball of Bauer van Straten. “Pam is one of everybody’s favorite characters to write… She’ll say whatever she thinks and say it in a way that is really hilarious. And then Kristin will take that line and deliver it in a way that is only hers.”

Now in its fourth season, True Blood has pushed Bauer van Straten even further into the spotlight, granting Pam her very own storyline, one in which she’s the victim of a spell by possessed witch Marnie (Fiona Shaw) and her immortal body begins to decay. For Pam, whose priorities are Eric and her appearance (sometimes in reverse order), having her skin peel off in ribbons of goo is a massive blow.

“Last year, we found out that Pam has a sensitive side, that she has this Achilles heel, which is Eric,” said Bauer van Straten, almost unrecognizable as Pam without a stitch of makeup and her hair in loose waves. “I thought she would be really vulnerable, that she would just crumble, but she doesn’t… There’s going to be payback.”

On Sunday’s episode, Pam—dressed in black lace with a heavy veil covering her ruined face (“Even when her face is putrefying, she comes up with an outfit for putrefying,” said Bauer van Straten)—betrayed Eric to Bill Compton (Stephen Moyer), inadvertently revealing that Eric’s memory had been erased and that he’s hiding out under the watchful eye of Sookie Stackhouse (Anna Paquin). Oops.

“That was a hard moment for me,” said Bauer van Straten, “because we’ve seen her willing to die for him. I tried to play it that she probably hasn’t slept and is so stressed that she literally makes a mistake and is crushed by it. It’s a true mistake.”

When she’s asked about Skarsgård, who plays vampire sheriff Eric Northman, Pam’s maker and mentor, Bauer van Straten is true to her word, getting weepy when talking about their relationship.

“I just love him,” she said, her eyes brimming with tears. “In our relationship as Pam and Eric, there are overlaps with Kristin and Alex, because I have complete faith and trust in him. You have to do some things playing an immortal character where you just have to dive in and look ridiculous… Alex is so incredibly sweet and funny.”

Her Swedish co-star maintains that Pam and Eric live together, as fans have yet to see where either Eric or Pam calls home. “Alex keeps saying that he can’t wait to see their house, and I say, ‘Seriously, you think they live together?’” she said, laughing. “In his mind, we have this fabulous place and… we’re sitting together watching movies.”

In her real life, Bauer van Straten shares her Toluca Lake home with two dogs and two cats (she describes one as a “Zen master” who was a “surrogate boyfriend” before she married) and her musician husband, Abri van Straten of The Lemmings, whom she tracked down through the Internet after hearing one of his band’s songs.

“That’s such a nice way to put it,” she said. “I was thinking the only difference between tracking him down and stalking him was [that I was] on a television series.” After an awkward phone conversation, the two met for coffee and married six months later in 2009.

The vegetarian Bauer van Straten is passionate about animal rights (she tears up once more when discussing the plight of Tony, a Bengal tiger that she’s trying to get released from a cage at a gas station in Louisiana) and an accomplished artist, regularly receiving commissions for portraits of people and animals.

But, for Bauer van Straten, her role as Pam on True Blood marked the result of years of rejection. A look at her vast resume reveals that she’s appeared on over 40 television shows, performing in mostly guest roles on such sitcoms as Two and a Half Men and Just Shoot Me, a role as a “porn mom” on the short-lived Hidden Hills, and perhaps most surprisingly on Seinfeld, where she memorably played Jerry’s date Gillian, a woman with “man hands.”

“A lot of those roles were the sweet blond girl,” she said. “I had a hard time in my career at that time… I had to segue into dramas and one-hours and [was told] it was almost impossible to see me as a character with any edge… It’s kind of incredible that I ended up with Pam. I was trying to think of an edgier character and I couldn’t… Pam is like a stylish serial killer with integrity.”

Before then, Bauer van Straten—who studied art at Washington University and Parsons (and very briefly worked in graphic design)—struggled to make ends meet. A disastrous job selling trinkets from a cart on Boston’s Freedom Trail in the middle of winter led to Los Angeles 17 years ago. (“I realized being a broke, starving artist the rest of my life would be much more pleasant in a warm place,” she said.) What followed were a string of menial jobs that typically lasted two weeks: “I was a maid, a window washer, a nanny, a receptionist at a hair salon,” she said. “I had every $8 an hour job.”

After falling into acting while in L.A., frustrations with the audition process led Bauer van Straten to nearly quit the industry altogether and pursue a career as a naturopathic doctor.

“I was going back to my Wisconsin roots: we don’t go to therapy, we do physical labor,” she said. “I [gardened] for three months and at the end of that, I realized if I didn’t want to lose my house, I’d have to go do the only thing I had ever been paid to do. It was that or being a hooker. Heidi Fleiss was in jail, so I thought I’d go back and audition.”

It’s that dry humor that connects Bauer van Straten to the image True Blood viewers have of the sadistic and hysterical vampire Pamela Swynford De Beaufort, who has accumulated nearly as many names as the actress who plays her. But whereas Pam would bite your head off while she made fun of your dress, Bauer van Straten is positively sunny in comparison.

“[Strangers] probably think I’m mean and bitchy, which I enjoy,” said Bauer van Straten, giggling. “I think that’s pretty awesome after so many years of not being able to be seen by the industry as anything edgy or intelligent… Fans are afraid to meet me. They’re sort of afraid for their lives and won’t look me in the eye… Pam is scary; I just want her to be extra scary this year.”

(As for those rumors, fueled by paparazzi shots from a True Blood night shoot, that Pam will—SPOILER ALERT!—wield some assault rifles before the season is out, Bauer van Straten was coy. “She definitely wouldn’t be opposed to using military weapons for her desires,” she said.)

While she maintains a presence on Twitter and Facebook (a “filtered, protected” way to see reactions), Bauer van Straten isn’t big on opening herself up to Internet criticism.

“I did go online once to see if people were talking about Pam and went to some site and typed in Pam and saw there were was pages and pages,” she said. “I thought, good, now walk away. But out of the corner of my eye, I saw one line said, ‘Is it just me or is Kristin Bauer like Angelina Jolie?’ And I was so happy. Oh my God! So I clicked on it and the next line said, ‘No. Kristin Bauer is blonde and heavier.’ And I was done with the Internet.”