BY ANDREW FISH
If you’ve watched HBO’s True Blood since the early days, you know what kind of mayhem Adina Porter can whip up. With a vicious combo of spite and manipulation, her character, Lettie Mae, makes life hell for all involved. Meet Porter in real life though, and it’s a different story. She’s fun and charming and will tease you mercilessly if you still haven’t married your girlfriend of three years. The very opposite of the oppressive negativity that’s made her character a fan favorite, Porter has a grace and charisma that I’m convinced played a part in the decision to finally make her a series regular.
Ending last season with a disturbingly intimate scene where Lettie Mae offers her own blood to feed Tara (Rutina Wesley), her daughter-turned-vampire, the show has returned with Tara’s death and Lettie Mae’s relapse. Except it’s not booze anymore for Lettie Mae — it’s V. After several seasons sating her addictive drive with a hateful brand of religious fervor, she has succumbed to the lure of vampire blood, which she believes is linking her to Tara’s tortured spirit.
Amid the supernatural pandemonium, the True Blood crew is periodically kind enough to give Porter the day off so she can lend her talents to season three of HBO’s The Newsroom — and she’s also gearing up to play a warrior queen on The CW’s post-apocalyptic drama The 100. With her hectic days it was no surprise that it took a bit to schedule our chat, and once we were on the phone she was open and honest as ever. “It was very, very exciting,” she recalls of learning about her bump in status. “I’ve never been a series regular, so it was definitely something I had been looking forward to.” When I ask if it seems like old times now that she’s back to her season-one-style hours, she replies, “Every time I have worked on the show, it’s always felt like coming home. True Blood has been like a security blanket that I’ve had for a long time — seven years.”
The sun is setting on the fictional Louisiana town of Bon Temps as True Blood gnashes through its final season, and Lettie Mae is definitely back home and killing it as one of TV’s most awful moms. “I think that’s why I’m there, that family dynamic,” Porter slyly remarks. “There’s that expression, ‘If it’s not one thing, it’s your mother.'”
Porter reveals at the time of our interview that neither she nor Wesley had watched their final scene from season six when Lettie Mae offers her own blood. “It’s not what I’d call a pleasant memory,” she says, “but it was pleasant to take whatever grief you have and use it, and leave it there, and be able to walk away from it, and know that it’s in a safe place, being used constructively.”
When asked to describe her character’s evolution through the years, she hints at Lettie Mae’s ultimate trajectory. “If you’ve got that DNA,” she suggests, “you’ve either got to fight really, really hard or you’re going to come out the way the DNA was arranged. From beginning to end? Maybe sometimes it’s hard to teach an old dog new tricks.”
As to any more details she could provide about upcoming episodes, Porter replies, “It’s like a quilt. I know my square, but I don’t really know all the other ones. When I do ADR work, I’m like, ‘Whoa, that’s what we did?’ I’m always a little shocked when I see what was actually done with the raw footage that I shot. I’m very much enjoying going along with the ride with everybody else.”
And on the way, she’s also taking time to play supporting character Kendra James on Newsroom. It had looked for a bit like we’d seen the last of Will McAvoy and his band of idealistic elocutionists, but Porter never lost hope. “I knew that it would come back,” she says. “[Jeff Daniels] won the Emmy! You can’t win an Emmy and not give people a little bit more. Aaron Sorkin is a busy man and he has other projects to do, so I was relieved that it came back — but I knew that it would happen.” Porter is also glad to be back at work with a crowd she really likes, “hanging out with Sorkin at his house and [group trips to] baseball games. My husband was the dog trainer for the AD’s dog. [It’s a] set where people hug each other when they arrive in the morning. What a close-knit group of people!”
You’d scarcely recognize Porter in her Newsroom role if you’re expecting someone similar to Lettie Mae. She’s polished, professional and quite becoming, and I talked to her about image and beauty in the entertainment world. As a woman of color, she feels “incredibly lucky to be an actor at this period in history. I’m able to work in this business, and look put-together, sexy even, with natural hair. We just lost Ruby Dee; she would not have been able to wear an Afro on television. There would have been no way. I know how lucky I am that I happen to be in the business as times change.”
I brought up her role in the 1998 TV movie Gia, starring Angelina Jolie, about the life of supermodel Gia Marie Carangi. Porter’s character lays into Gia about the fashion industry and its effect on young women’s images of themselves, and I asked her about that. “Every once in a while,” she says, “I’ll have an acting role that allows me to look at something in my life and work it out.”
Even in the face of tragedy, the loss of her husband last year, Porter has been a model of fortitude in maintaining her bustling career and raising a family. “It turns out that I am a resilient person,” she says when I ask how she’s doing. “My kids are resilient, I’m resilient, and I guess I am an optimist. That saying, ‘It’s better to have loved and lost than to never have loved at all,’ is so incredibly true. I’m still standing and I’m kind of proud [of that]. So — I’m okay.”