Christopher Heyerdahl on ‘True Blood’ & ‘Hell on Wheels’

Heyerdahl tells us about vampire face offs, Twilight and his time as The Swede before teasing "Hell on Wheels" season 2.

Fred Topelby Fred Topel

On "True Blood," vampires world wide answer to The Authority. And when The Vampire Authority wants answers it sends Dieter Braun, as portrayed by Christopher Heyerdahl in the current season of HBO's hit series.

Heyerdahl  has already played the Volturi vampire Marcus in the Twilight films. We got a chance to speak with Heyerdahl about his vampire worlds, and also preview “Hell on Wheels” season two, in which he reprises his role as The Swede.


Crave Online: Tell us about Dieter Braun.

Christopher Heyerdahl: Basically with a group like The Authority, they need someone to search out the truth. And when you’re dealing with vampires, getting the truth is a bit of a tricky operation. It requires somebody very creative and passionate about getting the truth.

Dieter is definitely that man. He’s been around a long time. He knows what he’s doing. He enjoys his job but I’m not sure how much because when you’re dealing with interrogation, you don’t want to say that someone enjoys their job. It makes them sound like a bit of a sadist and that’s not him, but he definitely gets the job done.

Crave Online: Is he a character from the books?

Christopher Heyerdahl: It’s not a character from the books.

Crave Online: What was Dieter on the page, and what were you able to bring to him?

Christopher Heyerdahl: Well, in the first episode where he’s introduced, it’s 502, you get a lot of information about Dieter and certainly in playing the scene with Stephen Moyer and working on the scene with Michael Lehmann, we discovered a lot about the character. A lot of times that’s the way you figure out who these characters are when they haven’t been fleshed out through the time of seasons, you discover it as you go.

You can do all the research you want ahead of time and imagine where the character is and what he’s doing, but until you actually get into the room and start playing with excellent actors and excellent directors and together you create the character at hand. So he was a work in progress and he was a fascinating creature to discover.

Crave Online: How is he introduced?

Christopher Heyerdahl: You’ll see him very creatively drawing out, trying to figure out where the boys’ leanings are. The last we saw them, they were grabbed by The Authority and obviously they’re with someone who they shouldn’t be with. He’s there with a chancellor of The Authority and this of course gives great pause to what’s going on within the walls of the authority and there’s obviously some dissention in the ranks.

So the idea is to try and figure out what that is and what they have to do with that. Very interesting too, each member of The Authority has different ways of getting information. That is definitely part of the fun of the scenes starting next week.

Crave Online: Do you get to interrogate our favorite characters?

Christopher Heyerdahl: Yes, absolutely.

Crave Online: Who are those juicy, dramatic scenes with?

Christopher Heyerdahl: Well, really we get to deal with our two boys of course, our bromance brothers.

Crave Online: Stephen and Alex?

Christopher Heyerdahl: They come together in a way that is unexpected from what we’ve seen in previous seasons. We also, later on in the game, we of course bring in some of the big guns that we’ve alluded to. Somebody has crawled out of the mire, out of his cement pit and we’ll get to deal with him as well. So there’s a lot of juicy stuff coming up.

Crave Online: Is that sort of the essence of drama when you can just get into another actor’s face?

Christopher Heyerdahl: [Laughs] I guess it’s perhaps the essence of drama for the actor. The great essence of drama I think is conflict and contradiction. That’s really what this season is all about. You’re dealing with politics, you’re dealing with people who perhaps have never chosen a side having to choose a side.

Again you don’t know where people are going or what their priorities are. There’s the intrigue. There’s the mystery and the fun. So really we don’t know which end is up until well into the fifth season so it was a lot of fun to play.

Crave Online: Is there a lot of action with Dieter?

Christopher Heyerdahl: There’s a fair bit of action in Dieter’s storyline but mostly Dieter is for the most part very silent, direct and creative in the way that he gets his information. So he’s not really a man so much of flash action as much as an intellectual danger.

Crave Online: Did you get to shoot any of it in the south?

Christopher Heyerdahl: It’s all over. The necessity of a show like this, in order to make it, it’s a 15 day shooting schedule. We shoot on film and those are two things that create a wonderful richness to a show that we don’t normally see. We’ve come great advances in cameras.

You don’t have to shoot on film so much anymore but there’s a richness and a joy to actually working with film and smelling film. So you’re working both on site. We were down in Louisiana this year and also in studio so you get to have the real thing, the true light of that. Louisiana has got a very specific warmth and humidity and richness of light. Again, that was created in studio as well when we were in the bowels of the Authority lair.


Crave Online: Did Twilight have anything to do with landing the part on “True Blood?”

Christopher Heyerdahl: I really have no idea. I can’t say really either way. I have no idea. You’d have to talk to Alan Ball or someone who’s in a position to make those kinds of decisions. It’s above my pay grade. I’m not in the room when they make those decisions.

Crave Online: It could be a coincidence. There are so many vampire franchise out there now, an actor could do all of them!

Christopher Heyerdahl: Really I’ve done all sorts of vampires over the years as well as guys next door and friendly fathers, odd uncles and everything in between. So I’m not sure if it had anything to do with it or not. I’m not sure if being involved in another franchise is a bonus or a hindrance in being in something else like this.

Crave Online: Both of those franchises, if there’s a character on one page of the book, the fans know everything about him. How do you find the fans of Twilight and “True Blood” in your interactions with them?

Christopher Heyerdahl: Well, I haven’t really had much interaction with “True Blood” fans. They haven’t seen me yet so that’s the time when you know if you have the fans on your side or not, when they’ve seen your work and either believe in your place in that world or don’t.

The Twilight fans I’ve had a fair bit of contact with .They’re very passionate and they went along wholeheartedly with The Volturi and what we created there, so we’ll see what happens.

Crave Online: Is Breaking Dawn: Part II where you get to do most of your Twilight work?

Christopher Heyerdahl: It’s an interesting question when you say “most of the Twilight work.” I’ve done a lot of Twilight work before, but I guess it’s the question of am I saying anything?

Crave Online: Well, the Easter egg at the end of Part I implies that they’re coming back for a big part of Part II.

Christopher Heyerdahl: Right, well we know. Everyone who’s read the books knows what’s coming along. That’s the great thing about working on a project that we know what’s coming. One of the things that Bill Condon was able to do was create a few surprises. That will be the Easter egg, the little bonus that you’re going to get on the day come November.

There’s definitely more action. The Volturi are there pushing their weight around and as usual, the three bothers have very different ways of looking at the world and that will certainly continue. Old Marcus, the beautiful sometimes pacifist and perhaps the wise old man of the bunch will have his say.

Crave Online: Was it important to you to read the Twilight books?

Christopher Heyerdahl: Definitely. There’s so much information that Stephenie gives and it’s important to know that world but also having her on set. She’s a wealth of knowledge.

Crave Online: Did you read any of the Sookie Stackhouse books even though Dieter isn’t in them?

Christopher Heyerdahl: No, I didn’t ready any of the Sookie Stackhouse books.

Crave Online: How do Stephen Moyer and Alexander Skarsgard welcome new cast members?

Christopher Heyerdahl: Well, we’re all taken out and they line us up and we have to run the gauntlet. It’s painful but if we survive it, we’re welcomed into the clan with open arms. I think that because they have to be naked all the time, they expect everyone else to take their clothes off, run the gauntlet and get a good spanking but if you take it like a man, everything is fine.

Crave Online: Does Dieter get to have some racy sexy scenes too?

Christopher Heyerdahl: I’d love to say he does but he does not. Other people get to dive into that skin filled sexy bloody passionate world that we come to expect every day in “True Blood.” My naked time seems to be more in “Hell on Wheels” strangely enough. The Swede was naked last year and he’ll be naked again this year, so perhaps they felt it was redundant to have Dieter get down to his skivvies.


Crave Online: Will we see The Swede again on “Hell on Wheels?”

Christopher Heyerdahl: Absolutely. The Swede is back and he’s back with a vengeance. He was knocked down at the end of last season. We saw him knocked down but certainly not out. He’s back in “Hell on Wheels.”

Durant has given him a new position. It’s a position where he’s going to have to basically start from the ground up, but he hasn’t lost his fight and he hasn’t lost his drive and his spirit, and everything that people have hopefully grown to appreciate in The Swede.

Crave Online: How far ahead in history is season two?

Christopher Heyerdahl: It’s about four months, five months past. Winter has come, the snows have come and gone. At the time when they were building the Union Pacific, they couldn’t work during the winter because of the snow. They didn’t have the means to get around that kind of element.

So we’ve done the same thing. The city has grown, just as the city grew from the first year to year two. People have heard about the town and come in to make their own fortunes, so we have some new characters and the town has become more dangerous and more ugly and dirty and smoky and bloody and filled with adventure.

Crave Online: Are you glad they didn’t make you do a season in winter?

Christopher Heyerdahl: I wouldn’t have minded. It just wouldn’t have made any sense because it wouldn’t have been true to the tale. Seeing an adventure with the Swede having to survive a grueling harsh winter and what he would’ve had to do in order to do that, that would’ve been interesting.

Crave Online: How much were you given at first about The Swede and where he’s going and how much do you know now?

Christopher Heyerdahl: Well, we’re in episode 205 right now so I know that much more, but they keep the ideas and the scripts pretty close to the chest. There are occasionally times where we can squeeze out a little bit of information here and there but you never know. We get our episodes about 3-4 days before we start shooting so we don’t tend to know that much about it until about four days before we’re going in.

So it’s a mystery. As you say, Hamlet hasn’t read Hamlet. Neither have the rest of us. It’s kind of fun to not know where the character’s going. It allows us to make some big choices and we’ll see if we’re going to end up contradicting ourselves or if perhaps we as the actors or the directors on each episode, whether we create or inspire the next episode or a couple of episodes down by choices that we make with the material that we’ve given.

Crave Online: I’ve never heard that before, Hamlet hasn’t read Hamlet. That’s fantastic.

Christopher Heyerdahl: It’s a good one, huh? If he had, he probably wouldn’t have done the stupid things that he did. It makes for a fascinating character.

Crave Online: Is there any comparison between a historical drama show in Canada and a modern day supernatural fantasy with monsters in the south?

Christopher Heyerdahl: They’re completely different worlds. One of them has the glory of time on its hands and one of them time is not our friend. When you’re working on “True Blood,” as I’ve said you’ve got pretty much three weeks to shoot a show whereas on “Hell on Wheels” you’ve got half that time. There’s not the same luxury. Every episode of “True Blood” is like shooting a low budget feature. With “Hell on Wheels” you’re shooting a feature with no budget at all, so your choices and your time management are extremely different.

Crave Online: How did you feel about the news that “Sanctuary” was not getting renewed?

Christopher Heyerdahl: Well, at this point, we were certainly not going to be surprised if it wasn’t renewed. You’re always hopeful. It’s a great group of people to work with and we’ve been working together for five years from the beginning of the webisodes until the end of season four.

It’s a group of people that I can call my friends and I’m still close with, so not being able to work with them and see them on a regular basis sucks, but at the same time, even getting four years is pretty amazing for any series, especially for a series like “Sanctuary” that is privately funded and was really started on a hope and a prayer with a webisode. So I think we did really well.