Another summer, another season of True Blood, which this year adds Jurnee Smollett to its ballooning cast. The actress will be throwing a wrench into the show’s sixth season as Nicole, an activist trying to take a stand amidst the chaos of the supernatural war that will be at the center of this year’s story. At 26, Smollett has been acting for most of her life. As a child, she had roles in Full House, Hangin’ With Mr. Cooper, and On Our Own, which starred in alongside her five siblings. More recently though, Smollett is more recognizable for her role on Friday Night Lights, as the hard-headed Jess Merriweather. We caught up with her awkward True Blood audition and her life as a sort-of child star.
What was the audition process like for True Blood?
It’s funny, I was visiting my husband’s family in Detroit for Christmas and my manager called me and said the producers want to see you on Tuesday and I had literally gotten there that day. It was a Sunday and they wanted me to turn back around and come back to LA. And I was like, I can’t do that to my family. It’d be crazy. So the casting director asked me to put myself on tape. My husband is there recording me in his mom’s basement with the water heater running and babies crying upstairs. I sent that in and that’s how I got hired.
What can you tell me about your character?
My character’s name is Nicole. She’s introduced in the second episode. She founded this organization called VUS, Vampire Unity Society. In real life she’d be the person leading the sit-in at Wall Street. She’s an activist, and with her organization is trying to help the vampires and supernatural creatures organize. There’s a war raging between humans and supernaturals this season and she believes they deserve equal rights just like human beings.
What is it about activist roles that predicates a look with a lot of colorful bracelets and wild hair?
[Laughs] I think it was just me who happened to have bushy hair, but it might have had something to do with why I was cast. Maybe they’re just carefree spirits, more creative, less inhibited, less caring about what people think about them, and so they embrace who they really are. I think that’s the spirit that Nicole has.
What made this experience unique in comparison to all the roles you’ve had in the past?
This show is just so different from what I’ve done before. It’s a TV show but it shoots like a film. You walk on set and you see a bunch of actors eating a sandwich, but there’s a bunch of blood all over them—not exactly my experience on a Tyler Perry movie.
There are so many clips of you on Full House. Do you remember that gig? How old were you?
I was four. I do remember. I have vague memories about it. I remember small things. If I watch and see, I can remember doing it. All of my clothes on the show were my actual clothes. My mom wouldn’t let me wear the normal wardrobe. I don’t know why, but there were a lot of Oshkosh B’gosh overalls that I wore in my every day life.
Is that weird, having your entire life chronicled not just through home videos?
It’s normal for me because that’s my life, but it is cool. For the longest period, for ten years in a row, no exaggeration, I worked on every birthday of mine.
Happily or regretfully?
It just was my life. I was happy. To me, I wasn’t a child star. This was a hobby just like kids who play baseball, do little league, or take ballet class. That was what it was for me. I wasn’t one of those famous child actors. I just worked. I always had fun doing it. My mom always made it fun, which is why I’m still doing it.
What’s the talent-to-hustle ratio when it comes to becoming a successful actress?
It’s about perseverance and not letting rejection define you. You’re going to be rejected 99% of the time and that is a part of the job. Auditioning and all that, I don’t really think of it as, I’ve got to get this job. I think of it as, This is another muscle I’m exercising.
Do you have a thick skin?
Oh yeah. I don’t take it personally, because often times, to be honest, the feedback I’ll get when I don’t get something usually has nothing to do with anything at all. Like, Oh we’re not trying to go ethnic on that role. I can’t control that. As long as I leave a room being like, I killed that, I did the best I could, or I brought what I could on that given day to that character. I strongly believe whatever’s meant to be will come to me.
There’s something I can’t really talk about yet. I’ve got to make decisions. It’s an exciting time. I’ve been writing and developing things. That’s where I see myself heading in the future. I don’t see myself as being an actress for the rest of my life. I’m really a storyteller at heart.
True Blood Season Six premieres Sunday, June 16 at 9pm.