Stephen Moyer: From Brentwood paperboy to star of HBO's True Blood
- Credit: Alamy Stock Photo
By Denise Marshall
While the pandemic has been challenging for so many in the movie industry, Essex-born True Blood star Stephen Moyer has remained in demand over the last two years.
As winter 2020 saw the country plunged into a second lockdown, Stephen was stationed on an intense 12-day shoot in Suffolk for crime thriller Confession. This was followed by another lead role in Code of Silence as Detective Leonard ‘Nipper’ Read, who brought the Krays to justice. The Brentwood-raised actor is currently starring alongside Alicia Silverstone in dystopian release, Last Survivors.
Denise Marshall spoke to Los Angeles-based Stephen to learn how he transitioned from Essex choir boy to Hollywood heart throb…
One of the most striking things about Stephen Moyer is how true he is to his roots. Immersed in his work and eager to praise his peers, he doesn’t take one drop of success for granted, and his role as vampire Bill Compton in HBO’s global hit True Blood, has given him the financial privilege to stretch himself with independent projects.
Just over a decade before landing on set with Michael Caine on period drama Quills, Stephen had been in the office of his school careers advisor, Mr Morris, at St. Martin’s in Hutton, pondering on how to make acting a full-time occupation – the first pupil at the school to propose the idea.
‘A few years later, Michael Caine and I were looking out the window watching crazy sets being built and Michael turned to me and said, “can you believe we do this for a living?” I was 28, thinking, this legendary man still remembers who he was and where he was from. He was such a lovely guy and I still feel that wonder when I go on set.
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‘One reason British actors are successful in America is because we just can’t believe we are doing it,’ Stephen laughs. ‘Occasionally you get an actor turn up that won’t come out of their trailer, or you’re waiting there for three hours until they get to the set. All the English cast are sitting there with our tea and biscuits in disbelief. We are just so happy to be there!’
Stephen regularly rubs shoulders with screen icons, alongside his wife of 11 years, Oscar-winner Anna Paquin, whom he met on the True Blood set, and with whom he has nine-year-old twins, Poppy and Charlie.
Following parts in prime-time series such as Waking the Dead and Peak Practice, Stephen became a household name in his 40s when offered a life-changing foray into the tried-and-tested vampire genre. A reflection of his elevated fandom saw him quickly booked on to The Jonathan Ross Show, but it meant settling in the States.
‘I’d been going back and forth working in America for a few years as I had kids in England, (21-year -old Lilac, and 19-year-old Billy),’ Stephen explains. ‘It was a really tough decision and I knew it was a huge job. But I also knew it would look after my kids for the rest of their lives. (Lilac is now following in her father’s footsteps at drama school).
‘It was June 2007, the world was in a slump and then Obama came in, that Hope poster was everywhere and the feeling that things were going to change. While doing Romeo and Juliet in Oxford in 1995, I remember a similar feeling when Blair got in. But it doesn’t quite go the way you hope, and I think Obama would be the first person to say that.’
Stephen has a huge affection for the UK and the county of his birth, visiting as often as he can. ‘I grew up in a time when the Essex girl jokes were rife. All my female friends in Brentwood thought it was very unfair, but I’m a big defender of Essex. There are so many beautiful parts: Finchingfield, Blackmore... it’s stunning.
‘Two of my close friends still live in Herongate, the village where I grew up. I was washing up in The Green Man pub at 14, playing cricket on the green, working behind the bar in the Seven Arches pub soon after. And I did my paper round from 8 years old until I was 18.’
So, did he get a little fix of home filming Confession, after international travel was barred for so long? ‘I did. Dave Beton, the director, got in touch with me during the first lockdown. He had tried to write something that would work within the realm of restrictions, in terms of as few crew as possible, and as few cast, in order to shoot during quarantine. It was absurdly low budget. Colm (Meaney from Star Trek: Deep Space Nine) was right at the top of the list. We were looking for the female and Clare (Top Boy actress Clare-Hope Ashitey), who I’d worked with on Shots Fired, (American TV crime series), does an amazing American accent.’
Clare plays Willow, who arrives at the village church in Debenham, confronting Stephen’s character – undercover cop Victor Strong clutching a gunshot wound – who is visiting a priest played by Colm. ‘Most people in the U.S. think Clare is American. Her boyfriend is a dear friend of mine.’
‘Colm and I were literally in each other’s pockets. Everywhere was closed – hotels, restaurants – so we stayed on a lovely golf course in Woodbridge (Kingfisher’s), in two little wooden log cabins next to each other, eating meals together and going through our words. Confession is ostensibly a two-hander. That’s a lot of words, a lot to learn, and we fed off each other. It was a year and a half since I’d seen my family, so my mum and sister came up and sat outside in my little garden and had lunch with Colm and me.’
Stephen had previously worked with Beton on The Hatton Garden Job, the role of a lifetime for a West Ham fan. ‘I’d never been available when he’d approached me before, but I had one weekend off from Shots Fired and they flew me to shoot on the Saturday and Sunday. The hook to get me over was that I was going to be filming in Upton Park, (at the Boleyn Ground), which was about to be knocked down before West Ham moved to their new stadium in 2016.
‘So, I took my best mate, Alan, who still works in Tilbury docks, his son Toby and my son Bill. We were the only people in Upton Park that day. We got there an hour early before the crew set up and got to play football in the centre of Upton Park, which was just amazing.’
Even when Stephen’s True Blood profile was at its height, his allegiance to football wasn’t weakened. ‘I had a season ticket during the end of True Blood. I used to get different mates to escort Bill and for big games I’d fly over. I’ve just directed a film, (A Bit of Light) and Ray Winstone is in it with my wife. He plays her dad. When I face-timed Ray I was able to hook him with my West Ham knowledge.’
Stephen also directed Anna in two episodes in the 2019 television series Flack, where she plays an American publicist in London dealing with troubled celebrities. ‘She is by far my favourite actress; she’s extraordinary. I’m always looking for projects where we can work together.
‘And she is an absolute true-crime fanatic,’ Stephen continues. ‘She’d be able to tell you a case that happened in Serbia or Somalia in 2003. I’ve done a lot of research on undercover work for Confession. When people go undercover, in order for them to live a normal life they have to walk away from their family or their family will be killed.
‘I’ve got another show set up at the moment, which is an American version of French show Le Bureau. It’s partly about when you’re undercover abroad and you have to meet somebody else who has to become your wife or husband, and you live as a couple.’
At 52, self-made Stephen has never been out of work and our chat runs way overtime as he regales making his mark on both sides of the Atlantic; telling important stories and asking tough questions.
‘I’ve been in a very nice position for a long time where I’ve been able to do some cool stuff, but I really love doing indie movie-making because there is something about the hustle of working in those confined situations, some real surreal amazing creative stuff happens,’ he enthuses.
And with such passion and proficiency, there is still much more to give.
Confession is out now to rent and buy on all digital platforms