Kristin Bauer van Straten Talks Playing Maleficent on ‘OUAT’ and Life After ‘True Blood’
True Blood may have ended last summer, but Kristin Bauer van Straten — known for playing Pam Swynford De Beaufort, Eric Northman’s sassy, sexy, brutally honest right-hand — isn’t finished playing the bad girl in a fictional world. The 48-year-old Wisconsin-born actress has reprised her role as the iconic Disney villainess Maleficent in ABC’s Once Upon a Time, reappearing as one of three new forces of evil in Storybrooke, Maine during season four’s mid-season finale. Along with Cruella de Vil (Victoria Smurfit) and Ursula (Merrin Dungey), Bauer’s Maleficent (who appeared in two episodes in the first season) rounds out the evil trifecta known as the Queens of Darkness. It’s safe to say that Storybrooke residents are in for some tough times, as the three fantasy bad girls are set to wreak havoc. Calling from Los Angeles, Bauer spoke with GALO about what we can expect with Maleficent’s return, portraying morally ambiguous characters and how Pam has stuck with her since True Blood ended.
GALO: How did you returning to Once Upon a Time as Maleficent come to fruition?
Kristin Bauer van Straten: As an actor, we don’t know things. I’m not sure if they decided to bring Maleficent back coincidentally when True Blood was over, but I did tell my manager to let them know I was available when it was over because I had so much fun on the set with Lana Parrilla (Regina).
GALO: Along with Maleficent, we’re also getting Cruella de Vil and Ursula to make up the Queens of Darkness trifecta. How do these new forces of evil differ from anything else we’ve seen in Storybrooke thus far?
KBS: They continue to surprise me, because every new combination of characters that are interacting have never interacted before. In Disney, they stood on their own. The alliances of different factions and the different agendas and how they overlap become very interesting. In history, we’ve never seen these characters in the same room in any other format.
GALO: Given the characters you’re playing, what has the energy been like on set with Victoria Smurfit and Merrin Dungey?
KBS: Oh my gosh! I feel exceedingly lucky. Working with Lana Parrilla in the first season was just heaven. She is the most passionate, fun and giving actress you’ll ever meet. After leaving True Blood, it was so sad to not be with the actors who I couldn’t love more. I was looking for something to do that felt familiar, comfortable and fun. Immediately, I thought of working with Lana again. I get up to Vancouver and in walks Merrin Dungey and [Victoria] Smurfit. They are amazing. Victoria is Irish and she has more energy than 50 men. She’s completely positive and is having such a ball playing this iconic character. Back in the day, 15 years ago, I was in acting class with Merrin. I hadn’t realized she was playing Ursula. They threw us together and we have just been having a ball. You never know when you walk onto a set how personalities will overlap. We comment daily on how lucky the three of us feel.
GALO: Speaking of Lana Parrilla, we got a brief glimpse at Maleficent’s uneasy relationship with Queen Regina in season one, when Regina confronted her to obtain a dark curse. Are we going to get a deeper look at that relationship this season?
KBS: We do. Maleficent has a history. There was that one line in season one where they called each other “old friends.” This year, we find out what that history is. We have some very interesting flashbacks. Maleficent also has a history with Prince Charming (Josh Dallas).
GALO: That character has gotten a creative resurgence, especially with the feature film last summer and Angelina Jolie’s portrayal, as well as others we’ve seen in the past. How does your take on the character stand out?
KBS: Once I heard that I was going to be going back, I chose not to look at the Angelina Jolie movie — I really looked forward to seeing it on hiatus. I couldn’t respect Angelina more and I’m sure it’s beautiful; I just didn’t want to have her in my head, the same way in True Blood in how I didn’t read the books. I just wanted to react to the words that Adam [Horowitz] and Eddy [Edward Lawrence Kitsis] were writing on Once Upon a Time and the same with Alan Ball. I’m not sure how they differ, but what I enjoy playing — there were opportunities with Pam and Maleficent — is characters that are “evil,” but in my mind I make them not evil, but justified. I feel that you get many, many colors. You get the blunt, cold side. You get some humor. And you also see some thoughtfulness. I also look for their Achilles’ heel; their emotional soft spot that they’ve possibly tried to root out of themselves, but maybe haven’t been completely successful. I find that more interesting when we have evil characters that we can actually also find endearing. That contrast makes the evil and the good stand out more.
GALO: We have to talk about Pam. She was a fan-favorite for many True Blood watchers. What do you miss most about portraying her?
KBS: I couldn’t have loved playing Pam more. Literally, couldn’t have loved it more. It seems inconceivable to me that as time goes by, I find even more love for her. I feel that her depth by year seven that we saw grow was so much fun — because she started out as just, a bitch. As we got to know her, I started to feel that she wasn’t really bitchy at all. She was truthful, she was loyal, and she had huge love for one person. We understood that she came from a really tough time, being a Madame in 1905. She just fully embraced life. She became everything that I wished I could be. I think the world would benefit from more people like Pam. I think we all vicariously live through her blunt honesty. She never said anything that we all aren’t thinking. She just didn’t care about being liked.
GALO: Did any of her blunt honesty wear off on you as a person?
KBS: I think it had the opposite effect, because I have been known to be terribly blunt and honest. It’s not constant, but it can be laser precise. It’s too much for my family, and certainly too much for my husband. I think that I got it out at work.
GALO: Pam was never shy about her flashy, eye-popping outfits. What would she have to say about Maleficent’s getups?
KBS: I think they would really admire each other. I think I’ve worked with the two best costume designers, Audrey Fisher and Eduardo Castro. The costumes on Once Upon a Time are so stunning. I can’t believe how brilliant every outfit is and how lucky I am. Maleficent’s Storybrooke look is stunning, as well as her fantasyland outfit. I think Pam would have huge respect for Maleficent.
“Once Upon a Time” returns March 1 at 8 p.m. EST on ABC. You can catch up on season four episodes on Hulu or YouTube. For more information about Bauer and her upcoming projects, follow her on Twitter @BauervanStraten.