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‘True Blood’ Co-Star Rutina Wesley Broods With Bjork, Does a Mean Otis Redding

Rutina Wesley

On HBO’s bonkers vampire melodrama True Blood, Rutina Wesley, 34, plays Tara Thornton, a Creole-accented Louisianan-turned-bloodsucker whose foul mouth (no pun intended) has been getting her into and out of trouble for six seasons now. The Las Vegas native and Juilliard graduate phoned SPIN from her L.A. home to discuss the music of her life.

What was the last song you listened to today?
Well I was driving and listening to Hot 92.3 in Los Angeles and I remember singing along to a great song: “Forget Me Nots” by Patrice Rushen.

Do you usually listen to the radio while you drive?
I usually listen to my iPod; I keep some playlists on there. Like let’s see, I have this one here called “5K.” I run a 5K each week and I usually listen to this. I’ve got Beyoncé’s “Run the World (Girls)” and some Rihanna and Bob Marley and then R. Kelly’s “Ignition” you know, before he got a little weird. Then we get to Lil Wayne, he’s my favorite rapper. Him and Eminem.

What was the last concert you went to?
That would be Jay-Z and Kanye for the Watch The Throne tour in Los Angeles at the Staples Center. It was amazing. They played “Niggas In Paris” like 10 times. I didn’t even get tired of it — I love that song so much. After each one, Kanye would shout “one more” and everyone would go wild.

When you were growing up, was there anything you were listening to or wanted to listen to that you parents objected to?
Not really, my uncles were DJs while I was growing up in Las Vegas so I’d just listen to whatever they would have on. It would be a lot of Motown, R&B, old school hip-hop, the oldies but the goodies. I grew up with a wide range of music. When I got into high school my favorite artist was definitely Janet Jackson.

What’s your favorite Janet song?
I’ve always really liked “Again” because I remember seeing her in concert around that time in the ’90s and she brought some guy up on stage and danced all over him, just going crazy. She actually started crying she was so into it! I was still pretty young so I didn’t really know what was happening, just like ‘Whoa, what’s going on here!’

Do you have a song you associate with your first kiss?
I remember my first boyfriend from fifth grade. Our song was “All Around the World” by Lisa Stanfield. [Sings] “Been around the world and I, I, I can’t find my baby.” That was totally our song.

Who is another person on True Blood that has a musical taste similar to yours?
He’s not on the show anymore but I would say Jim Parrack who played Hoyt. That man can quote Jay-Z songs forwards and backwards. We used to sing the Jay and Beyoncé song “Hollywood.” We’d do it on set; we’d do it anywhere whenever we heard it. I also bond over music with Janina Gavankar who plays Luna on the show. We just went and saw ?uestlove DJ and I found out he’s a fan of mine and the show!

So you got to meet ?uestlove that night?
Yes, I totally geeked out but he was also geeking out on me.

What music has helped you over a break up or a tough time?
My go-to is Björk. Her music isn’t necessarily dark but it’s definitely moody. I remember sitting in the bathtub and having Vespertine playing on repeat for hours. I don’t even know what she’s saying half the time, but it doesn’t matter. I just make up my own lyrics. I just sit there and I brood and I think. That always puts me in a better mood.

Do you have a go-to karaoke song?
I actually have two. There’s “(Sittin’ On) The Dock of the Bay” by Otis Redding and “Like the Way I Do by Melissa Etheridge. When I do Otis I work in my own impression of him in the middle of the song. I start out singing real low and then in the second verse I belt out in my high register and when it goes “Looks like nothing’s gonna change” I do this whole Otis Redding face — it’s really fun. With Melissa, her songs are just fire! She sings with so much gut and heart and I love being able to tap into that.