Kristin Bauer van Straten, BFA ’88, is best known for playing the fashionable, no-nonsense vampire Pam De Beaufort on HBO’s True Blood, and for her portrayal of Maleficent on ABC’s Once Upon a Time. But when she was younger, Bauer van Straten was interested in another art, painting, which led her to Washington University.
“To be honest, my parents picked it for me,” says the Racine, Wisconsin, native. After growing up in the Midwest, she was eager to get to the East Coast but, “my parents felt that WashU would give me the best all-around education and set me up for a more stable life.”
Bauer van Straten doesn’t regret the choice, and despite never acting while a student here, her education did contribute to her current career. “WashU taught me how to draw, which I believe is the root of all art,” she says.
After graduation, she headed to Boston where she took classes at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts and Berklee College of Music. She then visited a friend in Los Angeles, and what was supposed to be a two-week trip turned into a permanent relocation.
“Basically, I moved to L.A. because I liked the weather,” she says. “I mean it was January, and I was in a T-shirt.”
Bauer van Straten worked odd jobs as a nanny, maid, window washer, model, whatever she could find. She got into acting by chance when someone asked her one day if she wanted to be in a movie. She wasn’t sure she’d be a good actress but decided to give it a shot and soon had an agent.
At first, she had small parts, but in 1995, she landed a role on the TV show The Crew. The show lasted only one season, but Bauer van Straten began to get more TV guest spots including on Seinfeld (as Gillian, Jerry’s girlfriend with the “man hands”), Everybody Loves Raymond, Chicago Hope, Men Behaving Badly, and Dharma & Greg.
Then, she got an audition for a new show, “I was told it was HBO, Alan Ball and vampires,” Bauer van Straten says. “I was a big fan of all three, so I was in.” She wasn’t familiar with the True Blood book series by Charlaine Harris, so she went with her gut about how to play vampire Pam De Beaufort, “which I felt needed a very dry, very harsh, deadpan delivery.”
It worked. And Pam soon became a fan favorite, thanks to her icy stare, Southern drawl and punchy one-liners. One famous Pam moment is when a character says to her, “I thought you were mad.” Pam replies, “You don’t know me that well. My mad face and my happy face are the same.”
Early on, Bauer van Straten was bumped from recurring character to series regular and stayed with the show from it’s start in 2008 until it ended in 2014.
“I really enjoyed playing a character who had zero concern for being liked,” Bauer van Straten says. “Pam was always true to herself.”
Just a few years after starting True Blood, Bauer van Straten was tapped to play another “villain” as Maleficent (the spell-casting fairy in Sleeping Beauty) in the ABC TV series Once Upon a Time, which she appeared in from 2011 to 2015.
“Since I went right from one to the other (in fact, I shot on weekends while shooting True Blood in my first appearances), my challenge was to make sure these two ‘bad’ girls didn’t overlap,” Bauer van Straten says.
In real life, Bauer van Straten is a devoted environmentalist and animal welfare advocate. She serves as an International Fund for Animal Welfare ambassador, has worked to make Los Angeles a no-kill city, and is a vegan. She often advocates for people to become more aware about the impact their dollars are having on the environment.
“Everything we touch daily we can change,” she says. “Start with the products we buy. What we buy is what we pay other people to do. If we want a rainforest, then let’s not buy products that are cutting them down like palm oil and beef.”
Bauer van Straten continues to act, recently appearing in the films Nocturnal Animals and LORE for Amazon. For the former fine art student, acting has become the perfect medium for her to create in.
“Being an artist … is very solitary,” Bauer van Straten says. “That may be why my favorite part of acting is the carnival vibe of creating something as a team. I just love set life.”