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Ian Somerhalder on making the jump from ‘The Vampire Diaries’ to ‘V-Wars’

The 40-year-old stars in the brand-new vampire series on Netflix

  • Published 5.12.19, 6:53 PM
  • Updated 5.12.19, 6:53 PM
  • 5 mins read
Ian Somerhalder (Wikimedia Commons)

After a decade of playing the sexy, bad-boy vampire Damon Salvatore in The Vampire Diaries, Ian Somerhalder is back in the world of fangs, blood and gore. The 40-year-old is starring in a brand-new vampire series called V-Wars on Netflix. Only things are very different from how they were in Mystic Falls. To begin with, the actor plays a scientist in a world where a virus is turning people into vampires. In a late-night (for him) phone call from his home in Los Angeles, Ian chatted with The Telegraph about returning to the supernatural genre, why he is excited about visiting India soon and how much OTT platforms have impacted television.

After The Vampire Diaries ended, did you have a sense of what you wanted to do next?

I wasn’t planning on shooting anything for a long time... I just wanted to focus on being a dad to my kid. Principally, the only person who can play the role of dad is me and I refused to be absent. So, like any father, you have to give 110 per cent to your passion, to your job and what you do, and a 110 per cent to your family and that is just what you do. 

Then V-Wars came your way and you just had to be a part of it?

There was some trepidation when V-Wars came my way by virtue of the fact that it was vampires. But I very quickly learned that this was a massive piece of IP (intellectual property) — five books, it’s a bestselling author (Jonathan Maberry), there are numerous graphic novels.... The comics are amazing, they serve as not just a visual reference but a story, dialogue and character reference... it’s an incredible amount of source material. This character is so vastly different from Damon Salvatore that I realised after talking with my team and my wife (actress Nikki Reed) that this was a really wonderful opportunity for me to bring the skill sets I learnt from The Vampire Diaries. I would like to think that after spending 172 episodes on a vampire show I learnt a little bit about the genre and about the world of vampires (laughs).

But in V-Wars you don’t play a vampire. What really drew you to the show?

What drew me to this piece is that it took on climate change. Unless you’re living under a rock or in a cave, you know that rampant glacial deterioration and the melting of our permafrost and ice all over the world is a very scary thing. In V-Wars, because of climate change, this disease gets out and spreads quickly and changes the whole course of history. And my best friend (Adrian Holmes, played by Michael Fayne) unfortunately succumbs to the disease. We find that it triggers something that makes your body start rapidly changing and you become a vampire. This was the next evolution of humankind. It’s much like if you think of the Denisovans and the Neanderthals. One came in and the other disappeared. This world changes so rapidly... there are vampires springing up everywhere, there’s a fracture between parts of the government. My character Dr Swann, who’s a scientist, wants to help these people and a lot of people just want to kill them. My character believes they have a disease and the military and government believe they should be annihilated.

You’re also a producer on this show and have directed an episode. Which of the three is most rewarding for you?

It’s all incredible. I actually only directed one episode (Episode 9) and we did that by design. It was going to be too much for me to direct more than one episode on this season because I was very heavy on every episode and we couldn’t write me out of the episodes. But I love it all.

When you show up as a producer too, you’re so much more aware of everything going on and you really want to make sure that everything is on time and things are running smoothly. You know the schedule intimately and you don’t want to miss certain scenes because it’s hurtful to the show. I love directing, I love starting with a blank canvas and creating something unique. I love working with actors, I love working with artisans and production designers and wardrobe, hair, make-up and camera.

I’ve lived on sets my entire adult life. I made it a point when I was younger to spend time with people like Irwin Winkler and Vilmos Zsigmund, huge producers, directors and actors like Kevin Kline, working with Roger Avary. Even in Lost with Damon Lindelof, J.J. Abrams and Bryan Burk, I always paid attention to every single job on set. I wanted to know what they all did, how it fit into the show and loved the people for what they brought to the show. As a producer and a director, it’s paramount that you understand what everyone is doing on that set because then you can truly appreciate them and also get your vision across in the most efficient and compassionate and uplifting manner. There are a lot of people working on that set and I make it my business to know every one of their names and what their deal is. You live on set, so you want it to be a positive, wonderful environment and you have to create that. I love all of it, I really do.

One hears that this show has also resulted in you getting introduced to the film industry in India.

Yeah! We have two Indian characters we’re fleshing out right now that we’re really excited about, and because it’s such a massive property, we plan on building out V-Wars India to have it’s own spinoff. There’s phenomenal talent there, there are incredible actors and actresses in Bollywood. I’m fascinated to learn how it works and some of the players there.

I recently watched David Letterman’s show and I saw Shah Rukh Khan, and I thought he was charming, cool, charismatic. He’s clearly wildly capable and famous and powerful... I guessed because he was on the show. So, I googled him and started watching trailers and films and television stuff, and realised he’s a powerhouse... what a cool guy. And there are these massive, huge stars here doing really amazing work. Deepika Padukone is also super badass. She’s not only beautiful but she seems very kind. She graces the screen too, and she’s become a huge international star. So, I’m grateful to Netflix and for this opportunity and I’m ecstatic to get to India and start understanding how to contribute to Bollywood and how to bring something that is powerful and that people will love.

The show launches a few days before your 41st birthday on December 8. What are birthdays like in your house?

With the last two birthdays, my wife put up some unbelievable parties... they were pretty amazing. But usually, we’re working and by the time birthdays roll around by the end of the year, I am so tired that I just want to crawl into bed and watch Netflix and eat a really great vegan home-made pizza. I’m looking forward to birthdays with my little one but this birthday, I’m actually going to be working... I’ll be in Germany. I wish there was something fun to say, but I’m usually working. They were pretty crazy during my 20s but all through my 30s, I was on The Vampire Diaries and I was working.

You’ve been an integral part of American network television for years. The advent of streaming platforms has been fairly recent. How has this changed television and how it’s made in the US?

It really has had a profound change on us. It’s given people the ability to work, so many stories to be told and got us out of linear, homogenised, manufactured stories. You have some major shows on network television obviously, but you’re very limited to what you can do. I’m grateful to network television, it’s given me my whole life. But I am fascinated by the whole Netflix of it all and now to be working with them so closely and being part of the Netflix family, I’m ecstatic to be a part of non-linear television.

We delivered all these episodes just a couple of weeks ago and it was an immense amount of work. We spent 11 months on post-production on a 10-episode show, which is very unusual. But we’re grateful that Netflix and IDW allowed us to spend more time making the show. This has really changed the game and allowed some really powerful storytelling on the small screen. So much so that they’re winning Oscars at this point, and I’m really happy to be in that family.