“The Vampire Diaries” star Nina Dobrev on acting, her character, Elena, and why she loves Atlanta.
Nina Dobrev didn’t exactly emerge from out of nowhere to land the highly coveted role of heroine Elena Gilbert on “The Vampire Diaries.” She’d previously spent four years on the Canadian teen drama “Degrassi: The Next Generation” and had small parts in films such as “Away From Her” and “Repo! The Genetic Opera.” But the show (which is filmed in Decatur and Covington) was a huge step up the Hollywood ladder for the 21-year-old Dobrev, who clearly relishes the challenges The CW network hit presents. We recently spoke with the Bulgarian-born, Toronto-bred beauty about her acting background, her ATL food addictions and what fans can expect from season two of “The Vampire Diaries.”
JEZEBEL: You got into the arts at a very early age. What initially sparked your interest in performing?
NINA DOBREV: I was always a really outgoing kid. My parents didn’t know what to do with me because I was so high energy, and my friends and I were always putting on little plays at home. I started doing gymnastics and ballet, so I was always performing in some way. Then I went to a performing arts high school in Canada where we studied music, dance and theater, and I realized that that was where I was happiest.
JEZ: Of all the art forms you studied, why did you choose to pursue acting?
ND: Theater was probably my favorite thing, and that’s where I felt most comfortable. I loved creating characters, doing accents, being different people and exploring that side of myself. I’d watch all these films and envision myself in the roles, and I loved reading plays and scripts. I just decided to try it out and see where it took me.
JEZ: You landed a huge part on “Degrassi: The Next Generation” when you were just 16. How did that role change your life?
ND: I didn’t realize how big it was at the time. The part was originally just going to be for a couple of episodes. As I went on, the show taught me a lot about being on set and how to act on camera, because I was very green. I ended up spending four years on “Degrassi,” but because it was a Canadian show made far away from Hollywood, I was able to get into the business more progressively. A lot of people who start acting at an early age lose their sense of reality, but I had time to be a normal kid while at the same time doing this thing I loved.
JEZ: How did you get the role on “The Vampire Diaries”?
ND: When I finished “Degrassi,” I decided to fly down for pilot season in L.A., but I didn’t have high expectations. “The Vampire Diaries” was one of the first auditions I went on, and I loved the script. But I was sick for my first audition and they weren’t really sure about me, then I got a movie that was being shot in Canada, so I went home. [“The Vampire Diaries” casting directors] asked me to put myself on tape and they liked what I did, so they flew me back down. It was a long process, and I really had to fight for the role because there were so many girls who wanted to play Elena. I was very lucky, and I still feel like I have the coolest character–or characters–on TV.
ND: I love getting to play two roles, because one is such a sweet, nice girl and the other is this crazy, conniving, narcissistic vampire killer. That’s an opportunity that rarely happens on one show. I’ve played nice girls before–Mia Jones of “Degrassi” was a nice girl–but Katherine has an edge to her that I haven’t had a chance to play before, so it’s a challenge that keeps things fresh and exciting.
JEZ: The first season finale was pretty epic. What can fans expect from the second season?
ND: It’s just going to get more and more intense. Katherine has been talked about for 22 episodes, so we’ve had an idea of what a horrible person she is and how much pain she’s caused. But now that she’s back, you can only imagine how much havoc she’s going to wreak. Everything’s going to be heightened next season.
JEZ: How has the popularity of the show impacted your personal life?
ND: It’s interesting because I get recognized a lot more often in big cities like L.A. and New York than I do in Atlanta. Being in Atlanta has been an amazing blessing: The city’s a little smaller, the people are so nice and the food is so delicious, I just love it! People know that we film [in Decatur], but they’re respectful. Even when people ask for autographs, it’s not as invasive because they’re so cool and sweet about it.
JEZ: Have you discovered any favorite places in Atlanta?
ND: I love the food so much that it’s kind of become a problem because we have to stay in shape for filming. (Laughs) I love TWO Urban Licks, Wisteria and ONE. Midtown Kitchen, and Rathbun’s is just amazing. We’ve been to a lot of places around Atlanta, but still haven’t discovered as much of the city as we’d like to because we film 15-hour days. But when we do go out, I love that there are so many diverse pockets to explore, from Buckhead and Inman Park to Little 5 Points, which has that awesome urban edge.
JEZ: You’ve got “The Vampire Diaries” coming back in the fall and you’re shooting an action film with Samuel L. Jackson that’s due out next year. What are your goals for the future?
ND: I’ve always wanted to constantly challenge myself and play different characters in different genres, whether it’s action, drama, romantic comedy or a period piece. I’ll never take a part just for a paycheck or to fill time; I want to do projects that I really enjoy. I want to go above and beyond and exceed all the expectations that I have for myself and that others have for me. I don’t know exactly what the future will bring, but I’m really excited to see.