Despite his fanged bad-boy dramatics and nonchalant disregard for human life as Damon Salvatore in the new TV show ‘THE VAMPIRE DIARIES‘ – in reality – actor IAN SOMERHALDER is a heart-warming champion for animal rights and environmental issues.
Somerhalder wants: you to question how much mercury is in your sushi, an end to the slaughter of Calderon Dolphins in Denmark (specifically the Faroe Islands), some-one to invent a replacement for plastic so that marine wildlife cease mistaking it for food floating on the surface of oceans, a stop to primates being threatened by tropical forest destruction, you to be aware that 320,000 kilowatt-hours of electricity is wasted in the United States every minute from inefficient residential electricity usage, a boycott of all BP petrol stations, and a resignation from the head of the American Environmental Protection Agency in light of the horrific aftermath of the Deepwater Horizon oil-drilling disaster.
The thirty-one-year old has devoted his Summer break from ‘The Vampire Diaries’ production, to rolling up his sleeves and going all-in to aid efforts to clean up the Gulf region. Even en route, stopping to visit a dog adoption drive in Atlanta – crestfallen that no-one had turned up – retooling his personal Twitter profile as an animal adoption agency. When Vampire Diaries-press duty diverted Somerhalder away from Grand Isle to New York, he declared that he was: “pretending everything is okay – everything is NOT okay. Oil everywhere! Anyone have a plan? BP? Feds? Nope! This is a joke and we as a country should be sick to our stomachs. Thank you Government for allowing huge industries to regulate themselves.”
60,000 barrels of oil are still leaking into the Gulf every day, and Somerhalder is devastated: “I’m so sorry that our insatiable thirst for oil has spawned the worst disaster ever in the Gulf of Mexico, spewing hundreds of thousands of gallons of oil into the water which will hit the shores of and destroy my favourite place on the planet, the Gulf coast of Louisiana.” He summarised his anguish in the following: “We can send people to the moon, wage giant wars, and transplant human hearts, but we can’t stop a leaking oil well…”
…and when he’s not busy trying to save the world, he’s otherwise engaged interacting with his fans via Twitter, constantly thanking them for their support and adoring messages. “I sincerely thank you for them and smile to myself when [ I ] see them, so thanks for taking time out of your day to send a thought. I would be here 12 hours per day if I tried to answer them – who in the hell would play Damon Salvatore then???” But it seems like Somerhalder is a dab hand at multi-tasking, following up his rhetorical question with a promise “to make it a point to respond no less than once a day! Whether while having a coffee in the morning or hitting the sack at night.”
As if Somerhalder wasn’t already perfect enough, he likes to listen to Fleet Foxes, Neon Indian, Black Lips – and despite having formerly modelled for the likes of Calvin Klein, Dolce & Gabanna, Gucci, Versace, and Guess – Somerhalder is indeed a real boy. The son of a building contractor and massage therapist, his childhood was spent in small-town Covington in Louisiana: training horses, fishing, swimming, and boating. Despite a modelling career at age ten that flew him to New York each Summer, Somerhalder decided to focus more on school and sports by the time he reached Junior High.
Fast forwarding to the present, TV aficionados will recognise Somerhalder from thirty episodes as Boone Carlyle in ‘Lost’, as well as from small story-lines as Adam Knight in ‘Smallville’ and Hamilton Fleming in the ‘Dawson’s Creek’ spin-off show ‘Young Americans’. Read on for an exclusive Q&A with Ian Somerhalder himself…
What is ‘The Vampire Diaries’ all about?
IAN SOMERHALDER: ‘The Vampire Diaries’ is a story about two vampire brothers and a girl they were both in love with many, many years ago, way back in time. My character Damon feels like he was wronged by his brother over a century ago and is extraordinarily upset, so my brother Stefan and myself have been feuding for about 145 years. Also, the one brother Stefan has decided to stop feasting on people and that makes being a vampire very boring, so we have split as brothers. So Stefan turns up in this town where we are from and where we were turned into vampires, and he gets settled, finds a girl, starts to feel something, finally, and then I inexorably as always show up to remind him that I want to make his life a living hell. And again we end up in a very interesting love triangle with a beautiful mortal girl, Elena.
Your character has more power than his, it looks like Damon can really kick Stefan’s ass. Will it ever be a fair fight between these two?
SOMERHALDER: There are a couple of factors that create the reason why there’s an imbalance of power. One of them is the fact that you have to feed as a vampire and I deliberately decided to not stop feeding on people and the problem with that is, it makes it invariably difficult for him to take him out because there’s an imbalance of power. In the vampire world, if you eat people you have unbelievable amounts of power. If you eat squirrels and bunnies and rats because you don’t want to kill people, it makes you pretty weak. Stefan doesn’t have the strength that I have, so until he decides to start feeding on people I will have the ability to kick his ass. But when that changes it’s going to be a problem because look how strong Paul is!
We’re really used to seeing you as quite a sweet character on ‘Lost’ and now you’re bad. Is that fun?
SOMERHALDER: It is! You know why? Because bad guys have fun. That’s the whole point, that’s what’s so great about it. And I think what’s really the allure of these types of roles is that you don’t have to take yourself so seriously. That is fun. On ‘Lost’, Boone was just… I mean, poor guy, bless his heart. He just never really had time to grow as a character, unfortunately. But this guy, Damon, he controls life; life doesn’t control him. Except for the fact that it does stop him sometimes and makes him work a little harder. But Damon has, you know, an immense amount of power, especially playing a vampire, you relinquish all of those mortal restraints. I have immense amount[s] of powers. I have mind manipulation powers; I can look at you and make you think what I want. I mean, come on, how cool is that? That comes in handy. But also when stuff like that doesn’t work, which is very rare, it throws him. The thing is about Stefan is, imagine being 175 years old and the one thing you had in your life, the love of your life was taken away from you? And you feel as if you were wronged in such a way that you have a vendetta of 145 years. Basically I promised my brother that I am going to make his life miserable for eternity. So Damon literally feels as if he’s just keeping a promise. And so when someone really believes in what they’re doing, that’s what’s so great about bad guys. That’s why we like bad guys, because they’re fun. Do you know what I mean? They’re fun and they do what they want.
Why do girls like bad guys?
SOMERHALDER: Girls like bad guys just as much as guys like bad girls because bad guys don’t give a shit. They don’t care.
We like that!
SOMERHALDER: Exactly. They do what they want and they have fun doing it and so I think that there is an allure to a guy who says: “I’m gonna do whatever the hell I want and I’m gonna have a blast doing it and there is not a damn thing you can do about it.” And I think that that power – you know, we’re attracted to power. It’s not even power, we’re attracted to confidence, we’re attracted to someone who knows what they want and how to get it. And this guy is the epitome of that. I mean, he knows what he wants and he definitely gets it.
So you are playing a bad guy vampire heartthrob!
SOMERHALDER: I don’t know about the heartthrob part! He definitely has fun but the problem is he has fun as he hurts people. So Damon is a little mean sometimes.
Can you identify with him?
SOMERHALDER: I can’t identify with wanting to hurt people, but what I can identify with is that he does things out of loneliness. Imagine you are cast away as an immortal for an eternity and the one person you have is your brother and you can no longer be around him, you fight so much because you’re not the same any more, he stopped feeding on people so he lost all of his powers, so it’s kind of impossible to hang out with him and Damon does a lot of what he does out of pure loneliness. Being lonely drives you to do some really crazy stuff.
Will he ever show a good side to his character over the season?
SOMERHALDER: Absolutely. He is fiercely loyal and I think that’s the beauty of it. There’s a lot of edge and heaviness but also a lot of levity. He may sound like a negative character but there’s so much comedy. Bad guys love to have fun, that’s why they do what they do. And I think that levity is a lot of fun to play. It’s going in and out of finding bits of humanity and I look forward to playing that. I think Damon is going to be a lot of fun to play. I’ve just read the new episode last night. It’s awesome, it’s compelling, it’s fast. And I am vicious, vicious, vicious! But yet you start to find…
Some redeeming qualities in him?
SOMERHALDER: Maybe. I think there are some twists and turns that really add to the dynamics of this whole situation and it’s great. I mean, we’re really excited.
How was the audition process for you?
SOMERHALDER: Getting these roles for each and every one of us was extraordinarily horrible. Julie and Kevin fought tooth and nail for us. Nobody wanted me! But the process of starting a television show you go to meetings after meetings, I got to the network and bombed it and almost didn’t go back. Those guys [Julie and Kevin] really got me back in the room, but the process was intense and playing this kind of role, there’s an ease to it and you get into these situations in these rooms with these networks and it’s really a high stakes environment and if you, for some reason, get nervous, drink too much coffee, take too much B12, guess what? Your energy level skyrockets and you sort of get out of your rhythm and it’s really heart-breaking to find something that you know in the deepest deep of your soul that you can play and you kind of blow it. So that was an amazing ride and I went through it with those guys, we went through it together and to now have this kind of role which is so fun and dynamic, it’s a blast!
There are a lot of theories of how you can kill a vampire…
SOMERHALDER: Well, yeah, but with these guys not very many of those traditional ways of killing a vampire work. We have these lapis stone rings that allow us to go in the sun. I mean, look at me, I’m tanned. Damon likes going to the Virgin Islands, you know what I mean? It’s like, why not? I can’t wait, I’m going to pitch that idea to Kevin. “God, we should do this episode where it cuts to Damon, but he’s on a beach in the Caribbean for a couple of episodes.” No, but errr… obviously there’s garlic, a silver bullet – but I don’t think any of those work on these guys. Except for if you take off your ring and you walk into the sun, you’re toast. But a stake through the heart is always a big problem for a vampire. Always problematic – stakes in the heart. But not garlic, no.
That’s just a turn-off anyway!
SOMERHALDER: I love garlic. What other ways are there?
In Mexico there is a traditional old fighter, el Santo, a guy with a mask, who used to kill vampires with silver bullets.
SOMERHALDER: Yeah, silver bullets. I mean, these guys we heal immediately. Like you can’t drop a guy out of an airplane, you can’t throw him off a building, you can’t cut his head off. So it’s a bitch to kill a vampire, especially us.
How is ‘The Vampire Diaries’ different to ‘Twilight’?
SOMERHALDER: I would say in the realm of there’s a certain edge to this show and that by virtue of that edge, it adds a whole other layer of intensity. It’s obviously shot much differently, but yes there are similarities and we’re very happy ‘Twilight’ exists. These books are a bit older than ‘Twilight’. ‘Twilight’ has been happening once a year and this happens once a week – that may prove to be helpful and successful.
Are you ready for the kind of attention you’re going to get because vampires are very, very popular at the moment? I was talking to Stephen Moyer from ‘True Blood’ and he was saying that women come up to him and ask him to bite them.
SOMERHALDER: That’s pretty cool. <laughs> That’s pretty cool.
There is going to be a lot of attention on you…
SOMERHALDER: You know what? I live in Georgia.
Not quite Hawaii?
SOMERHALDER: No, it’s not even that. Hawaii was great too because we were so detached from it all, you know? I’m actually very thankful that we’re shooting in a place that is not a big city like Los Angeles or New York. I mean, Atlanta, excuse me, don’t get me wrong, it’s a huge city. But you can be really isolated there. I can spend a lot of time in the country. I can also fly home to be with my family all the time. I can go fishing in the Florida Keys. I can just disappear and it’s quick. I mean, that attention is all very cool. I think that vampires are huge right now and, you know, you welcome that. It’s always so fun to have a great job. We’re so lucky to have this show. Kevin is like crazy genius. Kevin and Julie and Marcos Siega, who directed the pilot and is directing a bunch of episodes, who is our supervising producer, he’s living in Atlanta with us, overseeing everything. So you know, it’s like you have this powerhouse of genius minds working around the clock. These guys are working their asses off and so are we. I mean, I just flew in here for the day. I haven’t slept in two days…
You are a vampire now.
SOMERHALDER: I am. I feel like a vampire.