Yeah, yeah, yeah. I know. This is IGN. We appeal to guy’s stuff. But I’m here to tell you, if you haven’t been watching, The Vampire Diaries is a really cool show. What looked like a Twilight clone when it first began quickly evolved into a complex, layered story with a ton of surprising twists and turns and a very detailed and involving mythology.
Playing not one but two key components to that mythology is Nina Dobrev. The actress has the lead role as the human Elena, but also has had the opportunity to play Katherine, the evil vampire who started the whole story by turning brothers Stefan (Paul Wesley) and Damon (Ian Somerhalder) into vampires in 1864. Katherine had previously appeared only in flashbacks, until the shocking Season 1 finale revealed she had returned to the town of Mystic Falls – and was quickly up to her old, bloody tricks.
I had the opportunity to speak to Dobrev about the new season ofVampire Diaries, which premieres this Thursday, and the challenges and rewards of playing two characters simultaneously.
IGN TV: So suffice to say, Katherine is going to be stirring up a lot of trouble as we begin Season 2?
Nina Dobrev: Yes, Katherine is most definitely back. She’s back and she’s going to wreak havoc. The thing about Katherine is she’s so spontaneous and unexpected. You can’t really get into her mind to figure out what she’s up to, because if she doesn’t want you to know, you’re not going to find out. She does everything for her own amusement and own entertainment. Screwing with people and messing with their minds and playing with them is the most fun for someone who’s been on the earth for however many hundred years. You get bored of the regular grind, so why not come back and visit and ex or two, and a new girlfriend, and stir up the pot?
IGN: You’d gotten to play Katherine before in the flashbacks, but I imagine it still had to be a lot of fun to bring her into the modern scenes and get to do these crazy things — complete with kissing Damon and cutting off John’s fingers and stabbing him — in the finale.
Dobrev: Oh god, when I read that episode last season, I was so shocked. It went from, “oh my god… really…?”, to “Oh my god! Yeah!!” It’s cool, because we all watch the show for constructive criticism and to get a feel for it and we all are fans of our show too, because we like it and we really are very passionate about it. So when I was watching it and I would see Ian and Paul and all the guest stars [who play vampires] come in and get to put the teeth in and be that kind of bad and really sink their teeth into the whole thing, I was really excited to do that part of it. But also, to just play a character who is so unlike myself and such a departure from anything I’ve ever done before, and still get to play Elena.
It’s definitely been a huge challenge, but a welcome challenge. As an actor, everyone wants to constantly have something to look forward to that they’re a little bit afraid of. Because the fear is what you put on yourself, because you want it to be great. And I definitely buckled down and got ready and I’ve been working really, really hard and I think it’s paid off. I think the premiere is going to be shocking and huge and exciting. Just like every other episode ofVampire Diaries, a lot happens. We don’t wait and draw things out. We’re going to get to the point and people are going to love it, hopefully. There’s going to be lots of blood and danger and stunts and cliffhangers. That’s our thing! We’re going to have some cliffhangers after every episode.
IGN: Do you ever get much of a head’s up about what’s to come, or do you usually learn about the next twist when you read the script for the episode you’re about to film?
Dobrev: We discover it as we read the scripts. Kevin [Williamson] and Julie [Plec] are brilliant in that way. Obviously they’re very original and they know how to do all those twists and those turns, but they’re also wary of telling us anything more than we need to know, because we might get it in our heads or over-analyze something. Or we might talk to you and give it away. [Laughs]
They give us enough to work with and then they keep us surprised. It keeps things fresh. I think at the beginning, we were kind of like, “Aw, I want to know more!” But later… I like to be surprised. For example, when we get the scripts, Candice [Accola, who plays Caroline] will call me and she’ll be like, “Oh my god, did you read this next episode?! I can’t believe that this happens.” [If I haven’t read the script yet], I’ll usually hang up right away, as soon as I’ve heard the first couple of words, because I don’t want to know what’s going to happen. I want to read it and experience the whole thing and be just surprised as the audience would be watching the episode, because it’s an experience in itself.
IGN: I was thinking how tricky it must have been to play those scenes in the finale as Katherine, because of course you want it to be this great surprise when the audience finds out, and yet I’m guessing you probably also wanted to add some nuances that made it different from simply playing Elena. Was that an interesting line to walk?
Dobrev: Yeah, it was very interesting. We kind of played it a couple of different ways. Marcos Siega, who’s one of the producers and one of the directors, who did the pilot last year and came and directed the final episode – he was there the whole time – we were talking about it and he said, “Well, we don’t want to give it away, but you don’t want it to be one -dimensional and kind of insult the audience. You are a different person.” He kept telling me, “You are a different person and you have to walk differently, talk differently…” Mind you, at the same time, this different person is trying to impersonate someone else! So it was definitely tricky. But I had to put myself in the mind frame of, “I am Katherine and I am Katherine being the best actress she can be and trying to fool everyone.” Trying to be subtle about it, but definitely, there’s a glint in your eye – an underlying evil. There’s a menacing quality and up to no good personality that she possesses, that whether or not she’s trying to be innocent or not, it’s just always going to be there. It’s fun!
I hope I’m making sense! Maybe I’m getting totally heady, but when you start playing two characters like this on a regular basis, it definitely kind of gets to you. [Laughs]
IGN: [Laughs] It makes sense to me! One thing I’m curious about is whether you knew when you got the role that you would eventually be playing two characters. You could certainly presume from seeing her photo in the pilot that there might be some flashbacks, but did you know it would turn into an ongoing thing?
Dobrev: Yes and no. When I first auditioned for the show, I read up on it. I did my research and I knew what the story was and that there were two characters… I always hoped that I’d be able to play both, because it’s a dream come true to play two great characters in one medium, on one show. And they kind of hinted at it, but they didn’t tell me from the get go, no. I just had to put the pieces together.
IGN: How do you like doing the flashbacks? I imagine it must be cool to get the chance to do such a different kind of show than usual.
Dobrev: Oh, the flashbacks are like the cherry on top of the cake. We all really, really enjoy doing them, because the world really transforms. There’s people walking around in period dresses and there are horses on set. I’ve always loved doing period. I’ve done theater and going to another era and period is just so much fun. Getting to act different and walk different… As much as it sounds counterintuitive, being tightened into one of those corsets makes you realize what a lot of people went through back in the day – how they put themselves through that pain and discomfort every day. And I’m curious to know who invented the corset and why, just because it’s a very excruciating process. [Laughs]
IGN: Kevin has said there is another big flashback episode coming up. Can you talk about that at all?
Dobrev: Yes. It is very period heavy. There’s a lot of scenes in that era and you do find out a lot, but it seems that every time we do a flashback, it’s from another character’s perspective. So you learn more about the same time frame from a different perspective and how the events may have been interpreted differently and misconstrued. Everyone has their side of the story. If you have a fight with your girlfriend, one party will have a different side than the other. So it’s just interesting to see what we learn and how things were kind of twisted and turned, based on whose side of the story we see it from. And why the events occurred the way they did, because of what intentions people had.
IGN: Damon is a fascinating character, but at the end of the day, he did try to kill Bonnie and turned Vicki into a vampire, along with other pretty heinous acts Elena is aware of. Do you think she could ever be with him? What do you think her take is on him?
Dobrev: I think that every person, whether it be Damon or Stefan or Bonnie or Elena or Katherine even, does what they do because they have their own reasons and they can justify them in their own mind. So when Damon says or does something bad, it’s because he wants something. Elena, throughout the first season, hated him for it, then started to understand and learn all the reasons he did what he did and that it was for his love of Katherine. He ultimately, just like anybody else, just wants to be loved and wants to be accepted and happy, at the end of the day.
It’s going to be interesting to see their relationship. For Damon to even think that Elena would kiss him, that means that they must have had some sort of chemistry and maybe he’s mistaking friendship for something more, because not many people give him friendship or understand him. But whether or not those feelings are reciprocated through Elena is going to be a whole other story. Because for the last 22 episodes, for the last year, that she’s been involved with these two boys, she’s fallen further and further and more deeply in love with Stefan. So it’s going to be interesting to see now, when Katherine comes back into the mix, how that stirs up the pot and what happens.
IGN: This show very quickly made an impact with fans and I know you’ve had a lot of firsthand encounters with fans and seen how passionate they are. What’s that been like?
Dobrev: It’s really cool. It’s what everybody kind of aspires to and wants. You want people to enjoy your work and appreciate it. So it’s been really flattering that people respond to our show and are dedicated to the show. We’ve done numerous press tours and autograph signings and everyone is just so enthusiastic and excited and it just makes us feel even better about the work that we do and gives us a renewed excitement about going in and kicking ass and making it that much better and keeping them.
But they’re very, very passionate. The age group that we mainly target, which is the young adults, they are probably the most vocal about their enthusiasm.
IGN: Do you do your best to stay neutral when they express certain opinions, say on the love triangle dynamic?
Dobrev: Oh yeah. Because it’s definitely 50/50, so whatever I say, I’ll piss off some people. [Laughs] Sometimes people take it to heart and they forget that it is a TV show at the end of the day. They come up to me and they ask me, “Why did you do this? And why did Stefan and Elena have this argument?!” It’s really funny. They ask me as though I actually am the person involved with these people.
IGN: Now they’ll ask you as if you’re Katherine too.
Dobrev: Yeah. Actually, it was the cutest thing in the world. During the finale, we were shooting it in Covington and there’s the Founder’s Day float, where Elena puts on a big dress and kind of looks like Katherine. And so we were walking through the square and there was this little girl and she couldn’t have been more than 10 years old. Her mom was like, “Hey, look sweetie! There she is! There’s Elena!” And the girl looks up at me and she’s like, “No! No, Mommy!! No, that’s Katherine! No!” And she started almost crying. She was scared of me, because she thought I was Katherine. It was so cute. She didn’t want to come say hi! She was saying hi to Ian and Paul and everyone was signing autographs for the people that were watching, and she said, “No! No, I don’t want to talk to her! She’s scaring me!”
The Vampire Diaries: Season 2 premieres Thursday, September 9th at 8:00pm ET/PT on The CW.