is probably having the most fun of anybody on The CW's series The Vampire Diaries
. He gets to play bad boy vampire Damon Salvatore. Free from worrying about being sympathetic, he's actually the guy audiences love to hate. The show airs Thursday nights on The CW.
In real life, he might be the nicest handsome man I've ever met. I've met Clooney
, but Somerhalder certainly didn't need to be so generous and personable. Yeah, he's got a show to promote, and spending an hour standing in a corner as journalist after journalist hounds him with questions is part of the job. But he goes above and beyond with physical affection. Just a tap on the shoulder makes you feel like this isn't just a PR op, he's genuinely happy to meet you.
As the cast and creators of The Vampire Diaries hung out at a Bloody Mary reception for the Television Critics Association winter press tour, Somerhalder was a double star. Not only is he the lead on this show, but rumor has it he's coming back to Lost
for its final season. He was the show's first and most tragic lead character death as Boone in the first season. Starpulse: Can you talk about returning for the first Lost episode this season? Ian Somerhalder:
Not even a little bit. Out of respect for them, I can't say.What was it like to be back and have that closure?
It was great. It was so fun to be back. I was shooting all day, landed in Hawaii, went to set, did hair and make-up, and then slept. I woke up the next morning, went to set and then left.So, it was a whirlwind for you then?
Yeah, but it was amazing to see everyone and be a part of that group again. Everyone has stayed the same, yet changed. What memories stand out for you from being a part of Lost?
Almost every aspect of it. I know that's a blanket answer, but it's everything from being on a set with those phenomenally talented actors, to watching rainstorms come, to looking at a 767 that's completely torn apart on this deserted beach in the middle of nowhere, to being a part of one of the most amazing, historic television shows ever made. I wish I had stayed on the show, but it all works out the way it does. To be able to go back there and have that experience, with all of those people whom I've known for so long, and to have Damon Lindelof
and Carlton Cuse still want me around, was a really, really cool experience.Are they working around your schedule on The Vampires Diaries, so that you can do both?
Luckily, Kevin Williamson and Julie Plec, and Damon and Carlton, and the line producers from Lost and The Vampire Diaries, are making it happen. It is a feat. Is it fun to go back and forth between the roles?
Yeah, because Boone was so out of his element. He was thrown into a really iffy situation. Boone was at a tough point in his life, at that point, and Damon is so fun. To go from heavy-headed, heart-broken, I-just-slept-with-my-sister Boone to Damon was a really funny transition. Which character are you most like?
Damon, with the preface that I'm not a sociopathic killer. Would you like to explore the good side of Damon Salvatore?
I think there's as much room for good in Damon as there is for evil in Stefan. We all have it inside of us. How much did you enjoy having Damon spend time with Elena?
We really, really had a lot of fun on that episode. There's a very interesting thing that happens with Damon and Elena, and that is that when you take vervain out of the picture, Damon has to really make a decision whether to be really devious or actually be polite. Whatever that decision is, he makes a decision and sticks to it, and delicately creates a balance. Elena has a good time with Damon. He says things that are true. Damon is very truthful when he speaks. Even if he's a deviant bastard, he's still telling you the truth, and I think Elena feels that she's been lied to by Stefan. In Stefan's defense, he's essentially had to lie to her to protect her.
Do you have a favorite vampire book?
Image © The CW Television Network
I don't have a favorite book, but Lestat is one of the coolest dudes ever. I grew up on the lake in New Orleans, on the north shore, in a more rural area, and I could look across the lake and see New Orleans. I remember always thinking, "There's vampires over there." Sometimes we'd go over there when I was a little kid, and it wasn't that it was scary, but it was enticing. It was the not-knowing. Now that I'm on this show, it's cool to go back there and see it. I thought, "Wow, I used to look at that skyline from 26 miles away, across this huge lake, and think, 'Are the vampires going to get me, mom and dad?'" How do you prepare for playing a vampire?
It's a little strange. I actually don't like blood. It freaks me out, a little bit. But, when you think about being hungry, and you think about a time when you were stuck on a plane or you were somewhere without food, or you see people that are starving in the world, and you think about how intense that is, and then you imagine being a vampire and having 160 years of life experience, and the knowledge of humanity, love, death and history, and on top of that your senses are heightened by 1,000 percent, it's a very intense proposition. So, trying to inhabit someone who has that much knowledge of the world is a feat. I hope I'm doing it right and living it as truthful as possible. Have you read any of the Twilight books or seen any of the movies?
I haven't seen Twilight movies, and I haven't read the books. I didn't want to make that comparison. I will not be seeing them. Maybe I'm one of the only people in the country who will not be seeing them. This is a very different story, though.
There are some common denominators, but it is its own entity. Kevin, Julie and everyone have worked very hard to make sure that it is its own entity. It's a living, breathing, evolving show, on its own. Which of Damon's powers would you like to have?
The mind-compulsion thing is pretty cool. He can literally look at people in their eyes and then make them do whatever he wants. That could be really dangerous. He can also get into people's minds and move at the speed of light. Being able to read someone's mind and get inside of their head could be really dangerous. He can also make them see what he wants them to see. Have you had any embarrassing moments on the set?
We have some embarrassing things that happen. I've had some Freudian line slips. I can't repeat it, but they're on the dailies. I don't know where it's coming from or why, but I've had some pretty significant Freudian slips. Have you had any, off set?
People have been wanting me to bite them, which is not a good idea. I get put in an embarrassing position. It's a bad idea because not only of hygiene, but there's a legality factor, and I don't think my girlfriend would really appreciate it. Also, by virtue of the fact that it's almost impossible to tell how old someone is, it's a bad idea. You have to extricate yourself from the situation. But, they're so sweet and so great. Do you play any pranks on each other?
I think Paul
[Wesley] may have done some things to Nina
[Dobrev]. No one messes with me. They're smart enough not to. Is it weird to play a character that has such an age difference from you?
Damon is 162 years old. It's not that it's weird, but it is interesting. We spend our lives searching for knowledge and learning history, art, music and film, and we travel, and Damon has so much of that. When he does talk to Elena, who his 17 years old, he finds a commonality there that is unexplainable. There's chemistry. My niece is a year and a half old, and the time that I have with her is my most cherished time on the planet. When you're sitting there with this person who is this big, everything they do and say blows your mind, and you connect with that child, even though she's 30 years younger than I am.Do you think it's a shame that, given Damon's long life span, the only thing he seems interested in is aggravating his brother and getting Katherine back?
That's all it's about for him. It's pretty interesting that this person who has access to the most unbelievable historical events, and access to monetary and travel resources, he still wants to be in this small town in Virginia, with his brother and to find his girl. That's powerful. What scares you?
Nothing scares Damon. Bad cooking scares me. Not mine. I'm a good cook. I'm from Louisiana. I eat all day long. I eat everything I can put in front of my face. I wouldn't recommend that for everyone because health is wealth. What scares me is microwaves. It's ruining our culture and our bodies. It changes the integrity of the protein and the molecular structure of it, so our bodies digest it differently. It's just killing us. Of all the roles you've done, what's the one that people recognize you for the most?
It was Lost, but now it's shifted to The Vampire Diaries. When I was in Hawaii shooting Lost, I was in Jack Bender's office, the directing executive producer, and I looked up on his wall where he has all these big newspaper clippings. It said that the Lost Season 2 premiere had 31 million viewers in the States. That is a massive amount of people. This show has five million viewers, so it's significantly less, but it's the power of the youth culture. That's what's so amazing. What are the noticeable differences between Lost fans and The Vampire Diaries fans?
Either way, these fans are awesome. The Lost fans are amazing. The Vampire Diaries fans are a lot younger, which makes it really adorable. Every 13-year-old girl in America who's not watching Lost is watching this show, and they're so cute and so into it. They have so many questions and they get so excited. I just want to hug them. The little girls get scared because they think I'm a vampire and that I'm going to kill them. How surprised were you by the fact that The Vampire Diaries won the People's Choice Award for Favorite New TV Drama?
Incredibly because it's a numbers game. It's about the number of people who vote and, crazily enough, they voted for our show. It's a really active audience. How do you think The Vampire Diaries is raising the bar for television?
I hope it's raising the bar for this kind of show. This show looks and is the way it is because of every single department. What are Damon's motivations for all of his antics?
Love and loneliness, for his brother and his missing girl. Damon is a lonely bastard. Imagine being that old. Can you hint at anything else going on, for the rest of this season?
A lot of stuff will be going on. You'll get to see Paul and I with our shirts off, a lot more. You'll get to see some of the girls, half-naked. We're going to be dealing with the tomb. With this relationship between Damon and Stefan, you're going to find out all the reasons why they are the way they are together. And we're going to start diving into Katherine and all the antics and things that she brings with her. It's going to be good. Are you inspired by any vampires of the past?
Oh, my God, I was so obsessed with The Lost Boys
. One of my favorite vampire movies is Shadow Of The Vampire
because it was just so not this romanticized, physicalized, sensual, beautiful thing. It was really what I always imagined vampires to be. With that film, you can almost feel what it would be like to be cold and dead. Willem Dafoe
is just on another planet, as far as how talented he is. But, the inspiration I have comes more from other actors that I remember watching growing up. Had you always wanted to play a vampire?
I did. And then, when I blew my audition with Alan Ball
and didn't get True Blood
, I was so pissed. I couldn't watch that show until just recently, when I got The Vampire Diaries. I was so bummed. Will the people who read the Vampire Diaries books know what's coming in the finale, or are you shaking things up?
We deviate a lot, and it's necessary just for production reasons. This isn't a movie. This is a show that's going to evolve with these characters.Do you work out to stay in shape?
It's just about being healthy. Sweat once a day, no matter what you do.
Story/Interview by Fred Topel
Starpulse contributing writer
Follow more of Fred Topel's Hollywood observations on Twitter