It’s been two years since his hit show, The Vampire Diaries, concluded but American actor, model and activist Ian Somerhalder is not done with vampires. But this time, the 40-year-old actor is leaving his fangs behind to play a scientist in Netflix’s V Wars, who wants to help humans after a deadly outbreak turns some of them into beasts. Over the phone from California, Somerhalder talks about why he loves the genre and conflicted characters, and what can make the world a better place.
Vampires won’t leave you alone — or is it the other way around?
It’s a great genre that has so many levels. I spent 171 episodes on The Vampire Diaries (TVD) and I learned a great deal about the genre that I can bring to V Wars. Of course, I was filled with trepidation. I’ve had my team for over 20 years, and when I saw it was vampires, I didn’t think I could do that again. But they and my wife showed me that this was a very special material because there are five of these books by Jonathan Maberry. It’s an immense amount of source material that offers different, authentic and amazing perspectives and references. The first season of a show is hard — you’re finding the feel and the look of the show, and you’re learning a lot.
You made vampires look sexy. Do you think you could bring that appeal to the opposite side, the human side?
Haha, I was so fortunate to play Damon Salvatore for so long. He was funny, sexy, damaged — he was kind of an A-hole but everybody loved him. But what drew me to the role of Dr Luther Swann in this show is that it deals with so much of what we’re experiencing in the world today — climate change, borders, racism, disease, the fear of politics and how it’s seeped into a divisive social network, into our psyche in this new age of the algorithm. This is a global story, and we have some amazing Indian characters in it as well. And unlike TVD, the vampires here are not supernatural, this is bio-terrorism, pretty much like 28 Days Later.
You directed several episodes of The Vampire Diaries, and some of V Wars as well. What excites you about going behind the camera?
Yes, I love directing and being in a room with very diverse men and women, and explore nuanced, grounded and dynamic stories such as this one. I’m not a huge fan of violence but there is a lot of it happening in our world right now. Going into season two, the world of this show can be dark and controversial, and I want to share that.
One of the reasons TVD became such a big hit is that it examined each character’s internal conflict and what it means to be human. Is that something you seek in every role?
Absolutely. I spent thousands of hours on TVD working on that internal and external conflict for Damon; to leverage that to offer a mirror to the audience is for me, as an actor, just gold. In this show, there’s so much conflict because people are hurting, they are turning into beasts, and my character understands the disease and knows what fear can do in a society.
Over the years, you’ve lent your name and your face to a number of causes — environment, LGBTQI rights, equal pay, animal welfare. How hard has it been to walk the talk?
That’s a great question because the reality of it is in this day and age, when we’ve become such a volatile population because of this ability to transmit our ideas and images and people can fire back or comment whatever they want. I know that we’re all flawed individuals and I don’t understand when in the world the balance of power between women and men shifted, but we have to stand up for other people’s rights. Instead of building a sustainable economy, we need a regenerative one. I feel it comes down to parenting and education: If we could teach young people reverence, gratitude and compassion, they would go on to build a world that is green, that is just and a world that is truly balanced.