Ian Somerhalder met Kevin Williamson about a decade ago when the young model-actor appeared on Dawson’s Creek spinoff Young Americans. Now he stars on the writer’s latest show, The Vampires Diaries, in the role of Damon Salvatore, a 170-year-old vampire set on stirring up trouble for his earnest brother, Stefan. The third episode airs tonight on the CW, and Vulture caught up with Somerhalder to chat about his new character and returning as Boone for Lost’s final season.
How did your role on Vampire Diaries come about?
I found out about the meeting about nine or ten o’clock — I was in Las Vegas — and I had to be there at 11 a.m. and I hadn’t even read the material. So I literally taped my sides together and drove across the desert at, you know, five in the morning while my girlfriend slept. And that’s how I worked on the material, driving, just memorizing. It’s funny because that’s exactly what I did for The Rules of Attraction many years ago. I remember that feeling of going, Wow, again I’m doing this.
Was there something about playing the evil brother that appealed to you?
Yeah, Damon has a lot of fun. Obviously we can deem him as evil by virtue of his actions, but going further and not judging him for them [laughs], I’ve never really played anyone who was that fun. There’s something about showing up to work every day and not taking yourself so seriously — there’s a certain amount of levity that comes with that. And it’s refreshing.
Between True Blood and Twilight, vampires are pretty trendy these days. Were you concerned about vampire fatigue or overload when you signed up?
Yes. Yes. Yes. But — there is a but — and I think that is that Twilight is a feature, a big franchise. True Blood is HBO. Vampire Diaries is prime-time network. They’re all so different as far as their medium. When you’re a young teen, you can’t sit in a room with your mom and watch True Blood — it would be very uncomfortable for everyone involved. And Twilight you get once a year. This show is every week, and it’s fun, it’s smart, it’s sexy, it’s witty, and it’s now — and those characteristics slip perfectly into this crazy sort of vampire jigsaw puzzle we all find ourselves looking at.
Readers of the books would know what happened to cause the rift between Damon and Stefan, but how far into the TV series will we find out?
Very, very soon. That’s the thing — they’re not waiting to slowly introduce what all these issues are. They come quickly, which I think we’re all happy about, just simply because you get into the meat of the story very quickly.
Will we see a sympathetic side of Damon? It seems like right now he’s just kind of causing trouble for everyone.
It may take a while. [Laughs] It may take a while. There are varying degrees to Damon’s complete lack of concern for Stefan’s happiness. But I think overall, yes — I mean, he can’t be this way forever. A character can’t just be purely evil. A character has to have reasons and a backdrop for whatever they’re doing and have some sort of emotional connection and understanding of why they’re doing it, and also to have an agenda, to have a goal. When you take all those things and you layer them in with bits of levity, with bits of intensity, with bits of animosity, of — not necessarily fear, I don’t think Damon fears much at all — I think the challenge of Damon is walking that fine line. Damon’s a very smart, very scary, powerful person, and I think to make him fun is difficult because people want to deem him as someone who’s evil.
What was it like for you the first time you saw yourself in the vampire makeup?
It’s a lot of fun because the second that the eyes and the teeth go in, I become a completely different person, and there, all of a sudden, seems to be this license to do things and manipulate people and be somewhat scary. And it’s kind of powerful at times, especially with the lighting and everything. I mean, I notice on set when I have all this makeup on, some of the other cast members are definitely affected by the look of it. It’s a simple look, but it’s very specific and it looks very real, very natural.
You grew up eating organic foods. Is it weird now to get into the mind of a vampire?
Not at all. It’s still very pure, you know. Damon lives off of blood, and it seems to me that one of the purest things you could probably live off would be blood.
A few of your female co-stars were recently arrested for a photo shoot. What was the reaction from the cast?
I just thought it was lame. To me, it was quite funny. For them, it wasn’t, because it happened to them, and I understand their position — but to be honest with you, they weren’t doing anything wrong. And I think that if people judge you for that, because you got picked up by a cop while you were on the side of bridge in Georgia, then you know what? Most likely not the people you want in your life. If that happened to me, my friends and relatives would be giggling, if anything, winking an eye, saying, “Probably not a good idea, but no harm done.” You know, no harm, no foul. I don’t know — I just think it’s funny.
You recently took a trip to Hawaii to shoot Lost. How was it being back?
It was really nice to be back. It was very quick, and it was a lot of fun to see everyone, to be back on the set, and to see the island, even if it was just for a few hours.
Were you surprised to hear that Boone would be back on the show?
Initially, yes, I was surprised. And then I was thrilled and grateful to Damon [Lindelof], and I think it’s neat that they have a lot of people going back. It’s going to be a really powerful thing for the story. And it was very strange putting on wardrobe stuff that I’d worn literally five years ago.
Is there anything at all you can tell us about what to expect?
It is so secretive. I wouldn’t want to say something that jeopardizes in any way, shape, or form the secrecy and integrity of what they’re trying to keep off-the-radar. I think Damon would come after me with a machete.