While life in Mystic Falls has never run smoothly for Damon Salvatore, season four's recent string of events (sire bonds revelations, vampire hunters at every turn, single vials of the cure, devastating deaths, humanity off switches) have left his face bloodier and his heart more bruised than ever.
And according to Ian Somerhalder, Damon will continue to traverse a rocky road in the weeks to come as he's forced to decide whether sacrificing Elena's soul is worth it to keep basking in her love. That was just one of the things Somerhalder and I talked about this morning as he flew in to New York City to promote The Vampire Diaries and ISF's newest philanthropic endeavors.
ETonline: You were on Live with Kelly and Michael this morning, talking about how you've recently realized TVD is basically a soap opera. Can you expand upon that?
Ian Somerhalder: My grandmother was this unbelievably smart, phenomenally cool woman and [soap operas] were just always on in her house. My foundation is building this animal sanctuary and youth education facility where she lived so I was there two weeks ago and those feelings are just so deeply embedded in me that I instantly had those memories being there. So this morning, that all came to me after watching the clip they showed. I just realized that I live in a soap opera, and it's awesome.
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ETonline: How do you think the show is able to have soap opera elements without veering into the negative attributes often associated with soaps?
Somerhalder: Honestly, I think it's because the writing and the performances are grounded in truth. We ultimately have to find truth in the material, and I think that transfers onto the screen. Obviously there's varying degrees of it, and we don't get it right all the time [laughs], but I think when it feels grounded, it's because we recognize the truth in the material.
ETonline: I think the show has really gotten it right this season with Damon and Elena's romantic journey. What's been your take on it all?
Somerhalder: It's been kind of tragic. I mean, Damon finally got the girl he loves and it's totally tragic that he has this moment of happiness and clarity only to learn that it's fake. I did a show recently where they were talking about Catfish. It's something I never realized is going on, but there's this entire world out there about people falling in love with one another digitally only to find out it's not real. I could have sympathized with that before, but through this storyline, I can also empathize with that. When you go through that emotion on screen you take a piece of it with you. I have such great respect for the people coming out to tell their story because it's an awful feeling.
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ETonline: It's also got to be exciting as an actor that TVD allows you to play your character at various points in their life. We've seen Damon throughout the decades, and next week shows him circa 1970.
Somerhalder: Yeah, you hit the nail on the head. Our artisans and production design team went in and not only re-built CBGB's but recreated the feeling of the '70s [in Because the Night, airing March 21]. It's so cool because you get to experience so many times in [Damon's] life. Now mind you, because there were so many decades, I think he evolved slower than most. I also love that because we get to go back and romanticize the social happenings of that time, we're really reminded of The United States' deep history and what Damon lived through is just a drop in the bucket compared to the other characters, who can go back thousands of years.
ETonline: That episode also features the return of Lexi, a character Damon shares a very tumultuous history with. What's it like this time around?
Somerhalder: What's cool about it is that you see how long and turbulent their history is. There are just so many different agendas and egos at play, but at the end of the day, both Lexi and Damon love Stefan, so to see them interacting throughout an episode where they're not trying to kill each other or making derogatory jokes to one another the entire time is amazing. There was a real relationship there, so it was fun to explore.
ETonline: I'd also imagine that this new layer to their relationship makes the fact he killed her more significant.
Somerhalder: Totally. I think if you go back to that episode after seeing next week's, the look of betrayal on her face, the shock of it all, is recontextualized. Which I think is a great way to elaborate or, at times, strengthen or fix a storyline that maybe didn't work as well. It's an added bonus to the structure of how our show works.
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ETonline: Looking at what's to come with Damon and Stefan's struggle over Elena's humanity, what are you excited for fans to see?
Somerhalder: I'm excited for fans to see Elena have some fun, which means we don't have to worry about her getting killed every waking moment. She's a lot stronger now, Elena is kicking our asses so it's like the tables have turned a bit. But it's interesting because there's this amazing push/pull between Stefan and Damon as they try to figure everything out. Damon has no desire for Elena to take the cure because it means he'll lose her while Stefan definitely wants her to. Ultimately Damon realizes Elena is a lunatic bitch when she has no humanity, and I don't know if the world can handle her. The problem is, he cares so deeply for Elena yet knows she can't keep going down this path. So it's this tragedy of, "Oh man, if I could just get her humanity back, but keep her a vampire, we could have a great life ... or we could at least run around and eat some people all over the world." But I don't know if that's a real option for Damon any more because he's going to have to give her the cure and Stefan only stands to gain from that.
ETonline: Switching gears for a second, you just came back from SXSW, where you spoke at several panels dealing with the environment and met Grumpy Cat.
Somerhalder: Meeting Grumpy Cat was definitely a highlight [laughs]! I'm so grateful to Warner Brothers and The CW for hooking up that whole SXSW event -- they saw value in giving people a space for people to interact. I have to give them kudos for having that foresight and making that investment.
ETonline: What new Ian Somerhalder Foundation initiatives are you excited about?
Somerhalder: We're buying this piece of land that will serve as an animal sanctuary, but will also be a green child education camp. It's a completely sustainable agriculture farm, which is exciting because our natural resources are going out the window as we use them at an exponential rate. If you want change, it has to be generational. The bureaucracy that's already in place is not going to change, but if you can empower and educate the next generation, you've built an entire generation of compassionate, activated people who want sustainability in their world. We're also in the LED business with Go Green Mobile Power. The company that builds our lights, CREE, just invented an LED lightbulb that looks like the incandescent we're so used to seeing but uses 84 percent less energy. You get a 10 year warranty on a lightbulb that costs $10. I'm partnering with them to launch it because I believe in them so much. It's honestly the coolest invention since the lightbulb. These innovations are literally going to change the world.
The Vampire Diaries airs Thursdays at 8 p.m. on The CW.