Change is afoot both on and off-screen for The Vampire Diaries' upcoming fifth season. On-screen, Damon is in a full-fledged relationship with Elena, Stefan's in a watery grave and the gang is headed to college. Off-screen, Caroline Dries (who has been writing for the show since season one) is taking on a bigger role as EP Julie Plec splits her TVD time with The Originals.
I caught up with the newly promoted executive producer at The CW's TCA Party on June 29 to find out what fans can expect in season five and found out what she didn't expect to confront this year.
ETonline: This is a pretty big year for you with the show. How are you feeling about taking on this new role?
Caroline Dries: It's really intimidating because the show is so hard to think of ideas for. It's so hard to break episodes and Kevin [Williamson, EP] and Julie have set the bar so high. At the same time, I've been working under them since season one when, for whatever reason, Kevin decided to invest his time in me. I just cherish that so much. I realized, they are their harshest critics, so when we break stories, I try to see things through their eyes. With such good teachers, I feel like my gut instinct is very close to what the right instinct is. I'm a fan of the show, I was a fan of the show before I started working on the show, so it's a matter of thinking about what the fans want to see because we want to reward them. It's easy to get bogged down in the mythology, so I just take a step back and think, what do the fans want to see? Do they want to see a moonstone or do they want to see Damon kissing Elena? Hello! [laughs]
ETonline: OK, so, what do the fans want to see?
Dries: That's a good question [laughs]. With a show in its fifth season there's a bit of a sense of "What haven't we seen?" What's great about our show is that all of the characters have so many dimensions, so we can see multiple sides to the characters. In season three we had Stefan as Ripper Stefan, but it was still Paul Wesley. This year we have Stefan as Silas, but it's still Paul Wesley, so I think what [fans] want to see is familiar characters working in different dynamics. They want to see what I want to see: sexual tension, love, romance, heartbreak; that's what any fan wants to see.
ETonline: Which storyline do you feel is the most heartbreaking this season?
Dries: For me, it's very obviously Stefan's storyline. And yes, Stefan does have a storyline even though he's trapped in a safe dying. It's so beautiful.
ETonline: Logistically is it tough to write for a guy trapped in a box?
Dries: [laughs] Um ... yes. For a while we toyed with the idea of showing Stefan once and then not seeing him again. But then we remembered he's a main character on this show [laughs]. So we sat and wondered about the best Stefan storyline to tell, and I think we landed on a good one.
ETonline: I remember watching a documentary about the movie The Bone Collector where the director talked about an on-set contest to find new angles to shoot Denzel Washington's character from. Anything like that going on with Stefan this season?
Dries: Are you saying we should have rewards for being creative? [laughs] Actually, I remember we had to name a group at the college and we couldn't think of a good, new name, so I just told everyone to start naming words [laughs]. That's the key, to see things from a different angle. Julie will often say that the reason we like an idea is because it was familiar. If that happens, she tells us to do the exact opposite, and that's such good advice. So if a scene or an idea or a line of dialogue feels too familiar, do the exact opposite with the moment and make it uncomfortable.
ETonline: How integrated is the college atmosphere?
Dries: I feel like when Dawson or Buffy or 90210 went to college there was always a weird shift in the show paradigm, so I'm hyper aware of [TVD] not suddenly feeling like a new show, and so is Julie. Hopefully it unfolds in an elegant way, but doesn't take over the Mystic Falls storyline. Plus the first chapter of season five is a bit more Mystic Falls centric, and then as the girls get to know college better, we'll let that world unfold a little more. It's not college all the time at first.
ETonline: This season also features a Damon we haven't seen before. What was it like writing for Damon in love?
Dries: When I sat down to write Damon happy, I was like, "Oh my god!" [laughs] I had no idea what he sounded like as a happy character. Damon's never been in a relationship; he's slept with girls and had girl/boy dynamics in his storyline, but he's never been overtly open about his feelings. But he's still Damon. That's what Elena signed on for. You don't start dating Mick Jagger and suddenly hope he becomes this other person. You get the rockstar. I think episode one is a good balance of him being loving towards Elena without giving up who he is.
ETonline: What are you excited for fans to see in season five?
Dries: I really hope they like it, but I also hope they appreciate that these are the same characters they've been following for five years. We've earned their love stories, this isn't a show where they're in love, out of love, get back together, break up. I mean, I would watch that show too [laughs], but that's not what The Vampire Diaries is. Because we've spent so long earning these love stories, you feel like you're in their relationship, so the audience will feel like the love is earned. That's what I’m happiest about.
The Vampire Diaries premieres October 3 on The CW.