Ian Somerhalder knows what you're thinking about his new vampire show V-Wars, if what you're thinking is "Vampires? Again?"
Even after eight seasons of playing the 100+ year-old vampire Damon Salvatore on The Vampire Diaries, Somerhalder found himself putting his whole heart and soul into a new passion project about a vampire epidemic taking over the world. And even though the show's about vampires, it probably couldn't be more different from TVD.
First of all, this time, he's not the vampire. Second, you probably won't be falling in love with these bloodsuckers.
"You know, I've heard that quite a number of times, and it makes sense, but what I would say is that...while Vampire Diaries was more of the sort of fantasy, this is a more grounded, I guess more scientific, medical side of it, meaning these vampires happen as a result of a disease," Somerhalder told E! News over the phone. "So they're not super old, there's no historical component of it, it's more happening sort of in real time."
That real time aspect is more of what attracted Somerhalder to the story, which is based on a comic series by Jonathan Maberry.
"What makes it interesting though is what they're going to have to deal with is a lot of what we're already dealing with in modern society," Somerhalder says. "So borders, racism, disease, fear, politics, the politics of fear, and how it's sort of pumped into the sort of zeitgeist of society. These vampires are going to be forced to form alliances and build out a society of their own, and it's going to happen quickly, right? It's a disease that's spreading rapidly, rapid deterioration of society, sort of in like a 28 Days Later-sort of way."
This is Somerhalder's first and only project since wrapping The Vampire Diaries, and he's not just starring in it. He's also an executive producer, and he directed an episode. It became a labor of love, and a major part of the draw was playing a character who wasn't Damon Salvatore, as much as he loves his former alter ego.
"Damon was a blast, right? He was, in all humility, in my humble opinion, I think he was one of the best written characters in history, like in television period. Guy was so cool. He's kind of an asshole, very selfish, but you felt for him. Because there was a certain vulnerability to him, and there was a certain fun quality to him," Somerhalder says. "You wanted to go down this road with him, but with Swann, I so very badly wanted to play a character who was a superhero, but you know what his superpowers are? Just being a good dad. His superpowers are being an amazing scientist. His superpower is being a good, devoted husband. You know why? Because great husbands, great dads, and great scientists are f--king superheroes to me, because everything around them spreads into a positive way."
Somerhalder says there were a lot of reasons he wanted to play this character, but taking on the acting and the producing at the same time proved tougher than he imagined.
"I set out to play this guy and listen, you'll never hear me complain, I'm grateful to do it, but instead of just showing up on set and hitting your mark and preparing as an actor, there's so many different elements that I'm responsible for when I show up on set, now as a producer, or as a director, or as a creative force behind the show. And it forced me to dig deep inside of myself, to the deepest, darkest levels of my energy reserves, and my physical, mental, emotional capacity. And it was amazing. I put my heart and soul into the show. I mean, the show put me in the hospital, I worked so hard, so it means a lot to me."
Apparently, Somerhalder over-exhausted himself to the point of having to go to the emergency room.
"Look, when you work really, really hard and you push yourself to great lengths, sometimes your body just says no, you gotta sit down, go chill out in the ER for four or five hours," he explained. "But you know, you learn. Those are thresholds. You learn your threshold and you learn what and what not to do."
As of three weeks ago, the show still wasn't fully completed. The shots had been delivered, but visual effects were still being worked on, and Somerhalder didn't yet feel like he could look back and feel finished. But he did say that being that close to a finished show was "an amazing feeling."
"Because it's been a 15 month road, and the last 11 months in post-production, which is pretty unheard of in a 10 episode show, and this isn't like Game of Thrones. This is a more grounded vampire show, but the reality is we just knew we had something special with this incredible IP, and we asked Netflix and IDW if we could really have more time to craft it and build out this world, and they granted us that time which I'm very grateful for. And you know, here we are."
So is this creative, on and off-screen work the future for Somerhalder's career? Hopefully, but maybe not forever.
"Listen, this is a passion of mine. I love this story. I wouldn't recommend this all the time to someone. This isn't like a sustainable way of living for sure, and at some point you do have to trust in your team. But unless it's like Soderbergh or Spielberg or Quentin Tarantino or something where I would probably not be producing alongside these people, I just don't see myself doing—at least not TV, in a sense that I don't have that ownership. It's just about input. It's about being able to craft a story," he says.
"After spending 171 episodes on a TV show and traveling the world the last decade and learning so much, not only about storytelling, but about fans, about audience, about what moves people, I feel like I'm just starting to hit my stride as a storyteller, and hopefully season one leads to season two, to season three, four and five because there is an immense amount of material here. And because it's dealing with such socially relevant, powerful themes, I feel like this is my sort of coming-out-of-the-box and applying all these skill sets that I learned on Vampire Diaries and Lost with incredible, incredible teachers," he continued, shouting out names like J.J. Abrams, Damon Lindelof, Brian Burke, Carlton Cuse, Julie Plec, Kevin Williamson, and Caroline Dries.
All that said, this isn't forever.
"I don't really intend on doing it too much more because it's not really sustainable. You know what I mean? I mean, I'm a father now. I really want to enjoy my child and my family and my life, but I really want to run with this story and make it great."
The first season of V-Wars is now streaming on Netflix.