One of The CW’s most anticipated new series for the upcoming fall season is The Vampire Diaries’ spin-off The Originals. The sexy drama, set in the city of New Orleans, will follow Original vampires Klaus (Joseph Morgan), Elijah (Daniel Gillies) and Rebekah (Claire Holt), who quickly find themselves in the middle of tensions between the town’s supernatural factions, which are nearing a breaking point as the city’s leader, Marcel (Charles Michael Davis), commands his devoted followers and rules with absolute power. The show also stars Phoebe Tonkin, Daniella Pineda, Leah Pipes and Danielle Campbell.
During this recent exclusive phone interview with Collider, actor Daniel Gillies talked about how much fun he’s had on The Vampire Diaries, how he felt about Elijah’s relationship with Katherine (Nina Dobrev), the experience of shooting the backdoor pilot for The Originals in New Orleans, that the series itself will shoot primarily in Atlanta (where The Vampire Diaries is shot), and that he’s hoping for possible cross-over episodes between the two shows. He also talked about the challenging experience of making his directorial debut, Broken Kingdom, which you can now view on Showtime, along with the documentary about his journey with the film, Kingdom Come. Check out what he had to say after the jump, and be aware that there are some spoilers.
DANIEL GILLIES: It’s been really fun. It’s amazing that I’m still around within the series with the fatality rate on the show. One can’t be too comfortable. I’m blessed that I’m still a participant in a show that I love with a family of creators that I love. Am I surprised at the direction? The answer is no. I had done very few episodes before Julie [Plec] started talking about doing the spin-off. It’s been in the works for awhile. Honestly, about two years ago, I knew about the spin-off. So, I wasn’t surprised that the idea was followed through because when Julie Plec gets an idea, it’s going to come to fruition because she’s just so damn determined and unyielding. But that said, the manifestation of it happening as quickly as it did, two years is not a very long time from conception to actualization. I thought this might be something that happened literally in 2015, or something. I didn’t imagine it would be so immediate.
What did you think when you found out that Elijah had been off having a relationship with Katherine?
GILLIES: I was surprised that he wasn’t having more affairs with more people. I imagine, being an ancient vampire, he would have mistresses all over the place. Somebody even quipped that wouldn’t these guys be bi? Well, you never know. I’m certainly not. I’m sure legions of teenage girls do not want to hear that. But, if these guys are living forever, I’m sure there’s nothing they haven’t really dabbled in. I’m sure that they have women around the world. There’s got to be a veritable harem scattered around the globe.
How did it feel to do the backdoor pilot for The Originals, with such a great new surrounding cast?
GILLIES: I thought it was one of the best episodes of the show that I’ve seen. And I’m not just saying that because it was ours. I was just so pleased with it. It does shock me a little that the ratings weren’t through the roof because it was just so pitch perfect. I thought Chris Grismer, our director, was just so good, and Julie wrote it in such a way that was just beautiful. I even loved the Katherine and Elijah stuff, which seemed like a departure. It seemed like he was saying, “Adios.” There was something so wonderful and romantic and heartbreaking about that. I just felt the execution of it was pitch perfect. Charles Michael Davis (who plays Marcel) is going to be a marvelous pillar in the temple of the thing. He’s really very commanding and extraordinarily charismatic. Apart from anything else, we need a black vampire. That, alone, was something that needed to happen, a long time ago. That sounds almost condescending, but it’s exciting. It brings a whole other texture to the concept of immortality. It brings a whole other culture texture, which to my mind is beautiful and exciting. And he’s just such a dangerous, charming and malevolent spirit. The disappointing thing to me, in the episode, was that Elijah never had a scene with Marcel. You’re like, “How are the two of them going to respond to one another?” That’s going to be really interesting.
How was the experience of shooting in New Orleans? Did you feel like the vibe of the city really add to the story you were telling?
GILLIES: Yeah, unquestionably. The feeling of New Orleans is so pervasive. It’s such a strange and decadent and enchanted embrace that that city has. There’s a dark magic present. It’s no wonder that it’s been the hot bed for so much vampiric folklore, and I’m not just talking about Anne Rice. It’s ideal. It was also one of the birthplaces of the New World, which makes a whole lot of sense. The city has got an ancient quality. It’s one of the oldest cities in North America. It was the perfect location, and it added a perfect dynamic for the piece.
GILLIES: We’re going to be shooting most of it in Atlanta, and try to shoot occasionally in New Orleans. New Orleans is a little impossible, the reason being that it’s unpredictable and it’s cacophonous. It’s Disneyland for drunks, and that doesn’t necessarily lend itself to the production, as kindly as it could, which is unfortunate. When you have the liberty of more time, like we did with the pilot where we shot for 10 or 12 days, then that’s okay. But, if you’re trying to do your episodes in 10 days and you’re dealing with random frat boys or whoever screaming, or women hurling beads, or having beads hurled at them for their exposed breasts, you’re in big trouble. You’re not going to be able to meet your deadline. Unless you want to spend millions of dollars a season on ADR-ing everything, you’re not going to get what you need. It would be like trying to wrangle salmon with your hands, or lasso dolphins. It’s just not going to happen.
Is Julie Plec going to be the showrunner for the series, or will she just write some of the episodes? Are you aware of how that will work?
GILLIES: I haven’t been made aware of what that situation is going to be, just yet. I’ve been told some ideas of how that’s going to work, but I don’t know exactly how that’s going to be.
What’s it like to be able to explore these characters more deeply than you were able to on The Vampire Diaries?
GILLIES: Certainly, it becomes more personal. There is now a degree of history that you can explore. One of the reasons why Julie is so wise to do it with these protagonists is that it’s a large open canvas. Rather than these 200-year-old vampires that you have in Stefan (Paul Wesley) and Damon (Ian Somerhalder), you have Elijah and Klaus (Joseph Morgan), who are over 1,000 years old. It opens itself up to a whole lot more epoch and history that we haven’t explored yet, and it opens the door to a slew of other potential characters that they could have met through the centuries. It allows it to be richer and more central.
Does it feel sad, at all, to leave The Vampire Diaries to move on to The Originals, or does it feel like a door is still open for cross-over episodes, in either direction?
GILLIES: That’s a really good question. I love working with those guys over at The Vampire Diaries. I hope there’s room enough for a cross-over. That’s going to be up to Julie. I would be delighted to go back and work with them further, and I’m sure Joseph feels the same way. But, it’s also this exciting new frontier where he and I have new responsibilities, and that brings its own degree of excitement.
What was your first reaction to the pregnancy storyline? Was that something that you were scratching your head about, in regard to how it could be possible, as much as the viewers were?
GILLIES: Well, it’s a very polarizing artistic decision that Julie made, and I think it’s a brave one and a great one. I think she made a really interesting choice. Lovers of a Klaus and Caroline (Candice Accola) union are, of course, devastated. The whole Caroline-Klaus thing was something audiences desired, but frankly, who cares? People are so whimsical about what they want, and they get so rough and so violent with it. I think that Julie will find a way to make a romantic interest for Klaus within New Orleans, and it might even be Caroline. Who knows? But whatever she does, she’s going to weave something that’s equally, if not more, interesting than whatever was happening in Mystic Falls. It’s hard for people to surrender what they champion for so long. Klaus certainly has more to lose by leaving Mystic Falls than Elijah does, at the moment. I’ve been lucky, going around and doing other shows, and my own projects. Because I’m an intermittent character who would occasionally pop up, it’s not like I’m heavily manacled to Mystic Falls.
GILLIES: I’m so delighted. I couldn’t be happier that we found a home with Showtime. It’s just a crazy dream that’s really beautiful, but it’s one that I didn’t instigate. The two directors of Kingdom Come, the documentary about the making of Broken Kingdom, were really the ones who got the deal in motion. Those directors, whose names are John Murphy and Paiman Kalayeh, submitted it to Showtime without me knowing. When it got to a certain point with Showtime, John Murphy said, “I think Showtime is interested in taking a look at Broken Kingdom, as a result of seeing the doc.” I said, “Oh, sure, send them along one.” The fact that they wanted to do a double feature, and then play them for the next couple of years, was crazy. I think I’d lost a good degree of hope, to be honest with you, because festivals have become so political. More often than not, I’m looking at the programming for these festivals and seeing appalling movies with recognizable actors in them. The festivals are really just promoting themselves, hoping that they can exist for another year. They’re not looking for the best film out of the 6,000 to 7,000 film applicants. Most of these festivals are not watching the films. I defy anybody to tell me that there’s a committee watching every film. They’re not really looking at them. So, I got really heartbroken during the process.
You have to understand that I grew up in a world of independent film where the way that you made it was that you’d make the film, and then it went to festivals. Hopefully, it would do pretty well at the festivals, and then it would go out in the world. It would be bought by The Weinstein Company, or whatever. But, that ended around 2004. That is gone. That doesn’t happen anymore. One or two films might sell at Sundance now. It’s a brutal world out there, and it’s not helping itself. It’s certainly not trying to elevate new, young talent. The new, young talents that are going to emerge as filmmakers are going to circumvent the whole film festival system because it’s not doing what it ought to be doing and what it originally set out to do, which was to try to promote people who didn’t have tens of millions of dollars at their disposal, like the studios. It was to promote important voices.
So, I got discouraged. I entered into several dozen festivals and got into four or five. You start to not believe anymore, and that’s wrong. There were so many heartbreaks with the film. The first great heartbreak was raising the money. Making the film was a great joy. Raising the money for post-production was the second heartbreak. I kept running out of money. The third heartbreak was submitting to film festivals. I just wasn’t ready for how despicably commercial and political it had become. And the cherry on all of that was Showtime showing our movies and having the courage to take a film like this, as well as the doc. The doc talks about the state of independent film, which is something that’s in decay and needs to metamorphosize and become something richer and new.
When you go through all of that, how do you decide to do it again?
GILLIES: Because it’s our job. That might sound like bravado, but it’s not. It’s the only thing to do. This is very important to me. This is more dear to me than my acting career. It’s more important to me that important stories get into the world. We’re living in a time where movies are very unimportant. They’re not leaving a footprint on your heart. We’re going to the movies now and we’re going, “Oh, man, that was cool! That was thrilling! That was a ride!” But, we’re not walking away anymore thinking, “I just experienced something that could change the way I live.” I think television, on the other hand, is doing splendid things. I think networks like Showtime, HBO and FX are doing things that no one is doing, and that independent film was doing 20 years ago. I think that television is doing far more exciting things than film. Film needs stubborn assholes, like me. It just does. I don’t care if people think that the next three, five or 20 films that I make or terrible. I’m still going to march forward because you need to be the change in the world today. There’s really only two choices. You can sit on your ass and complain, or you can do something about it.
The Originals will premiere on The CW in the Fall.