In the next episode of The CW series The Vampire Diaries, directed by Paul Wesley and called “Things We Lost in the Fire,” Damon Salvatore (Ian Somerhalder) will have to come to terms with the horrifically shocking actions he took after being rescued from the hell of the Phoenix stone while his brother, Stefan (Paul Wesley) attempts to help him regain his grip on reality. But things will not happen easily, as Damon continues to run from himself.
During this exclusive phone interview with Collider, actor Ian Somerhalder talked about how grateful he is to still be learning about his character, seven seasons after starting the show, Damon’s mental state, how challenging it will be for him to overcome what he’s going through, how Damon prefers to cope with adversity, Damon’s continued desire to be a better man for Elena (Nina Dobrev), what it’s meant to him to be able to direct episodes of the show, and that they’re not currently even thinking about the end point of the series. Be aware that there are some spoilers.
Collider: The last episode, “Hell is Other People,” was great because we got to see a side of Damon we haven’t seen before and learn things about his history that we didn’t already know. As the actor playing him, was it nice to get that insight, after seven seasons?
IAN SOMERHALDER: Yeah, I’m grateful for that. Thank you. You think you know a guy that you see, for seven years, on television, and then you get this true insight into what his struggles have really been and where it all stemmed from. There’s just so much value in that. It’s so gratifying for an audience and for us, who actually make the show, to have been able to see that. It was just a lot of fun. That’s what we want to make more of. The whole point is to do more of that.
Every time Damon takes a step forward with how he treats the people who care about him, he seems to take 10 steps back, as evidenced by the last scene in that episode. What sort of mental state is he in now, and is he even in a place where he can comprehend what he did?
SOMERHALDER: Going forward, the reality of it is that the aftermath of what he went through is actually going to be even worse. What ended up happening is that he killed everyone closest to him. He killed everybody, and now, after what he went through, the guilt he already felt for his mom and the PTSD of going through that experience anyway is going to literally amplify that and it’s going to become worse. Henry comes back and is haunting him saying, “You think you’re done. You’re not done. There’s still a lot more work to be done.” He’s just going to lose his mind.
It’s an interesting parallel to life. Life throws curve balls at you, and if you don’t learn how to hit them or even to bunt, you’re going to strike out. For Damon, it’s amplified by the fact that he’s174 years old. I’m 37 and I think to myself sometimes, when I do something stupid, “You’ve been around for 37 years. Why didn’t you think not to do that?” This poor basted has been around for 170 years and still makes mistakes that a 35-year-old man would be making, or a 12-year-old boy would be making. He’s got a lot to learn, and I think this next little journey is going to be quite interesting for him.
Stefan is going to try to help Damon, even though he hasn’t fully dealt with his own experience in the Phoenix stone. What will it take for these brothers to make it through to the other side, mostly intact?
SOMERHALDER: To be honest with you, Stefan is much more adapted, in every way. One of the good things that came about, as a result of Stefan’s journey, was that he did come to terms with a lot of it. Stefan is capable of immense suffering. Damon is not capable of immense suffering. If you look at how he lives his life, he treats the people he loves like shit. He self-medicates with blood and booze and adrenalin. So, it’s not going to be as easy for him. In life, we can stare adversity in the eye and say, “I’m willing to suffer for the decisions I’ve made and I’m willing to learn from them.” People who aren’t willing to suffer for the decisions they make, and medicate themselves or run from them, they end up running forever. It makes a pretty interesting character. You meet those people in life and you’re like, “Woah, you’re a bottle rocket, but you’re kinda fun to be around.” But other than that, you can’t really bank on those types of personalities because they’re too volatile. They’re always running from something within themselves. Damon Salvatore is no exception to that.
It’s been very impressive how you’ve all kept Elena a part of the show, even though she’s not physically there. How is Damon’s desire to continue to be a better man for her going to be affected by what he’s going through?
SOMERHALDER: It all stems from that and his desire to keep her close. The biggest thing he has to come to terms with is that he’s dangerous and he’s volatile, and he makes really bad decisions. His desire to have her close is actually the most dangerous thing for her, hands down. If he can relinquish that need and abdicate that throne of feeling that he has the power to protect her, and that he is her man and the mighty king of protecting Elena, and if he would just fucking stop for one second and really do the math and look at statistics, he’s put her in more danger than anyone she’s ever known or ever will know. So, this is going to be an interesting journey for him. It’s going to be fun for the audience to see what happens to him, after that crazy journey.
One of the cool things about this show being on as long as it has, it’s given both you and Paul Wesley the opportunity to direct episodes. What’s it like to direct your fellow actors, and to be directed by one of them?
SOMERHALDER: We know this show better than anyone, and we have the mutual respect of one another. One of our directors, who’s done a bunch of our episodes and is really good, knows what he’s doing, is super fast, knows a lot of the actors, has respect for the process and knows the crew really well said, “I can’t come in here and direct you guys. You know this show better than I do. I’m here to set up the shots, make you look really good and make sure we get all of the beats that are in the script, and I have no problem saying that. I love what I do, but I’m hired to come in here and tell this story, and I get that.” That’s part of the episodic director’s plight, which is, did I get all the beats? Did I get the shots? Did they look cool? Did I put a cool visual stamp on it? Are they producers going to like it? Are they going to bring me back? Meanwhile, the actors are saying, “I’ve lived seven years of my life on this thing and I know every actor very, very well.”
I’m going to make sure, from the actor’s standpoint, that they can walk away and be proud of it. Obviously, I will get all of the shots to make sure we have what we’ve set up as a show that the studio and network require directors to achieve, but I want to dig deeper. When it comes to Julie [Plec], who’s directing right now, or me or Paul, or one of our DP’s, like Darren Genet and Michael Karasick, who also direct, or our former First A.D. Michael Allowitz, who directs, or our A camera operator Geoff Shotz, who also directs, they have the ability to dive in more with us. When you get into the dynamics of how you direct actors that are in Season 7 of a show, it’s hard. Unless you’re really, really close to them and they’ve known you for years, or you come in with serious credentials, it’s hard. So, I’m really grateful that I get to be with my fellow actors who are like my family, and really dig deep and try to find those moments in their characters that mean something to them, not just from a directorial place. This is my show, too, and I want every frame of it to be great. I’m just super thankful to the studio, the network, to Julie [Plec] and Kevin [Williamson], and to the guys who made all of this happen.
If anyone knew what went into a 44-minute episode of television, they would not be so critical, in many ways. There’s so much that goes into making one of these episodes work, and sometimes they hit and sometimes they miss. I don’t envy anyone having to come up with this much material. The 22-episode television show is just a beast. It’s a formidable adversary. With 22 episodes, you’re shooting almost 200 days a year. How do you maintain crew morale, integrity and energy at that level, at that speed, all the time? I think we’ve done a pretty damn good job. This show, despite the fact that it’s a teen vampire soap opera, is one of the best looking shows on TV. I watch other television shows, that are huge television shows that are very large in size and that do well, and at least our show looks so beautiful because we work so hard at making it feel like a film. It’s a film experience, and that’s what you want.
Obviously, seven seasons into a show means you’re likely closer to the end of the show than the beginning. Have you had conversations about when that end point might be?
SOMERHALDER: Not really. It’s so much information to process that I don’t know how we’d even go about that right now. Right now, we’re just trying to get through this season.
The Vampire Diaries airs on Friday nights on The CW.