On The CW series The Vampire Diaries, currently in its final season, everyone is still fighting for Damon (Ian Somerhalder) and Enzo’s (Michael Malarkey) souls while Sybil (Nathalie Kelley), the Siren controlling them, is exploring new and more sadistic ways to make them all regret that. While Stefan (Paul Wesley) and Alaric (Matt Davis) team up to uncover the origins of the mysterious force they’re up against, they must also decide when the actions of Damon and Enzo will pass the point of no return.
During this exclusive phone interview with Collider, actress Nathalie Kelley talked about how much fun she’s having with playing evil, why this role was the right fit, balancing Sybil’s humanity and depravity, whether we might feel some sympathy towards this Queen mean girl, how what she was most nervous about with the role is also what she was most excited about, what it was like to join this cast in the show’s final season, and that we’ll learn more about Sybil’s possible downfall. Be aware that there are some spoilers discussed.
Collider: It’s been so fun to watch you be the Queen of evil this season!
NATHALIE KELLEY: I’m surprised at how much fun I’m having, playing this supremely evil person. I’ve never done a character like this. I’m really enjoying it! I’m finding it comes quite naturally, which is frightening.
How did you come to The Vampire Diaries? Did you just go through an audition process for the role?
KELLEY: I’ve actually been auditioning for the show for awhile. None of the other roles before this were the right fit and nothing really worked. Julie [Plec] had known me for a couple of years, and this was just the perfect fit. There’s a reason the others didn’t work. This is the role for me. I went through the regular audition process, but Julie knew what she wanted. It had to be the evil to end all evils, and I guess I pulled it off. But what we both agreed on was just how much fun this character, Sybil, has with being evil. She relishes in the manipulation. She’s sadistic. She likes controlling people and watching them suffer. She takes a lot of pleasure in it. She’s very old, so she has to come up with increasingly sicker games to interest her.
Because she really is the Queen mean girl of all mean girls, how intimidating is it to play the embodiment of evil?
KELLEY: When you work on a character for the first time, you’re like, “Is this going to be evil enough? Is this what they want?” And then, I started to really settle into it. Now, I’m in the flow. It’s really easy for me to turn that on now. I don’t know where I’m getting all this evil from, but it comes through.
How do you approach playing a character like this? Is it about finding the balance between how much humanity and how much depravity you should inject her with?
KELLEY: Yes, that’s a really good way of putting it. I take cues from the director, and usually they want to go more depraved. I’m like, “Does she feel bad for this person, at all, in this scene?” They go, “No!” And I’m like, “Okay, just checking!” This is a cool episode coming up because, of all the episodes, it’s the one where you really see her humanity the most, literally. She talks about what she was like, before becoming a Siren, and her tragic childhood and the things that happened that led her to being the evil being that she is today. Hopefully, people will get to see another side of her and cut her some slack. Behind every evil person is some really awful, dark wound in their past, and she definitely has more than a few.
Will we start to feel some sympathy for Sybil, or are we still just going to mostly hate her?
KELLEY: I hope so! I don’t know how people are going to react. There have been some pretty strong emotions about my character flying around. I hope this gives people more of an insight into why she is the way she is, and I hope they have some compassion for her. But just because she reveals all this stuff about her past, it does not mean she is trying to stop being evil. There’s definitely a lot more evil to come from her, as the season continues. There’s not repentance, in any way.
Especially knowing that this is the final season of the show, when you started to think about this character, who she is and what she would mean not just to the characters but to the fans of the show, what were you most worried about and what were you most excited about?
KELLEY: I knew that by going into Damon’s memories and replacing Elena, that would really mess with the fans. I guess worried was one thing that I felt, but I was also excited about that. I was just like, “Wow!” When Ian and I were filming the scene and I put on Nina Dobrev’s clothes, it was a trippy thing. Ian was like, “Oh, wow, this is really going to mess with the fans!” But it was not until I saw it all together and the episode came out that it really hit me, the gravity of what Sybil had done.
What’s it like to join a show like this, where it’s the eighth and final season and you’re coming in to really shake things up? What was your first day on set like?
KELLEY: I was nervous, at first. Like on any show, people are a family. I knew they were all really tight knit and they definitely have a lot of history. You never know, when you join a show like that. I’ve never joined a show in its eighth season. It’s a new and interesting experience. It’s been amazing! Everyone was really warm in welcoming me. I’ve actually made some really wonderful friends on this show, which was surprising. I thought, going into it, that there were probably all of these mixed feelings about it being over and that they’d be so tight knit, but I’m coming out of this show with a lot of life-long friends, which is awesome.
Without giving anything away, what can you say about what Sybil’s true motivations and goals are, and are we going to learn about them anytime soon? Do we have any idea what she’s really up to?
KELLEY: I can’t really speak to her master plan. At this point in the season, it’s still evolving. You’ll learn more about that, down the line. At this point, she’s really just enjoying being out and not being a creature in a pool of blood. She’s enjoying going out and wearing nice clothes and making people do her evil bidding. She’s really having a good time in Mystic Falls. That’s her motivation right now. She just wants to satisfy her sick urges and cravings, sadistically, with this small town.
Do you think there’s any situation where she would willingly let go of Damon or Enzo, or both of them, or is it too much about control for her?
KELLEY: No. For what reason? She would never! It would never even occur to her. They’re her toys, and nobody is going to take them from her without her giving them a fight.
We’ve seen that Sybil is not as infallible as she likes to make people think she is. Will we start to learn more about what her weaknesses are, or where her downfall might come from?
KELLEY: You’re already seeing elements of it with the tuning fork, and yes, that does become a big part of the storyline. You’ll learn about what that tuning fork really is and what it does, and you’ll start seeing chinks in her army, in terms of her infallibility.
It seems like a lot of her anger stems from jealousy, whether it’s directed at Bonnie for Enzo or Elena for Damon. She also seems to not want to be having to work as hard as she’s had to work with them. Is that a fair assessment?
KELLEY: For an immortal, she’s really petty and she holds grudges. She’s not an evolved person, despite being alive centuries. If she does not get everything really quickly, she takes it really personally. She’ll go to extreme lengths to punish the people who don’t do what she wants. She has nothing else to do with her time. She’s never gonna die, so she’s just gonna work through these vendettas and take a sadistic pleasure in that. You’ve gotta do something, if you’re immortal. You’ve gotta have a passion, and hers is making people suffer.
Aside from the writers, the actor playing the character knows them the best. How do you feel about Sybil?
KELLEY: I like how unrelentingly bad she is. I love that! She’s really committed to this evil thing. She’s focused. I like her show really goes after what she wants. I also like how much fun she has. You’ll learn that a lot of these circumstances were forced on her, but she makes the best of them. She’s gonna enjoy this evil thing.
The Vampire Diaries airs on Friday nights on The CW.