With her work on The Vampire Diaries and The Originals Julie Plec has played a major role in crafting a supernatural saga beloved by fans the world over, and helped define the CW as a go-to network for fun genre television. For years audiences have followed the adventures of Elena (Nina Dobrev) the Salvatore brothers (Ian Somerhalder, Paul Wesley), and since their arrival in the second season of The Vampire Diaries, the Original family, headed up by Klaus (Joseph Morgan) and Elijah (Daniel Gilles), have earned their own series and an equal place in the hearts of the fans.
During The CW’s portion of the TCA 2015 winter press tour I landed an exclusive interview with Executive Producer Julie Plec. During our conversation she talked about keeping the storylines on Vampire Diaries and The Originals fresh and unique to each other, the joy of writing for the same actors for so many years, the decision to get rid of the “other side”, giving Elena and Damon a moment of happiness, and more.
JULIE PLEC: It’s less difficult to not repeat ourselves, and more difficult not to bastardize from each other. When [Michael] Narduci made the joke that they’ll pitch something and I’ll be like, “Sorry you can’t do that.” It’s constantly trying to keep the similarities in my head so I make sure that the two stories don’t accidentally collide, which is hard because both pitches are valid and both shows really want to go down a certain road and I have to say to one of them, “I can’t do that.”
So how do you decide which one gets the story?
PLEC: I decide mostly what will have a greater, long term impact on the series itself. If a series can get more mileage out of it, if it’s more grounded in a character relationship that we’re really invested in at the time, whereas if on the other show it’s just a plot twist that gets us a good “wow” moment, but doesn’t really have a lasting effect.
What do you get out of writing for the same actors for this long?
PLEC: It’s perfect. TV writing, for me at least, is half original voice and half an embodiment and a representation of the spirit of the actors you’re writing for. Because they’re the ones – when you create the character you’ve got nobody in your head, or you’ve got like, Jennifer Lawrence, in your head. And then they come in and fill the role, so you’re listing to their voice, and meters, and patterns, and seeing what makes them sparkle and what their sweet spot is, and the more episodes you do the more you find yourself writing right into that pocket for them, and the more you get to know them, the more you write them in your head as well. So it’s a perfect way to feel comfortable with a character long term, because it’s a symbiotic relationship between the fictional character and the actor portraying the fictional character – at least for me. I like to delve into both of their worlds.
And as we’ve seen a couple times now, because you work in this wonderful, fantastical world of the supernatural, if you like these guys enough you don’t necessarily have to kill a character off for good. You can always find a way to bring them back.
PLEC: It was very important to us to be able to revisit certain character that we love dearly, and then of course we got rid of the other side and that was our portal, that was our way in, and now we have to take a break I think from resurrection, because the mythology that allowed us to do that has disappeared. We’ll see some people try to get clever with it, but when all’s said in done, like everybody’s said all along, every now and then death does need to have real stakes. So we’ll make sure that stays true as well.
Was that the major impetus behind getting rid of the other side? To raise those stakes back up?
PLEC: Yes, absolutely. Because at a certain point it just becomes too easy. Like, “Oh? You’re dead? You’re right over there. Ok, fine, you’re not dead.” And it’s time to lose some characters, too.
During the panel you guys mentioned that we’re going to see Elena and Damon happy for a bit, but sort of the nature of the show is that’s probably not going to last too long. Talk a little bit about striking the balance where fans get to have their moment and see their favorite characters happy without losing the drama.
PLEC: I think because every other relationship is in a tumultuous place right now being able to take one couple and allow them some happiness will be fun. It will be fun. I always talk about Meredith and Derrick from Grey’s Anatomy, and I loved them the most when they sort of opened and closed each episode with them in bed, happy with each other, and you didn’t need to insert extra conflict into them, because there was plenty of conflict in the show. So they were this port in the storm of conflict.
Obviously these shows are on the CW so there’s lots of sexy relationships, but both The Vampire Diaries and The Originals are really about family, too. Is that a dynamic you enjoy playing with?
PLEC: Yeah, for sure. It’s really about where you find your family, not necessarily from the traditional bloodline. You can love and hate your family with equal measure, but the power of the bond you have to have with them, you can’t really ever walk away. Whether it’s from a book, whether it’s from someone that you’ve raised and fostered like a parent, even if they’re not your blood parent. It’s themes that are super fun to explore because it lets people stay together despite doing a lot of horrible things to each other and getting in a lot of battles. It’s like thanksgiving dinner – all is forgiven by Friday leftovers.
How do you determine when and how much to crossover?
PLEC: We decided very early on, with the support and on the advice of Mark Pedowitz, to make sure each show could stand on its own without having to rely on the other. So surprisingly the first time we tried to do a crossover we actually had to talk that through and make sure we doing it for the right reasons, and we were, and we did, so we’ve had two successful crossovers with Michael Trevino and Nina Dobrev, and if something else comes up that feels as organic and necessary then we’ll do it again. But we’re not planning any stunty opportunity – although it works like a charm apparently [laughs]. I wish we had one. We’ve seasoned ourselves to make sure that each show has its own life and not to rely on the other.
Which crossover do fans clamor for the most? Is there one you’re constantly hearing about on Twitter?
PLEC: Well, you know, fans obviously want to see Caroline, but right ow Caroline is just deeply deeply embedded in her story on The Vampire Diaries. So it wouldn’t be organic. We’d be forcing something to make people happy – and as much as we like to make people happy – that’s when social media can influence your decisions. Caroline’s journey right now is so specific that there is no opportunity, but in a year? We never know. You never know.
How do you balance between having a long term story plan and knowing where your headed, but also taking things as they come and letting the story open up naturally?
PLEC: Yeah, you always open up as you go, because you can get in the middle of a storyline that you thought was going to be great and whether you made a bad casting decision or the other writers just didn’t latch onto it, it can kind of fizzle and then you have to find your way out of it faster than you want to. There’s a lot of storylines over the years where you feel like it’s maybe meant to be more important than it ends up being, and that’s because we jump ship and you gracefully extricate yourself from that as well as you can.
Catch The Orignals on Mondays at 8/7c and The Vampire Diaries on Thursdays 8/7c.