The 10-episode Netflix drama series V-Wars, inspired by the graphic novels of the same name, is set in a frightening and all-too-real world where climate change and disruption leads to the release of a long-buried disease that transforms the best friend of Dr. Luther Swann (Ian Somerhalder, who is also a producer on the series). The more it spreads and changes society, pitting normal people against the growing number of vampires, Swann finds himself desperate for answers to understand what’s happening.
During this 1-on-1 phone interview with Collider, actor Ian Somerhalder talked about why V-Wars drew him back into the world of vampires, after eight seasons on The CW series The Vampire Diaries, what attracted him to this character, how socially relevant this story is, that we can learn a lot from a story like this, what it’s like to be so hands-on with the series, how the experience of directing on V-Wars compared to the episodes he’d done of The Vampire Diaries, why they wanted this world to also be scary as hell, and his hopes of continuing to tell this story.
Collider: After coming off of a vampire series that ran for 8 seasons, it would be understandable, if you wanted to avoid ever being a part of another vampire story again. So, what was it that got you interested in this, and how did you end up getting so involved?
IAN SOMERHALDER: You have a very legitimate point. You really do. My team has been with me for so long. My agent is like a big brother to me. We’ve been together for 23 years. My manager has been with me for almost 20 years. My attorney has been with me for over 20 years. I’ve been with my publicist for 16 years. So, when we make decisions, we make decisions as a group. It’s like a family. It’s a very dynamic group. And yes, initially, I said to my managers, “Guys, I’m not sure that this would be the most perfect scenario.” And they said, “Look, this is a very different world. You would be a creative force behind this, in this world. There’s the social relevance of it all. There’s an immense amount of IPs, with five books that Jonathan Maberry put together with his incredible team of writers. It’s graphic novels that are not just great visual references, but story references and character references. It’s an amazing piece of IP. It’s beyond socially relevant.”
The Vampire Diaries books were written in the ‘90s and had a very specific tone, which was awesome and very YA, but it transcended the demographic, for sure, all the way up until late adulthood. But this is relevant now. This is dealing with these things that we are dealing with in society – borders, racism, disease, fear, politics, the politics of fear and how it’s injected into society. There are these big tent pole things that we’re dealing with, and it all happened as a result of climate change. And it’s not some liberal hoopla. Climate disruption is happening. Glaciers are melting rapidly. The permafrost is melting. And the idea for where this came from was that, as this ice melt, it’s exposing biomass pathogens, it’s exposing bacteria, it’s exposing viruses, and it’s exposing things that have been kept safely encased in ice for hundreds of millennia, and possibly millions of years. And these are diseases and viruses that we haven’t had to contend with, since we were living in caves, or even before. That, in and of itself, I was like, “Wow!” Plus, I’m not playing a vampire. I’m playing a scientist, and I’m also playing a father, which were things that I wanted to play. Coming off of The Vampire Diaries, I so badly wanted to play a character who was a superhero, but where his super powers are just being a good father and being a good scientist. He’s just a good dad, a good scientist, a good husband, and a good guy. To me, people who are good scientists, great dads, and great husbands are superheroes because everything around them spreads in a positive way. To me, that’s a superhero.
What we found out, though, is that people don’t want an ordinary hero. They want an extraordinary hero, so we went to great lengths to make sure that the metamorphosis and arc for Luther Swann was dynamic, powerful, and palpable. And so, we set him on a course, by the end of Season 1, that is very unexpected and where this world is rapidly deteriorating. It lends itself to amazing storytelling. These dynamics with this diverse, amazing cast really tells a great relevant story. For me, V-Wars is the what if. What if this happened? What happens when there’s so many Bloods that commercial airlines have to stop flying? What happens when telecommunications companies start suffering because people aren’t paying their bills? They’re sick. It’s like cancer. It’s destroying communities, destroying homes, and destroying economies.
These are big issues, and all happened as a result of climate change. It happened as a result of rampant glacial deterioration. A lot of problems that we’re gonna see are gonna come from this. It’s coming, and it’s not just in this show. This is coming from the scientific community. Every single week, there are new concerns coming from scientists. With the melting of permafrost, the amount of viruses and pathogens that are gonna be exposed are very bad for humanity. We won’t have the tools and the vaccines to protect ourselves from this, and it has the potential to cause widespread epidemics. In the beginning of the show, as Luther Swann is trying to bring the global scientific community together, to make sure that they’re pooling their resources to get ahead of this thing. Scientists are now talking about this, as we speak, and it’s happening. That’s what I also love about this. This is relevant, and I think there’s a lot we can learn from it. When something is already happening, you don’t have to bludgeon your audience over the head with your point of view. Who cares what I think? This shit is actually happening in our world, as we speak, and that’s what is so powerful.
And at the same time that you’re exploring a subject that you’re clearly very passionate about, as a producer who’s more creatively involved, what’s it like to then finish the show and hand it over to the network?
SOMERHALDER: It was a huge relief. The episodes are delivered, technically, on paper, but we are still doing what’s called drop-ins. We have hundreds of visual effects shots that are our visual effects team of 80 people is working on, around the clock in Toronto, to finish this stuff. There are so many elements that are still happening. I literally just finishing approving five effects shots that are incredibly necessary. It’s such an immense amount of work, but it’s so neat to be a part of it, at this level. I’m grateful for the skill sets that I picked up on The Vampire Diaries, over the course of 172 episodes. It’s an immense amount of information that is really serving me. I feel very blessed and I feel very confident that I picked up enough of these skill sets to make sure that I can do the best job that I can, on this show. You’re not always gonna win. Not every moment is gonna be perfect, and not every episode is gonna be perfect. In a network format, you’ve got a much longer runway. You’ve got 22 episodes. This is only 10 episodes, so it’s more condensed and way more intense, but incredible. To be working on this, from the ground up, to the very final stages of right before this show actually hits the service and they push that button and it goes global, we’re working morning, noon, and night to make it possible. I take great pride in that. The show has taken me away from my family, for months and months on end. This show has put me in the hospital because I worked so hard on it. And so, it means a lot to me to get this first season out, that really steps up the world. It sets up just a taste of where we can go with this and how we can really make this global and dynamic as hell, with a diverse group of amazing women and men writing this thing.
Because it is a different kind of production than you had been used to with The Vampire Diaries, did that change how it felt to also direct an episode? How did that aspect of the experience compare to what you had done previously, in that regard?
SOMERHALDER: Obviously, The Vampire Diaries was a very well-oiled machine, on the air for eight seasons, so we had this really amazing set-up. Going into, V-Wars, we purposefully didn’t have me directing anywhere in the front of the show. I did Episode 9 because we needed me to be settled in the role, I needed to be rested, and we needed to be farther down the road, as a team, as a group, and as a production. By the time you get to Episode 9 of 10 episodes, you’re a very well-oiled machine. And so, how it compared was that I didn’t have my The Vampire Diaries family, but I had my V-Wars family, and what’s amazing about having a family like that is that no one wants you to fail. You’re part of a team where, when one cog in the wheel falls apart or fails, everything fails, and you don’t want that. So, it’s this incredibly supportive, amazing environment. I worked my ass off, as the lead role of the show, as an executive producer, as a director, and as a creative force behind the show, to make sure that the environment was inspiring, positive, supportive, uplifting, and respectful. If you ask people to give their blood, sweat and tears, and work their asses off, away from their families, morning, noon and night, then you damn well better give them an environment that they feel good in. Otherwise, those ideas are never gonna be executed in a way that’s fun. At the end of the day, if you get do something that’s creative and you’re not having fun, then you’re doing it wrong.
This show also looks terrifying, which I think is amazing in a vampire story. Just how scary, how violent, and how bloody will this series get?
SOMERHALDER: I love that you love that scary aspect. After being on a show for eight years that was so full of violence, I’m not a huge fan of violence, but I do recognize that there’s a level of it, when it’s in your face and it’s relevant, that’s okay. This show, I will say to you with confidence, and what’s so amazing about working with Netflix, is that we knew we had something special, and what we needed to do was have more time to craft these creatures and tweak the story to make it the most dynamic we possibly could. Fortunately, Netflix and IDW were amazing, and they gave us that ability, so we’ve been in post production for 11 months on a 10-episode show, which is unheard of. I’m so grateful for that because these creatures are fucking scary. If you were in a room with these people, you probably wouldn’t make it out, but you would run. The Vampire Diaries vampires were dangerous, but they were also sexy and cool. These are not. These are normal, good people that got exposed to a disease like cancer, and they turn into something that is beyond frightening.
We wanted to make sure that, as storytellers, we created a world, which while it’s grounded in science, medicine and form, it’s scary as hell. That’s what we wanted to go for. So, for you telling me that is like Christmas because these are things that we worked on, so hard. There are 80 people, working around the clock to make sure that these creatures scare you. Much like in a 28 Days Later scenario, this disease is gonna spread fast. Putting together a really diverse group of women and men, to push this story forward into Season 2, and really get into exploring this world, and creating controversial and social juxtapositions, that aspect of it is so delightful. I get to take from these amazing stories and give them to people, and inspire them to want to read the books and see the comics. I love looking through those graphic novels and reading these books and thinking, “Holy shit, when we put this on film, people are gonna lose their minds because it’s so relevant and so cool.” That’s how I wanna get under your skin and under your fingernails. I think that people will talk about the show because it means something to them. Hopefully, we have a hit show, and I can keep doing this.
V-Wars is available to stream at Netflix on December 5th.