On The CW drama series The Vampire Diaries, actress/singer/artist/filmmaker Persia White plays witch Abby Bennett, who abandoned her daughter, Bonnie (Kat Graham), more than 15 years ago. Even though an energy-draining spell essentially left her witchcraft dormant, Abby was still able to work with Bonnie to open the coffin containing Esther (Alice Evans), leading both to the binding of all her Original vampire children, and to a shocking event that will change Abby forever.
During this recent exclusive phone interview with Collider, Persia White talked about how she came to be a part of The Vampire Diaries, how much she loves working with this cast, her reaction to finding out that her witch character was going to have a significant transition, how she prefers not knowing what’s coming next on the show, and how being a part of this has given her a better understanding of the vampire craze. She also talked about what draws her to other art forms, and why she enjoys making documentaries. Check out what she had to say after the jump, and please be aware that there are some spoilers:
PERSIA WHITE: I just auditioned. I was interested when my agents told me about it, but the people who were choosing were not in L.A. It was a little bit of a process, but it was really worth it. It was very similar to when I’ve worked on shows like NYPD Blue. It’s just real reality based and very down-to-earth type of characters. The acting isn’t big. Everything is understated. It was really fun because I’ve done sitcoms and comedy for so long, which is really lovely, but this is close to what I was doing before I did Girlfriends. It’s fun to flex some different tools and go back to that.
Had you been familiar with the show at all, prior to being cast, or did you have to play catch-up?
WHITE: I played catch-up with the characters because it’s a very complicated show. When the show was picked up, I knew about it. I knew about Nina [Dobrev] getting the part [of Elena]. I had some friends that are regulars on the show, so I knew of it, but I didn’t follow it. I had just seen one episode, but you don’t really understand everything that’s going on when you only catch little bits and pieces. So, when I was up for the part, I did a little more research. And then, after I booked it, I had to do a lot of research, which was really fun. It’s much more interesting than, “Oh, I’m watching a show.” It goes back, and things are connected to other things. It keeps you much more engaged than I ever expected.
And from working on the show, all of the cast members are really quite humble. That’s probably part of the success. There’s no diva thing going on, over there. The guys are amazing. I love Ian [Somerhalder] and Paul [Wesley]. They’re wonderful. I’ve met almost every male cast member that’s a regular, and I love them. A bunch of my girlfriends immediately said, “Oh, you’re working with those hot guys. They’re divas, right? They’re assholes, right?” And I was like, “No, actually, they’re not.” I’ve been on sets where you look at the guy and think he’s going to be this great, nice guy, and he’s horrible. And then, I come on this show with this guys that are just beautiful and talented, and there’s no attitude. They’re great. I think it grounds them, and they’re humble about their show.
They don’t brag. I’m the one who’s always bragging because I’ve worked on so many TV shows that I know the difference. I’m comparing this set to so much, and they have an amazing cast, crew, chemistry and writing. That’s really rare. A hit show isn’t just a mistake. A lot of people are always trying to do the math as to what makes a hit show, but it’s having these different elements that are at a different caliber, and that are still grounded. I have nothing but good things to say, and I even have people think I’m lying. They’re like, “Come on!” But, I’m in heaven when I go to Atlanta. I love it, every time. I’m very excited to go back. I love it there.
WHITE: I am so loving being on this show. It’s been really fun. The vampire thing is just so wonderful. The witch thing was cool, but the vampire thing is the next level ‘cause I don’t see black female vampires. I think Aaliyah was the last time I saw that. I was like, “Why can’t that happen?” So, when they said that it was, I was ecstatic. As a vampire, she’s lost her witch powers, but I got to do some witch work first. I always think it’s fun to be enchanted in spells. There’s a cool supernatural nature there. But, vampire is the next level. I feel good about it.
Having just seen Caroline’s (Candice Accola) father (Jack Coleman) sacrifice himself, rather than turn into a vampire, how will your character be feeling about her new status?
WHITE: I can’t really say everything, but it’s a huge decision. The things that are going to happen for Abby are connected and rooted in the history of her daughter. Coming back into this world is very new because she rejected this whole world. The supernatural world is something that she has pretended isn’t real in her life, and now that she’s back in it, even as a witch, it was very difficult. And now, she has this new situation, and the decision to turn will be something that says a lot about where she’s at with her daughter (Kat Graham) and her responsibilities. I think that we’ll see some decisions made, and what happens will really reflect on where the character is, as a person. It’s a huge sacrifice, if she does turn. If she doesn’t turn, she’s abandoning her daughter. Both are very difficult decisions. I can’t say what happens, but we’ll see. The whole Bennett family line of witches has always been against vampires. If she does join that group, she’ll be betraying her family, to some regard. Even though her mother (Jasmine Guy) has passed away, the spirits of the witches are still watching and their essence is still aware. It doesn’t just die. So, either way, she’ll be betraying someone.
Did you always know that this would be the eventual path for the character, or was that something you learned later on?
WHITE: No, they really do keep the actors as in the dark as the fans. It’s like life. Our stories are unfolding as we live them. We get very short notice of what’s going to happen before it happens. We don’t know the whole path ahead of time. They base it around the scripts and, as the characters’ chemistries are developing, they write very fresh, new moments. They don’t preconceive everything. It’s very interesting and wonderful writing. They’ve been doing this for awhile and doing it well.
WHITE: Absolutely! I always do that. I’m a fanatic for that. Ironically, everything that I’ve come up with has completely fit with what has been written. Nothing has conflicted. And, I got together with Kat Graham before we starting filming and that was great because she really cares a lot about giving her character some history as well. Fans haven’t been able to see that until now. Over the first two seasons, her character was kind of a mystery. So, it was really nice to hear what her backstory is as well, just so I know, and then we have our own combined history. It’s a very fun process.
Is it fun to be a part of a show that has such big shocks and reveals that you guys are constantly kept on your toes as well, or is it hard to never know whether the next episode will be the one that they kill you off in?
WHITE: I never know if I’m going to die, but the truth is that that’s what we live in life. You don’t know if you’re going to get in a car today and there’s going to be an earthquake, or if you’re going to make it back home. You don’t know a lot of things in life. So, unlike other things I’ve done in projects where you do know the huge arc way ahead of time because they tell you a lot, or you have a movie script for six months before you film it, I actually prefer not to know. It keeps you a little on pins and needles because sometimes they may have decided to kill you, but then they decide to keep you a little longer because they really like your work. With this show, if they don’t like you, they can just kill you off so easily, and that goes for everybody. There’s the three main characters for whom that would be very unlikely, but it is possible. It’s not impossible.
WHITE: Yeah, there’s a couple. Some of the Originals are just wonderful actors, like Daniel [Gillies] and Joseph [Morgan]. I love Ian [Somerhalder] and Paul [Wesley]. I would love to do more with the vampires. That would be my favorite. I would be intrigued to be dealing with the problems that Damon and Stefan deal with.
Does being a part of this show give you a better understanding of the whole vampire craze and why fans are so devoted to this type of story?
WHITE: Absolutely, I get it now. I’ve liked a couple other things before. I liked working on Buffy the Vampire Slayer. That was one of the first things I did. Then, I was on Angel. I love the genre, but I hadn’t really seen any good vampire shows since then, until this one. I even liked the first Twilight a little bit. I liked the look and feel of it. I really love The Vampire Diaries because I like the show more than I like the books. I love what they’ve done with the show. I totally get it now.
Also, you can approach parallel issues. You could look at vampires versus witches the same as racial or religious groups, and people who have conflict with each other and don’t want their friends to join another group. There’s certain bias and hatred that goes on for hundreds of years, but it all comes down to family in love. I like that, in this world of mystery and vampires, we can explore things that we might not be able to confront, if we were actually calling them what they are. The friendship, family and love themes cross different lines, and I like that. I completely get it. The show has me into it, and I’m really picky. I’m not an easy sell, and I was really proud to be working on this show. I don’t know what will happen, but whatever happens, I just hope that I can do more.
WHITE: I love it! We have some things in common that are just so strange. We do the same thing with our hands, in the scenes. We both have music backgrounds, in real life. We have dogs that look the same. It’s just random stuff. It’s been really great to have that connection because we have fun, too. We laugh and have so much fun that they’re like, “Hey, guys, come on! Enough!” We just have so much fun. The chemistry is there, and it’s a good chemistry that’s a kindred spirit connection. It isn’t difficult to play a mother to someone who I do have a kindred connection to. I love working with her. She’s such a dedicated actress. She’s so strong. She’s never lazy, in any way. She doesn’t complain. She’s just so solid. I love her. It’s not easy, keeping a series for that many years. Having been on series, I know. She’s been through a lot, and she’s young and she’s doing great. I think she’s got a wonderful career ahead of her. Playing her mom, no matter what, I feel a connection to the show that is a little different than the regular guest starring role. Even if my character were to die, I still would be mentioned and I have a connection to her. That’s really nice.
Have you thought about collaborating together musically, at all?
WHITE: She’s got an album coming out. She just signed with a record label, and has her first single and album coming out. I’m just happy for her. That’s fantastic! It would be great, though. I’ll tell her your idea. Maybe we should do one song for The Vampire Diaries, and we’ll do a video.
WHITE: I started off as a dancer, like Kat. She was a dancer, too. And then, I became an actor very young. But, I didn’t know you could do this as a living. I was just having fun. I was a kid and I wanted to do everything. I do think that I need more than one [creative outlet] to go to. If I get stuck on a song, I’ll go paint. If I get stuck on a script, I might go work on a poem or a song. Even in one night, sometimes I’ll do three things. When I’m on fire, sometimes they’re all happening, and I’ll do three paintings, write a song and be working on a production, at the same time. I’m working on my own projects and I’m doing a documentary right now. I do think they feed each other. I feel like art and creativity are just one beautiful rainbow. They’re just different colors of the spectrum. But, I’m truly an actor. One of the things I love most is the versatility of being an actor. The other arts that I love so much are very linear. As an actor, I can explore so many different things and observe human behavior. I love that, more than anything.
What attracts you to doing documentaries?
WHITE: I did a documentary before, called Earthlings. This current documentary that I’m working on, I’m not actually able to talk about the details of, but it’s based around a city. It’s not really about a person. It’s about people and an environment. I love documentaries because it feels like it’s open, in a similar way to music videos and painting. It’s very open and not closed in, and it’s not about me. I enjoy looking out at other things more.