“The Vampire Diaries” has killed off quite a few of both its beloved and despicable characters in its three seasons on The CW, but one character whom executive producers Julie Plec and Kevin Williamson keep bringing back is the Original vampire Elijah, played by Daniel Gillies. Elijah has returned once again to Mystic Falls at the hands of vampires Damon Salvatore (Ian Somerhalder) and his brother Stefan (Paul Wesley) to defeat the indestructible supernatural Klaus (Joseph Morgan), Elijah’s Original vampire brother who also happens to be a werewolf hybrid. Now their fearsome Original vampire siblings, who were created centuries ago by their mother — the Original witch — to preserve their lives from a plague, are wreaking even more havoc in the spooky town. Elijah might seem to be on the side of mortal Elena Gilbert, played by the show’s star, Nina Dobrev, but she still can’t be sure what his or any of the Originals’ motives are. Hero Complex contributor Nardine Saad talked with recurring guest star Gillies to figure out Elijah’s place among the Originals, his rivalry with Klaus and about his upcoming NBC medical drama “Saving Hope.” This is part 1 of the interview.
NS: How excited were you to return to the “The Vampire Diaries”?
DG: I love it. I love this show and I love being on it, I’ve never had more fun on a set than with these guys. It’s just so great. Although I will say I do love my new show. But that’s a whole different animal. We’re a little more giddy on the set of “The Vampire Diaries” probably because I joined them mid-second season. By that stage it’s sort of a well-oiled machine. I think there’s always a bit of tension in the first season of many shows where it has to get off the ground and it has to become a success. It has to just survive, basically.
NS: Which “The Vampire Diaries” has.
DG: Yes! This show really has, and it’s no wonder it has. It’s Kevin Williamson and Julie Plec, really, and it’s everybody else but those two really are an instrument in it.
NS: Had there been talk of you coming back to Mystic Falls when you left last season? Elijah had been pretty much killed off.
DG: Yeah, of course there was. For sure there was. It was sort of a strange thing for me because I didn’t realize really the weight of and popularity of the character until the end of last season because when they’re killing me once again, for the fourth time or whatever last season, it’s like, “Here we go again.” Truthfully I was dreading doing another death scene. I had done so many by that point it was becoming comical. I was thinking, “I’ll do what they tell me, but they must be getting me out of here.” Then Julie reassured me. She’s such a great person and such a great supporter of both myself and the character Elijah. So I kind of knew I was going to come back at some point. I didn’t know how early or late it would be, I just knew whatever they asked me to do, I’d come back and do it and that’s how it’ll always be for me with this show. I have sort of a soft spot for it.
NS: So can we expect to see a lot more of you through the remainder of this season?
DG: I’m definitely around. Whether you’ll see a lot more of me or not it remains to be seen. I can’t really share that information.
NS: Elijah is the first Original we ever met — and he was extremely menacing then, but he’s transformed and switched alliances so many times, nearly as much as Damon. Now he seems to stand out as the moral and skeptical vampire among his other Original vampire siblings. Why is that?
DG: I can’t really answer that; an audience member has to define that for themselves. My interpretation is — and I don’t want this to be construed as arrogant, nobody thinks I’m more of a mess of an actor than I do — there’s something about Elijah that people respond to, particularly in the beginning. They wrote him so elegantly in the beginning before I became a bit of a vehicle for exposition. In the beginning he actually represented what I think a lot of people think of what a vampire is. I really did take a good look at this, and I couldn’t understand why he was so popular …. What sets him apart is that he actually looks like a classical interpretation of the vampire, in my opinion. If you were to live a thousand years, you probably would look a little like Elijah. There’s got to be a degree of fearlessness. There’s got to be a degree of diminished hope in humanity. There has to be a slightly jaded element but there also has to be a flicker of recognition at the cycles of life …. I wanted to be a kind of classical interpretation of the vampire because everybody else was so very modern [on the show].
DG: I’m not talking about Bram Stoker-ing it out. If we get too old on this, if we get too Shakespearean then people won’t be able to relate. What’s actually happening, I find, is the less these characters say and the more that they behave in a way that seems true to what they are [as vampires], the audience adores them. The audience doesn’t need them to endear themselves to the audience. They don’t need it. They don’t need him to be a “good guy.” They adored him when he wasn’t. They adored him when he was this malevolent force of vengeance. I think that for some reason when Elijah was this animal that you saw prowling around the outside of these mortals, people were like, “Wow there’s a genuine threat here. There are genuine stakes.” And I guess it’s in the writer’s ping-pong back and forth regarding who’s powerful where it’s confusing who actually has power and strength. Can you imagine writing what these guys have to write? They’ve actually set up so many conventions and rules for themselves that it’s extraordinarily difficult for them to make a change to stay within those parameters — even as immensely talented as those writers are. I can’t imagine how hard it is to write.
The thing that sets Elijah apart from the rest is that he’s actually threatening. At the same time he has a degree of humor. I think that he represents what people traditionally conceive a vampire would be like. Again, I don’t want this to sound like a compliment to myself [laughs]. That’s what we accidentally ended up with and it’s sort of a magical, wonderful and inexplicable thing.
NS: Would you say that he’s more menacing than Klaus? Because I don’t think that’s the case.
DG: Klaus is written more menacing than Elijah, but I definitely think they’re toe-to-toe with each other. Elijah is written less menacing. There’s this scene where we’re confronting one another, he has to have the upper hand in the writing, but I think Elijah is the most menacing character in the show, yeah, for sure.
NS: When Elijah is competing with Klaus — as we’ve seen them sword fight and vie for their father’s attention as mortals in the past — what gives Elijah the upper hand and what do you think his downfall could be?
DG: He’s not written more menacing, I think he just sort of is. But he doesn’t have an upper hand. I think we sort of got lucky with Elijah a little bit in that for some reason he’s just naturally more menacing but I think that he’s written to be of a lower status and that’s fine. But I also think he doesn’t have any upper hand because the writing is responsible to Klaus. I think Elijah is more menacing but I find Klaus to be more calculating, more ruthless and more megalomaniacal and sort of hungry. In terms of just the adjective “menace,” Elijah is more menacing. No competition. But that’s just the way that we are created, you know what I mean? I believe Klaus to be more of a tactician, more reckless in terms of needing what he needs and going and getting it and that recklessness actually makes him a little less menacing, but that’s the character of Klaus. Does that make him a little less scary? No. In fact, that makes him almost more scary because you never quite know what Klaus is trying to do. Whereas, with Elijah you can kind of feel his intention and he’s not going to budge.
NS: What would you say is his best quality then? The fact that he’s this classic vampire?
DG: I like that he’s striving for something that seems to be a little beyond him. That’s very pretty. If anybody is striving to be better than they are and to have held on to that for 1,000 years. I think that Klaus has sort of accepted who he is.
NS: Is Elijah striving to be better version of a vampire?
DG: He wants to just be a good man. He would love to be a good man. I think he admires humanity when it flourishes. Certainly he’s seen men and women of genius come and go, you know. When he sees what human excellence can be he sees everything angelic and everything monstrous, and when he sees humanity trying to reach beyond itself in a sort of transcendental fashion, he adores it. I think Elijah truly just wants to be a good soul. I love that he’s striving for something pure. He’s failing. But at least he’s striving.
NS: That being said, what’s his worst quality?
DG: In what they’ve written, I would say, he just appears sort of stupid at times. He just appears foolish. He’s supposed to have been around 1,000 years and yet he’s sort of is duped by ludicrous nothings.
– Nardine Saad
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