‘Vampire Diaries': Daniel Gillies on why we love vampires
Daniel Gillies plays formidable Elijah foe-turned-ally in Season 3 of “The Vampire Diaries.” After being resurrected for the fourth time in the series, Gillies shares his insights on the show’s star, Nina Dobrev, who plays small-town doppelganger Elena Gilbert, the future of the Original vampire clan and the classical nature of his character. But Elijah isn’t Gillies’ main focus — upcoming projects include the NBC medical drama “Saving Hope,” with “Smallville’s” Erica Durance and Michael Shanks, and a new film, “Broken Kingdom,” with Rachel Leigh Cook that he wrote and directed. This is Part 2 of an interview with Nardine Saad; you can read Part 1 here.
NS: You say Elijah has been around for 1,000 years, yet he’s still getting duped by “ludicrous nothings.” Do you consider Elena a “nothing?”
DG: I’m certainly not calling Elena nothing. Yes, that instance with the lake [was a nothing]. But the fact [is] that he can’t identify danger and yet he’s supposed to be — like all of the Originals — this formidable adversary. For some reason, he drops his guard too much.
NS: Does that affect how you play him at all — this really tough guy, yet somehow he’s still getting duped?
DG: I play him how they tell me to play him. [Laughs] That’s not strictly true. I definitely try and bring humor to him when there isn’t enough humor on the page. I’m always trying to bring humanity to him because, as historically and robotically as he can be written, I am always going to fight them and make him a person.
NS: In a recent episode, we saw Elijah going to Elena at the ball expecting her to give him intel about his mother. It seems like he believes they have this shared understanding of what his mother’s intentions are? Where is this coming from?
DG: In a weird way, he feels that they have some kind of special connection, which he’s not altogether incorrect about. They’re sort of battling at being honest with one another. Both of them, because they’ve both betrayed one another. They both would aspire to be loyal to one another — and in another universe they might have succeeded — but they’re failing miserably …. There is something deeper than romantic. I don’t understand it with them. There is a magnetism.
NS: It seems like there’s something going on there ….
DG: Maybe it’s Nina and I. We’re both colossal flirts! It’s true, you know. I think we just enjoy being in scenes with each other and maybe that’s what people are reading, they like flirting with each other, probably. I don’t know.
NS: She’s doing such a great job juggling all these different roles — Elena Gilbert and her predecessor, Katerina/Katherine.
DG: That’s a great job, that girl. Can you imagine what she had to do last season playing Katherine too? I never saw that girl rest. She’s like, what, 22? 23? It’s not hard for me to play deep admiration of that girl when I do truly admire her because of the sheer quantity of work that she’s doing and the way that she’s taking it on. She’s awesome. I’m always having fun with her. Even the other day we had to do some rough stuff, which I can’t tell you about. I’m extremely grateful to be doing this role and being with these people. It’s just a total blessing, you know.
NS: So if Elijah or the Originals ever had a spinoff show, what do you think it would be about?
DG: First of all, I think [showrunners] Julie Plec and Kevin Williamson would write the coolest show of all time. I can’t remember who conceived of this fantasy, whether it was myself or Joseph Morgan, or actually it might have been Julie Plec who planted this seed when we were having beers one night, but I’m pretty sure someone said, “Yeah, why don’t we get a corporate version of the Originals in New York that are white-collar criminals?” Every part of that sounds amazing. So I was thrilled by that idea and I’ve said it a multitude of times.
NS: It’d be neat to see them outside of Mystic Falls taking on more.
DG: Yeah, exactly. I mean there is a whole world out there and these guys seem globally threatening. [Laughs] Especially this family.
NS: Can you speak to the impact the Original witch will have on the rest of the season? This mother returning to forgive her family — she comes back to life touting forgiveness but she’s bent on killing them via doppelganger and blood-laced champagne. Where is this going?
DG: I think in a sense she’s going to use them quite a bit. That kind of a force — it’s brilliant writing, to be honest, brilliant. I think she’s going to do one of two things, she’s either going to destroy us all or make us stronger.
NS: What about Alice Evans [who plays the Original witch mother], what has she been like to work with?
DG: I adore her, I thinks she’s such a sweetheart. We have a lot of fun, she’s a very, very funny lady. She’s really generous and she’s very thoughtful and she’s a great big pro. I love actors who like to do really, really well. She just walks in and wants to give it everything she’s got. I love actors who treat every scene like it’s important, like it means something. You can get a little more flippant as you get older, especially because to a certain extent you do need to be sort of flippant to create a relaxation when you’re acting. You do need to be physically and mentally relaxed, but she creates this kind of energy within the scene — you can see it in the scene and it’s lovely and it reads really beautifully. I just really like her. She’s also really fun to be on set with.
NS: Why do you think “The Vampire Diaries” has such a broad fan base? Besides being geared for a younger TV audience, what makes it different from other vampire shows and films?
DG: Look, there isn’t a vampire show on TV that isn’t popular. It’s hard to say what’s different …. I think it has to do with the fascination with immortality, it has to do with very, very beautiful young men and women — all these beautiful men and then there’s me walking around. These kids are so pretty, it might be why people respond to Elijah, he looks a lot more human than the rest of them!
NS: Yes, they’re all really stunning!
DG: The show endures because they make what I consider to be the most compelling show on television. Seriously, from moment to moment you’re always going, “God, what’s going to happen next?” And that’s a skill! I don’t understand how they do it. They really deliver that all the time and they really trust their audience with the complexity and myriad of rules in the universe they come up with every week making their own lives difficult and yet they still manage to adhere to the universe that they’re creating and largely please the fans from week to week. There are real consequences in the world, too. People do die, people do get hurt and people do get lost. I think real consequences actually mean something. It’s important when fans are watching the show; they know it’s not like a sitcom and everything returns to normal the following week.
NS: You had a small role on “True Blood.” That being a much more adult show, which one do you prefer?
DG: I just prefer one where I’m on a set where I feel love and respected. I don’t even have to feel loved, I just have to feel respected and we’re on an even playing field. The reason I took that role on “True Blood,” which isn’t something I’d necessarily take now, is that I’d just taken three years off of acting and I needed the work. Frankly, the show is just so damn good. I had a lot of fun doing that, but would I do it again? I’d taken three years off to make my own movie, “Broken Kingdom,” and I needed to work so bad and — hell, yes — a hit show like “True Blood” comes along and they’re saying, “Do you want to do a guest spot?” I was going to take it. I was going to do anything I could. Luckily things have sort of evened out a little more now largely due to “The Vampire Diaries.” I think I can relax a little bit and perhaps be a little more selective and choose roles that have arcs. That’s not to sound in any way disrespectful to “True Blood.” I love the show and I admire the show and I think it’s great and I had a lot of fun doing it. It’s just that I couldn’t really do a role that has two or three scenes anymore at the moment, no. I don’t think it’s beneficial for me as an actor right now to do that sort of stuff, but at the time I was doing it I needed everything I could get my hands on. Frankly, I was in debt and I spent three years away from doing what I love doing more than anything in the world.
NS: And “True Blood” requires a lot more nudity than “The Vampire Diaries.” Would ….
DG: I’d do it! I would do it if I loved the role enough! I think that everything is really case specific.
NS: Can you tell us more about Tatia, Klaus and Elijah’s shared love interest? There was a brief mention about her at their dinner party with Damon and Stefan. She was the Original Petrova that spawned all these doppelgangers, Katherine/Katerina and Elena, wasn’t she?
DG: You know as much as I do. I’m not trying to be elusive here. What I said in the “Bringing Out the Dead” episode, she’s basically like Elena and eventually I don’t think it’ll come out as a big surprise to the fans. When we saw Katerina when we went back a few centuries to visit her, we saw that there was already a bit of a contest for the woman, but certainly a mutual admiration. We seem to find a common ground for women, that’s for sure.
NS: Since we’re on the topic of love interests, can you talk about what’s up with Klaus’ fascination with Caroline? And will Elijah get a love interest anytime soon?
DG: I don’t know if Elijah will be getting a love interest anytime soon; it’s not something that I angle for, to be honest. It’s a difficult one, really. Truthfully, when I see things like that it just looks to me like sort of a titillating flirtation with the fans when I see writing like that. It doesn’t look like anyone sincerely wants to see them get together. Who knows, I could be wrong, maybe they do want to create some kind of union out of those two characters. I’m not really interested in who gets together with who. I’m much more interested in these Shakespearean machinations that Julie Plec seems to be laying out.
NS: Yeah, you have this brother vs. brother situation and now these siblings are back from the dead. Can you talk about what it means for these Originals to be running around Mystic Falls, practically running the town. What direction is this trajectory headed in?
DG: I don’t know in which direction they’re headed, necessarily. I don’t know where Julie is taking us but I know that’s she’s got a plan, that’s for sure. Again, she does a very artful thing of not letting the actors know and letting us be perhaps one or two steps ahead of you, the viewers. We’re as surprised as you are, unfortunately, which makes ultimately horrific interviewees.
NS: Well, how soon do you get the scripts before you’re acting it?
DG: Sometimes a day before.
DG: I’m not kidding. Literally, we get it moments before. Tops, like, a week. Tops. But usually it’s like three or four days before and sometimes as late as a day before we begin. So, really, we’re in the dark. They’re also juggling the huge jigsaw pieces. I think that also they don’t want people to run off believing in one thing they see in a script when it actually might be kind of removed from the script in the following draft.
NS: Every project brings a new set of challenges and surprises. What were some of yours on “The Vampire Diaries”?
DG: Just how many times I’ve had to die has been really challenging. I’ve died four times, four resurrections. So that’s been a little bit challenging because I think “I want to die a little bit differently this time” or “when I come back this time …. ” You’ve got to bounce within the lines that they draw in the sand as the writers.
The surprises have been just how much I love being on this show with these people. It’s such a wonderful surprise. I’ve never had a boss like Julie Plec, and Kevin Williamson has been absolutely charming as well, although I’ve had less to do with him. Just to be in an environment as an artist where you’re heard and when you say something, it’s taken into consideration. It’s not just “oh, another actor putting in another idea here.” Nobody’s rolling their eyes, you know what I mean? [Laughs] Or if they are rolling their eyes, I’m not seeing it. The thing that people forget is that it is collaborative. The fact that these guys not only listen, but really listen and try and help you with your idea and try to collaborate with you, it’s just, it’s special, man. I can’t say enough great things about that working environment. It’s just a pleasure to go back to that set, it’s always been a pleasure and that was the biggest surprise with me.
NS: OK, I have to know, if you had to pick one, would you choose Team Damon or Team Stefan?
DG: I choose neither! I choose Team Elijah or Team Klaus!
Here’s a look at Gillies’ “Saving Hope” trailer:
– Nardine Saad
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