Too busy to stand still, IAN SOMERHALDER answers our interview in his car while driving to work in cold Atlanta, Georgia. He should’ve seen that coming when he joined The Vampire Diaries, the show that launched his career at high speed. It’s a chase, but that’s what he’s all about—going beyond limits for the thrill of it.
It’s three in the morning, the witching hour for some; but for me it’s usually the watching hour for television shows. It’s a jungle out there in my neck of the woods. There’s True Blood‘s maenads, werewolves, and werepanthers. There’s The Walking Dead‘s zombies. But it’s Ian Somerhalder playing the vampire rebel Damon Salvatore in The Vampire Diaries who I get to talk to at the dead of the night.
Ian plays the vampire in point to its essence: estranged, cruel, and having persuasive powers potent as poison. Onscreen and through the phone line, he dazzles just the same. He tells me, “Aww, you’re so sweet.” Just imagine the smile on my face upon hearing this. Yes, fangirling is on.
But way before I joined the fang-wagon, Ian was already known as Boone in Lost. Thinking he had everything going for him after the show, he auditioned for the role of Jason Stackhouse in True Blood. Although he grew up in Louisiana where Bon Temps, the setting for True Blood, is located, familiarity with geography still didn’t give him the part. I don’t blame Alan Ball. As far as characters go, Ian doesn’t embody the dirty South, rather he represents the age-old sophisticate. That includes Somerhalder’s ease to Hollywood with a smirk and glare that can stun any onlooker.
As a little kid, Ian already had the glib and gab of a vampire. “I remember, I was so young, I had an imaginary friend named Ian whom my poor family had to deal with probably by a year,” Ian recalls. “Ian liked everything I liked so I asked my mom for this whole pack of gum and then she found me an hour later with my mouth full of it. And my mom said, ‘Wait a minute, Ian. I thought some was for Ian, too.’ And I said, ‘Nope, nope. Ian doesn’t like this kind.’ [laughs] So I used to do things like that. It just kinda made my mom realize that I was meant to be an actor.”
He went to become a model at 10-years old—getting gigs for Calvin Klein, Dolce & Gabbana, and even Toys ‘R’ Us. “You know, I used to think [I missed out on my childhood],” Ian says. “I don’t anymore. I still rode my horse. I still played sports with my friends. I was very, very lucky to have the experience that I did, because it was all part of it. That’s what made me, me.”
If there was, however, one thing he wished he was able to do, it was to study art history. “I love art. I wanted to go to NYU, but I ended up booking a television show and moving out to LA,” Ian says. “You can learn art history obviously just by being a surveyor of art. I mean, I go to art galleries all around the world. I read a lot about art. I wish I just had been able to take a crash course in it. I eventually wanna learn how to paint. Also, music is a huge thing [for me]. Not so that I could play music that well, but a lot of my friends (My Morning Jacket, Bright Eyes) are exceptionally talented and wildly successful musicians.”
Guaranteed Ian could be the “next big thing” in Hollywood, he goes about his other businesses away from all that with the Ian Somerhalder Foundation, where his team protects animals and the environment. Once, he made his way to Capitol Hill to testify before the Congress to save Leatherback turtles. They also recently had their first fundraiser that was themed as a big burlesque party, to which Ian thinks Dita Von Teese “would get a kick out of.” Ian says, “I didn’t just wanna do a fundraiser that’s just a dinner with everyone in suits and ties. I wanted it to be a party like a celebration of conversation.”
If Ian wanted it, he could enjoy all the orgy of pleasures in this world, but he doesn’t need the fleeting highs that vamps would often indulge in. Instead, acting, appreciating art, and fundraising take up most of his time. He’s just far from lamenting the down side of his jobs such as lack of privacy. He even thinks he has the “best job ever.”
I ask him to advise people who wanna act, and he shouts, “Don’t do it!” He laughs, adding, “It takes more perseverance and tenacity to do the job. There are so few slots for work. But honestly, the only advice I could give—and I’m just bad with advice—is if you’re auditioning, you have to do the work. You have to find what you’re saying, why you’re saying it. You just have to, and I think the easiest way to do that, honestly—I sound like an advertisement for it, but James Franco, Charlize Theron, Halle Berry, and I used it—is to just read the damn book: Ivanna Chubbuck’s The Power of the Actor. Whether the pseudo, frustrated, or rising actors like it or not, it’s true. Acting is hard work, but Ian reveals its frill: “You learn a lot about yourself… to kind of not judge yourself,” he says. “The only way to really connect to a character, make a line or text seem real to you, is to use a connective tissue between your own life and the life of that character. Meaning, the only way to make a scene work real for you is if you’re pulling from your own experience—past, present, and future.” Equipped with those, he can take on any role. “There is no dream role… I just wanna do great films, with great filmmakers and great actors. I would love to be funny… I would love an incredible drama,” he says.
After about an hour of talking to Ian, it dawned on me that I could sit there for another three hours or even the rest of the day. I refer to him as an artist or an actor. But he contests, “I don’t wanna call myself anything. I just like to act,” he says. You can hate him as much as you want—because your girlfriend adores him, because he makes your boyfriend look like Shrek, because he won’t follow you on Twitter (he thinks it’s unfair to not follow all of his 1.2 million followers)—but you just can’t, why? Because he take pride in what he does, he’s good at what he does, and he’ll continue doing it no matter what. He warns everybody: “Nothing’s gonna make me stop. Nothing ever will.” Now that’s a line of an immortal.
Story by Reena Mesias
Cover photo by Collin Stark
Photos courtesy of (c) WBEI. All rights reserved.