Contending with the evolving crisis of a deadly outbreak, especially when it fractures society into opposing factions, can powerfully influence the trajectory of a person’s actions, personality, relationships and overall lifestyle. That’s certainly been the case for several of versatile actor Ian Somerhalder’s most noteworthy and prolific characters throughout his career. The performer naturally transitioned into emboding another determined character, Dr. Luther Swann, on his upcoming horror show, ‘V Wars,’ after completing his eight-season run as vampire Damon Salvatore on ‘The Vampire Diaries,’ in 2017.
‘V Wars’ is based on writer Jonathan Maberry’s best-selling eponymous comic book series, which was first published in 2012 by IDW Publishing. The thriller series launches this Thursday, December 5, on Netflix.
William Laurin and Glenn Davis serve as the showrunners on ‘V Wars,’ which, in addition to Somerhalder, also stars Adrian Holmes, Jacky Lai, Peter Outerbridge, Kyle Breitkopf, Laura Vandervoot and Kimberly-Sue Murray. The sci-fi drama’s lead star also served as an executive producer, and directed the ninth installment, of the 10-episode first season.
‘V Wars’ follows Dr. Luther Swann (Somerhalder) as he enters a world of untold horror, when a mysterious disease transforms his best friend, Michael Fayne (Holmes), into a murderous predator who feeds on other humans. As the disease spreads and more people are transformed, society fractures into opposing camps, and pits normal people against the growing number of the vampires. Luther races against time to understand what’s happening, while Michael rises to become the powerful underground leader of the vampires.
Somerhalder generously took the time recently to talk about starring in, executive producing and directing ‘V Wars’ during a roundtable interview at The Langham New York Hotel. Among other things, the filmmaker discussed that producing and directing a show that he’s also the lead actor on brought on a lot of stress, but he also cherished the creative freedom it afforded him, especially on a streaming service like Netflix. The performer also mentioned that he aspires to make audiences ponder important social issues, including politics, disease and climate control, while they watch ‘V War’s first season
The conversation began with Somerhalder expressing that making ‘V Wars’ has been a passionate journey for him, as both an actor and filmmaker. “From the beginning, this has been 15 months of my life. The past 11 months have been in post-production, fine-tuning everything. We knew we had something special,” he shared.
“Getting this show to where it is now was such a feat. I did 171 episodes of ‘The Vampire Diaries’…and I worked hard to make that character (Damon) came to life…As an actor, I try to tell the truth all day. You’re in a make-believe situation, but you’re trying to find the truth in whatever it is you’re saying,” Somerhalder explained.
“As a producer, as well as the lead, of (‘V Wars’), it wasn’t just what we got onto film; it was also about what we did with it afterward, while we were in post-production for almost a year, crafting this,” the filmmaker further pointed out. “That’s what’s so great about working with Netflix and IDW. We begged, pleaded and groveled to get more time to do that, and they allowed us to do that.”
Somerhalder’s drive to not only star in, but also executive produce and direct, ‘V Wars’ came from his motivation to make ‘The Vampire Diaries’ as perfect as he could. While on the CW show, he “took so much stock in every frame. But on set, I didn’t have the ability to go into the mixing stage and say things like, ‘I’d really like to move this sound over here…and bring his voice up a little bit.’ No one was going to let me do that.
“But I was able to bring the skill set I learned on ‘The Vampire Diaries’ to ‘V Wars.’ I’m so grateful for that skill set,” the actor added.
The filmmaker did admitted that producing and directing a series that he’s also starring in does “bring a lot of stressors. On the set, as an actor, you want to do your best. But as a producer, you’re thinking, we have to get out of this scene in half-an-hour, or otherwise, we’re not going to make our day.
On the episodes he didn’t direct, he would constantly still be thinking as one. He’d ponder what he could do to help move the action along. He’d “go talk to the DP (Director of Photography) and some of the other crew. I tell them, ‘I love you guys, but we have to jam…I swear I’ll get you out of here on time, but we have to get this one shot…So you’re not only an actor, but also a producer, and it’s all a part of your DNA,” Somerhalder humbly revealed.
“This show took me away from my family for months, but I got to be with them for a bit. My wife (‘Twilight’ actress Nikki Reed) is so supportive, even though she’s building her company,” the socially conscious fine jewelry, beauty, apparel and accessories line, BaYou With Love, the actor shared.
“We were together for part of the production, as she did us a huge favor and was on the show with me; she was on about four episodes. She had an amazing role, and turned in incredible performances. She was with our baby (Bodhi Solei), and played this amazing character,” Somerhalder gushed. “She gave incredible, nuanced and powerful performances, and then went back to run her company.”
The producer also divulged that “Then when we were in our post-production vortex, I was working until 3 or 4 o’clock in the morning. Then the baby was up at 8 or 8:30, so I was running on three-and-a-half to four-and-a-half hours of sleep, and it gets you,” he admitted. “But I put my heart and soul into the show, and worked so hard on it.
“So I’m excited to present Season 1. The first seasons of shows can be tough, because you’re just finding your footing. You’re finding the characters and the look.” But with ‘V Wars,’ finding the right tone was even more challenging, because the events are presented in a non-linear fashion,” the performer disclosed.
Somerhalder never worked with telling a story in a non-linear way on his previous television shows, which also include ‘Lost’ and the 2000 WB teen drama, ‘Young Americans,’ and “have always been in a network format. The thing with a Season 1 show in a network format is that you have a really long runway. You usually tell a story in 22 episodes over the course of nine months.” But with a series like ‘V Wars,’ which only has 10 episodes in its initial season, “every frame tells an even bigger story.”
So having a condensed first season with ‘V Wars’ was “a learning experience to find fluidity, especially with different directors who had different points of view.” The producer added that “We all knew we had something special, so we wanted to spend the time building the creatures and this world. The beautiful thing of working with Netflix and IDW is that they let us do that, and now we have the world started.
“So I’m encouraging anyone who watched me on ‘The Vampire Diaries’ to watch this show, and dive in. I think people will really enjoy it. This first season really sets up the world, as well as Season 2,” Somerhalder revealed. “So on subsequent seasons, we’ll really get to expand the world, and create socially relevant positions.”
The actor further disclosed that “The show deals with a lot of issues that we’re dealing with now-borders, racism, disease, fear and politics-and how all of that fuels the psyche of society.” He added that “The show also deals with the climate issue; as the ice melts within the world of the show, it’s exposing diseases that have been trapped for millennia. As they’re exposed, they have the potential to wreck havoc on society…That’s what makes this show unique to me. It’s very grounded and science-based. It’s global-based, and offers unique perspectives.”
Another aspect of the Netflix adaptation of ‘V Wars’ that Somerhalder embraces is the fact that it incorporates the different voices of Maberry and the other authors who worked on the comic books. “It takes (courage) as an author to not want to take all of the credit. But Maberry’s so cool and smart; he says, ‘I’m a white guy and live in San Diego; but I want to tell a story about a young girl in a border town.'”
“So (Maberry) brought in these amazing writers to weave these authentic perspectives into the fabric of this story. Those specific perspectives are what I love,” the filmmaker added.
As Somerhalder developed his portrayal of Luther for the first season of the television adaptation of ‘V Wars,’ he continued to learn new things about himself as an actor and a person. “I really began to understand the plight of the parent. I had just become a parent while we were filming, and now my daughter’s a little over two-years-old. When we first started filming the show, she was nine-months-old. As a parent, your sole purpose in life is to protect your child.
“So I brought that energy into every scene with me, and it was always with me. I learned that there’s nothing that can take that way from a parent. That’s the most natural emotion” which influenced Somerhalder on the set of the first season of ‘V Wars,’ and really transformed him as an actor and filmmaker.
“I was also learning every second, and always wanted to be prepared. As an executive producer, director and the lead actor of ‘V Wars,’ I never wanted someone to come up to me and say, ‘I don’t really understand this scene or set-up,’ and then say back, ‘Hey guys, can someone explain this?’ It’s my job to know every aspect of the process.”
The filmmaker emotionally reiterated that he couldn’t have made ‘V Wars’ “without the support of my amazing family. They, especially my wife, allowed me to make this show to the best of my ability.”
“What an amazing journey this show was,” Somerhalder further gushed. “This is the first season of what I hope is something that resonates” with audiences, and becomes “a hit show.
“My first show, ‘Young Americans,’ only lasted one season, but it still created a lot of chatter, and launched a lot of careers,” including Kate Bosworth and Katherine Moennig, who later went on to garner more fame for starring on such series as ‘The L Word’ and ‘Ray Donovan.’ “Then with ‘Lost’ and ‘The Vampire Diaries,’ they were these tent-pole, water cooler shows.” The performer relishes the opportunity to continue creating series that make audiences think and talk.
Somerhalder also hopes that “we can make a Season 2 of ‘V Wars.’ That way, we can create more storylines that are hard-hitting, and delve into the things that we’re dealing with in real life, like the border, racism, disease, the economy and fear that surrounds politics.
“The disease on the show causes one in four people to turn, so the series makes people really think about what would happen if a quarter of the world’s population became this sick (in real life), which causes society to stop functioning,” the actor revealed. “For a time, Luther Swann is trying to find a cure, because that’s his passion and expertise.”
Somerhalder also aspires to create a chance to turn social positions upside down with ‘V War’s first season. “If even one person has a constructive conversation about something they learned about society, or themselves, as a result of this show, then we have succeeded.”