Actor / producer Ian Somerhalder’s latest project, V Wars, sees him back in the vampire genre, but he has crossed over to the ‘other side’ as a scientist racing against a killer disease.
Since performing in hit shows Lost and The Vampire Diaries, the actor-turned-producer, has a renewed passion for the power of storytelling and how stories can turn a spotlight on issues close to his heart.
At its peak Lost, in particular, was a seminal show not just in terms of audience numbers, but for the way it broke new ground in drama.
“After spending time on Lost and having learned from people like Damon Lindelof, JJ Abrams, Carlton Cuse and Bryan Burk, and then moving into the world of Vampire Diaries and learning from Julie Plec, Kevin Williamson and Caroline Dries, the amount of information that I got in a choir I can use now with a skill set to produce and build this show,” he explains.
“Those are some of the most incredible moments I’ve ever had in my life.”
“I’m so grateful for those experiences. Like on Lost. Those are some of the most incredible moments I’ve ever had in my life. Getting to be a part of that type of storytelling was really powerful.
“And I say this not to sound like a tool,” he reflects, “but it is my intent, by virtue of the fact that even my first little show on television, called Young Americans …it was only going for one season of eight episodes. but it launched a bunch of careers. It created a lot of chatter as well. Lost and Vampire Diaries were tentpole global successes that were watercooler shows.
“I have no intention of V Wars not being at that level.”
Somerhalder plays Dr. Luther Swann, a scientist who enters a world of untold horror when a mysterious disease transforms his best friend, Michael Fayne (Adrian Holmes) into a murderous predator who
feeds on other humans. As the disease spreads and more people are transformed, society fractures into opposing camps pitting normal people against the growing number of these “vampires.” Swann races against time to understand what’s happening, while Fayne rises to become the powerful underground leader of the vampires.
The 10 part series is based on a comic series by Jonathan Maberry. According to Somerhalder the concept has its roots in ecology and climate change concerns.
“It’s five books that I get to mine from as a producer and as a creative force behind the show.
“Jonathan wrote this in 2012, when no-one was talking about the fact that all this ice was melting and was going to become a concern for scientists, not just in the books, but in the world.
“The things that are trapped under that ice….. are now starting to surface”
“The things that are trapped under that ice, safely put away for hundreds of millennia, are now starting to surface because of melting permafrost and rampant glacial deterioration. That is of grave concern to epidemiologists in the global scientific community. So I say this more like with a tear in my eye as opposed to ‘Wow this is so great that this is happening while our show is launching.’
“Scientific article after scientific article are being published, right now as we speak, about how scary it is that this stuff is now coming up through the ice.
“You just think about what does that mean for people? What does that mean for our wildlife? What does that mean for livestock? This is really a scary, scary thing. So that’s how the story starts.”
But if the issues are important to Somerhalder as activist star, they nevertheless manifest through V Wars via sci-fi / horror. If he had any reservations about returning to the vampire genre, they were quickly dismissed.
“I love this genre. I think it has a lot of legs”
“We did eight seasons of Vampire Diaries. 171 episodes, which is basically about 80 films. But I love this genre. I think it has a lot of legs,” he insists.
“What excites me is looking at the massive changes in society because this show, without bludgeoning people over the head, is dealing with the things that we’re dealing with right now in the world. Borders, racism, disease, the politics of fear and how it gets into our psyche and into the devices that we carry around in the age of the algorithm.”
“You’re finding your footing, you’re finding your characters, you’re figuring out the look of the show”
But humanitarian causes and ghoulish action aside, there is still the reality of having to find an audience and delivering a successful first season.
“Season one of shows is tough,” he agrees. “You’re finding your footing, you’re finding your characters, you’re figuring out the look of the show, the feel of the show. And you’re learning every minute. And honestly, in a network format, you have a much longer runway with 22 or 18 episodes.
“We just have 10. So it’s a very condensed way of storytelling. So Season One is just a setup to where we get to go and be honest with each other. Leaving Vampire Diaries and getting to play Damon, who was so fun, snarky, sexy and cool…. actually he was very much an asshole. People love him because he had a certain level of vulnerability and you really loved what he did.
“But after playing that, I was so excited to play a guy who was a superhero -but his superpowers were just being a great dad. Being a great scientist, being a great husband. Because to me, great dads, great fathers, great husbands are superheroes. Everything around them spreads in a positive way around the world.”
He adds, “I know that we can turn this show into not only a watercooler show, but into a very relevant, very controversial and very gripping streaming show. We don’t have the confines of network television. We can do whatever the hell we want. I want it to be raw and I want to be grounded. And I’m going to fight tooth and nail with my producing partners together to make sure that we make this happen. So I’m excited to share it with everyone.
“The Australian audience is wildly intelligent, fun and objective, but deep. But I hope it appeals to them enough to get us into Season Two.”
V Wars launches Thursday 5 December on Netflix.