Whether you're Team Stefan or Team Damon (or even Team Catherine), we can all agree that the fact that The Vampire Diaries is airing its 100th episode tonight is pretty major.
So major that we had to go through the archives and pull out some of our favorite Vampire Diaries moments in NYLON--because yes, there have been many. From cover stories to quickie interviews, we've done it all. Consider it the best Throwback Thursday you could have before tuning in.
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featuring Nina Dobrev, Paul Wesley, and Ian Somerhalder.
Dusk is creeping slowly through a cemetery in Covington, Georgia. It's enveloping the evergreens and settling,shroud-like, over the headstones, which are weatherworn, veined with cracks. Less than a mile away, hundreds of the town's residents are gathered in the picture-postcard square (it even has a clock tower) to turn on Christmas lights and await the arrival of Santa; he will do laps around it in his sleigh, to the delight of the children, who will run alongside it, shrieking happily. On the other side of a dark line of spindly trees some dining and wardrobe tents, packed tonight with excitable extras, have been erected on the floodlit baseball field of the school where the CW show The Vampire Diaries is currently filming. Here in the graveyard, though, all is quiet.
Ahead, barely discernible in the gloaming, a fox scurries across some tombs, slipping away behind a granite angel. There may as well be some white smoke pouring over the ground and a couple of ravens cawing on a branch overhead.
"We should be shooting scenes in here. This is perfect!" says Sara Canning, who plays Jenna Sommers, guardian of Elena and Jeremy Gilbert on the show. We stop by a particularly dilapidated stone cross, which has sunk into the earth and now leans at an awkward angle, as if struggling to retain its dignity. Canning examines the names of a husband and wife, which are carved deep into the stone and lined with lichen. "They can't both be buried here. Maybe here, and he's over there?" She looks at me. "This is strange, isn't it?" Around us, the darkness is thickening, and she pulls her North Face coat tightly around her. "We're in a bit of a bubble here," she says, stepping lightly across the damp graves and back onto the path. "We don't see the billboards or any of that stuff. But it's kind of ridiculous. I suppose I didn't know what to expect—this is the first pilot I had ever done. I've only been to L.A. once since the show premiered, and everyone kept saying, ‘Oh my God, people are freaking out about The Vampire Diaries.' But we don't get any of that here."
As we push on through the cemetery, we discuss actress Kayla Ewell, whose character, Vicki, died in episode seven. "She's a close friend, and I miss her to pieces," says Canning. "But this is a vampire show: Nobody's safe."
But that isn't entirely true. Take Nina Dobrev, for example. The show revolves around her character, Elena Gilbert, who is the Joey Potter, if you will, of Mystic Falls, the fictional, geographically non-specific town in which Diaries is set. Elena, who is beautiful but not sexy, broke up with her boyfriend--also her childhood best friend--after her parents died in a car accident. She spends her time staring out of windows and writing in her diary and trying to look after her younger brother, Jeremy, who is played by Steven R. McQueen (the grandson of that Steve McQueen). Then one day, by the lockers, she meets Stefan Salvatore. Later, he appears in the graveyard after school as Elena is visiting the graves of her parents. It's freaky. She leaves. He finds her diary. He gives it back to her without reading it. She falls in love with him. Stefan's brother, Damon, shows up. Damon likes to party. Elena begins to wonder why Stefan acts a bit weird and why when he's, say, slashed with a broken bottle, the wound heals almost immediately. Stefan tells Elena he's a vampire. It's a lot to deal with, and she talks to her friends about it. One of these friends is a witch. A good one, though. Another one is blonde and a bit stupid. Damon, who is also a vampire, thinks Stefan, who refuses to kill humans to feed, is a pussy. Stefan thinks Damon is a psychopath. Elena's not sure what to think. Damon starts killing people. The townspeople begin to notice a rise in suspicious deaths. That must be one hungry mountain lion, they think. Damon thinks Stefan is even more of a pussy when he realizes Elena looks exactly like this girl named Catherine, whom both brothers were in love with more than a century earlier. She was a vampire, too.
Yes, The Vampire Diaries--which continues to draw twice as many viewers as Gossip Girl each week--has everything you could hope for in a TV drama. And yes, it all sounds a lot like Twilight, but while it might have been sparked by that phenomenon, the books it's based on, as Dobrev is quick to remind me, were around for a decade before Stephenie Meyers's saga appeared.
It's a few weeks later, and Dobrev and I are in Foyles, the famous bookshop on Charing Cross Road in Central London. She flew in a couple of days earlier with the show's other leads, Paul Wesley and Ian Somerhalder, to promote the program's launch on iTunes in the U.K. (It will premiere on network television in Britain this month.) Over the next few days, Warner Bros., which is one of the The CW's parent companies (the other is CBS), parade its stars before the British media--at Elton John's £2,000-a-head charity ball, at the Sherlock Holmes world premiere ("Rachel McAdams is staying at the same hotel we are; how
cool is that?" Dobrev says at one point), later today, on BBC Radio 1 and the Apple Store—to drum up excitement for the series, which is already the most illegally downloaded in the U.K.
The books that spawned the program, series by L.J. Smith, are in a corner the store, surrounded by the Twilight novels and an almost absurd amount of other teen vampire stories. "Look!" exclaims Dobrev, when we come across them (we had been looking for the Harry Potter books--she wants to buy the ones with British covers), "Vampire Diaries! Right there! We're on the new covers, though. Maybe they sold out." Maybe they did, because the covers of these look exactly like those of the Twilight saga. "I think they're frighteningly similar," she says. At this point, a middle-age man comes over and begins examining the Vampire Diaries books, comparing the covers with pictures on a piece of paper in his hand. "My daughter gave me this," he says. "She wants me to get the books for her." She's in the show, I say, pointing to Dobrev. You should have her sign the books. "Fantastic!" says the man. "The show's going to be cool, too, so check it out," says Dobrev, as she inscribes the books to the man's daughter, Ieda. "Thank you so much," says the man, who is visiting from Norway. "She'll love this." We walk out of the store and down the street. "Where were we? Twilight versus Vampire Diaries?" asks Dobrev. "Well, when we fi rst started the show, it was girl falls in love with high-school vampire, and you automatically think Twilight. But once you continue, the story deviates a lot. There's a whole other side of it that goes a lot deeper." But she acknowledges the role that Twilight has played in the show's success. "Yes, our show may not have happened if it weren't for Twilight. In a way, we have a built-in audience because of them. But it's not frustrating [to be asked about the comparisons]. It's about letting everyone know that we're different but that we all respect each other." "I think the majority of our cast was kind of like, ‘Vampire Diaries? Really? There's already a Twilight; is this going to be like trying to make a fake True Blood?'" says Michael Trevino, who plays jock Tyler Lockwood. Wesley--who portrays brooding, sensitive, and, it must be said, decidedly Edward-like vampire Stefan, Elena's love interest in the show--is especially articulate about The Vampire Diaries place in its overcrowded genre.
"Here's the bottom line," he says as we eat porridge (after debating the differences between porridge and oatmeal for an inordinate amount of time--opinions are asked of two servers), in a restaurant in London's Soho one morning. "If you put The Vampire Diaries strictly in the category of a show that's riding on the wave of vampire culture, I don't think it justifies what we're doing. Yes, it's a part of that, but the truth is that, independently... it's special. And I think that if people tuned in initially just because they were intrigued by the vampire culture, they would have tuned out if it wasn't holding their attention. The love and the despair and the questions the show poses about eternal life and morality are timeless elements that don't particularly depend on vampire culture. That said, it would be ignorant and arrogant of me not to have an appreciation for the fact that we happen to be coming out at a time when movies like Twilight are some of the highest-grossing films of all time. Do I think the show would be successful as it is, if it weren't for all that? No. But it's not 100 percent reliant on it."
Later, as we're walking down Carnaby Street, I ask Somerhalder—Stefan's bloodthirsty brother, Damon—if he knew, going into it, that this show would be any good. He puts it succinctly: "I did. Only because of Kevin [Williamson, best known for creating Dawson's Creek and who, with Julie Plec, is a co-creator of Diaries] and the success of this whole Twilight shit. Film is dead. Some of the best stories are being told on the small screen. It was just a good recipe. Who knew if the oven was going to be the right temperature, but it was a good recipe." Seems like it was the right temperature. "Yeah!" he says. "The oven was
ready to go! Bake it!" Somerhalder's character even gives a nod to the genre in the third episode of Diaries. Damon is sitting on a bed, reading New Moon and talking to another character, Caroline.
DAMON: "What's so special about this Bella girl? Edward is really whipped."
CAROLINE: "You gotta start with the first book. It won't make sense if you don't."
DAMON: "I miss Anne Rice. She was so on it."
CAROLINE: "How come you don't sparkle?"
DAMON: "Because I live in the real world, where vampires burn in the sun."
CAROLINE: "But you go in the sun...."
(HE HOLDS UP HIS FINGER, REVEALING A RING.)
DAMON: "I have a ring. It protects me. Long story."
Somerhalder has been on a successful TV show before: He played Boone, the first character to die on Lost. (He also appeared in the critically lauded, but short-lived, Tell Me You Love Me on HBO.) "After Lost, I thought I was so cool. I had everything fucking totally thought out and together. And I said, ‘You know what? I wanna go do independent movies. I want to go to New York. I want to do theater. I want to travel.' And that's exactly what I did. I fell off the face of the fucking planet. I thought I was being cool and edgy, and it seemed like something Johnny Depp would have done 15 years ago. Wrong. Biggest mistake. Except for the fact that I got to grow and be humbled and get my ass kicked. And one day, my girlfriend and I were lying under the covers in this little cube in the middle of Joshua Tree National Park, reading by candlelight. She's reading Salinger, and I'm reading this script called The Vampire Diaries. And I thought, You know what, man? This is gonna be the coolest character on television. There was no doubt about it. It reminded me of Sawyer, Josh Holloway's character on Lost. He was always the character I secretly wished I could play. So I called Josh and said, ‘Dude, I'm basing a lot of this character off of Sawyer; hope you don't mind.'"
There's a chill in the air, but London is gleaming in bright, crisp morning sunshine, and Somerhalder, who earlier injected himself with vitamin B12 ("straight into the arm, boom!"), and whose stride is as confident as his cadence, is loving every moment of it. "It's colder than a well digger's ass, but it's so fucking beautiful. I'm so stoked right now," he says as we turn on to Regent Street and into the throngs of holiday shoppers. "You know, man," he says, "this whole thing could fall apart tomorrow, but for right now we are the luckiest kids in any room. Every time I walk into a room it's like, ‘Wow, I'm the luckiest bastard here.'" Wesley and Dobrev are also well aware of their good fortune. "When we were flying here, Ian, Nina, and I were standing in the aisle of the plane, chatting," says Wesley. "And I looked at them and was like, ‘I just want you guys to know that I love you. I really do. I genuinely care about both of you guys. You're such a big part of my life.' I feel so close to them. It's a genuine love." "I never thought I would be coming here to London and staying in a beautiful hotel and going to Elton John's charity AIDS event and then to the Sherlock Holmes premiere. These things are incredible. Incredible," says Dobrev, who in a few days will fly from London to Bulgaria, where she was born, to visit family. (She was raised in Canada.) Zach Roerig, who plays Nina's lovelorn ex on the show, puts it like this: "When I started this, it was so I could be able to do all the other things I wanted to do, like build a barn. The dream was always to do feature films, but this is the best job. Every single one of us on this show now has a dollar sign above our head. Our foreign value is going through the roof. We're huge all over the world."
But with international recognition comes a spotlight that few of these young actors are used to. Recently, after being at a party in Los Angeles with Candice Accola, who is a breath of blonde comedic winsomeness as the show's Caroline Forbes, I was surprised to see paparazzi swarm around her as she walked to her car. In Georgia, I ask her what she thinks the secret to the show's success is. "That none of us know how successful it is!" she says, laughing. But what about that time in L.A.? "That was the only time!" she says. "I'm serious." Accola and other members of the Diaries cast found themselves the subjects of particularly avid media scrutiny following a brush with the Atlanta Police Department while taking pictures during a road trip with Accola's boyfriend, photographer Tyler Shields. "When I read something like that and see how much is fabricated, it makes me second guess what I read in those magazines," says Dobrev. "It's weird, because I'm me, and my friends see me as the girl who they hang out with and go to the movies with. And all of a sudden I'm in those magazines. Even I would get my nails done and read the gossip magazines. I remember growing up and watching movies and thinking that these weren't real people—they're just dolls. But [stories like the one concerning the arrest] make me realize how much sensationalism exists in the media. Now, I take it with a grain of salt. I want to be respected and known for the work that I do, and not for the life that I lead."
Dobrev is certainly savvy about the ingredients necessary for a show to succeed in a viral age. It's partly thanks to her tweets (she has about 35,000 followers on Twitter) that a huge crowd is expected at the Apple store later tonight. (Fan sites subsequently posted directions to it.) Katerina Graham, who plays Bonnie Bennett, a witch, is also well-attuned to the show's audience. Graham regularly performs as a back-up vocalist for the Black Eyed Peas, calls herself "just a hipster from Hollywood," and has an e-mail address where fans can contact her directly. She responds, she says, to every one. "The success of the show has a lot to do with the fans," Graham says back in Georgia, where fans wait outside the school in the hopes of spotting one of the actors and perhaps even getting their picture taken with him or her. "It's about staying on our A-game and treating the show like it's as important as it is." For Canning who
was born and raised in Newfoundland, Canada--filming in Georgia helps shelter her from the billboards and boisterousness of Los Angeles and New York. "It's all new to me," she says. "And with the fans, it's just like, ‘Wow, thank you for making our little world a part of your world every week.'"
As much as The Vampire Diaries is a product of a phenomenon, it is also representative of a new generation of television for young (mostly teenage)
audiences, characterized by not only the boundaries it's pushing, but in the quality of the storytelling, acting, and production values. In Williamson and Plec, the show has two industry veterans who know how to speak to teenagers better than anyone in the industry. "My whole philosophy with teenagers is that they want to be treated like adults anyway," says Williamson in his office in L.A. "I try to write all my characters as adults. One thing I've learned is that you don't really learn anything until you're 40. You're an idiot until then." Williamson, whose Dawson's Creek reimagined the rulebook for how dialogue could be written for teenagers, considers television to be in a very different place from where it was then. "The '90s were all about post-modern hip. It was the era of the self-aware teenager, but now it's just commonplace. So to have all that self-aware dialogue seems trite. We've evolved out of it."
Plec, sitting opposite him, agrees. "Everything was so rooted in cynicism," she says. "We're also a country at war," says Williamson. "That's why the genre element of it all is so appealing. It's not real. It's a fantasy world. But teenage love stories are always so life and death.
So what better place to tell a vampire story than in a story of life and death every week? I don't know why, but the vampire craze is really quite big. Julie loves Twilight. I love True Blood. And when we put [the way we work] together, what we get works well."
Vampires or no vampires, what everyone has set out to do is to make an epic love story," says Plec. That's our key word. When you have all the right elements, you have lightning in a bottle." The formula is working, as evidenced by the crowd that's turned up at the Apple store on Regent Street before the show has ever aired in the U.K. The auditorium is packed, and people stand three-deep behind the seats as Dobrev, Wesley, and Somerhalder discuss the show and take questions from the audience, some of which has fl own in from across Europe. Afterward, they leave through a back entrance and hundreds of fans are waiting for them, standing on the sidewalk with autograph books, digital cameras, and photographs of the actors at the ready. Christmas lights sway in the wind, and shoppers walking by stop to see what's going on, adding to the melée.
"You know what's nice about this experience for me?" says Williamson. "I've been around the block since Dawson's Creek. Now, I sort of get to live that again. The kids getting mobbed at the Apple store? That kind of overnight fame is what happened with the Dawson's Creek kids, and it's fun to see these guys experience it for the first time. It brings it back for me, and makes me feel like I'm part of something special."