by Carina MacKenzie
When it premiered in September, The CW’s “The Vampire Diaries” drew the largest audience of any other premiere since the network’s 2006 debut, and it has maintained impressive momentum ever since. On the heels of a 2010 People’s Choice Award for Favorite New TV Drama, the show returns tonight after a nine-week hiatus.
“Degrassi: The Next Generation” alum Nina Dobrev, who recently celebrated her 21st birthday, is pulling double duty. She not only stars as the show’s magnetic ingenue, Elena Gilbert, but also as her civil-war-era doppelganger, the bloodthirsty vampiress Katherine Pierce.
The fall finale left us with a shocking cliffhanger. Elena, having discovered the disturbing truth about her resemblance to Katherine, stormed out of Stefan’s bedroom — only to get into a car wreck with a mysterious supernatural creature while driving through the woods.
Despite the demands of playing two characters, Nina made time to chat with me about her favorite episode, Elena’s post-car-accident dilemma, and which of her castmates served as inspiration for Katherine’s devil-may-care attitude.
Congratulations on all the success! To win something like a People’s Choice Award, that’s voted on by fans, must be incredibly gratifying.
We felt so good to be nominated, but you never really expect to win, and then they didn’t fly any of us out there, so we just assumed that we didn’t win it. We wrapped for the day in Atlanta and went out to dinner, a couple of us, and we got a text message that we won and we all kind of freaked out, like, “What? Really? Are you serious?” It was very cool.
Do you like filming in Atlanta? You’re far from home.
I’m kind of a globetrotter. I’ve been traveling since I was born and living in different locations. In the last year and a half alone I’ve moved three times, so for me, home is really wherever I’m staying at the moment. I’ve made a good home here, in Atlanta. I’ve gained a new family. The cast and the crew and the producers and the writers and the directors — we love each other. We take care of each other.
What do you guys all do when you’re not working?
We’re rarely not working! When we do get a little time off, I tend to watch movies, go to dinners and keep it low-key. Though, it was recently my birthday, and that night the CW gave me a car and I was able to go out with my friends from L.A. and go out for my first drink. This past weekend I flew out with the entire cast and we went to Vegas. For the 21, you’ve gotta do Vegas!
I interviewed Kevin [Williamson, executive producer] a while ago. He told me that you weren’t feeling so well for your first audition with him, but you were determined to get the role, so you gave it another shot via videotape.
It was a long casting process. I was actually in Toronto, and I put myself on a tape. It was the scene from the pilot where I’m in the graveyard alone and I’m talking to the crow. It was a really awkward audition to do! But they liked it, so I flew in and auditioned in front of the studio, then the network, then the producers… It was very nerve-wracking, especially when you’re standing in front of so many influential and powerful people.
We got up to Vancouver to film the pilot and Kevin, Julie [Plec, executive producer], and Marcos [Siega, supervising producer] were all there, and we all got to know each other on a personal level, as opposed to who we’d worked with and what we’d done. We all just connected as people, and now we’ve become each other’s people. Kevin and Julie are so cool and down to earth, and once I got to know them, they’re not intimidating whatsoever.
When the series was picked up, what was the experience like for you in terms of leaving “Degrassi”? Was it an easy transition?
It was hard in the sense that a lot of my friends are on the show, but we still keep in touch. The “Degrassi” producers were very supportive. They sent me flowers when I got “The Vampire Diaries,” and then as soon as it premiered and got the great numbers that it did, I got another large bouquet of flowers from them. Every time I go back to Toronto I see them and hang out with them.
Is there any chance that you’re going to do any more “Degrassi” appearances, or is that door closed?
Well, I went back and I did two episodes for Season 9, so that my character could be written out. I don’t know! Right now the schedule here is so overwhelming, and I can’t see how I could have time to do anything else, but you never know. I would do it. We’ll see!
Let’s talk about what’s coming up next for Elena. In “The Turning Point,” Elena had a car accident and she hit… something. Who — or what — was that thing? Is it a character we already know?
I can’t even tell you whether it’s something we’ve seen or haven’t seen, because that would give away too much! You’re not going to find out what it is right away. It’s going to come out on its own when it does. That’s all I can say, unfortunately! I don’t want to give it away.
Where’s Elena’s head at coming into this next episode, “Bloodlines”? She just found out that she and Katherine are identical, and then ran off on Stefan after a very pivotal night together.
I think she’s going through a lot of emotions. You’re right, it was an extremely pivotal point in the relationship. After being broken up, they decided to give it another try, and they took it to that next level, and then she discovered this extremely heartbreaking thing.
It’s a little creepy.
It’s a little creepy, and it’s a little sad! I mean everybody’s got ex-boyfriends and girlfriends. Everybody’s got baggage. But to discover that his ex looks exactly like you? She can’t help but feel sort of betrayed. Maybe Stefan’s only with her because she looks like his ex-girlfriend and he’s trying to replace her. He’s been keeping all these secrets from her and hasn’t been honest with her. So she’s extremely confused. [laughing] And she’s got an awful headache! She was just in a huge car accident! She’s kind of going crazy!
In this next episode, her and Damon go on a road trip adventure. She’s very skeptical, especially of Damon, given his track record, but she discovers a lot about him and they get to know each other on a different level away from their day-to-day lives. She starts to understand him a little bit better and to learn that he has different dimensions.
Kevin told me at TCA that Damon is still really all about Katherine. Damon is mostly hanging out with Elena to get under Stefan’s skin, but where’s Elena’s motivation to spend time with Damon? Is it just because she doesn’t have her vervain necklace anymore, so she’s vulnerable to him?
I can’t really tell you what happens with the vervain, but yes, at this point, Damon’s only motivation is Katherine. Elena is just lost in circumstance. We’re not going to go there romantically right away, because she’s just starting to get to know him. Every person has both good and bad in them, and Damon… well, Damon has more of one than the other, but he still has both. She’s starting to see that he’s playful and fun and doesn’t take anything too seriously. Elena is ? well, not uptight exactly, but she doesn’t let loose a lot, and Stefan doesn’t either. They’re both very serious people. On the other hand, Damon brings out her fun side. She can be herself with him.
You mentioned that up to this point, Elena’s been overwhelmed by circumstance. I wouldn’t call her a victim, because she definitely takes initiative herself, but a lot of her life is out of her control.
She’s got a lot on her shoulders. She’s keeping so many secrets herself that she’s almost turning into Stefan. Her best friend’s a witch; her boyfriend’s a vampire, her boyfriend’s brother’s a vampire, her ex-boyfriend’s sister died and she’s protecting her brother…
Is her decision to erase Jeremy’s memory going to come back to haunt her?
At the end of the day, she’s very courageous and very strong, and she’s reacting to protect everyone around her. She wants to keep the peace in the town to the best of her ability, to the degree that she has any control of it. So Jeremy has lost his parents, and he’s lost Vicki, and he hasn’t had any good things happen in his life. She was looking to protect him. Whether that decision is going to come back to bite her, well… all secrets eventually come up to the surface, and it’ll be another circumstance she’ll have to deal with.
You’ve got a rare opportunity as an actress to be able to play two characters in one show and explore the different ways that Elena and Katherine interact with the brothers. Is there anything that Elena and Katherine have in common?
At this point, I don’t think so. At one point, Stefan describes Katherine and then he talks to someone else about Elena, and he points out their differences. Katherine was very conniving, she was narcissistic, she acted out of her own benefit and for her own selfish needs. She used these two boys as her toys. They were toys for her, and she had a lot of fun with them. I’m so lucky — I just love this show.
Is there another flashback episode to look forward to?
Yes! The audience has only seen one, but there’s another coming up soon that was a lot of fun to film. It’s a lot of fun for me to put on the corsets and the big dresses and do something completely different for a few days.
Can you give me a hint as to what we can expect?
I can give you a little tease! I can definitely tell you that you’ll discover more about why Damon is the way he is. A lot of it came from Katherine. You’ll find out which of the two brothers may have been completely aware that she was a vampire the entire time. One of them may have been compulsed and kept in the dark about it.
“Lost Girls” was my favorite episode so far, but I haven’t seen the next flashback episode yet. I have a really good feeling about it, because I really got into it. I got to do some crazy things — some really, really, crazy crazy things that the boys get to do all the time, but I don’t get to do! The character is just so different from Elena and so different from myself that I love stepping into those shoes.
When you are in Katherine’s shoes, what do you do differently as an actress?
Well, like I said, Damon gets a lot of who he is from Katherine, because he’s basically learned everything that he knows about being a vampire from her. So I actually adopted Ian’s performance and some of Ian’s quirks, so that the transition would make sense. Damon picked things up from Katherine, so in turn I drew inspiration from Ian. She enjoys being devious, and I took a lot of that from Ian. Katherine and Damon are two of a kind. We’ll get into that in the upcoming episodes.
Don’t miss tonight’s all-new episode, “Bloodlines,” at 8 p.m. on The CW. For more from my interview with Nina, plus my review of “Bloodlines,” check back in with Showtracker tomorrow! Keep up to date on Nina by following her one and only Twitter: @ninadobrev. (Accept no imitations.)