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Why Ian Somerhalder Returned to the World of Vampires for Netflix's V Wars

Ian Somerhalder is back in the world of fangs, blood, and gore. His new Netflix vampire drama V Wars feels like home for the actor who spent eight years playing bad boy vampire Damon Salvatore on The Vampire Diaries. But where most actors would turn their backs on a genre they spent such a long time in, Somerhalder couldn’t be more excited to get back into the supernatural world with his self-described passion project.

When Somerhalder and his V Wars co-star Adrian Holmes sat down with EW to discuss the 10-episode first season, the 40-year-old actor was prepared to explain why he chose to star in yet another vampire drama, this time as human Dr. Luther Swann.

“That’s a legitimate question,” he says with a nod. “It’s such a different scope. I would like to think I learned a good bit after eight years of television in this genre. I love this genre. It has been very good to me. But also, it’s so unique. It’s so vast. There’s so much you can do with it.”

While The Vampire Diaries was a supernatural gothic romance with a central love triangle, Somerhalder explains that V Wars, based on writer Jonathan Maberry’s IDW comic of the same name, takes a more scientific and sociopolitical look, telling the story of a scientist (Somerhalder) and his best friend (Holmes) as they face the evolving crisis of a deadly outbreak that fractures society into opposing factions, potentially escalating to a future war between humans and vampires.

“When you couple this scientific aspect in a grounded way, you can expose societal issues within the genre,” shares Somerhalder. “And there’s a lot of cross-genre here. We’re leaning into aspects of the horror genre, which they work very well together.” Because V Wars is making the vampires more horror than hot, that means it’s required more work in post-production for Somerhalder, who also serves as an executive producer and director. “We’ve been in post 11 months on a 10 episode show — that’s unheard of, so we’re really grateful to Netflix and IDW,” he says. “We knew we had something special, but we knew we were going to need more time to nurture the story, especially with the creatures. We knew we needed more time.”

And the end result, according to Somerhalder, is the opposite of The Vampire Diaries’ sex symbols. “These creatures are f—ing scary,” he says with a smirk. “Like, in The Vampire Diaries, they’re sexy, they’re cool even when they’re turned, they can still make jokes. These are murderous creatures. None of them want to be. But if you were in a room with one of these people, first of all, you probably wouldn’t make it out, but you would run for your life. So that grounded scary component of them, there’s nothing romantic about them. And we’re very proud of that. If you imagine them literally ripping into you, oh my god, it’s powerful. And to think that there could be hundreds of millions of these things running around, it’s really scary.”

Somerhalder also likens V Wars‘ vampiric virus to a kind of cancer. “When this attacks your DNA, different vampires from different parts of the world turn differently,” he says. “They have different feeding habits, they have different looks, different feeding methods, all of it’s different. Now if you’re thinking about tens or hundreds, millions, a billion of these things, that lends this amazing new layer — what happens when they have their own clubs and their own streets and their own neighborhoods, different cultures and they could have even have their own racism within their species. All the different types of creatures don’t actually get along, and we get to really play a lot of social nuances without bludgeoning people over the head, and that’s what’s cool.”

Holmes agrees, adding that “we just really wanted to make sure that it was grounded in reality, because the story deals with a lot of social issues, environmental issues, a lot of things that we’re exposed to on the daily. As Jonathan says, it’s not a supernatural story. It’s about this virus that has been frozen for thousands of years, and because of global warming is now released and we are now exposed to it.”

“Which by the way is what’s happening in the scientific community as we as we speak,” Somerhalder says. “This could potentially be really f–king bad. The social relevance side of this, dealing with the things that we’re dealing with right now, is what this show is really hitting on: Borders, racism, disease, fear, politics, the politics of fear, how it gets into our psyches and into our devices in the age of the algorithm. We’re up against a lot. For us, V Wars is really about the what if. What happens when there’s so many vampires that commercial airlines can’t function anymore? What happens when the banking system starts to fall apart because there’s so many people who are sick and they’re not paying their bills? What happens when these people need legal representation or congressional representation, parliamentary representation? These are big tentpole ideas that society will literally have to adapt to. It’s not apocalyptic; it’s grounded in science.”

Plus, Somerhalder loves that V Wars does not have as many permanent sets — they’re able to travel to explore those ideas more in depth. “On The Vampire Diaries, we had like $25 million of standing sets,” he says. “Paul [Wesley] and I, we wanted to go shoot like two episodes in Paris, they have great tax incentives there. But it’s not fiscally responsible when you have all these sets and stuff. Here, we’re nimble. We can be all over the world and bring in these amazing new characters.”

But the most important goal Somerhalder set for the first season of the Netflix adaptation? “Basically not to f— up,” he says with a laugh.

V Wars begins streaming Dec. 5 on Netflix.

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