After spending a few seasons on Lost and starring on CW’s popular hit series The Vampire Diaries for , actor Ian Somerhalder is doubling down and going all in with his new Netflix series V-Wars. Besides starring on the horror-thriller based on John Maberry’s book and IDW comic book series, Somerhalder is also exec. producing and even directing an episode. If there’s any doubt that Somerhalder is excited about the possibilities of the new show, then you just have to hear him talk about it, as The Beat learned when we sat down with the actor a few weeks back.
On V-Wars, Somerhalder plays Dr. Luther Swann, a geneticist whose best friend gets infected with a spreading virus that’s turning humans into mutated beasts, and he must try to put a stop to it. You can learn a lot more about the series from Somerhalder in the interview below, but Netflix has also released an intriguing trailer.
THE BEAT: You’ve been on these two iconic shows, Lost and Vampire Diaries, and now you’re doing V-Wars. What was the transition between those and doing something based on John Maberry’s anthology series?
Ian Somerhalder: You know, man, I didn’t know the property until I knew the property. Once I realized the level of IP that Jonathan Maberry created… not only is he a bestselling author, he created this world, right? The thing about it was that he wanted to tell this story from these multiple perspectives with sht that was happening all over the place. But he’s smart. He’s like, “Look, I’m a white guy. I live in San Diego. What the fck do I know about living in a border town? He brought this team of amazing writers together to tell the perspective… look, as a writer, as you know, write what you know; don’t write what you don’t know. If you’re going to write a book about things, find the people who know, bring them together, and then he edited it and put it all together. And now you have five books. So as a producer, we have an incredible amount of stuff to mine from. Five books, dozens of comics, not just from a visual reference, but from a character reference, story reference. It’s a gold mine of IP that we’re sitting on. That in and of itself is crazy exciting for me because, as a storyteller, that’s what I always said to Julie and Kevin. When you’re one a 22-episode show, the amount of information that they have to create, it’s an immeasurable amount of story. How do you maintain that at 22 episodes a season? With this, it’s only ten. It’s condensed, and I think it’s powerful that way. This is non-linear TV. I’d always come from a network side, so I’d never been really a part of this, being able to deliver an entire show with a nice fluidity, even though we had different directors.
THE BEAT: Including yourself. I heard you directed an episode?
Somerhalder: Including me. I would have directed more. It’s hard on me to do that multiple times in a season like that. On Vampire Diaries, we had two DPs, two completely separate crews that basically created the show. Because there were so many episodes, if I was directing an episode, the episode before I directed would be light. We had eight days plus a pickup day, so in nine days of shooting, they could shoot me out in two full days. So I would go, say I’d shoot two days full or three days of just balls to the wall, every scene, every set up, and then Damon was done for that episode. So I could spend a week prepping the sets, locations, everything. Can’t do that on V-Wars. It was like iron man football and that’s why I only directed one. It was just too much.
THE BEAT: Your character, Dr. Luther Swann, is someone from the books as well.
Somerhalder: Oh, yeah. He’s the central character.
THE BEAT: At what point during the V-Wars does the show take place? Is it set at one particularly point like as the whole thing starts?
Somerhalder: It’s all over the place, which is what’s cool, right? You have New York City, you’ve got this border town, you’ve got… well, let’s just go back. In our show, Dr. Swann and his best friend in the world Michael Fayne, played by Adrian Holmes, go up to the Arctic, to a research station. They get exposed to this prion, this disease. They bring it back. They’re in quarantine, they think they’re fine. They go back home to Seneca Valley, New York. That’s when things start to go a little haywire, because they were accidentally spreading it and we didn’t know. You’ll find out that Luther, while getting sick from this prion, I actually don’t turn. It is a four to one, basically a 25% ratio. Basically this is a prion that attacks junk DNA, which is supposed to be inactive, but if you have a certain gene… They call it the predator gene, then you do actually change in these drastic physical transformations. We worked our balls off to make these creatures. They’re not sexy. Most of them, they’re scary. These are real creatures. If you were in a room with them, you would f*cking run. You probably wouldn’t make it out, but there’s something for everyone. Here’s the deal. Your family’s background is where?
THE BEAT: German Jews.
Somerhalder: [With] Germany, we would go back and look at, “What are the specific gene traits of that area?” I learned this from Paul Wesley. Paul Wesley is Polish. What I didn’t realize is that a large majority of the Polish population has cholesterol issues. It’s actually just in the gene pool. It’s just, whatever it is, that’s there. So these vampires, as you’re turning your genetic makeup, makes you predisposed to what type of vampire happens. That’s why I’m saying I can’t wait to get into these different realms: India, Colombia, Asia, Australia, Germany.
THE BEAT: Would that mostly be in future seasons, you think?
Somerhalder: Yeah, we learn about it in the first season. Look, Season One is about setting up a world. In a network situation, you’ve got 22 episodes, so you’ve got a much longer runway, right? With this, we don’t have that long runway, so it’s condensed, but setting up the world gets us into Season Two. I just need people watching, getting sucked into that world and wanting to go and check out the comics and stuff to get into that world. Once we get into Season Two, I can really blow the lid off of the world and create it, really open the world up and make it global.
THE BEAT: I thought I read that you were playing a vampire hunter, but this sounds like a very different type of vampire and you’re more of a scientist trying to find the gene and put a stop to it.
Ian Somerhalder: He’s a scientist trying to find this cure under really, really, really hard circumstances, you know? As a parent… by the way, this was my first acting job as a real parent. I have an eight-year-old, nine-year-old son in the show, and my relationship with this character was so different. Cause when you’re a parent, you’re never not a parent, and it was my first time acting on camera as a parent. It was really cool. It was powerful man, Jesus.
THE BEAT: To me, it sounds like this virus acts a lot like cancer where two people could live in the same environment but only one of them gets cancer and the other doesn’t due to the different genres, which sounds very interesting to me. Is a lot of that from the books and maybe something we should read before watching the show?
Somerhalder: The books are phenomenal. I mean, Season One. we were only pulling out Book One, but it’s like I mentioned this earlier and I’m not joking: it’s a gold mine of material, and because it’s so relevant, we’re dealing with these things that we’re dealing with in life: borders, racism, disease, fear, politics, the politics of fear. All of these things that are actually happening, not just in our own echo chambers, they’re actually happening outside. Globally. You don’t even have to be on Instagram or read Reuters – It’s everywhere. For me, that’s what’s so exciting is that this sh*t is happening right now as we speak. You’re not bludgeoning an audience over the head with your point of view. These are unique characters told with a real point of view that we now get to put together our own sort of take away from it. When you read the books and you see these characters and these storylines, then you’re going to go, “Oh, now I know why Ian freaked out and wanted this.”
Like there’s one storyline of this girl named Mooney. She lives on a border town in the Southwest and she is pregnant. What happens when this girl… she’s beaten up, she’s raped, she becomes pregnant, but this child is like her savior. This amazing story of this young girl. But now, being where we are, being able to tell a story about an underage girl, who’s pregnant, beaten down, alone in a border town and forced to raise this tiny baby by herself, and she’s a vampire. hunting coyotes and sht. The storyline that we’re going to expound upon, I can’t talk about it now, but the cool juxtapositions and how you will feel for this girl. That is like one of my most favorite storylines. The way it’s written, you can feel the tumbleweeds, you can hear the jackrabbit running through the… You’re in it, man. You are in it as in it can be. I can’t wait to direct some of those scenes of her storyline. Season Two we will definitely be down on the border into Mexico and places like that. Shooting just fcking raw hard-hitting bikers. Hell’s Angels, because you know there’s a vigilante aspect.
This disease, by the way, it’s infecting indiscriminately, right? It doesn’t matter what color you are, what gender you are, how much money you have, doesn’t f*cking matter. It’s like cancer. It’s cancer, AIDS – things that hit us so hard that we were like, “We’re struggling every day to combat.”
What happens when society starts to split? You’re going to have vigilantes saying, “No, they should be killed.” The thing is that Luther Swann is saying, “These are not beasts. These are people who are sick. We need to cure them. I am a doctor. I want to help people.” The other side is saying, “No, they’re infected. They should be killed.”
So the idea is, do you just kill someone because they have cancer? That’s sort of the depth that it goes into and forces you to sort of step back for a second and take away a little of this sort of… Your prejudice kicks in immediately. If there’s people coming into your home trying to hurt your family, of course, your first instinct is to defend yourself. What happens when these families are torn apart as a result of disease? And that’s what cancer is doing to households around the world.
THE BEAT: It’s great talking to you. I’m excited to get into this world and check out some of the books, too. They sound somewhat like a writer’s room where you have all these writers developing the stories.
Ian Somerhalder: That’s exactly what it is. It’s like a f*cking writer’s room. You bring them all together. You have to have balls as a writer to say, “I don’t know these storylines, but I love them, and I want to bring together the writers.” Just get the first book, and you and I will talk next season.
Season 1 of V-Wars hits Netflix on Thursday, December 5.