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Ian Somerhalder talks 'Vampire Diaries' (and why we want to slap him, then kiss him)

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Ian-Somerhalder_lTo celebrate The Vampire Diaries (Thursdays, 8 p.m. ET) scoring the biggest ratings for a series debut in the history of The CW, Ian Somerhalder, a.k.a. bad vampire brother Damon, happily answered a few questions from PopWatch readers on Tuesday while awaiting his flight from Atlanta, where the Kevin Williamson drama films, to Hawaii, where he’ll be reprising his role of Boone in “several” episodes of Lost this season. Setting that scene is crucial so you can understand why Somerhalder laughed so long when we revealed the landslide results of our poll asking readers whether they would slap the actor, kiss him, or slap him, then kiss him.

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Literally, the first question submitted for you was from Jason, who asked, “When will we see Damon shirtless on the show? Kthx. Love, the gays.”

IAN SOMERHALDER: Immediately. [See: the promo for tonight’s episode.] I think Damon will probably have his clothes off often. [Laughs] He’s a troublemaker, what’s a good troublemaker without some…

Sex scenes?

There are a lot of things for Damon to do with his clothes off.

Cryptic. Leo wanted to know if there’s any chance of a love scene WITHOUT death being the end result?

Ohmygoodness, I hope so. No, of course. The thing is, there’s a really funny thing that these boys have, Damon in particular — the whole mind compulsion thing. I can essentially do whatever I want to you, and then make you completely forget about it. Which… it comes in handy, you know what I mean? [Laughs] I’m glad I don’t have that power. That would be daaaangerous.

Is Damon purely evil? A lot of readers are trying to figure out how they should feel about him.

He does things that would definitely be deemed as evil, and at best, mean, at times. But he does them because he believes in what he’s doing. It would not be on the heels of someone like Kevin Williamson to write a one-dimensional character. Damon’s clearly not that. Damon is the most fun character I’ve ever played. He’s such a blast. I guarantee you he’s not gonna be a one-trick pony.

Some people would say the show’s success depends on the chemistry between Elena and Stefan. I think a show like this is only as good as its villain. How do you see it?

I just see it as another component in the story. Every love story needs a catalyst of some sort. Love is tested in so many ways. How do I articulate this? Two people are together. There are stakes, strife, struggles, all these things that make us fall for someone, love someone even more, leave someone. But there’s always a catalyst. Something happens. And Damon, I think, is just that catalyst.

Debi asked if there’s anything special you do to climb into Damon’s mind?

Ooh, I don’t think I want to go there. That might offend a lot of people. [Laughs]

Then it’s something we need to hear.

Damon goes into some weird places, and you wouldn’t have that conversation with your girlfriend’s mother, ’cause she would never let you back into the house. [Laughs] Once the teeth and the eyes go in, I become like a completely different dude, which is a lot of fun. He’s not necessarily a prankster, but he just loves to have fun — that’s the gag, that’s what makes this whole thing so fun. I was always so envious of Josh Holloway on Lost because he always gets to say the cool stuff. And it’s always so fun to watch, even if it’s someone you don’t necessarily like, you still want to hear what they have to say and the way they say it. They truly mean what they’re saying, even if it’s demented and wrong.

Becca wanted to know who or what influenced or inspired you to craft Damon the way that you have.

I don’t know of one specific actor, I just know that the ones who I’ve always been drawn to, that always amazed me whether they were good or bad — like Cary Grant, Jack Nicholson, Ed Harris — they all have something that was interesting. Whether they were being an antagonist or a protagonist, there’s always something in their eyes. You could never quite tell what they were thinking, you just knew that they were thinking something and it probably wasn’t good. [Laughs]

You definitely have that.

Well, we’ll see. [Laughs] Until Damon gets a stake in his heart.

I did a poll when I recapped the premiere asking readers if they saw you the actor, not the character, would they slap you, kiss you, or slap you, then kiss you.

Oh my god.

We had more than 4,400 people vote: 80 percent said they’d slap you, then kiss you.

[He laughs, heartily]

Do those results surprise you at all?

Not. At. All. That’s awesome. That is so funny… I’m at an airport, and I’m looking at very long stretches of people, and I can just imagine 4,000 people lined up and kissing all of them and getting slapped.

I think it goes back to what you were just saying: When it’s difficult to read people, you find them unnerving and yet, you’re attracted to them.

Yeah. You want to know what the hell are they thinking? Why are they doing this? It’s so mean. It’s so wrong. It’s kinda funny, it’s kinda sick. [Laughs]

We’ve talked about what you like about playing Damon. Is there something that scares you about the role?

Yeah. That I just don’t screw it up.

How did you know it was right for you?

This guy is gonna get himself into some trouble, and the attraction was simply the fact that I haven’t really gotten a chance to play those characters and really have fun. I’ve sorta learned that I’m so tired of taking myself so seriously. It’s so great to show up at work and truly enjoy every word you say.

Blair wanted to know if it’s nice to not have to protect your scripts under lock and key? Or are your scripts still under lock and key?

You mean physically or metaphorically? The distribution on these scripts is really tight. I keep my script very close to me at all times. I would never want to have to deal with the wrath of Kevin or the studio or anyone. Our scripts are all watermarked, our names are on them, so if they get out through photocopies, it’s clear whose it was. So there’s responsibility, and there should be responsibility for that. Scripts leaking kills it, it’s not fun.

Have you read the books? We’re finding that when we write about shows like this and True Blood, fans who’ve read the books they’re based on will write comments that they don’t realize are major spoilers for people who haven’t.

That’s funny. I hadn’t read the books before, and actually just started reading them. This show is an interpretation of the books, but it’s not a translation. I think it’s gonna be fun to see where they take it. I think the books are a great backbone, skeletal structure of where to go, and there are a lot of great storylines within that. I don’t think Kevin’s slept in like a month and a half. Our writers work their asses off. Having stories that are fleshed out is a very, very difficult component of writing scripts, and having five books to pull from — that’s amazing. I understand how premieres of shows work and the drop-off in the number of people watching, but this show only gets better, and I say that truly. Every script, you sit there and you go, Wow, what a blast. There’s a lot of fun and unique storytelling happening on this show right now, and I just hope that we get to do it for a while.

More on The Vampire Diaries:

Gallery: Where you’ve seen 10 of its stars before

Premiere recap: Consider us glamoured

Ken Tucker’s review

Q&A with star Nina Dobrev

Costar Kayla Ewell talks about alleged flashing incident

Photo credit: Kevin Mazur/Wireimage.com

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