By Mandi Bierly
Updated September 08, 2010 at 03:00 PM EDT

Image Credit: Patrick Ecclesine / The CWThe Vampire Diaries has been good to Ian Somerhalder: It earned him a spot on Entertainment Weekly’s 2009 list of TV’s Best Bitches and the title of Sexiest Beast in this summer’s popular bracket game, which saw readers rack up more than 1.5 million votes while whittling the 64-deep field down to his devilishly delicious Damon Salvatore and Twilight‘s saintly sensitive Edward Cullen. Shortly after his victory last month, we caught up with a humbled and grateful Somerhalder, who was already feeling the pressure that comes with the crown…

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Congratulations on Damon being named the ultimate Sexy Beast.

IAN SOMERHALDER: [Laughs] That is so cool.

What would you like to say to the people who voted for you?

Thank you, thank you, thank you. It makes you realize the dedication of the fans, how much fun they’re having and how much fun they make us have. It’s the fans who are making the success of the show happen. We can’t thank them enough. We’re just doing the acting leg of it. Season 2 is starting [Sept. 9, 8 p.m. ET, The CW], and we’re gonna try not to suck. Wow, that’s a terrible pun. Let me reword that. You finish the first season of the show, and everyone worked their asses off, and the season went really well, and people liked the show. But then season 2 comes up, and you realize, whoa, we have more of a responsibility now. The heat is really on now.We cannot do a bad job. So, we are committed to making this a better year of television than last year. So that’s what I want to tell everyone: “Thank you, and literally, we’ll try not to suck.” [Laughs]

We know from promos that Katherine [Nina Dobrev as the vampire lover who essentially turned the brothers in 1864] says she’s returned for Stefan and never loved Damon. What can you tease about season 2?

Poor Damon. Katherine comes back, and it’s the chicken or the egg thing. In the story, Katherine obviously came before Damon, and Damon learned a lot of his antics from Katherine and then 150 years of cynicism. When I watch Nina be Katherine, it’s crazy, the similarity that you see between Katherine and Damon. She starts wreaking havoc in a very similar way that for most of season 1 Damon wreaked havoc — because he wanted something. You’re gonna see Damon in a way in which you haven’t necessarily seen him before dealing with Katherine and what happens after so many years of longing and wanting to be with someone, being hurt and let down in that extreme manner.It’s a lot of fun watching Katherine and how powerful and manipulative and sexy and crazy she is. It’s a lot of fun to play. It’s brutal for me. [In classic Damon delivery] Damon doesn’t always get what he wants now, which is boring for Ian, but great for the story.

After the show premiered last fall, you told us that you used to be jealous of Josh Holloway for the things he got to say and do as Sawyer on Lost. Now Damon is that character. What do you think it is about him that draws fans in?

I only know what I love about him: Though he may be doing things that are off our moral compass, Damon loves what he’s doing, and he’s enjoying the hell out of his life, even despite the amount of pain and anger that he has inside of him. A lot of the world has a lot of pain and anger, and it’s fun to watch someone who’s learned how to take their pain and make it fun. [Exec producers] Kevin [Williamson] and Julie [Plec] have assembled a phenomenal writing team. When I watch the episodes, I don’t see Damon as me, because Damon is such a specific, strong character. It has nothing to do with me. It’s the way it’s written down on the page.

I recently spoke with Kevin and Julie for EW’s Fall TV preview issue [on stands Sept. 10], and he said something that I wanted to float by you: According to him, it’s a blessing when an actor is asked to be shirtless in a scene on The Vampire Diaries because of the heat in Atlanta. Is that how you look at it?

At this point, why not? Literally. Let me tell you something. I love the South. I’m from the South. I’m a Southern boy. You experience temperatures here that one just doesn’t understand until one is actually geographically here. I am watching our crew members melting like snowmen. It’s insane. When we are in wardrobe and it’s 100 degrees, with 60, 70, 80 percent humidity, you get this heat index and it just sticks to you. So yeah, why not? It is easier just to have your shirt off. I walk around set with it off half the time anyway now, so we might as well shoot it on camera.I’m imagining this isn’t gonna last much longer, but it is summer in Georgia, baby. That’s what you get.

Well, congratulations again, and good luck with season 2. I hope it doesn’t suck. I’m sure it will not.

[Laughs] If it doesn’t suck, I’m sure I’ll talk to you again soon. If it does suck, then I’ll know because you’re not gonna call me back.

The Sexy Beast victory song written for Somerhalder by Ernesto Riley (aka his castmate Matt Davis, who plays Alaric):

More on Ian Somerhalder:

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The Vampire Diaries

Ian Somerhalder, Nina Dobrev, and Paul Wesley star in the CW’s romance-infused vampire soap opera.

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