'Vampire Diaries': Daniel Gillies talks Elijah's turn on and his pick for playing Klaus -- EXCLUSIVE
Image Credit: Quantrell Colbert/The CWAs eager as fans of The Vampire Diaries are to meet Klaus — the oldest, baddest, bloodsucker of them all due to arrive in Mystic Falls by the end of season 2 — the wait has been, and will continue to be, entertaining thanks to Daniel Gillies, who plays Elijah. The fellow Original vampire made a deal with Elena in the December cliffhanger promising to keep her safe as long as she helps him lure out and kill Klaus. We don’t know if Elijah, who’s pretending to author a book on small towns, is a man of his word, but we do know that he will stick around and assimilate when the show returns with new episodes, starting Jan. 27. “Imagine the historical society tea party hosted in his honor,” teases exec producer Julie Plec. While Elijah acquires whatever information he’s seeking, and we begin to learn what his relationship was to Klaus and why it went south, there’s another question to be answered: How will his presence affect Damon? “Elijah could off Damon in a heartbeat, but that’s the guy that Damon wanted to be. That’s the guy that Damon thought he was in season 1,” Ian Somerhalder says. “We shot a scene where I’m watching Elijah kick some major ass, and in the middle of this scene, I kind of found myself nodding yeah. Like, wow. There’s a certain respect that I think Damon has for him. And I love having someone that poses that type of threat but garners some props.”
Gillies nearly wasn’t cast in the role. After his audition, he was told producers were looking for an older Elijah. But then a couple weeks later, his manager got the call that they might go younger after all, and if they did, he could be their guy. According to Plec, she and Kevin Williamson always knew the character would have a substantial run on the show, but they also had an escape hatch in case it didn’t work out. They didn’t need to use it. “That’s a character that presumably exists to die, and yet every time we start talking about that, we get very upset,” Plec says. “We knew that we were gonna give the surprise that he wasn’t dead at the end of his first episode, but the more we like him, the more complicated we make the rule about how an Original can be killed for good.” Here, Gillies takes us inside the character, revealing how he drew inspiration from Kelsey Grammer and who he’d like to play his nemesis (Ian McShane!). For more on what’s to come when The Vampire Diaries returns for the second half of season 2, pick up the new issue of Entertainment Weekly on stands Friday.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: All you really knew about Elijah when you auditioned was that he was an older vampire and incredibly dangerous. What did you bring to the character?
DANIEL GILLIES: I didn’t want him to sound like an American. I remember thinking, I know that this guy’s been living in the States for a couple hundred years, but he’s probably somebody who travels to Europe frequently, probably speaks 10 or 12 languages, including some extinct languages. I wanted him to sound a little bit like Kelsey Grammer [laughs], if that makes any sense. I wanted him to sound like old money from the United States, because I also thought that it lent a weight and, dare I say, dignity to his character, without being too foppish or overly gentrified. I thought there would be a danger in him the more elegant he was. I didn’t see him as a grimacing, arch, mustache-twirling guy ever. I think that’s how some people might have seen him, and I think that was a mistake. I always liked those men who didn’t really do terribly much, but did an enormous amount of damage. He’s much more economical than most. I like the idea that he had economy of movement, of words, of action, of everything.
And yet, he knows how to make an entrance.
If this was a Western, he’d be the guy in the black cowboy suit with a massive 40 gallon hat walking into the saloon. He’s always killing. Every week, I read [the script], and I think, Ohmygod, I’m Jaws. Every week, I think, Man, I get to do all the coolest stuff. Believe me, I’ve done those roles where you don’t get to do all the coolest stuff. To be able to play the guy who was spoken about for half an episode and then he walks into the room — you don’t really have to do a hell of a lot. I’ll go out to bars now, and people will stop me, and especially girls, I guess — and I’m a married guy [his wife is She’s All That‘s Rachael Leigh Cook], so this is not at all appealing to me — and they’re like, “You’re just so terrifying. How do you do that?” It’s Kevin and Julie’s creation. I’m not trying to fake humility here, I really think [of it as] I’m lucky enough to be able to participate in something that they created, and just get out of the way of it. It’s funny, people give you altogether too much credit for the things that other people do, mainly Kevin and Julie and the cinematographer.
So people are drawn to you and not crossing the street to get away from you.
I will give myself that much: I did give him a sense of humor. I didn’t just make him a villain, and I think the writers have acted accordingly, because I think they enjoy that as well. I’ve given him this bemused pathos… I thought that he was funny. To have lived even a couple of centuries, one has to have a sense of humor. Do you know what I mean? I would think at least one would have to find the human condition, or just the condition of being conscious, sort of amusing. Their view of death must be so interesting. I always imagine, given that he’s never experienced it truly, he’s never vanished from the planet, that it would feel strange to watch it being so fleeting. There must be a sense of envy about it after a while, in some respects, even though obviously, you want to stick around.
I understand he will be integrated more into the town, not just popping up to see Elena.
That stuff’s fun. He’s really trying to entrench himself, and in a sense, he’s creating this kind of phalanx around Elena using Damon and Stefan. He’s sort of like a military tactician almost. I feel like he, unlike myself, has the patience of a god. I feel like he would wait 100 years to be able to avenge something, a slight on him. I know what I think his attitude is toward these historical society things. I think he’s incredibly learned. I think he already has a very broad knowledge of the area. He definitely does, it’s revealed precisely how later on. But it’s quite possible that he’s bored out of his mind at this function, but the thing that fuels him is his desire to lure Klaus.
Are you still in the dark about Elijah’s true motivations?
I’ll be honest, I don’t know. They keep us in the dark as well from episode to episode. But you can’t really play a character unless you at least take a guess. I was like, look, I’m gonna make some decisions, and if I’m wrong down the road, then I’ll be wrong. But if I don’t start making decisions, then it’s just gonna be this gelatinous entity. It’s not gonna have any spirit. I’d rather be wrong but owning my incorrect direction.
And you think your initial guess is still correct?
I do, actually. I think I’m not very far off.
Fans have been vocal offering suggestions for who they think should play Klaus. Is there someone you’d love to see cast?
I don’t think they’ll go the direction that I would want them to go. I think he should be older. People really think oh, they’re gonna go with a young guy because it’s The CW, and everybody’s kind of young and sexy, except maybe me. [Laughs] But it’s true, they are by and large gorgeous young people, who are also great, smart actors. But I would personally lean toward somebody really, really potent, and I think it would be very interesting to see somebody with some years. I don’t think that somebody with some age and a little cragginess is mutually exclusive to somebody also being sexy as well, by the way. But I think that they’ll go younger. They’ll never go with somebody over 40. But I would love it if it were Julian Sands. I think he would be terrifying. I would love, of course, Rutger Hauer.
[Gillies looks him up on his computer.] Oh, this guy’s awesome. God, I would love it. This guy’s not even old. He’s pretty damn good-looking. He’d be perfect… If you could cast anybody in the world to be Klaus, I would say Jonathan Rhys Meyers in terms of a young guy. In terms of an old guy, anybody in the world — Gene Hackman. [Laughs] I say f—ing go for it. Make him just like a motherf—er, you know what I mean. This guy should just crush it. You can’t fake strength. You can meet some actors as people, and they feel really strong, and they start acting, and their strength goes away. You meet other guys, you’re like, this guy’s little and whatever, and then you start seeing a scene with him, and you’re like, where the f— did that come from? I’ve seen burly giants, guys who look like they’ve been in prison, and they’ll start acting with you, and there’s nothing. You’re like, this guy’s a pussy cat. He’s faking it, or he’s pushing the power that he has. Guys that are truly strong, they don’t push. They just know they are. Whoever they choose, I just hope that they really feel like the devil just walked in. Have you seen Sexy Beast? Ben Kingsley is basically the first half of the movie. He’s so demonic and so scary, and you’re thinking, ohmygod, nothing could ever be this terrifying. But Ben Kingsley is basically like the Elijah, and they keep talking about the Klaus. I remember watching the movie the first time thinking, Alright, who the f— are they gonna bring in that’s gonna be scarier than Ben Kingsley? And then in walks Ian McShane. And I’m like, Alright. [Laughs] Touche. Bravo… Scratch everybody. Ian McShane for Klaus. That would be awesome. He would be the most terrifying vampire of all time.
That would be brilliant.
I mean, Ian McShane. Holy s—. He trumps everybody.
I like it. There’s not an older villain like that on the show, and I think it would throw Damon and Stefan off.
Right. I totally agree. [Unfortunately, Williamson doesn’t. “I think that would be great, too,” he says, “but I don’t know if we’re gonna go that old for the part. It has to be someone that we truly believe was in a relationship with Katherine, because that’s where it started. He seduced her and whisked her away.” Fair enough, we say. But couldn’t Katherine, whose father made her give up her baby and then banished her, have had daddy issues?]
Elijah has already met Jenna, who acted as Historical Society hostess for him. Will they continue to interact?
He kinda will be using Jenna. I’m playing that he’s a little bit attracted to her. I think he thinks she’s kinda cute, actually. But more than that, I think he’s enjoying the fact that whenever he’s around her, Alaric and everybody is kind of getting terrified. I think he finds Elena attractive, too. I mean, I know he does. Maybe that’s just me. I’m just kidding. But I think that he enjoys the results of his attractions almost more than the attraction himself. I think he derives something sexual from the terror he instills from just being around people. If he’s charming somebody, and somebody else is frightened, that’s a particular turn on for him.
What does Elijah think of Damon?
I think that Damon is probably a little bit like a very young Elijah. I think Elijah knows that Elena is gonna be safe with Damon overseeing things, but I think that he sees him as kind of harmless — which is probably his folly. It’s like, “Alright, I’ve crushed vampires like you in my sleep, and again, I could have murdered you several times now. You’ll do what I say.” He’s little more than human to Elijah. Damon’s so cocky beyond what he’s actually capable of, which I think is what makes Damon endearing a little bit. It makes him kinda human. He’s like a tenacious little dog or something.
Last question: We know Uncle John is returning by February. I’d be excited to see scenes between you and David Anders. I assume we’re getting some?
That’s interesting. There is definitely some stuff approaching with us. My take on it is, Elijah’s gonna know who he is. This guy knows everything. He knows the machinations of the town. From the moment he discovered Elena there, I think he went crazy researching exactly what’s going on. I mean, he’s doing this “historical society thing.” He’s finding out where the bloodlines led from, what legacy has bequeathed what and to whom. I think that he’s researched the hell out of this area. He’s not unlike an FBI agent. I bet he has his resources and his means to discover exactly what’s in John’s checkered history as well. And again, I don’t think he’s perceived as any kind of threat.
Follow Mandi on Twitter: @EWMandiBierly
More on The Vampire Diaries:
Ian Somerhalder, Nina Dobrev, and Paul Wesley star in the CW’s romance-infused vampire soap opera.