Credit: Bob Mahoney/The CW

Image Credit: Bob Mahoney/The CWThe Vampire Diaries returns tonight with its first new episode of 2011 (check out our primer on where we left off), and no one may be more excited to see it than Ian Somerhalder: As his Twitter followers may recall, he had walking pneumonia late last year — for two months. Tonight’s episode is the last one he shot while sick.

“I had to do ADR on four episodes extensively. Two episodes I had to loop completely. Literally, almost every single word I said,” Somerhalder told us earlier this month. “It was a battle. There was nothing I could do. First of all, you have to take a bunch of medications so you can actually speak and breathe, and that dopes you up, and then you’re like one of those little bobblehead Chihuahuas. You’re just kinda goin’. When you can’t breathe out of your nose, or you have a mouth full of cough drops so you’re not coughing through the entire scene, it makes it difficult. I’m not making excuses for any kind of bad performance, but it just leveled me, and it leveled Damon. But it’s gone, and I’m done with it. So I’m not gonna be boring anymore.”

Somerhalder said he rallied to film tonight’s episode, directed by cast and fan favorite Marcos Siega. “Marcos was back. It was a very emotional Damon episode, and I just wouldn’t allow it. I literally sat in my sauna for over an hour a day and sweated everything out,” he says. It didn’t help that he was having flashbacks to five years ago when he got sick during an off-Broadway run of the Peanuts parody Dog Sees God: Confessions of a Teenage Blockhead. “It was all the Peanuts characters in high school on drugs like having sex with each other. It was me, America Ferrera, Eddie Kaye Thomas, Eliza Dushku, just an incredible cast. But I was sick for 16 shows. Two straight weeks, I was deathly ill. And I ate a bag of Ricola per show. ONE BAG. So I had that weird sense memory kind of thing for two months on [Vampire Diaries], and I just thought Ohmygosh, if that would have happened to me in live theater, I would have been done. They would have recast. So I’m happy they didn’t fire me.”

Luckily (or unluckily), the Vampire Diaries producers are used to it. “Oh yeah. We’re plagued. Plagued with injury,” exec producer Julie Plec told us in late December. “Nina [Dobrev] threw her back out and was sidelined for weeks. And then Paul Wesley fell and twisted his ankle and has been in a boot.” When we talked to Wesley earlier this month, the boot was off, and the actor, who was on crutches for three weeks and had to delay shooting, was nearly 100 percent recovered — except for maybe his pride. “I was running down the street in a pair of boots in LA, and it was raining, and I had an umbrella, and whatever, I fell on the curb. It’s ridiculous. I wish I had a better story for you. I wish I could have told you that I karate-kicked an assailant. But unfortunately, it was my own stupidity and clumsiness,” he said, laughing. “Very anti-Stefan. I think that would be great if Stefan was running down the street and he sprained his ankle. That would humanize him a little bit, you know.”

“It’s been like a little cursed set down there for awhile,” exec producer Kevin Williamson told us in early January. Even he was on crutches for three weeks after visiting the Atlanta set, slipping on the Salvatore basement steps, and ending up in the emergency room. “I Facebook’d my emergency room pictures,” he says, laughing. “I was at the hotel in Atlanta, and I didn’t want to wake anybody up, and so I finally crawled down to the lobby and said, ‘Get me a cab. I need to go to the emergency room.’ I had completely messed my ankle up. Overnight it had swelled up. I couldn’t walk. It was the most painful thing in the world. All because I stumbled on the steps. I did the same sort of maneuver as Paul, twisted it the wrong way.” Williamson, however, had one advantage over Wesley: as a writer, he could sit. “The problem with Paul’s [ankle] was his never got to heal, because he kept having to stand on it, and walk on it, and act on it. So he never truly got to stay off of it. That’s why it took forever to get him off the crutches. We would go in, and stand him up there, and then take the crutches away, and he’d do the scene, and then ‘Cut!’, and someone would run in with the crutches,” Williamson recounts, unable not to laugh at the visual.

Knock on wood, the only delay in production we’ve heard about since then have been snow days. “Maybe they’re gonna have to start rewriting outdoor scenes and saying that there’s snow,” Michael Trevino joked with us earlier this month. “‘And now they’re sledding in Mystic Falls.’ Yay.”

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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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