Vampire Diaries: Daniel Gillies remembers creating 'the monster in the suit'
With one season left in The Vampire Diaries’ run, we decided it was time to start collecting everyone’s final diary entries. Every week during the final season, EW is asking those involved with the show to look back on one of their favorite moments from the series. So grab your tissues and join us on this trip down a vampire-filled memory lane.
This week, Daniel Gillies remembers his beginning as Elijah Mikaelson…
Very little was described to me in the beginning. They didn’t know what they wanted to do with Elijah. It was never anyone’s intention to make him Klaus’ brother. He was something of a mercenary or a hit man, and I think he was destined to be eliminated relatively early in the fabric of that narrative. I was very blessed in that I had a decent character and for some reason I immediately knew he was going to be around for a while, just even reading the sides. I don’t know how I knew, I just knew instinctively that there was something interesting about him. It was just one of those lucky occasions where you have a sensation of what you feel the character is and fortunately, I immediately had a grasp of what he is.
In the beginning, he was a lot more ruthless. The character vacillated in and out of that and another version of this creature, which desperately tried to recapture some degree of innocence and nobility or indeed humanity. He would go from that creature to the savage one, the monster in the suit.
They weren’t in a great rush to make him a “good guy.” They wanted him to stick around, and I think both Julie [Plec] and Kevin [Williamson] were concerned that he might not be liked if he was too villainous, but I think that was what people were sort of drawn to. Until Klaus came, they needed that energy, that great foe.
What became really difficult for us is, it became drastically simplistic to look at anyone as a good guy or a bad guy. To simplify in that way, you had to reestablish what a norm was. For example, there’s some fundamental survival essentials for a vampire: They’re cannibals and they need to consume people. Even though the audience is ostensibly protected from that behavior a lot of the time, we have to remember that no matter what you think of the Salvatore brothers or Elijah and Niklaus, especially, they’re consistently feeding on human victims. If you just take that very simple behavior into account, then immediately you can’t judge your “heroes” on a human level of morality, justice, and nobility. They’re the bad guys. So in a world of bad guys, what is another bad guy?
When Niklaus entered, it was an interesting shift. You certainly saw this history, you saw a glimpse of their past and I think that was exciting because what we really are looking at with the whole vampire motif, whenever I personally felt either show was most successful was when they talked about humanity. To me, the whole vampire motif is about humanity. You have these immortal figures but they’re actually looking at mortal lives with tremendous envy. To me, the metaphor of the vampire’s beautiful, no matter where you look for it in literature. In a way, it’s asking you to look at humanity and life as a gift.
When Niklaus entered into that sphere of the narrative, suddenly we introduced the two biggest monsters that we’d had in the tapestry of The Vampire Diaries thus far and they were dragging around with them, in a wagon behind them, this deluge of monstrosity, bloodshed, and humanity buried somewhere deep beneath that avalanche. I enjoyed any exploration of who he and Klaus were in the beginning because there was just so much gray. The very beginning was particularly enjoyable.
The most exciting thing that happened was discovering that I had a character that I wanted to fiercely protect. Elijah really made me a much better writer because I started writing ferociously for him. I have done ever since, together with the writers. The Vampire Diaries was kind of the beginning of a new way of working for me, which was that I never wanted to arrive on the set without having a really good compass and sense of direction. That’s what I look back at most fondly: I’m just so grateful that I was positioned in this role that I did love very much and I made a decision to protect with my life and I made a decision to write for. I have Elijah to thank for making me a much better writer.
–As told to Samantha Highfill
The Vampire Diaries airs Fridays at 8 p.m. ET on The CW.
Ian Somerhalder, Nina Dobrev, and Paul Wesley star in the CW’s romance-infused vampire soap opera.