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March 07, 2010

'The Vampire Diaries'

Ian Somerhalder, Nina Dobrev and Paul Wesley at PaleyFestBy Philiana Ng

It was the "Ian and Paul Show" on a rainy Saturday at PaleyFest's seventh night honoring the CW's soap-tastic freshman drama "The Vampire Diaries."

With an audience filled with 80% fangirls, some of whom wore t-shirts supporting Team Damon or Team Stefan (a la "Twilight"), the three leads and executive producers gave the crowd exactly what they came for: sexiness, humor and a kiss from one of the Salvatore brothers.

The evening opened with executive producer Kevin Williamson ("Dawson's Creek") introducing a screening of the show's highly anticipated March 25 episode "A Few Good Men" and during the 42 minutes, there were gasps, cheers and laughs resonating from the 1,800 seat Saban Theatre. (Executive producer Julie Plec teased to a potential airing of the episode on Twitter.)

In its second prolonged hiatus, the upcoming return was true to the show's form with at least a dozen twists and reveals certain to be watercooler talk. And if that's not enough, Ms. Julie Cooper (Melinda Clarke) makes an appearance as Matt's (Zach Roerig) absent mother.

Normally panelist intros don't mean much, besides a measure of someone's popularity, before TV Guide's Craig Tomashoff had the chance to say Ian Somerhalder's (Damon) name, several fangirls shrieked with glee though Paul Wesley (Stefan) was a close second with the shriek-o-meter.

"We had never seen it (the episode) before," Somerhalder said after the hoopla, when Tomashoff asked for the cast's reactions post-screening. "We think it turned out very well."

With Damon, deemed "the evil one" -- though the "Lost" star has stated in interviews that it's all about one's perspective -- and compelling his victims for his own agenda, if Somerhalder were to have his character's power, what would he do with it? "I would compel our executive producers to get what we wanted," Somerhalder replied to several audience members laughing. "Just kidding."

Several cast members had wishes of what they wanted their characters to do. "Elena goes to find her father next and he'll be in Australia," former "Degrassi" star Nina Dobrev (Elena/Katherine) said. "Just sayin'."

"The whole next episode will be set in a hot tub," Somerhalder added. A panelist responded, "That's so Damon-like!"

Kevin Williamson and Ian Somerhalder at PaleyFestWith a built-in audience from the L.J. Smith novels, which came before Stephenie Meyer's "Twilight" saga, executive producer Bob Levy said everyone knew they were on to something the first day Wesley worked on the pilot in Canada and they saw the chemistry between he and Dobrev. For Plec, it was a Super Bowl commercial advertising the Dodge Charger, when it mentioned "vampire TV shows." Because it was a plural reference, it meant their show mattered.

But Williamson had initial reservations about jumping onto the vampire bandwagon. "I said, 'I didn't want to do this. It's 'Twilight,' " he said, referring to the Smith novels Plec had given him to read. Then it was discovered what the books were really about: the town of Mystic Falls. Though the pilot was very "Twilight"-esque with the "girl meets boy" plotline, it was a necessary set-up for future episodes, wherein the show comes into its own. But first, they had to get through the "Twilight" gate, Williamson said.

Tomashoff asked the trio of thespians' if they got along with each other. "We spend every waking moment with each other," Somerhalder said. "We should just move in together," Wesley chimed in. "I need a walk-in closet," Dobrev added, giving the attendees a true taste of the actors' genuine rapport.

The fact that "The Vampire Diaries" shoots outside of Hollywood might also have been a catalyst for the tight-knit friendship between cast members. Williamson compared the cast's experiences shooting in Atlanta to the days filming "Dawson's Creek" in Wilmington, North Carolina. "They're a family and they're friends and they hang out," he said.

Tomashoff asked the actors if any of them had specific roles within the group. "I think we know who the instigator is," Wesley said, eyeing Somerhalder to laughs from the theater. After an audience member shouted out "Woo!," Somerhalder caved, "Definitely instigator."

When asked to psychoanalyze their characters, Wesley said, "Stefan needs to stop analyzing." But hinted that "the good vampire" may not be as clean-cut or truthful as one might have assumed. As the season progresses, he teased that Stefan was hiding something.

Nina Dobrev at PaleyFest Dobrev took her turn next. "They're (Elena and Katherine) so different. Elena is ... a normal girl going to high school ... and then this one comes in," she said, looking at Wesley. "And that one comes [looking to her right at Somerhalder]. What's a girl to do?" "Run!," Somerhalder answered. A woman in the audience yelled out, "Enjoy it!"

With many of the flashback scenes pivotal in dissecting the Salvatore brothers' story, the cast said they enjoyed shooting the 19th century parts. "She (Nina) leans on this thing to eat [when she's in her corset]," Somerhalder said. "She looks happy and then like she's in pain."

"We get to see Damon with his innocence and when he was vulnerable," Williamson said, also mentioning that he was currently writing a flashback episode. 

Levy offered this amount of information when asked how closely the Smith novels were being used for the show. "The books are a starting place ... then the writers make it their own," he said. "It's a risk though ... there are a lot of loyal, loyal fans," Plec added. Williamson said he liked to see changes from a book to its small-screen adaptation. If a TV show followed a book's blueprint, then why not just read the books?

Somerhalder gave perhaps the most profound statement of the night. "Predictability is what we live with but the antithesis of that is what makes it exciting," he said.

Then the conversation turned to the fledgling online fan community. The majority of the cast, save for Wesley, and members of the creative team, including Plec, Williamson and director Marcos Siega, have active Twitter accounts. Many of the writers have a standing appointment every Thursday at 5 p.m. to go on Twitter to see what people are saying about that week's episode. "People will be like, 'OMFG 'TVD'!', " Plec said. 

Tomashoff brought up that someone had tweeted that Williamson and Plec were at a Los Angeles iHop recently. Both were stunned by the news, recalling that they were breaking a story at the diner because they needed a change of venue.  "Our characters are dictated by what goes on at iHop!," Somerhalder said, after their confession.

Sometimes cast members take acting notes from each other. When Dobrev had to channel her inner vampire, she used Somerhalder's portrayal of Damon as a reference point. "Katherine taught Damon everything he is so I basically just copy whatever Ian does," she said.

During the audience Q&A, a Team Stefan supporter went down a laundry list of things like how the show has revtalized Thursday night TV and how attractive Wesley was. Wesley took off his mic and jumped offstage, giving the adoring fan a long hug and kisses on the cheek, posing for numerous photos. Would Somerhalder step it up?

Paul Wesley, Nina Dobrev and Ian Somerhalder at PaleyFestA fan asked about the origins of Damon and Stefan's rings. "Well, I Googled 'vampire rings,' " Williamson said, causing audience members to laugh at the mention of the search engine.

The night would not have been complete if there wasn't a question about "Dawson's Creek." A fan commented that she was still upset over the series finale that aired in 2003, in which Joey chose Pacey over Dawson. "Joey and Dawson are forever. ... Joey's just having sex with Pacey," Williamson answered, which prompted some raucous within the theater.

A young girl wearing a cowboy hat asked what should have been posed earlier in the panel, about the status of the Damon-Elena dynamic. "Does Elena have a crush on Damon?," she asked. "If Damon gets the stupid necklace off her (Elena's) neck ... one girl at a time, that's all I can do," Somerhalder said.

"They're becoming such unlikely friends. ... That'll be an interesting [road]," Williamson added. 

"Damon is going to realize that he has a crush on Elena long before Elena realizes she has one on Damon," Plec teased.

"Season 5, Damon's driving a Prius with long hair," Wesley joked.

Tidbits for the bloodthirsty:

-- "The Vampire Diaries" uses the same special effects people who do "True Blood." To solve the problem of having both shows look eerily similar, Williamson told them not do whatever they just did for the HBO series for his.
-- "We have a low budget and I think our show looks really good," Williamson shared with the audience, about the series' dark tone and look.
-- Somerhalder has been going to a chiropractor for two weeks after a brutal fight scene with Wesley. When Wesley heard about it, he felt terrible, apologizing to his co-star.
-- Somerhalder's portrayal of Damon is in large part inspired by Cary Grant.
-- There will be a scene with Damon peeling an orange, according to Plec.
-- Dobrev still had to audition numerous times for the part of Elena even though the job was essentially hers.
-- "A Few Good Men" (which airs March 25) teasers: Elena finds out who her biological mom is and it's someone we've already met. Damon goes on a drinking binge. (spoiler alert!) Anna (Malese Jow) and Pearl (Kelly Hu) return, and they may have something to do with the vampire that escaped the tomb. Isobel (Mia Kirshner) gives Alaric (Matt Davis) a ring that saves him from death.

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Comments

Wow, thank you for writing it down! Great job! I almost feel like I was there, hahaha. May I ask you a question? When you say "Isobel gives Alaric a ring" you mean "gives" or "gave"? It sounds like a present tense, but the mystery of Alaric's heirloom is yet to be solved (you may be talking about flashback.. if not, then I can't wait to see this episode!) Thanks in advance!

Thanks so much for writing it up! It's great that those of us who weren't able to go can still join in the fun :)

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