'Vampire Diaries': Chris Wood on Justifying Kai's Killer Acts and Outplaying Damon

"Damon has never come up against a foe that is so like him and that he is so unable to affect"
Bob Mahoney/The CW
'The Vampire Diaries'

Has Damon met his match The Vampire Diaries? It certainly seems that way.

The charming yet maniacal Kai (Chris Wood), whom viewers were first introduced to a few episodes back in the May 10, 1994 vacuum, wasn't exactly what Damon (Ian Somerhalder) and Bonnie (Kat Graham) were hoping for. For one thing, he's a carbon copy of early-Vampire Diaries Damon, with his heated zingers and unaffected nonchalance. And, as it turns out, Kai is a full-blown killer, massacring his entire family — a fact that hampers Damon and Bonnie's decision to go through with his proposal to bring him along to their world.

Wood talks to The Hollywood Reporter about transforming into Kai, being part of a three-person play and whether Kai is ultimately redeemable.

In last week's episode, viewers discovered a lot about Kai's backstory and how he ended up in his personal hell. What was your initial reaction to learning that he was a crazy serial killer?

During the audition process, one of the scenes wasn't actually from the episode. It was sort of the story that he told about killing his family, but I think the reason that they did that is because in our first reaction to him we don't get to know all of that. The important part of that character is he has an extreme apathy to the violent past that he has and he's justified in his actions in his own mind and he's unaffected by it. He's entirely sociopathic toward what he did to his family. From the get go, that's what attracted me to the character, the way he processes things is so different from you and I, and hopefully from everyone who watches the show. (Laughs.) He's not a normal guy.

How does he justify the terrible things that he's done?

That's the very beginning of my work when I get the material, is humanizing him and finding the rationality behind the thought because if I frown upon his actions and if I find a hard time justifying his actions, then I'm going to have a hard time making you believe that. In future episodes, we're going to learn more about Kai's past and specifically this day in 1994 and why it's significant to him personally and why this is his prison world. We heard what he did — that he massacred his family on that day — and we know he's a member of a coven without his own magic but we don't know the backstory and why exactly he killed his family.

Will we meet family members and better understand the context of the situations that drove him to that point?

Well, not necessarily we'll anybody. There's only so much you can do with three people waiting around for an escape to happen. I think there's some conversations to happen just like he revealed that fact to Bonnie quite casually. We will learn more about him and we'll see a bit more and how he came to do this thing.

Do you see him as a comedic character?

I think he's hilarious. I think his sense of humor is really funny to me. One of the first scenes that I shot on the show was the scene in the grocery store where he stabbed Damon in the hand and brings up the fact that he cheated at a game of Monopoly with Bonnie one time. He's very funny and he's brave in a way that is removed. He's not brave because he knows he has to conquer these things and he needs to be strong. He just doesn't care. His sensory receptors don't fire the same way that ours do and the way that he approaches situations is with a lightness. Even in the darkest of material, he just doesn't care. He doesn't have it in him and that's entertaining.

He is almost reminiscent of Damon in the early days of the series, very nonchalant and has no care in the world. Have you found that dichotomy particularly interesting to see those two together now?

Sure. I think what's most engaging about that is that Damon has never come up against a foe that is so like him and that he is so unable to affect. He's always the one who's unaffected by him and when someone goes at him, he's the one making the quips and not getting agitated. Now there's this guy he just can't break and you see it start to drive Damon crazy from the first second, especially when he says [to Bonnie], "Sorry I said you were the most annoying person in the world, I hadn't met him." He can't deal with it, he can't deal with the fact that this guy is so impenetrable. That's one of the most entertaining parts of this duo.

He's also forced them to at least think about whether they'd be willing to bring along a self-proclaimed killer to their world, even though he's the only one who knows how to bring them back to Mystic Falls. Is that moral quandary something that they'll ponder?

From Kai's standpoint, he says, "Look guys, I have the answers, I know how to get out, you don't. You actually need me to get out, so piece of cake. Let's do this." He's not even privy to the fact that what he's done to his family is so horrible that they're going to have a hard time justifying allowing him to escape because while they want to get back so badly — Damon doesn't seem to care at the moment but Bonnie is really struggling. She doesn't feel like she can do it. Her life isn't worth letting this psychopath go slaughter people. She can't do it at the moment, but he has the answers and the only way they can get out is if they work with him.

It's been a particular treat going back to the '90s and hearing all the radio hits of that decade. Are there any other notable tunes that may be featured?

The way they integrate these '90s hits into the episodes is very entertaining. It's music that I had blasting on the radio when I was playing street hockey with flannel wrapped around my waist. It's fun. It really locks us into the time period. It's amazing how music really transports us to another time and in this circumstance, it's quite literally transporting us to a different time. I think it's very effective.

Kai is certainly a far cry from Adam Weaver on The Carrie Diaries, isn't it?

Isn't it? It's funny, I also look five years younger on this show, at least that's how I feel. (Laughs.) Clean-shaven, dressed in clothes I haven't worn [in a while]. But yeah, it's a very different role in one of the most beautiful ways. I like going to extremes. When I go to a new show, I like trying something I've never done before and I have a soft spot in my heart for playing psychopaths and twisted characters. I tend to gravitate toward that.

Is Kai ultimately redeemable?

Like I said, I find him redeemable because partly that's my job too — to find his humanity so I can it believably. But his justification for his actions is probably, nine times out of 10, not going to convince most people. I think that remains to be seen if he's got a sweetness behind it or if he's truly so far gone that we're never going to be able to side with him.

The Vampire Diaries airs 8 p.m. Thursdays on The CW.

Email: Philiana.Ng@THR.com
Twitter: @insidethetube

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