Nina Dobrev on Her 'Vampire Diaries' Departure and Finally Getting to "Graduate"

The Vampire Diaries S06E22 Still - H 2015
Annette Brown/The CW

The Vampire Diaries S06E22 Still - H 2015

The Vampire Diaries is poised to head into a new phase as leading lady Nina Dobrev (Elena) exits the series this week following a six-season run.

For Dobrev, Thursday's season finale is bittersweet. "The fairy tale has to end, and the next chapter has to begin," she told The Hollywood Reporter. "I knew this was my time, and I'm excited for the next step."

Dobrev spoke with THR about her first — and last — days on The CW vampire drama, fan reaction to her departure, the excitement of starting something new and saying goodbye to her TVD family.

With your final episode just a few days away, has it hit you yet that your time on Vampire Diaries is nearly over?

It wouldn't have hit me if it didn't come out the way that it had. It leaked a little earlier than we anticipated, which forced us to make a statement prematurely. But it was a blessing in disguise, in retrospect. It didn't hit me; I got to say goodbye with my family and with the fans. People made videos of — what was in their opinion — the best moments of the last six years. It helped me relive the last six years, and be nostalgic, grateful and look back at those moments and celebrate this experience as it ends, instead of mourn it after I left. I got to say goodbye to my family, and spend my last moments with them, and look back and remember how awesome it has been.

What was the day your exit leaked like for you?

I've known [I was leaving] for such a long time — for a couple of years — so it's been a big secret I've been having to keep for a while. But once people finally knew, people were really upset and outspoken. But ultimately, supportive, which I was very appreciative of. It was strange, one of the days after it was announced, I had people come up to me in the street, crying, like, "What are you doing?" and angry. And then I told them and they were like, "You go, girl. Do your thing. We support you. We can't wait to see what you're doing next." It's 50-50 [support].

Read more: 'Vampire Diaries': Nina Dobrev's Five Key Moments

When did you know you'd be leaving?

It wasn't one specific moment I knew. I just knew I wanted to go on this journey with these characters, and their lives…it's a vampire show. It's been a great journey, but at the end of the day, I'm not actually a vampire. The fairy tale has to end, and the next chapter has to begin. I knew this was my time, and I'm excited for the next step. I am very sad that I'm not going to get to spend every day with my favorite people in the world, but, that's why we have FaceTime and phone calls. Friendships are like vampires: They'll last forever if they're real.

As you've been reaching the end of the road of playing Elena, how much have you been reflecting on your early days on the show?

I remember the first day on set, I was with Kat Graham [Bonnie], we were shooting in a car, driving around, and she was the worst driver. I was terrified for my life, but if anything were to happen, it would have happened with a smile on my face because we both made each other laugh so much. There was an excitement and nerves, and we didn't know if we were going to get picked up or not, and tension, too, and butterflies. Anything for the first time, the unknown, the fear, those are all emotions that are so exciting, ultimately. I love that feeling, and I really want to feel that again. That's why I'm excited about this next chapter: I have no idea what's going to happen, and that means anything can happen. That's what's most exciting to me — the prospect of anything.

What was your biggest challenge on the show?

There were daily challenges, there were yearly challenges, there were character challenges. The whole show was challenging in different ways throughout the six years. The multiple characters, the hours, creating characters, deaths. I was constantly crying, it felt like. But for that reason, it kept me occupied, I was never bored, it never felt stale. I always came to work excited, and looking forward to the next thing I got to do. It was almost like actor boot camp, or a college experience. I started college in real life, but I never finished. I went to high school in real life, and then went to Degrassi high school, and then four years as Elena — 12 years is a long time to go to school. I need to graduate! I'm ready now. I'm ready to go into the real world. I've literally grown up on this show. I was a baby when I started, and now I'm a woman. I feel like I've learned so much and have grown so much because of every single person, and every single character, and person I've worked with. They made me who I am, and I'm excited to apply that to the next chapter.

What conversations did you have with Julie Plec and the writers about Elena's ending?

We had many conversations over the years. I remember when we first started, we wondered how long the show could go. And there are times when people said six or eight years. If it was up to the studio [Warner Bros. Television], it would be 30 years. It just depends on so many different factors. When we talked over the years, I always felt Elena's journey would be a six-year journey, and I felt that I did so much in those six years, and I wanted to always feel that passion, and that excitement, and fond memories. And I do. I have nothing but love for every single person there. The show must go on, and it is going on, and I'm excited to see what next season is going to be like.

Will you watch next season?

I think it'll be easier to watch, now that I'm not on it. I hate watching myself! (Laughs.)

Read more 'The Vampire Diaries': Is Elena Being Killed Off? EP Julie Plec Weighs In

What can you share about the finale? Last we saw, Elena was knocked out after Kai [Christopher Wood] crashed Jo's [Jodi Lyn O'Keefe] and Alaric's [Matt Davis] wedding.

I'm in the hospital. That's in the promo, I can tell you that. I spent a lot of time, horizontal, lying down. I fell asleep a couple of times during takes because I had to pretend to be unconscious. So I can tell you that. Basically, I can tell you nothing. (Laughs.)

What was your last day on set like?

My last week or so, I was very aware that everything I did was going to be the last time I was getting to do it. I was very aware; in the moment. I'm so happy it was like that, so I could be present in what was going on around me, and appreciate everyone for the impact they had in my life. But especially the last day. My last scene was with Ian Somerhalder [Damon], and we were shooting a scene I can't talk about outside that was very beautiful. I'm in a gown, we're outside somewhere, and the last shot, a camera operator came up and said there was something in my hair, was trying to help me, and then he pulled me into a bear hug so I couldn't escape, while the entire crew got a cake and whipped cream and dumped it all over my body. And they filmed it. And put confetti and a whole bunch of stuff [on me]. It was amazing. I couldn't have been happier for that to be my sendoff. I knew something was coming; I could feel it in my bones. I'm a prankster, I would cake people on set all the time, but no one ever got me. And they got me good this time. If they hadn't done something like that on my last scene, I would have been really disappointed. That's how I knew they were my real family. That's what family does. They don't tell you what you want to hear, they tell you the truth. And they have fun with you, and they make you laugh, and they make you cry, and they see you at your worst. I did not look cute, I will tell you that. Cake is not a good look on me, but I loved it that one day.

The Vampire Diaries' finale airs Thursday at 8 p.m. on The CW. Stay tuned to THR for more coverage. Will you miss Dobrev