'Vampire Diaries' Star Ian Somerhalder Talks Show's "Evolution," Going Back to Basics

"There's not going to be ten doppelgängers and all these magic spells," the actor tells THR. "I want to get away from that. I want to get back to the human elements that made people love this show."
Courtesy of CW

"This is not, I repeat, not, a total departure from the show," Ian Somerhalder (Damon) insists to The Hollywood Reporter about the upcoming seventh season of The Vampire Diaries.

It's understandable why he wants to make the distinction. After all, this is the first season of the long-running CW drama without its original female lead, Nina Dobrev.

But though Elena is gone, she is very much not forgotten -- while still allowing for the show to move on in its new form. "There's still a lot of elements of [the show that was]," says Somerhalder. "We know that she's there, and there's still very much the presence of Elena. This is Mystic Falls without her. I think people are going to like it. This is the evolution of this story. And it's a lot of fun. There's a lot of great interaction with the brothers; there's a lot happening."

The recalibration of the show might also allow the series, in many ways, to go back to the basics. "I'm really enjoying this season, because it is somewhat of a departure. We are going back to finding those very dark season one things," notes Somerhalder. "There's not going to be ten doppelgängers and all these magic spells. I want to get away from that. I want to get back to the human elements that made people love this show. Listen, remember when Stefan told Elena he was a vampire? It was like f–ing world news, and it was the biggest moment. Now, to get the same reaction out of the audience and us [as characters], we have to kill three people, blow up five cars, and a house. It's a weird thing. I want to get that simplicity back. And we're all fighting and struggling for it."

When the season kicks off, Damon is on a European adventure with his buddy, Alaric (Matt Davis), who is going through his own grief spiral. "He's definitely not in a good place," previews Somerhalder. "But it does open up in really fun way you could imagine Damon and Alaric to be in: getting completely wasted, drowning out their tears in Amsterdam, while Bonnie babysits them. Alaric went through the most horrific thing -- shy of dying yourself in a horrific way, what Alaric went through was a worst case scenario, in every shape and form. As a result of that, Damon wants to be there for his friend. He wants his friend to be OK with life. And Damon is hurting. So he's drowning his sorrows, he's drowning his fear of being left alone. ... He's also putting all of this energy into Alaric so he forgets his own sadness. It's really effective because Alaric is pretty f–ed up."

The Bonnie (Kat Graham) issue -- Elena will remain asleep until Bonnie dies, thanks to a nasty, irreversible sleeping spell -- is painful for Damon in an increasingly complicated way. "The Damon and Bonnie friendship is wonderful and special," says The Vampire Diaries co-creator Julie Plec. "Because, secretly, Damon['s] every third thought is wondering what life would be like if Bonnie Bennett was dead [and then Elena could be revived]. And yet he probably wouldn't do so well without her."

"Bonnie knows that," she continues. "Bonnie knows there's that elephant in the room. And she knows it's not her fault. But that doesn't keep her from feeling a little bit slighted by Damon's antics, and reminding him that she loved Elena, too. She lost someone she deeply cared about, too. They're actually kind of living the same journey. They're just doing it in a different way."

Though Damon is in pain now, when the fog clears, "he sees the light," says Somerhalder. "60 years away -- he waited for Katherine for 150. He can wait 60-something years until Bonnie bites the big one, and has the big sleep."

"He, ultimately, is prepared to do it. She said, 'Don't be a saint; don't wait for me. Live your life... and I'll see you in a little while,'" he continues. "I don't think that is anywhere near in his train of thought, but he does know there's a light at the end of the tunnel -- it's just a matter of getting there. To pass the time, he's going to help his friends, he's going to enjoy whatever enemies and foes he has. He's like, 'F– it, man. I've got to wait all this time. I might as well have fun. I might as well drink like a fish, eat like a pig, travel like a maniac, and do some good.'

An unexpected boost to Damon's mood? Having an enemy -- namely, his mother, Lily (Annie Wersching) and her heretics -- to focus on. "When Lily came back into the picture, she imposed herself [and] her will on this town," Somerhalder points out. "Justly so. This woman has been locked up since 1903 -- that's a long time. She has a family [in these heretics] she deeply cares about. She was put in there a vicious ripper, and she rehabilitated herself. She quelled that urge. She fixed herself. And now she's coming out and she just wants a place for her family. However, it just so happens to be the town that these guys love and they live in."

Unfortunately for Damon, Stefan (Paul Wesley) has a different approach on how to handle their mother. "Stefan, much to Damon's chagrin, has been doing everything he can to keep things from disintegrating [in Mystic Falls]," teases Plec. "What we see in the first episode is, as much as he'd like to rid the town of Lily and her heretics, he's reached a point where, ultimately, you have to negotiate with the terrorists as opposed to trying to get them out. Which is not going to go over well with Damon, who in a way, is going to feel like Stefan rolled over. But Stefan, as always, is thinking from a place of long-term heroics."

As well-intentioned (and potentially correct) as Stefan may be, Lily will always be a sore issue for Damon. "It brings up more abandonment issues," says Somerhalder. "The two women [from his past] he loved more than anything in the world were Katherine and his mom. And they both abandoned him. And left him. And lied about it. And he found out. He's really in a place where she has inserted herself into his orbit, and it's highly frustrating. It makes him super pissed off. It makes him frustrated, vengeful. ... He wants her gone. And when you see him interacting with her, you really get a glimpse of the fact that she hurt him. She f–ed him up, a lot. It's not just going to go away."

The Vampire Diaries returns tonight at 8 p.m. on The CW. Are you excited to see the new Mystic Falls?