JOSEPH MORGAN “VAMPIRE DIARIES” INTERVIEW
By Abbie Bernstein
Joseph Morgan in real life seems a friendly, classy, approachable sort. Of course, his character Klaus on the CW’s THE VAMPIRE DIARIES can seem that way, too – right up until he rips someone’s heart or throat out, or makes someone else do it for him. Klaus, of course, isn’t just any old vampire. He’s a thousand-year-old vampire/werewolf hybrid, born of his vampire mother’s affair with a werewolf. Centuries ago, Klaus killed his entire family, but now they’ve been revived and, well, there’s a lot going on in Mystic Falls these days.
Morgan, who hails from London, has been in some supernatural drama before: he was Troy in the British series HEX and Lysander in last year’s feature film IMMORTALS. He was also in MASTER AND COMMANDER: THE FAR SIDE OF THE WORLD and a regular on the BBC’s hospital drama CASUALTY.
Morgan is at a party thrown by the CW, following a panel for the Television Critics Association press tour called THE BAD-ASS BOYS OF THE CW. With an intro like that, no wonder the panelists – Morgan, Jared Padalecki from SUPERNATURAL, Wilson Bethel from HART OF DIXIE, Shane West from NIKITA, Kristoffer Polaha from RINGER and Ed Westwick from GOSSIP GIRL – keep teasing each other throughout.
An example – the panelists are all asked who they think is badass in real life. Morgan cites a famous TV chef: “Gordon Ramsay is pretty badass, isn’t he?”
Padalecki looks incredulous. “Gordon Ramsay? Oh, come on.”
“But who’s more badass?” Morgan challenges.
“I’m English,” Westwick says, “and I don’t agree.”
“Paula Deen’s more badass than Gordon Ramsay,” Padalecki scoffs. “It’s about accents.” Then Padalecki gives his own serious response. “I think – I hope it doesn’t sound like a pat answer, but I’ve got to say our soldiers keeping us safe around the world is pretty bad ass in my book.”
Morgan sounds chastened. “Now I feel like an idiot with Gordon Ramsay.”
Padalecki knows how to work his audience. “Yeah, you should. Gordon Ramsay …”
Then someone asks if Morgan feels that any of his fellow VAMPIRE DIARIES actors who play bloodsuckers should be on this badass panel with him – Ian Somerhalder who plays bad/good Damon or Paul Wesley, who plays good/bad Stefan, perhaps?
Morgan considers. “Probably Paul at the moment, for that stunt that [Stefan] pulled. although Daniel Gillies is a bit of a badass with that whole throwing coins through windows and making them explode thing. Or [the actress who plays] my sister [Rebekah], Claire Holt, she could be here. She’s pretty bad ass.”
It is pointed out that Klaus stabbed Rebekah. “Yeah,” Morgan acknowledges, “that was a bad move.”
Padalecki says encouragingly, “That was a badass move!”
At the party later, Morgan is asked whether the panel might have been quite so high-spirited and quip-filled it if had been called something – anything – other than THE BADASS BOYS OF THE CW. “Maybe not,” Morgan replies, “but you know, part of it is just that they told us at the beginning, ‘Feel free to speak over each other.’ ‘Okay, it’s going to be fun.’ I just think you’ve got a lot of guys together in town for one night or flying in , and talk about who’s the most badass, so there’s going to be a little healthy competition. I had a great time – it was just a tremendous amount of fun. ”
Klaus speaks with Morgan’s own cultured English accent. Was there any question of making the character sound American? “No,” Morgan relates. “I prepared the audition in American and in my own accent, and when I came in the room, straightaway I said, ‘I’ve done that [preparation,’ and they said, ‘We don’t even want to hear American. We know we want him to be British.’ So there was never a debate about that. From the beginning, they had that decision made.”
As far as dealing with the fangs, black contact lenses and other vampire paraphernalia, Morgan says, “I love the teeth, first of all. The teeth are difficult. My teeth that they’ve made for me, I can actually talk in them, so I try to do as much of the scene as I can with the teeth in, because I’m a big fan of them. I got fitted for contacts, but I’ve never worn them. They do [the vampire eyes turning black effects] in post-production with computers, so I was quite excited to have [the contact lenses], but it’s all after-effects, the contacts and the veins under the eyes and all of that.”
Returning to the badass issue, for a long while, Damon held the resident title. However, his love for his brother Stefan and for heroine Elena (Nina Dobrev) have conspired to soften the once-formidable vamp. What makes Klaus different as the newer malevolent alpha male in town? “Other than his hybrid nature, you mean?” Morgan points out. “And the fact that he’s a thousand years old? I think that a lot of Damon’s motivation, deep down, where things come from, is a place of love. He does things because of love, even though it’s in a dark way. He loves his brother, he loves Elena, he comes from a place of love. Klaus really comes from a place of rage. Rage at his father, at his family for abandoning him. It’s sort of all based on this terrible fear of being abandoned again, so he builds all these rules over a thousand years to protect himself from that, and what he’s done is, he’s lost the ability to trust anyone, and so all he has really at the base line is his anger, and I think that’s the main difference between the two of them.”
Morgan adds that right now, the characters who are giving Klaus a run for his badass money on the show are his relatives – mother Esther, played by Alice Evans, and some of his siblings. “The only people who really come really – Daniel Gillies as [Klaus' brother] Elijah, but he’s more controlled. Klaus is a little more of a loose cannon. And then Rebekah as well. She can be incredibly vicious. What’s that saying, Hell hath no fury like a female scorned? There’s certainly a bad side of her you wouldn’t like to get on. But I think Klaus takes the badass biscuit home, because of everything – the hybrid nature, the fact he was rejected, he was the bastard son, compared to his other siblings. All of this stuff, layer upon layer, has built up over a thousand years.”
Klaus has been flirting with newbie vamp Caroline (Candice Accola). Is Morgan hoping his character will develop a romantic attachment to her, or even a strictly friendship connection with anyone?
“I think it’s important for him to explore that side,” Morgan responds. “I would say that he does have an emotional bond with his sister, very much so. He’s protective over her. But yes, I’d like to see a romantic bond being developed, just to again, it shows a different side of the character, a side we haven’t seen before. I think it’s important for him to be dependent on somebody maybe, because if he’s completely cut off, at the end of it all, he’s just lonely. So I think it’s inevitable that he will try and form these bonds, but he just doesn’t quite have the emotional tools to do it.”
Is this why Klaus forced Stefan to accompany him across the U.S. earlier this season? “Oh, absolutely,” Morgan says. “He wanted to have a friend, really. He was lonely, so he thought that he could frighten or compel someone into being his friend. He really didn’t understand the concept of building a friendship or a relationship on trust.”
Even if Klaus finds a soul mate, don’t look for it to change his essential persona, Morgan adds. “I think it’s never polarized like that. If he found a woman to love, I think he would still be him, but there would be more petals to his flower. It would just be more layers to the character, just like anyone. They don’t completely change when they’re in love – they still have the same core and I think there would still be issues from his past with trust that would come up. I don’t think he would suddenly buy a house with a white picket fence and plastic-covered furniture and all of that. I think he would struggle to love like he struggles to be liked.”
Is there any difference between playing somebody who does all of the things Klaus has done out of a general need for power and a need for companionship, and somebody who’s doing it because of those needs within his immediate family?
“Absolutely there’s a difference,” Morgan says. “Because you’re emotionally invested in it if it’s family. You have a connection to it which runs a lot deeper. It’s a completely different thing, I think. In my opinion, it’s more interesting to play the point of view of being emotionally invested, because the stakes are higher. For me, everything I am comes from my parents, from growing up and the lessons I was taught, the moral guidelines I was taught, and so for that to be shaken, or for him to feel rejection from that, it’s the end of the world for him, it’s extreme. I think there’s a huge difference.”
We’ve now seen Klaus as alternately vicious, sardonic and tender. Which aspect is the most challenging to play? “It’s interesting, because they’re very different kinds of challenges,” Morgan responds. “I really enjoy the emotional stuff. There’s stuff where I have to kind of break down a little and we are going to see more of that. I favor variety, so I did a lot of the kind of nasty emotionless stuff, the stuff where he kind of changes in a second and suddenly becomes very dark, and I’ve done that for quite awhile on this show, so I really welcome the challenge of the emotional stuff, and now we’re getting into a slightly more tender side of Klaus. I’m really enjoying that new challenge. I don’t like to be doing one thing for too long. I like to kind of mix it up.”
Morgan adds that he thinks it’s a good thing that VAMPIRE DIARIES gives heart and dimension to even its more villainous characters. “I think we have to relate to them. Otherwise people would just be dead on the show, and one of the reasons that the character is so popular is that the writers have really worked to flesh him out and to make him more three-dimensional, to give him that tender side and then, just when you think, ‘I really like this guy,’ he does something terrible, and you’re like,” he makes a disappointed sound, “‘Ohh.’ That’s what’s so wonderful about it. I really hope that he doesn’t go completely one way or the other, that he keeps kind of pendulum-ing between the two.” Realizing he’s coined a term, Morgan jokingly declares, “That’s the new word for the Webster’s Dictionary next year – ‘Pendulum-ing.'”
Interview By Abbie Bernstein