Ian Somerhalder Says Luther Swann 'Is Trying to Hold up the Jenga Pieces' of 'V Wars'

VWars_Season1_Episode1_00_18_35_18_RC
Q&A
Netflix

Ian Somerhalder is diving back into the world of vampires, but this time, he's the one fighting against and trying to cure them in Netflix's new series, V Wars.

His character, Dr. Luther Swann, is trying to understand what the world has become as a disease spreads and turns people into murderous predators — including his best friend, Michael Fayne (Adrian Holmes).

"The whole storyline is him trying to protect his son because as a parent, that is your sole focus: to stay alive and protect that child," Somerhalder told TV Insider.

Here, the star, executive producer, and director previews his new series.

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How does Luther get introduced to this world of vampires?

Ian Somerhalder: Like everyone else, he's thrown into it. He didn't go by choice. ... He's going to be fighting his way tooth and nail to not only stay alive to protect his son, but as a doctor, as a research physician, and as a scientist, he wants to protect people and he wants to save people. He's an infectious disease specialist. He's literally catapulted into this world and he's forced under really tough circumstances to try and find a cure because his best friend in the world is infected.

(Netflix)

Because he's trying to find a cure, that paints a target on his back from both sides, right?

To bloods, he is trying to help people. To humans, he's trying to be the guy that's going to get them out of this situation but also help all these murderous beasts. Much like how the Civil War happened here, where families were literally torn apart, brothers fighting brothers, people who grew up in the same household with such different points of view fighting and trying to kill each other. These through-lines of history, we get to really layer in and see them from an interesting perspective, which is grounded.

For me, V Wars is really the "what if?" "What if this was ripping through your community? How would you feel if your best friend became a murderous beast? Would you blow their head off if you couldn't protect yourself from them? How do you protect yourself?"

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The social relevance of what's happening on this show is what was unique. We're dealing with borders, racism, disease, fear, politics, politics of fear, all these things that you're not just hearing in our own echo-chambers. It's everywhere.

The way this disease spread was because of rampant glacial deterioration, because of climate change. Things that have been safely stored in ice are now being exposed. The permafrost is melting. There are five books to mine from and dozens of comics, not just for visual reference, story reference, characters, but that stuff that Jonathan Maberry in 2012 knew was hidden down in that ice — the more and more and more ice exposed, the more exposure we were going to have to viruses and bacteria that we don't have the ability to cope with, [that] modern medicine would not have the ability to cope with.

And Luther Swann even says that an ancient form of ebola or the flu that we don't have vaccines for can make the bubonic plague look like chicken pox. You're talking about a massive global issue here. That's not just in the books and in our story. This is happening every day.

(Netflix)

Because his best friend is infected, are we going to see them try to hold on to their friendship or is that impossible to do in this world?

That's the question. These two guys — and we'll learn about the backstory later — are so connected. In Season 1, the love story is really between these two brothers. Because the love story in Vampire Diaries was always the Damon-Elena, Stefan-Elena storyline, I really just wanted to make it about something that wasn't sexual. It was just about these two men that love each other, that give each other so much in their lives, and spend every day together and they're ripped apart from one another because of a sickness. That happens in life.

There seems to be a lot of warring of two sides, the bloods vs. the humans and even Luther with his doctor side. In the trailer (below), a man tells him he needs a doctor and Luther says "I am a doctor" and shoots him.

I wish we didn't put that into the trailer because it really foreshadows part of the real journey that he goes on, but we had to put that in there because — that was in Episode 5 — this man you meet in Episode 1, he loves humanity. He won't even touch a gun. But he's forced to change very quickly, and like we're about to start having to adapt very quickly to the changing in our environment and to our health and things we have to really start paying attention to, this is the accelerated, hard-hitting version of that.

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I want to get under your skin, your fingernails. I want people to have a connection to the show because they're a human being and they're thinking about if this happened to them. But also I want to add in the layers of, it's grounded, it's violent — I'm not a huge fan of violence, but there is some because of the nature of it — it's family, it's medicine, it's borders, it's disease, it's sexy. It's all of these things.

Season 1 of shows is hard because you're just setting up the world. You're finding your footing, but in a network format, you've got such a longer runway. You've got 22 episodes. We only have 10. It's more condensed. It really just sets the stage for Season 2.

Reading the first book is amazing. The writers are diverse. Maberry was so smart. As a writer, you write what you know. Jonathan Maberry wanted to tell the story. These stories from all these different perspectives, but he's saying, "Look, I'm a white guy. I live in San Diego. What do I know about being a woman in a border town or a barista in New York?" He put together all of these great writers, where the storylines are weaving together in the thread of this story but from perspectives of people who know them. So they're authentic and that's what's so exciting.

One of my favorite storylines of the entire series is of this girl [who] lives in the southwest and she has a baby and she's a vampire. For this girl, the story of a young Mexican girl living alone in a border town, beaten and raped and having to survive, but her story is incredible. It's one of triumph. She's hunting jackrabbits and coyotes. The more expanded version of her character, I can't talk about because it's definitely Season 2 and it's really dark and awesome and controversial.

These are the arenas we get to play in, so they're vast and they're cool, but they're simplified. I don't need tons of effects. It's just a camera with actors in a certain setting with a really deep, dynamic story arc that's intersecting, that's a perspective that someone will feel for and have some sort of connection to. There's something for everyone in there.

I can't wait to sit with a diverse writers' room of amazing talented men and women and really whiteboard out, "What is it in society that holds everything up? And when pieces start to fall." What happens when there are so many bloods that commercial airliners can't function? Bloods have to fly certain airlines or planes than humans do. What happens when the food supply and water supply are completely altered? What happens when in the banking and mortgage industries when millions of people are sick and have turned and they're not paying their mortgages? What happen when telecommunication companies can't function that way? Utility companies?

Looking at the nuances of what hold up our societies and give us all of the things like food and energy we have, what happens when those start changing? You have real upheaval. For me, that's what makes things real.

(Peter H Stranks/Netflix)

Like the ultimate Jenga game, when you pull out the wrong one, everything falls apart. So, Luther, in a way, is the guy trying to hold up the Jenga pieces so that everything doesn't fall down.

V Wars, Series Premiere, Thursday, December 5, Netflix