The CW’s “Vampire Diaries” has taken a round-about way of introducing menacing Big Bad Klaus.
First, the ancient Original was discussed in hushed tones, a looming threat to all that was good, decent and alive in Mystic Falls.
Then, Klaus inhabited the body of Matthew Davis’ Alaric and wreaked at little general havoc.
When we met Joseph Morgan’s incarnation of Klaus, he was plenty evil, but also socked away back in the 15th Century in flashbacks.
But last week, Klaus finally arrived in Mystic Falls in the present day and fans are ready to watch things get bloody and berserk starting with Thursday’s (April 28) episode.
It’s unlikely that The CW’s core demo recognized Morgan from his work in films like “Master and Commander” and “Alexander” or his wealth of TV projects (including the similarly supernaturally inclined “Hex”), but he seems to have the tools and the cheekbones to become and audience favorite.
I caught up with the Welsh actor on Thursday morning to talk about his love for vampires, his hopes that his character doesn’t become brooding and sympathetic and which Salvatore brother Klaus is going to take an interest in.
Click through for the full interview…
HitFix: I imagine that as a young actor in this day and age, you probably spend a surprising amount of time auditioning to play vampires.
Joseph Morgan: [Laughs.] Well, you mean that in the last year, there’s been a few vampire things about, haven’t there? More than a few. Let’s just say this was not the first vampire I’ve auditioned for. But I’m so interested and such a fan of the genre anyway that I’ve thought about how I would play a vampire for a lot longer than I’ve been auditioning for them.
HitFix: What does that actually mean?
JM: Since I heard about vampires when I was a kid, I was absolutely fascinated with them. People ask me on Twitter “How many vampire films did you watch to prepare for this?” or “How many books did you read to prepare?” because I talked a lot about the stuff that I’m interested in, but the answer really is “Not many,” because I’d watched them all already. I’m fascinated with it anyway, so this is a dream come true for me.
HitFix: So for you, what’s the difference in going out for a vampire audition versus any old audition?
JM: There isn’t really a difference. You might be disappointed to know that we don’t turn up with fangs for these auditions. You do get a lot of guys standing around in long coats and black shirts, you know? Ultimately, and this is something they promoted to me on the show as well, it’s really about playing the human aspect. When you start to try and play something too vampiric or too generically evil or too intense, I think it really doesn’t come across as well. It’s about rooting it in the real world, even though you’re playing a heightened reality. It’s about making this character as real as possible.
HitFix: Speaking of this particular character, we’ve had a long wave of sympathetic, brooding, romantic vampires. Vampires never seem to evil anymore. Is Klaus eventually going to become sympathetic…
JM: [Interjects] Oh, I hope not!
HitFix: [Continuing] Or is he just going to be a bad guy?
JM: [Continues…] I hope not. I can tell you this: Not in this season. Look, let’s see if he survives until Season Three, then maybe they’ll make him more of a hopeless romantic, but at that point I hope I’ll be able to sit down with the producers and go, “Listen guys. Please. Not me as well.” You know? I’m just having fun right now with the playful, evil nature of this guy. Something I’ve said from the beginning is that he’s sociopathic. He’s the kinda guy you just wouldn’t want to be in a room with, because you never know what he’s going to do. He’d kiss you or kill you and it all means the same to him. It’s not not that he revels in being “evil,” so to speak. He just doesn’t see the difference between “good” and “bad.” It’s just what Klaus wants. It doesn’t matter if it’s evil or good, it’s what Klaus wants.
HitFix: There are the nuances to this character. How did you approach his near agelessness and also his apparent werewolf lineage?
JM: In terms of the age, the way I like to approach a lot of roles is through stimulus, whether that’s like music or art or poetry or literature, just what kinds of things influence the character, what he’s affected by, what I respond to. I really felt like Klaus should have a strong love of culture, really, a love of music and of opera, was one of the things I stuck with for the character, a love of poetry. I felt like he should have an appreciation. There’s a classiness to that. Here’s a guy who can listen to opera, read poetry and also tear people’s throats out. It’s such an interesting mix. And I felt like there was also a calm. There’s a calm to being around for that amount of time. When you’re all but invincible, all but indestructible, then nothing is really a threat to you and you really have patience. You really can just take your time with things and really enjoy things. I felt like that’s where the weight of the age came from.
In terms of the werewolf side, I think there’s a contrast there. The thing about werewolves is that they’re very volatile with their emotions. They’re on a short fuse sometimes and they can be explosive. They can be animalistic in the way their emotions come out.
So I thought he’s a really interesting mix of a guy who has all of that patience and that calm and that playful nature and that appreciation of culture, but then this guttural, animalistic side, this wolf nature as well.
HitFix: And then you have the added twist of first having to play the character, what, 500 years ago? And then tonight we see the Modern Klaus? How are those two versions of the character different?
JM: I’d like to say physically, slightly, just in terms of poise. Wearing the costumes really helps. Even the fact that you have some frills on your sleeve really helps you be more gesticular or just embody it a little more. I was really pleased that I got to do that, because I felt like I was allowed to play out some of the backstory before I got to Mystic Falls. It did some of the work for me in giving me some of the character history. There’s definitely that difference, but I also think that back in the day, in the 1490s, Elijah was very much a voice of reason for Klaus. He was very much a consigliere to Klaus’ Godfather and he kept him grounded. I felt like after Elijah’s, as far as Klaus is concerned, his betrayal, when we meet Klaus again in the modern day, he’s had 500 years of not having anyone to keep him grounded and not having anyone to clear up his messes in that way. I felt like he’s just been surrounded by Yes Men for 500 years and his ego’s grown and he’s changed in that way.
HitFix: Is it a challenge to play those 500 years of character evolution skipping from Point A to Point Z? Without playing the beats?
JM: Yes, of course. Absolutely. But it’s a challenge I’ve welcomed. Fortunately, I’ve done a lot of period drama, historical drama, so I’ve had a taste of a number of eras just from the jobs I’ve done over the years. I felt like if I used those memories as little flashes of his life over the years, then that’s a way that I could fill in the gaps. But I’m also hoping that whether Klaus makes it past the end of Season Two or not, that as we’ve seen there’s always room for characters to return in flashbacks and maybe we’ll see a little more of what was going on in that gap of the 500 years.
HitFix: They definitely enjoy playing dress-up on “Vampire Diaries.” I assume you’d get to see many different eras.
JM: Look, I’m hoping that we’ll go back, eventually, and see a thousand years ago. I think I’m right in saying that’s when the curse was set, when there was the original Petrova, not Katherine, who was a doppelganger, or Elena, obviously, but the original and how she was the binding of the curse. I guess we’ll be in togas and sandals and stuff. I thought that would be kind of interesting.
HitFix: What was the lure of American series television for you?
JM: I suppose one thing is that there’s a lot more money that goes into making it, so it often comes across as more slick or more cinematic, more like a film. For me, I’ve been in Los Angeles for two years and the first year I just sorta went for movies and did a few films, but I think the lure for me was the longevity involved. I mean, look, who knows if I’ll get to experience that longevity, but I’ve never been involved in a job that was more than five months. So when I decided, not specifically this show, but when I decided that actually I think I want to explore television, it was with the idea that you actually develop a much stronger relationship with the character than I’d been able to previously. And also, the character develops a relationship with the audience which you really don’t get with film, or with most films, because it’s two hours and that it. You rewatch it and rewatch it, but with a TV series, there’s something new every week that you’re getting from these people.
HitFix: Speaking of film work, I was looking at your credits, do you actually get to do your first two feature films with Peter Weir and then Oliver Stone?
JM: Yeah. Peter Weir, that was my first job. I came straight out of drama school and went to Mexico for five months to do “Master and Commander” and then I did a few TV things in-between and then I worked with Oliver Stone.
HitFix: That’s an impressive way to start a movie career. How does working with directors like that, how does that shape how you approach everything that comes afterward?
JM: It’s interesting, because both of those films were very male-heavy in the cast. It was very much a group of guys staying away together in both of those of those films. That was a pretty big influence on me.
Also, I suppose I learned a lot from people. On “Master and Commander,” people were giving me little tips. I didn’t know what a mark was. When people shouted, “Check the gate” at the end of a take, I was looking around for a gate. I didn’t know what was what. It absolutely did influence me.
And especially on the Oliver Stone film, on “Alexander,” I was very much a boy being thrown into a man’s world. It was very physical. There was a tremendously difficult boot camp in the desert for the beginning of it. We played Macedonians who were very raw and rugged and debaucherous in that way and I think we tried to echo that being out in Morocco, all of us guys together. That was a very interesting experience.
And you know? In the books, it says that Klaus fought with Alexander and it’s kinda crazy that I’d done that movie “Alexander.” It feels like there was some synchronicity there or something.
HitFix: Just as a last question: Gimme a little tease on what we can expect from Klaus this week and in the weeks to come…
JM: OK. People are going to die. People we love will die. And let me tell you this, which I don’t think I’ve said before: Klaus is going to take a special interest in Stefan Salvatore. That’s something that’s definitely going to happen. I’m not talking about a romantic interest, mind you, although it has been hinted that there will be a gay character at some point in Mystic Falls and I think there should be. But that’s not the kind of interest I’m talking about here. But there’s going to definitely be something… happening… between these two characters.
“The Vampire Diaries” airs at 9 p.m. on Thursdays on The CW.