Joseph Morgan: The Original Geek
The star of The Vampire Diaries spin-off series, The Originals, took a break to chat with me at Comic-Con. Fun fact: this Original hybrid is a total geek.
Joseph Morgan's Klaus was first introduced during Season 2 of The Vampire Diaries as a brooding, explosive, English-accented, sociopath with a penchant for alienating everyone around him. He was manipulative and cunning — a character who had one objective: to get his way. But somewhere along the lines, the Original hybrid — he's part werewolf, part vampire — gained more depth. Klaus was given a compelling backstory, a family, and he even became shippable, with fans obsessing over his romantic gestures toward Caroline. (Even though she hated him, and even though he'd tried to kill most of the people she loved.)
"It's really crazy, isn't it? I should've been killed off a long time ago, I think," Morgan said, laughing. "I wanted to only do one season when I came onto Vampire Diaries, because I thought there was only so much to explore. The more I played this character, the more I got interested in it, and wanted to do more. So after Season 3, I went and saw them and said, 'Listen, I know there's a misconception I want to die, but I'd love to do another season.'"
It's a little hard to see any part of Klaus still lingering when you're sitting across from Morgan, particularly seeing how wide-eyed and giddy he gets when discussing something he's fanatical about. But when he talks about playing Klaus, he leans forward, intense. Just like his character on the show.
"I don't think I could've played this part 10 years ago, because I just didn't have enough life experience. And you have to have been through things, I think, to draw upon that kind of darkness, and the way he goes so cold, and kind of removes himself sometimes, and has all of that anger."
Then he leaned back in the chair, breaking into a smirk. "I mean, look, I'm an actor, so I'm desperate for affirmation, and so is Klaus," he laughed. "I'm really pleased to have the opportunity to do the spin-off, because I would be really sad, I think, if they killed him off at this point. I'd miss him, ya know?"
That spin-off series, The Originals, created by Julie Plec, aired as a back-door pilot to The Vampire Diaries on April 25, to not spectacular ratings. The episode delivered just 2.2 million viewers, down 10% from the previous week's episode, and down a substantial 31% from The Vampire Diaries's Season 4 average. Despite that, Klaus fans can rest easy, as the pilot was picked up to series and is set to air new episodes starting Tuesday, October 15.
"I love New Orleans, and the idea that that's very much a part of our story," he said about The Originals. "And that it's a little more epic, you know the war between the vampires and the witches — that appeals to me. I grew up reading Lord of the Rings, and comic books, so that kind of epic quality I like."
At Comic-Con to promote his show, Morgan seemed a bit despondent when asked if he was interested in what was going on down at the convention center.
"I mean, I'm a huge graphic novel fan, but I don't think I'm going to get a chance to see anything." He looked pained as he wrung his hands. "I was hoping to get some comics. I put out a subtle tweet," he laughed excitedly. "Something to do with 'The bad thing about Comic-Con is that I never seem to get any comics.' So, I wonder if anyone will respond to that."
He was right. He likely wouldn't get a chance to see much other than his own panels. It was Friday afternoon, and he'd only been in San Diego for two hours, but The Originals actor was scheduled to appear at a TV Guide Fan Favorites panel later that day, and a panel for his Vampire Diaries spin-off series on Saturday afternoon. It wasn't an ideal situation, particularly for someone with such strong geek tendencies.
"A friend of mine is on the pirate ship that's just out the window there for the new Assassin's Creed game," he said, pulling the curtain aside and pointing to an enormous ship, floating just behind the convention center. It was kitschy, outfitted with fake pirate flags. "So I'm hoping to get on the pirate ship later, and have a little fun with him." He smiled.
It's not just video games and comics that Morgan's interested in, though — he spoke excitedly about Brian K. Vaughan's latest comic, Saga. He loved the latest Superman installment with Henry Cavill as well — with whom he worked on the 2011 film Immortals. And he spoke passionately about what he's watching on TV. "The Walking Dead is like, my favorite show ever," he said. "And Game of Thrones, I love. I'm missing out on a bunch of good stuff."
The first time Morgan attended Comic-Con was two years ago, after just four episodes on The Vampire Diaries. Back then, he didn't have his own spin-off show, hadn't spent three seasons on a cult TV series, and wasn't followed by close to a million people on Twitter. "I came in with Paul [Wesley], and we walked into the lobby, and they swarmed," he recalled. "I sort of stood to the side. I remember in the end some guy came over and was like, 'Ya know, fuck it, I'll get my picture taken with Klaus.' And I was like, 'Hey, thanks, man!'" He laughed at himself.
At this year's Con, he's part of a TV Guide Fan Favorites panel, where breakout stars like Giancarlo Esposito (Revolution), Emily Bett Rickards (Arrow), Tyler Hoechlin (Teen Wolf), Danai Gurira (The Walking Dead), and Kristin Bauer van Straten (True Blood) are honored. The panel was set for the convention center's Ballroom 20, which can hold up to 5,000 fans. "It's really amazing," he shook his head. "I was telling my mum about it yesterday, just kind of crazy."
When I asked him if he had anything special planned for fans watching The Originals panel the next day, he responded deadpan, "We have an extensive song and dance routine worked out for our musical episodes, which we wanted to preview here." Then he laughed. "I don't know, actually."
But long before taking a bite out of the TV world, Morgan's first love was writing and directing. He figured that he'd follow in the footsteps of his favorite writer-director, Quentin Tarantino. But after taking drama courses in college, an urge to pursue acting sparked in him.
"I thought I'd make a really great director, because I'm an actor," said Morgan, chuckling. "Like, I thought I could really direct actors." Earlier this year, he wrote and directed a 10 minute film called Revelation.
"It's a film about a woman trapped alone at the end of the world." The woman is played by Persia White, a Vampire Diaries co-star who's also his rumored girlfriend. They met on set, and she agreed to collaborate with him on the project. They were able to film it in Atlanta, using the Vampire Diaries woods to shoot.
"This woman is trying to escape these terrors in this post-apocalyptic world," he explained. "And while she does so, she tells the story of a man lost at sea. And it's a parallel to the man lost at sea, who is wondering whether he's sane or not, because he's shipwrecked for two weeks. And she's metaphorically shipwrecked in this post-apocalyptic world."
It was Morgan's first short film pursuit, though he admitted that he's written a feature film and hopes to someday get that off and running. It played at five film festivals —including the Atlanta Film Festival, the New York City International Film Festival, and "one called Snake Alley, which I wanted just for the laurels that say 'Snake Alley' — to have them on the poster," he said. After Comic-Con, he admitted that he's going to try to find a way to distribute it widely.
"I got kinda scared at one point in the process," he revealed, "before we brought everyone on board. Am I really going to do this? Because it was going to be a crew of 30, is what it ended up as in the end, and that was kind of a huge deal for me."
Before leaving the interview, I asked Morgan if he wanted to write a message to the fans. After writing in a red Sharpie, and posing for a photo, he said, "I'm going on that ship." As he pointed out the window, his tone was triumphant, his eyes on the treasure that waited nearby.