He’s got a gun. Ian Somerhalder is balancing on a sunlounge precariously, with one foot cocked on the railing of the sixth-floor hotel room. He’s holding a three-foot hunting rifle aimed straight at the cars zipping down Santa Monica Boulevard in Beverly Hills. He puts his left hand to his eyes to shield the sun, he brings the rifle down, aims, and then… He’s passed a phone. The photographer in an adjacent wing of the hotel tells him to aim a little more to the left, look a little more menacing. Somerhalder is posed, hard.
“Here is the problem: university and professional ego are what set us behind in the times.” Now, he’s in the penthouse suite on the eighth floor of the Beverly Hilton, sipping rosé after a successful six-hour shoot. Somerhalder is in L.A. to work on his documentary, and to grace our pages. He lives in Atlanta, where he shoots The Vampire Diaries, the CW network show based on the serial novels by L.J. Smith. It’s a show young girls love—a strategic move on his behalf. Young girls, says Somerhalder, are “the most powerful audience in the world. What you can change is the next generation; generational change is the only thing that’s going to shift the paradigm. I used to get so angry, but then you realize that’s just wasting energy. But if you focus your energy and realize that it all comes from education, and it’s the sharing of information that will eventually blend out the bureaucracies that exist now.” Information is something Somerhalder’s far from lacking.
On The Vampire Diaries, he plays Damon Salvatore, the maniacally bloodthirsty vampire who spent the first two seasons in the shadow of his brother, recently reformed goody two-shoes Stefan Salvatore. It’s Somerhalder’s best-known role following a short stint on Lost, Dawson’s Creek spin-off Young Americans, and the role of Paul Denton in The Rules of Attraction.
But, as you may have inferred from Somerhalder’s lofty aspirations for the liege of young girls that covet his resolute gaze, his is not the same old actor story; Somerhalder is not a one-trick pony. In unveiling the Ian Somerhalder Foundation in January of this year, which is now active in 190 countries, he’s given voice to a militia of young followers, aptly calling themselves the ISF Kids Army. Through the foundation, Somerhalder testified before Congress at a conference on energy policy in Washington, D.C. last week; he’s been offered an ambassadorship for the United Nations Environmental Programme; he’s bought a 195-acre farm in Louisiana to invite students to learn how to build green bunkhouses; he’s been trying to win his mentor Allan Savory a Nobel Prize for slowing climate change through holistic farming by directing a (soon-to-be-finished) documentary; and he’s begun Go Green Mobile Power which is about to innovate the county of Los Angeles and two oil companies with solarised lights. He’s trying to create an “environmental keeping up with the Joneses.
“We look at things like deforestation in Brazil,” he continues, “and we always say, ‘Oh god, it’s a shame what they’re doing down there.’ What do you mean ‘down there’?! There is no ‘down there.’ It’s all the same fucking sphere! We’re literally in each other’s backyards, there is just a nautical distance between us, and for some reason we don’t see these distances.”
Those nautical miles are something Somerhalder thinks about everyday, having grown up in the Gulf of Louisiana, in the marshes that BP destroyed. Suddenly his frutti di mare—the fish, the crab, the shrimp—was gone. Somerhalder’s ex-girlfriend’s uncle, Peter Seligmann, the CEO of Conservation International quickly became a confidant of his, as too did Deepak Chopra, whom he met at a telethon on Larry King Live for Gulf Aid. He then met Allan Savory, and what started as a plight to bring attention to global environmental issues, inspired him to invest in the project and get his hands even dirtier.
“I am fed more information on a daily basis than I know what to do with,” Somerhalder says, “but if you start to study the history of the most phenomenal thinkers of modern times, guys like Buckminster Fuller, who in the ’40s designed cars that ran on ethanol that got 60 miles to a gallon that transported four people…” He trails off, then bites again, “What I’m saying is that we are perpetually pushed backwards technologically. Now fine, [the pushing] has been done for years; I say it stops now. I say the generations to come will start to understand that alternatives are available to them. I’m not saying shut down oil companies. You can’t fight them—they’re too big. Wouldn’t it be better to show them really amazing technologies that they can actually invest their money in? Instead of putting together gigantic funds to battle them? That seems like a much better bet.” He makes a point.
And then somehow we begin to discuss an even deeper topic of humanity: love. To that, he offers this advice, “I think we’re in love all the time with various things,” and he detours, “I mean, I know what it’s like to be in love, trust me, and it’s a very interesting game because it always inextricably brings up our deepest darkest insecurities. It’s just a matter of being able to see them, appreciate them, squash them, and let them go before they get the best of you.”
It’s getting cold on the balcony and Somerhalder’s rosé is long gone, leaving the smudged fingerprints on his glass to reflect in the light through the hotel window. The sunlight has fallen from the sky and lights turning on sparkle across the horizon of the ever-decadent Beverly Hills—people are using energy at an alarming rate. Somerhalder spots four ducks flying overhead. “Where are they going?” he asks, and then louder toward the flock, “Where are you going?” He rights himself. “Probably to some rich person’s pond.” Somerhalder looks into the night. “There are seven billion people in this world going through all this crazy insanity and we’re part of it, trying to save this and conserve that. We’re trying to protect this, trying to teach that, and to learn this, and not learn that. There’s so much shit, I don’t know how you could be bored.” With that, Somerhalder empties the spent shells from his rifle and stands to depart.