When Klaus Mikaelson (Joseph Morgan) debuted on The CW’s highly underrated supernatural melodrama The Vampire Diaries during the tail end of the second season, producers and Morgan himself expected the mythical original vampire wouldn’t survive the third season. Then, during that year, his mythology expanded with a rich history. It turns out he’s the bastard son of an ancient family, also original vamps (and thus, virtually indestructible), and a brat with abandonment issues so intense that he uses special daggers to render his siblings comatose when they go against him.
Fast forward a season and the Mikaelsons, with their supernatural Dynasty-esque drama (which include their parents, fellow immortals who view them as abominations that must be put down), had essentially monopolized the show from characters who existed a full two seasons before their introduction. Much of the blame can be attributed to Morgan and his co-stars Daniel Gillies and Claire Holt, older brother Elijah and younger sister Rebekah, who immediately inhabited the roles with assured performances that made them fan favorites. The show couldn’t dare kill them off, and their dysfunctional dynamics provided too much material to write them out. The solution: a spin-off, of course.
Now they headline the simply titled The Originals and in a mere half season, have managed to step out of TVD‘s shadow into a supernatural series that is mature, darker, and yes, sexier. Complex talked with Joseph Morgan the same day The CW announced a no-brainer season two renewal, and according to him, they’re just getting started.
Read below as Morgan previews what’s to come and reflects on how the show came out buzzing right out of the gate, and why he and his “siblings” just had to have their own show in the first place.
Interview by Frazier Tharpe (@The_SummerMan)
You came into the universe as a guest star and a villain. Fast forward two years and you’re headlining your own show. At what point did you and Julie Plec realize that you couldn’t kill Klaus off?
Around about season three episode nine. We had just done episode eight which is called “Ordinary People” and is centered around the past of the Original family and it went back 1000 years to Viking times and it showed my brother and sister and my mother and father. In the episode after that set in present day, we find out that my father Michael is hunting us and I had a big stand-off scene with him in the doorway where I ended up killing him. I remember after that feeling like, I’m really having a lot of fun here.
Me and my team and my manager Richie always said one year and we’ll be good, because how long can you keep a villain around before he just becomes one of the good guys? I’d always made that a point of saying that I just wanted to do this for one year. Then after that [episode] I thought like, “I could do another year, they’re writing pretty good stuff for me, I’m having a lot of fun and I’m starting to like Atlanta.”
I went to see Julie Plec [TVD executive producer and Originals creator] and was honest with her like, “I just want you to know I think there’s a misconception that I want to be killed off at the end of this season and I’m actually having a lot of fun and want to stay on another year if you’ll have me.” She was a bit taken aback by it. I think she thought I wanted to leave after that year. So a little while later she wrote me an email saying, “You’re 100% going to live until next season, we cleared it with the network and the studio had always assumed that was the case anyway.” So it was great, I got to do another season then around about the end of season 3 was when little whispers of the spin-off started to materialize. It was a long time before [The Originals] became a real thing.
Was the decision to spin-off more based on fan reaction, or you, Julie, and the writers deciding there was so much more to do with the character?
I mean, ultimately it had to be from fan reaction. Because if there wasn’t any reaction to these characters, no matter how much we love them, I would’ve died in Mystic Falls, as would my brother and sister. So there had to be something there for people to latch on to and relate to. The fans were incredibly supportive of me from the start, even though I was the villain. Partly, I was pretty vocal about my own kind of passion and interest in genre stuff, particularly vampire and werewolf folklore. I’ve read a tremendous amount of fiction and seen a lot of films, so I already was a fan myself, and I tried to make that clear.
There were a lot of fan-made trailers for The Originals. The fans sort of decided it could be a show before anyone else did. It was really fun watching that. Once me and Claire decided we wanted to do something about it, we thought we could present the idea to Julie. But before we ever got the chance, they came to us with a spin-off offer.
If you like Joseph Morgan, you’ll love Armistice. If you don’t like Joseph Morgan, Armistice just might change your mind. Joseph plays A.J. Budd, a Royal Marine who wakes up one morning and discovers he is alone, locked in an unfamiliar house. There is absolutely no escape, no TV, no radio, no books. His only excitement is a monster that appears every morning, forcing A.J. to fight for his life. Hidden deep in a hollow spot in the wall, he discovers letters and realizes he is not the first to suffer this fate.
We spoke to Joseph about carrying a film, executive producing, and we even slipped in a Vampire Diaries / The Originals question.
How did you get involved in Armistice?
My co-star, Matt Ryan, and I have been friends for years and years and years, since college. Matt and I co-wrote a short film called “With These Hands” and we were looking for a director of photography. Matt was in the Royal Shakespeare Company in Stratford-Upon-Avon, and he met a guy named Luke [Massey] who shot some short films for the company. So we contacted Luke and went to see him and he was interested. We ended up making this short film with him as the director of photography. He started talking to me about a film idea he was developing with a guy named Ben [Read] called Warhouse. He asked me if I would be interested in doing it, and I was – I am a huge fan of genre. So it sort of developed from there. It eventually became Armistice. We shot it for about five weeks in Stratford. It’s probably one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do. I’ve been solid friends with Ben and Luke since then.
Was your friendship how you also became an executive producer on it?
That was essentially part of the offer when they came to me. What Luke was really interested in was collaborating on a deeper level. So we collaborated in all aspects, from the script to really developing the character together from the beginning. I was on board from the beginning – before there even was a script. Those two guys wrote it – don’t get me wrong – but I was very involved in the development and the casting, and in the post-production process as well, in terms of really honing the story. Even in post-production, the film transformed dramatically and became something cleaner and simpler and better – in my opinion.
Is that something you would love to move into, a more of the behind-the-scenes role?
I wouldn’t say more, but certainly equally. I was a producer on the next film I did with Luke, which we are hoping to release at the end of this year, called 500 Miles North and I also produced and directed a short film called “Revelations” starring Persia White, who is my girlfriend as well. I’m very interested in writing and directing – all aspects of filmmaking. I’m pretty much a geek for the way a film is made. Even doing a film – or a TV show – purely as an actor, it is very interesting to me to see how the filmmakers get it done. I feel like it is a huge learning experience.
So yeah, that’s a kind of convoluted way of saying I am – not that I want to move away from acting. Just be involved in all aspects.
Also, I’m also quite anal about my attention to detail, so I would rather have more control than less control of a character and a story. The more I can put my two cents in, the more I feel comfortable in doing something.
You are the focus of Armistice. Much of the film is just you. Does that make it harder for you, because it is just you, or easier, because you like to have so much control?
In a way, yes, I see what you mean. Obviously, in a way, it is more pressure because if I mess up, I’ve only got myself to blame! [Laughs.] I can’t blame it on any of my co-stars! But collaborating with Luke – first off, I trust him implicitly. I know he’ll never use something I’m uncomfortable with. I feel free to experiment – and fail – and for us to discuss it, and know that he won’t sneak that into the cut. There is a freedom there. I wouldn’t say it was easier or harder – it’s just different. It’s nice to have that variety in a career, where you can really experiment with something like that. That is an extreme, and it’s an opportunity – certainly I don’t want every project to be just me – but it’s something that, if I hadn’t done it with Armistice, I wouldh ave definitely been interested in experimenting with it.
How do you go about preparing for a role like this? You have nobody to play off of, and there is a sense of loneliness and isolation. Does that transfer to time spent off-set?
I try not to let it continue on. While we made Armistice I stayed with Ben and every evening we would all sit and have dinner and talk about it. It was a very social experience for me. There was a huge sense of camaraderie off-camera. I worked a lot with our producer and military advisor Billy Budd, who was a Royal Marine, to get down the lingo and the demeanor. I felt that change in me while I was doing it, and certainly you hold onto that change. Also, just being there in that house, day after day… we tried to shoot as consecutively as we could, so I was really worn down by the end of shooting. I was able to use that exhaustion, draw from it for the craziness, the state of delirium that A.J. Budd ends up in.
I imagine that for a film like this, it would be far simpler to shoot it in order – at least from an acting standpoint.
It was. We did that as much as we could. Obviously we couldn’t do it entirely. The shot [that opens the movie] where I wake up on the bed and I put on the uniform, that was the first scene we shot. We tried to, as much as we could, work our way through.
Switching gears a little bit, what has the transition been like, going from The Vampire Diaries to The Originals? There are a lot more shades of gray in The Originals.
I would say there was a fair amount of gray before I made the transition. Having more screen time on the new show, you are able to see more layers because there is more time to explore them. I’m no longer the B storyline. It has been a transition in that way. I would say it has been more challenging because the workload is much bigger and there is a lot of press involved, trying to launch a new show. But it is very rewarding as well. My favorite bits of doing The Vampire Diaries was always working with Daniel [Gillies] and Claire [Holt], who play my siblings. It is great to be able to explore that a little further and take it to another level. So yeah, it has been challenging, but the reward has been worth it.