WHAT'S THE SECRET of The Vampire Diaries? For Nina Dobrev, it's simple. "There's something very seductive about kissing and sucking blood," she says. "It's very sexual to get close to your neck and to be so in love with someone. And still have the urge to kill them. It's like love and hate — it's a very fine line."
That's the line where all three of The Vampire Diaries' breakout stars have taken up residence. The sexy, stylish CW smash is set in the fictional small town of Mystic Falls, Virginia, a place where teenage girls toy with the hearts of vampire lover boys who have already spent years chasing them. The drama all comes down to a love triangle focused on Elena (Dobrev), a regular suburban high school girl, who finds herself torn between two brothers, Stefan (Paul Wesley) and Damon (Ian Somerhalder). Stefan is a conscientious bloodsucker who loathes killing innocent people. Damon is the evil night stalker who revels in the dark side. Really, the only thing these siblings share is that they yearn to put the bite on the same girl. Although, according to Dobrev, they have something else in common. "They're very easy on the eyes," she says. "They did good casting with our boys. They're not only pretty, they can speak."
"Vampires are vessels," Somerhalder muses. "They have an aesthetic hold on us human beings for some reason. Vampires are powerful, they're dangerous, they're sexy, they're wise. So they create this killer basis for storytelling."
As The Vampire Diaries heads into a third season, the occult action is just starting to intensify and get trippier. Elena is drawn into the vampires' world, but she also finds her own inner darkness reflected in the past, as she explores her blood ties to Katherine, the 19th-century vampire seductress who originally bit both of the brothers back in the Civil War days. As Somerhalder says, "Two brothers who love each other. They're in love with the same woman. The same two women. That is a highly problematic relationship whether you're a vampire or not."
Teen romance and blood sacrifice go hand in hand in Mystic Falls. Elena's best friend is a witch, while the vampires spent much of last season battling werewolves. "It's still people, but it's people in a heightened dimension," Dobrev says. "As much as it's about vampires and witches and all these mystical elements, the goal is to still bring it back to the characters and true basic human feelings and instincts. That's the only reason people will watch it."
Well, maybe not the only reason. All this mythology revolves around the three young faces at the heart of the show. Wesley promises that the new season will go "deeper and deeper into the inner circle of blood — into a primitive, primordial place." And, he adds, the love triangle will be pressed on the eternal question, "Does true love persevere? Or just fade away?"
According to Somerhalder, "Damon started out as the bad boy having all the fun. But then you get your ass kicked by life, your heart broken, and it changes you. So Damon's turned into this unlikely hero, even though he keeps asking, 'What is this good-guy bullshit?' He might still want to go and rip some sorority girl's head off, but now he struggles with it. That struggle, that push and pull — that makes it fun to play."
For all Elena's trials and tribulations, though, she still has two hot vampire dudes fighting over her. Isn't that every ail-American girls dream? "She doesn't see it as an all-American dream," Dobrev says. "She's very conflicted about the whole thing. But at the same time, yeah, she does have two very attractive men who are head over heels in love with her and would do any thing to save and protect her. High-class problems, I suppose."