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This is the biggest week, professionally speaking, in Daniel Gillies life. Not only will The Vampire Diaries air his Originals-focused backdoor pilot on Thursday, but he’s currently filming the second season of his medical drama, Saving Hope, and it was just announced Broken Kingdom, his directorial debut, would premiere this May on Showtime!
Not only did Gillies helm the globe-hopping, emotionally-resonant drama, but he wrote, produced and co-stars along with wife, Rachael Leigh Cook. A massive undertaking that underscores what a passion project this was for the actor.
Although Gillies used a different adjective to describe the endeavor when he rang up ETonline to talk Broken Kingdom, life lessons from behind the lens and The Originals!
ETonline: This is a big week for you, Daniel. Congrats on Showtime acquiring the film!
Daniel Gillies: Oh man, I’m very blessed. I can’t believe all of this is happening at once — I feel like every day is my birthday. These are lovely complications to have. It’s been a bit of a process getting the release in order, and getting all the paperwork together, so I’ve been sitting on this for a long time. I’m relieved we can share the films with our friends, our supporters and the world.
ETonline: Why was this such a passion project for you?
Gillies: This was five years of my life. I essentially quit acting for three years to make this. It might be more accurate to call it an “Insanity Project” than a “Passion Project” [laughs]. I’m not sure if I had to do it again that I would find the courage. Walking into that blindly with a degree of naivety I had at the time was a helpful weapon.
ETonline: What was the spark of creativity that led to this getting made?
Gillies: It was the precipitation of a premature midlife crisis, to be honest with you. It’s so funny talking about this as a 37-year-old, because at 31 — which doesn’t feel like yesterday, it feels like earlier this morning — I had this premonition that my 30’s would fly by. Suspecting that, I decided to try and do this before my 35th birthday. It ended up being the most dangerous three year period because no agent or manager will tell you that’s an advantageous time to step back. To the credit of my manager, he absolutely stood by me knowing it was something I was passionate about.
ETonline: You certainly didn’t make it any easier on yourself by choosing a very global story to tell. Did you ever consider doing a movie set in one room for your directorial debut, or was the mentality “Go big or go home?”
Gillies: You’ve nailed it. You’ve encapsulated my whole sentiment — if I was going to do this, I needed to create something anthemic and symphonic. We made this for very little money, so to do what we did on such a small scale was creative masochism. But I did have that notion that I wanted it to be as unique as possible and if I was going to take this kind of risk, I wanted it to be big.
ETonline: You also took a risk in casting your wife because you had to work with her in two capacities: as a co-star and a director. Which made you more nervous?
Gillies: Both of those things were entirely unnerving. I don’t recommend it. It was very difficult on our marriage and our relationship. Luckily she’s incredibly skilled and talented. Her performance in this movie is staggering. I do think it’s the best thing she’s ever done, so we couldn’t be luckier to have her in the movie. But, more importantly, I couldn’t have been luckier to have someone so understanding and compassionate and supportive. I didn’t deserve that kind of love and support because, at the time, I was a lot less patient, compassionate and understanding. One of the great benefits of having undergone this is it’s given me a lot more empathy and a distance from being impulsive and incendiary. In a weird way, having the sh*t beaten out of me consistently for the last five years has not only made a man out of me but it’s made me a better artist.
ETonline: What is it you’d like people to take away from Broken Kingdom?
Gillies: Several things. Specifically that my wife and the cast are phenomenal actors. Second of all, I wanted the piece within itself to be its own testimony to devoting yourself to an idea and carrying it through. I shot this in 2009 and it was years of getting that money ready, and putting it together. Because of how arduous and defiantly challenging it was at all times, I want it be a story of commitment to an idea that’s higher than yourself. That’s why Kingdom Come, the documentary that precedes the film on the air is almost as important to me as the movie.
ETonline: What was it like watching the documentary for the first time?
Gillies: I had tremendous difficulty watching Kingdom Come. I was cringing at myself and my meltdown through this process. But I have to tell you, I don’t like it but I know and recognize that it’s an important document to any aspiring artist out there that sometimes the road is difficult. It won’t always be as rocky or violent as mine, but if you’re going to reach that far beyond your grasp, it’s OK to be knocked around in the process.
ETonline: Your Vampire Diaries co-star Joseph Morgan recently directed a short film. Did you share war stories in between filming?
Gillies: Yes, we did. Joseph approached me and asked to take a look at my film. He and Paul Wesley were both very curious, and supportive, of me and the film. I went to Joseph’s apartment and showed him an earlier cut of the film, and then we watched his — it was sort of this masturbatory double feature, which was really awesome and a great night in the history of our friendship.
ETonline: Have you seen the final cut of The Originals?
Gillies: I have seen most of it through ADR and I don’t mean to sound irreverent to any of the shows that have taken place before, but I’ve never been so excited about an episode of The Vampire Diaries. It’s such an exciting evening of TV — Julie Plec has done something really splendid here. I mean, damn it, we should be building monuments to her across North America. What she’s done here is sublime. It’s such a good episode of television, and furthermore, I was deeply proud of the relationship between Klaus and Elijah. Like most actors, I sort of despise everything I’ve ever done, but the moment I started watching his, I was gobsmacked. This thing takes you on an adventure through New Orleans and it’s a totally different energy from The Vampire Diaries. There’s this quality that Joseph and I wanted to achieve which is that of ancient resonance, and I feel like the pillars of the show — myself, Charles Michael Davis, Joseph Morgan, Clair Holt and Phoebe Tonkin — are performing at a certain pitch. Perhaps because we felt the importance of the episode, there is a certain caliber to it that just felt transcendently good. And that’s not just me complimenting my performance. It felt like we’ve been making The Originals for years judging from the quality. It’s just a great, epic night of television and whether we get picked up or not, they’ve succeeded in creating something I will always consider superb.
Broken Kingdom premieres on Showtime at 8:30 p.m. May 15. Immediately preceding the film, at 7 p.m., is Kingdom Come. The Vampire Diaries airs Thursdays at 8 p.m. on The CW.