In the new issue of Entertainment Weekly on newsstands today, we have the exclusive first look at the April 25 episode of The Vampire Diaries, which serves as a backdoor pilot for an Originals spinoff set in The Big Easy. In that hour, Klaus (Joseph Morgan) and Elijah (Daniel Gillies) return to New Orleans – a city they helped build, then fled about 100 years ago when Mikael chased them out – and find that Klaus’ former protégé Marcel (The Game’s Charles Michael Davis) has turned it into a town where, for all intents and purposes, vampires walk the streets freely. “Marcel’s got people to look the other way while they have these crazy hedonistic parties and do whatever they want,” Morgan says. Shooting one of those soirees earlier this month at New Orleans’ Hotel Royal, which doubled for Marcel’s home, proved memorable for the actor…
“It was three floors of balconies that looked down on the courtyard. Klaus is walking into the party, and there’s all these people feeding and doing really crazy, crazy things. So we were doing it take after take, playing this really loud music, and there were a few guests still staying there, and two things happened: First of all, we were playing the music so loud, at one point, in the middle of a take, someone opened the door and went, “SHUT UP! I’M TRYING TO SLEEP!” and then slammed the door,” Morgan recalls. “It was everything we could do for everyone to just not burst out laughing because it was so ridiculous in the middle of this vampire party. And then the other thing was, of course, it was St. Patrick’s Day weekend over that period that we were filming in the hotel, so we’d suddenly have to stop production while an incredibly inebriated couple stumbled through this vampire party trying to make it to their room. It was an experience. But that’s the pros and cons of filming there,” he says laughing. “You get this amazing atmosphere and these incredible characters, but you also get this amazing atmosphere and these incredible characters that you have to deal with.”
Gillies also had one of his favorite moments of the shoot at the Hotel Royal: “I was doing an EPK [Electronic Press Kit] on a balcony next to a guy who was obviously supposed to be having a ‘romantic weekend’ with his girl, and he came out and started laying into me at a certain point. I just remember thinking that this would normally be a sort of horrifying moment on a shoot, but because I was having so much fun, even that – this awful moment – seemed to have its own magic, its own kind of strange charm to it.”
Numbers are being crunched to determine where the spin-off would be filmed if The Originals gets a series order (that we’ll find out when The CW announces its fall schedule in May). Executive producer Julie Plec knows there’s no substitute for The Big Easy. “One of the things that our director Chris Grismer said is the best part about New Orleans is the history is all right there: If there’s a coat of paint on the walls, it’s covering 10 other coats of paint. If there’s a building, it’s built on the remains of the building before it. Even in the cemeteries, all of the bodies are buried with each other, so an entire bloodline of ancestors are all co-mingling in the dust below these gravestones,” she says. “And they were so accommodating and so glad to see us there. We got to shoot in front of the St. Louis Cathedral, which is the oldest cathedral in the United States. We got to shoot in Lafayette Cemetery, which has been there for hundreds of years. We got to shoot in and around buildings that have been standing since the last great fire. We cast a tour guide that had given me the tour when I went on my research trip back in December. He’s so smart and so good, and he knows so much about the city and the history of the French Quarter specifically.”
Gillies agrees that no other location can compete: “There’s an electricity in the air in New Orleans, and, when you’re doing vampire stuff, it’s as close as you can get to not feeling silly when you’re shooting it, apart from perhaps somewhere Gothic in Eastern Europe, because you’re like, oh, well, this feels like it would exist here. It’s tremendous. Of course you want to be filming in New Orleans.”
Still, Plec and the actors anticipate setting up shop alongside The Vampire Diaries in Georgia – for both cost and time efficiency. “There’s these huge streets like Bourbon Street and Frenchman Street, which are incredible to film on but impossible to control sound. In New Orleans, you just have to embrace it,” Morgan says. “So the ideal would be if they built a couple of the streets as sets in studios in Atlanta, and then we visited New Orleans a good few times a season. That’s the best of both worlds.”
Gillies concurs with that assessment, too: “Truth be told,” he says, “I think it would be damn near impossible to shoot in Louisiana for the duration. You’re dealing with a lot of drunk people a lot of the time.”
For more on the spin-off episode – exclusive photos and plot details, plus what it means for The Vampire Diaries if it turns into a series (and for the Originals if it doesn’t) – pick up this week’s issue of Entertainment Weekly, on newsstands now.