'The Originals' star Daniel Gillies on Elijah's 'pathological commitment' to Klaus and why the show's end doesn't bother him
Elijah has a chance to reinvent himself and he is not planning to let go of that opportunity, unless by a stroke of (bad) luck his memories come back.
It is a strange time to be a fan of The CW's 'The Originals.' On the one hand, we are heartbroken over the supernatural drama coming to an end, but on the other, season 5 is probably the best one since the show's premiere in 2013.
Daniel Gillies, the star of the show, believes this to be true. He calls the current story arch, the one where his character Elijah Mikaelson has forgotten all about his past and his identity, to be the best one on the show so far. "What is fascinating about this story arc is that it questions the very fabric of the show. It questions the absolute lynchpin that has determined the whole narrative of the Original family," he tells Meaww.
As an actor, Daniel gets to completely deconstruct Elijah and build him back up again. A man who had data and information. "To lose him completely and the substantial torment of the past millennia and all of his artifice and all of this being that he has forged around himself, it's been really, really fascinating for me. This one, head and shoulders has been the most interesting story arch," he reveals.
As viewers too, we see how the current storyline is so very different from anything we are used to. And, as much as we love to see Elijah live in a fake utopia that is the result of his ignorance and delusion, we do want to see the Mikaelson brothers fighting side by side. He is quite comfortable with his new life and his new identity. "There is nothing right now that I think could hold him away from this utopian little sanctuary he has fortified himself in France."
Unless of course, his memories returned. As Daniel points out, that would lead Elijah back to his family and his brother Klaus (portrayed by Joseph Morgan). "He knows a lot of historical moments that he has researched himself. He knows who he is, and he doesn't like who he was," explains Daniel, adding, "So, to him, they are just sort of cold facts without any sort of emotional complication attached to them."
"He seems happier having rid himself of the responsibility toward his family. I think that the burden of being Elijah Mikaelson was a lot larger than many could imagine. He is being relieved of the purest form of his self, possibly even returning him to his youth before he became a vampire. We are starting on ground zero and it is interesting to watch him without a millennium of torment on his shoulders. He is actually somebody kind of far more innocent obviously, and far freer," elaborated Daniel.
However, the bedrock of the show is his loyalty to his brother and Elijah would sacrifice anything and everything in order to serve his brother. "The whole show is based on the premise that Elijah is committed to this man – Klaus Mikaelson – no matter what he does," reminds Daniel, also reinstating the importance of the maxim within the show: "'Always and forever."
"Truthfully, Elijah is always and forever committed to Klaus. It is not really out of loyalty to family," he says, adding that "It is the story of his pathological commitment to this tyrannical creature of Klaus. That's the whole story. Without that we wouldn't have had the show."
Further reiterating the only way to ensure Elijah's comeback, he says, "If his memories returned to him, but it doesn't look like they will. That to me would be the only thing at this juncture, this time, would resuscitate his relationship with his family. It would have to be memories of who he was."
Ultimately, as fans, we understand why Elijah is desperately trying to hold on to this life without bloodshed. He has always aspired to become more human. He was more human than most people, Daniel assures us.
"By definition, he was a monster, but he seemed to claw at that last fragment of humanity within him more voraciously than any other character or protagonist within the narrative. I love that about him. I thought that gave him a kind of purity; I don't want to say nobility. People often attribute nobility to him. I think he discarded nobility centuries ago, but I think he admired human beings, particularly humans that would live a single lifetime," he says adding, "He respected human beings, almost in spite of who he was, and I love that he still had that in him even though he could be savage. He was the gentleman monster."
Having had to say goodbye to a character he so evidently holds close to his heart, it is only natural that he took all his snazzy suits to remember him by. "Well, who else is gonna take them? They are absolutely tailored to my body, so I have those as a souvenir."
In all seriousness, Daniel says it is the experience that he takes with him. "Playing Elijah taught me, Daniel, tremendous amount about how sets work, how shots are put together, how to direct within the environment, how to write – I spent most of my time writing, and I am very, very grateful for that experience. Because of Elijah I became a much stronger, a much more well-equipped actor," he reflects.
Despite this, he knew it was high time they said goodbye to the show. "It certainly wasn't good riddance. That is not what I am saying at all," he clarifies, adding, "That time was so complicated and difficult that to walk away from it knowing I had given it a great shot, it felt good – to walk away from the inherent difficulty of it."
By difficulty, he specifically means the pressure the entire cast and crew faced back in December to not only wrap up their own show, but also the work that went into doing a backdoor episode for 'The Originals' spin-off show that will focus on Hope Mikaelson's life.
"I was exhausted at the time, almost more exhausted than I have ever been. I had just directed an episode, I was sort of in these throes of the edit. I was consumed with having worked for long hours. I hadn't seen my family in weeks. We were also making a lot of changes to the scripts because scripts were struggling at that point. We had a backdoor pilot come in for another spin-off for the character of Hope Mikaelson in episode 11 or so, and because of that there was this tremendous pressure on the show. We were basically doing another show, another project, when we ought to have been wrapping up ourselves," he explains.
Thanks to the insane amount of pressure, Daniel says it felt like a tremendous relief when everything came to an end. "I just wanted to make it through and not crumble and I think the feeling I had at the time was that I just needed to rest. I returned home to Los Angeles after that I just slept for weeks. I slept and slept. It was like I hadn't slept in the last six months."
Before wrapping up though, he experienced the joy of being directed by his on-screen brother and real-life friend Joseph Morgan, an experience which Daniel compares to good friends sitting down and solving a puzzle together. "It is just a joy to work with him," he says.
Other memorable directors Daniel loved working with include the "incredibly talented" Michael Grossman and the John Hyams, whose directions for the scene in Season 3 where Hayley breaks down on the kitchen floor after Jackson's death and Elijah silently sits by her side to comfort her, stands out for Daniel. He loves them both for different reasons.
"Everybody has their own style. For Michael, his skill was his simplicity and his elegance with the camera and his ability to give an actor just one or two notes and it's just what the scene needs. With John, what I respected the most, is the time he took to make certain that the scene made sense to the actors. He would create the shots around the actors afterwards, rather than the other way around. He made priority the story-telling of what the actors were already showing and it was the most noble approach to the narrative."
On being asked who among 'The Originals' family Daniel would work with again, he says, "I love that cast. I couldn’t name a single member of the cast because I love them all, but the person I would work with again in the near future would have to be one of our DPs. We had two tremendous DPs (Directors of Photography), one guy is called John Smith and the other guy is called Roger Chingirian and I just really look forward to the prospect of working with one of those guys in our own project again sometime soon."
Now that 'The Originals' is done with, Daniel is mostly just looking forward to becoming a family man, but professionally, he seems as clueless about his future as we are. Here is his response to what his next project is going to be: "I don't know. I am excited too. I have no idea. This is the first time I have taken a break in seven years and I have worked incredibly hard for the last seven and I am finally being a father to my children. I am actually around and I am with them and I am in their lives. My son is excited whenever I open the door to our place and I am picking up my daughter from dance lessons. I just want to be a good father. I expect to be a great father to my children because everything else pales in comparison. There is no greater pursuit really for than being a father. Everything else is secondary."
Daniel does know for a fact that he doesn't not want to "get tangled into a show with a long contract again with a commitment that entails me being away from my family for a long period of time." He claims to be too crazy about his beautiful wife Rachael Leigh Cook and his adorable children to do that.
However, he is still working. "I am writing something. I am sure that I will go and direct some of my own stuff. I am looking forward to doing my own material." Rachael may even be a star in some his dream projects. "We have worked together several times. We did a short film together a few years ago. We were also in a TV miniseries called 'Into the West'. I wrote and directed a film called 'The Broken Kingdom' in 2009 and 2010, she was the star for me, so worked together in that. We have worked together several times. I am looking forward to writing for her again. I am on the process of that right now."
Daniel who reiterates how grateful he is for the tremendous experience of playing Elijah said he is not nervous going forward. "Perhaps I should be nervous. Maybe that would be a driving incentive, but now I am just incredibly grateful that we completed that and we were able to say farewell to the show in a way that we saw fit."
Our lovely chat comes to an end and Daniel returns to his co-writer, who is penning their most recent project, of which a basic graph already exists. We can't wait to see more from this brilliant actor writer and director.
Meanwhile, you can watch the final few episodes of 'The Originals' at 9/8 c on Wednesdays.