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, actress Nina Dobrev is saying good-bye and gearing up to make bold moves. Let the show begin!
“I’m buying you tequila shots!” jokes Nina Dobrev, upbeat but contrite. She’s a little late meeting me for dinner, but not because she’s a star who’s unconcerned with the clock. It’s because, despite her nine years in the business, the sprawl of Los Angeles is new to her: She’ll be living here full-time in just a few weeks but doesn’t know the roads quite yet. Still, says the 26-year-old actress, every new route holds its own excitement. She joins me at the table, wearing a navy silk jumpsuit, black cardigan and sandals, fluttery false eyelashes still glued to her lids. “We shot until 6 a.m., and then I flew here,” she says. “I forgot to take them off.”
Since 2009, Dobrev has spent 10 months of every year living in Atlanta, shooting her 22-episode-per-season CW series,
. Treading in the scripted world of doppelgängers and the undead, Dobrev deftly took on the highly dramatic coming-of-age story of an innocent-at-first high school student named Elena Gilbert. Over the years, Gilbert fell in love with not one but two members of the bloodthirsty Salvatore brood (while in real life, Dobrev dated Ian Somerhalder, who played the older Salvatore brother, Damon). Gilbert would eventually die, come back to life and become a vampire herself—and a vampire premed student, no less.
As Gilbert, and sometimes as her immortal nemesis, Katherine Pierce (born in 1473), Dobrev developed a massive and dedicated fan base, including nearly 5 million Instagram followers, many of whom were crushed in April when the actress used the same medium to announce her imminent departure from the show. Shooting her final scenes, she says a few weeks prior, will be emotional:
represents not only Gilbert’s coming-of-age but her own. “It’s important for me that it be epic and powerful,” Dobrev says. “I feel like I’m a completely different person than I was and I’ve grown so much. It’s been a big part of my life, and I want it to be beautiful. I want it to end well.”
Having signed a six-year contract at the show’s onset, Dobrev knew from the beginning that this year might mark the end of her run.
‘s seventh season will commence filming later this year, but without its star, whose take on all of it is forward-looking and optimistic, not nostalgic or fearful of change. Never once does she say leaving is scary; she does, however, call it bittersweet. “I’ve loved working on this show,” she says. “It’s been such a crazy, awesome adventure, and I’ve been surrounded by so many people who I consider family. I know this is a new exciting step in the right direction for me, but it’s going to be so strange not to be with them.”
Still, like any smart professional, Dobrev’s been thinking a few moves ahead for years. “I’m very business-minded,” she says. Keen on the long game, she started filming movies in between seasons, appearing in dramas like
(Atlanta); and, most recently, in this spring’s emo-horror satire
(New Orleans), which premiered to rave reviews at South by Southwest. She’s eager now to tackle even more ambitious film roles. And after playing so many of the supernatural types (dead, undead, capable of flight), she also seems unfazed by the idea of moving to otherworldly Hollywood.
It’s the unknown and the lofty, not to mention the prospect of a well-earned break, that’s exciting Dobrev these days. “I’ll be stepping outside my comfort zone,” she says while checking out the specials at Café Gratitude in Larchmont. She’s talking about her future as an actor and as a newbie screenwriter, sitting at one of the restaurant’s outdoor tables. We’re beneath a sign that reads I AM WHOLE AND COMPLETE UNTO MYSELF, all in capital letters.
The restaurant’s vegetarian menu plays on identity. At the top, the words “I am” are printed large, followed by an ellipsis that signifies you could be anything … from what the list of dishes below represents. If you order a marinated kale salad, you are saying, “I am … pure.” If you want corn and portobello mushroom tacos, it’s “I am…transformed.” Sizing up the dogma of the dinner menu, Dobrev, more of a doer than a seeker, looks up at the waiter, shrugs and jokingly says, “I am … feeling like a steak.”
Born in Sofia, Bulgaria, in 1989, the same year that country’s Communist regime collapsed, Dobrev got used to pushing boundaries and crossing borders at an early age. She flew to America when she was 2 with her mother, Michaela, and older brother, Alex, to eventually meet her father, Kamen, in Toronto. Fresh out of the Bulgarian army, Kamen Dobrev had left one year earlier to secure work and save enough money to bring over the rest of the family. He delivered pizzas and pumped gasoline until funds were sufficient. “My mom crossed into Canada to meet him at Niagara Falls with one suitcase and a kid in each hand,” Dobrev says. “I learned hard work from them.”
Living in Scarborough, Ontario, a tough suburb of Toronto, the family moved around a lot for the first few years. Dobrev remembers packing her own school lunches because her mom worked multiple jobs—as a receptionist, selling clothing, whatever it took to keep the family afloat—while Kamen went to school to study computer engineering. At 10, Dobrev began competing in aesthetic gymnastics meets and eventually had to make a tough choice between athletics and acting.
“It was either continue with the gymnastics and try to go to the Olympics, or audition more. Gymnastics was four hours a day, six days a week. There wasn’t time for both.” In her early teens, Dobrev began going to Toronto to try out for acting parts. “I would take the subway,” she says, “and then four different buses. Nothing was ever handed to me.”
Her first big break came in 2006, when she was cast on the popular Canadian teen melodrama
, alongside an actor named Aubrey Graham, now known to millions on this side of the border as Drake. Over the course of 52 episodes, until 2009, Dobrev played a teenaged mom who ultimately moved to Paris to pursue a modeling career. In real life, she left
and Atlanta—but only after she got sick, botched her first audition, took a mulligan and submitted a tape to make up for the initial mess. “None of us thought about her twice after that first try,” recalls Julie Plec, the show’s cocreator and writer. “But when we saw that tape, we were all blown away by how wonderful, magnetic and interesting she was. She got the part based on that. She fought for it.”
As our food arrives, Dobrev digs in. There’s roasted brussels sprouts, a couple of salads, those corn and portobello mushroom tacos. She looks around at the abundance of bright vegetal dishes and promptly declares, “I am … a pig.” Regardless, she wants pictures, because she likes to chronicle these things. “My taste buds are alive and well,” she says. “Living in Atlanta, I started a restaurant bucket list for friends. There’s a whole burger section. It’s dope. Everybody loves it when they come into town.” Dobrev says she’d possibly like to expand and publish it. “Like a travel guide,” she says.
With her show ending, the first thing Dobrev wants to do is explore. She’s already planned a cross-country road trip with six friends after her final episode wraps. It’s unclear whether her 18-year-old cat, Lynx, will come along for the ride or take a more direct route west (aside from Lynx, Dobrev is single), but stops will be made in New Orleans; Houston; Austin, Texas; Santa Fe; Sedona, Arizona; the Grand Canyon; and Las Vegas before Dobrev ultimately arrives at her new house in Los Angeles.
There’s more! Read the complete feature and find out about Dobrev’s upcoming plans by downloading the digital edition now.
Top: “She’s genuine, funny, really ambitious and an insanely hard worker,” says one director. “Whatever she wants to do, she’ll excel.” Bodysuit; LucasHugh.com for other styles. Sneakers, New Balance Custom 574, $160; NewBalance.com
Above: “I’m ready to put up that fight again,” Dobrev says of auditioning for new roles. “I’m excited to put up that fight.” Sweater, Lucas Nascimento; MatchesFashion.com. Sports bra, No Ka ‘Oi, $120; Performance Ski, 970-925-8657. Briefs, Spanx by Sara Blakely, $58; Spanx.com. Earrings, Tenthousandthings, $85; TenthousandthingsNYC.com
Styled by Melissa Ventosa Martin. Hair, Adir Abergel at Starworks; makeup, Jake Bailey for Lancôme; manicure, Holly Falcone for Chanel Le Vernis; set design, Colin Donahue; production, Rosco Production.
KEYWORDS: Celebrity,coverstar,June 2015,Nina Dobrev,The Vampire Diaries
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