The Vampire Diaries' Ian Somerhalder Reveals How Close Another Actor Came To Playing Damon Salvatore

ian somerhalder as damon salvatore in the vampire diaries
(Image credit: The CW)

The Vampire Diaries on The CW was often called the “Twilight of television.” But the vampire drama carved out its own diehard fanbase over its eight-season run for digging much deeper into the themes of betrayal, loneliness, regret, and love triangles with brothers Stefan and Damon Salvatore. Ian Somerhalder, who became a fan-favorite playing Damon, revealed just how close another actor came to getting the iconic part over him.

If you watched The Vampire Diaries, you were probably either Team Stefan or Team Damon. (I was the latter for full journalistic transparency.) If we put territorial fan interests aside, hopefully we'd all agree that the idea of someone else playing Damon Salvatore sounds preposterous now. According to actor Ian Somerhalder on a recent Watch What Happens Live segment, however, it was closer to reality than some might imagine. He said,

In the last test of the show, there was a guy who showed up, and he was just trying to play super cool and kind of like psych me out in the room, and I just shut it down, and I said, 'No way, man—this is my role. And I went in there and just made it happen.

This is the short and sweet version of how Ian Somerhalder came into the Damon Salvatore role on The Vampire Diaries, but it was actually much more down to the wire than even that. As co-creators Julie Plec and Kevin Williamson told it to EW in an oral history of the pilot, Somerhalder was “blowing it.” And apparently, Somerhalder still blew it in that final test, despite what he's saying now. Another actor was preferred, yet Williamson claimed he threatened to walk away from the show if Somerhalder wasn't Damon Salvatore. Plec and Peter Roth, president at Warner Brothers Television, ultimately decided to support his push for Somerhalder.

The rest is history, as they say. The Vampire Diaries went on to capture the hearts and minds of viewers all over, particularly through a lot of relationship changes and near-death shockers. But who was that actor that almost edged out Ian Somerhalder for the part of Damon Salvatore? Somerhalder himself remains cagey on that front. He said on Watch What Happens Live,

I mean, you may know. I honestly don't remember his name. . . . He was just super handsome and very different. He was a super handsome dude, but he was like a blonde, blue-eyed—just very different sort of look, world.

Supposedly, the other actor in question was a much bigger name actor than Ian Somerhalder was at the time. So it's interesting that Somerhalder can't seem to remember his name. We can at least rule out Paul Wesley (who ended up as Stefan), Zach Roerig (as Matt Donovan) and Michael Trevino (as Tyler Lockwood), who all auditioned to play Damon. Julie Plec shared with EW years ago that David Gallagher of 7th Heaven fame “impressed” them but that they were worried he wouldn’t “get past” the notoriety of his previous character. That would've certainly made for a completely different kind of Damon.

Nevertheless, the actor to play Damon Salvatore in The Vampire Diaries can't be changed now. Neither can the storyline overall, no matter how much fans of Team Stefan might wish otherwise.

Lauren Vanderveen
Movies and TV News Writer

Freelance writer. Favs: film history, reality TV, astronomy, French fries.