With the next episode of The Vampire Diaries, called “Let Her Go,” executive producer Julie Plec makes her directorial debut. While the gang deals with personal tragedy, Alaric (Matt Davis) becomes wary when Kai (Chris Wood), who has begun experiencing unexpected consequences from the twin merge, turns to Jo (Jodi Lyn O’Keefe), desperate for her help.
In this exclusive phone interview with Collider, actress Jodi Lyn O’Keefe talked about how she got involved with The Vampire Diaries (currently in its sixth season, and already picked up for a seventh), who in her life is most excited about her involvement with the show, how much fun she’s having playing a good guy, how surprised and happy she’s been about her character’s story arc, learning about the final outcome of the twin merge, that Jo will have to come to terms with her powers, how much she enjoyed being directed by Julie Plec, and the anxiety that comes with being a show that could kill off anyone, at any time. Be aware that there are some spoilers.
JODI LYN O’KEEFE: I got a call from my manager and he said, “There’s a new role on the show, and we’d really like you to go and read for it, and so would casting.” So, I went in and auditioned, like everyone else.
Was it the show or the character, specifically, that appealed to you?
O’KEEFE: Well, my best girlfriend, who’s my age, is a huge fan of the show, and she wanted me to watch it with her. I knew about the show and I knew what was going on, but she’s the biggest fan, ever. When I told her that I had an audition, she lost her mind and said, “You understand that you have to do whatever you can to get this job.” And then, my 13-year-old niece is one of the biggest The Vampire Diaries fans out there. So, I got extra pressure from home, to do this show. The character breakdown was cool because, as far as I knew, she was one of the only people on the show. She was non-magical, in the beginning, and she was a strong doctor. I thought, “That would be fun!”
If you’re going to join a show that’s been on for as long as The Vampire Diaries has, you want to have some fun and have a memorable arc, wouldn’t you agree?
O’KEEFE: Yeah, it’s very cool. It’s fun to be the good guy, for once. That’s a whole new experience for me. I tend to play the bad guy, so it’s been really nice.
How much were you told about Jo and who she would be?
O’KEEFE: Not very much.
Did you know anything about where her story arc would go?
O’KEEFE: No. I thought, for the first few months, that there was not going to be any magical or vampire possibilities for me, whatsoever, and I was disappointed. I was like, “Come on, guys! I feel like I was built to be supernatural. Let’s do it!”
O’KEEFE: Really surprised, and really happy about it, actually. I have such a good time, every day that I’m there. It’s just different for me, and that makes it even better.
When did you learn about what the final outcome of the twin merge would be?
O’KEEFE: We learned about it, as we went along. They don’t give us that much information, to be honest, so we’re all waiting to find out what’s going to happen next. It’s been really cool to get the scripts and to figure out what’s about to go down, along with everyone else. But as we started to progress and got a few episodes in, they gave us clues about what will happen, so that we’re not completely in the dark. Otherwise, we can’t do our job.
Now that Jo has escaped the twin merge from happening to her, what can you say about what’s to come for her next?
O’KEEFE: Interestingly enough, I can’t say anything ‘cause I don’t know. I know it was really hard for her to lose Luke, and that’s something she’s going to have to deal with, in the future. I have to say, it was really hard for me to lose Luke. I was crying like a baby that whole night, when Chris [Brochu] and I were filming that scene. I was a complete baby because we were the new guys together, and I was so sad to see him go. Not that he’s gone, because it’s The Vampire Diaries.
O’KEEFE: She’s going to have to come to terms with it. She gave it up a long time ago, but she’s going to have to realize that it’s a part of her and decide what she wants to do with that part. She’s going to have to be a witch doctor, whether she wants to be or not.
With Kai (Chris Wood) having these feelings that he doesn’t know how to deal with, how does Jo feel about that?
O’KEEFE: It’s hard. That’s a double-edged sword, right there. What do you do with that? With someone you’ve been afraid of and hated, because of the terrible things they’ve done to you and your family, how do you come to terms with the fact that they’ve changed, and is it real?
Since he plays psychotic so well, what’s it been like to share scene with Chris Wood?
O’KEEFE: He’s wonderful, and he makes everything really easy, to tell you the truth. We really like working together because we’re just both so happy to be there. I like to say that we’re easy like Sunday morning. It’s just been a pleasure. He’s so talented.
Is there any possible scenario where Jo and her family could accept him again, after everything that he’s done?
O’KEEFE: Oh, my gosh, I don’t know. I don’t even know if you can trust any of the changes in him yet.
How do you view the dynamic between Alaric (Matt Davis) and Jo?
O’KEEFE: He’s had a tough break. Maybe this is his shot at actually having a little bit of happiness, in that department. And Matt is a complete goof. All we do is laugh our faces off, all day long. That was really easy, from day one. I said to him, a few days in, “I’m really lucky that this is so easy.” It just could have been awkward and hard, and it isn’t. I feel like I’ve won the lottery with this cast.
This next episode also had Julie Plec in the director’s chair. How was she, as a director?
O’KEEFE: She was so fantastic, as a director, because she knew exactly what she wanted and exactly how she wanted to get it. She’s so invested because this is all her. She knows every backstory and every plot twist, and she can really help you make decisions about where the character is going because she knows all of it. She’s got the most thorough knowledge of the show, of anyone. And she’s such a good communicator. I loved working with her so much that I can’t wait to do it again.
How challenging is it, personally, to sign on for a show that’s successful, has been on for six seasons and has this really devoted fan base, but it also willing to kill anyone off, at any time?
O’KEEFE: You don’t know how long you’re going to stay and there’s all this anxiety about being new, and then you think, “Well, maybe I shouldn’t get too comfortable because I don’t know what my shelf life is.”
Do you try not to think about the possibility of that, or do you find yourself flipping through the script to see if you make it to the end of the episode?
O’KEEFE: Well, I always do that. I want to know if I’m going to make it to the end of that week. And then, I take a deep breath and try to put it out of my head.
O’KEEFE: There’s a little bit of an overlap, but not that much. My season of Hit the Floor just started, so I’m having a little bit of an overlap, but we’re working it out as we go.
Do you enjoy splitting your time between the two, and does it help that they’re so different?
O’KEEFE: It’s awesome that they’re so different. They could not be more night and day. I’m getting the best of both worlds right now. I have quality problems. I’m really thankful. I wake up, every morning, smiling.
You’ve done quite a bit of TV in your career. What do you most enjoy about the luxury of really getting to explore a character over the long-term?
O’KEEFE: You have time to sit with that person that you’re becoming, and you have more time to try out new things. You can really understand who they are and where they’ve been. You get to be in their shoes for a long period of time. Just like with anything, with repetition, you get better. As you get more comfortable and spend more time being someone else, it only just gets better. It’s a luxury.
The Vampire Diaries airs on Thursday nights on The CW.