Nina Dobrev On Proving Herself In XXX: Return Of Xander Cage

Photo: Charley Gallay/Getty.
In real life, Nina Dobrev is pretty far removed from both the girl next door turned semi-immortal character she played for six years on Vampire Diaries, and the gawky new role she’s assuming in XXX: Return of Xander Cage, which hit theaters January 20. She has all of the commanding grace of an Old Hollywood actress; her posture is perfect and her curls are freshly placed when we meet. She’s prepared for my questions in a way that makes me wonder if she’s working with the same PR team as Beyoncé.

But she’s also warm. We have the same birthday (January 9), and after exchanging belated HBDs, we share a laugh about how the city of Atlanta is unprepared for winter weather. We’re both Northerners who’ve lived there — me a Chicagoan who went to Atlanta for grad school, her a Canadian there to film Vampire Diaries — and find it odd. As we sit in the restaurant of her Midtown Manhattan hotel, I keep wondering if this is the kind of duality that makes a real actress: the personality to win hearts and the self-control to survive in an industry where longevity is a privilege.

I had a chance to see the film, and it's great. How did this role come to be and what attracted you to it?
“It’s so different than anything I’ve had the opportunity to play so far. Becky is smart and spunky and awkward and clumsy. And she dances to the beat of her own drum. I kind of love that about her. I jumped at the opportunity to be in an action movie. I didn’t get to be the action star, so I still have to check that off my list. I just wanted to challenge myself and try something new. This was the perfect opportunity to do that. I had to go in to audition because they didn’t see me as the techy, geeky girl. But I brought my glasses and I brought my A game and obviously I did something right [laughs].”

I definitely identified with Becky the most. One of my favorite moments in the film is when your character says that Kumquat is her safe word. Did you help with that line?
“That was a scripted line actually, I can’t take credit for it. But we did get to improv and play around with the dialogue. They were very lenient and open. The environment was very friendly to try whatever you wanted to try. It gave me free reign to kind of play around.”

If you have or had a safe word in real life what would it be?
“That’s between me and my lovers [laughs].” [Lovers. Plural. Get it, Nina!]

The on-set pranks between you and Ruby Rose got pretty intense. We watched that play out online. What was it like working with her?
“It was great. It started off great and it slowly got more and more terrifying as the pranks progressed. It was cool, though. She’s so fun and she has such a great energy. She’s so funny, and easy to be around, and great to work with. I had a blast with her. She’s a gem of a human being.”

...And really hot.
“That is true [laughs].”
What was the transition from television to film like for you?
“It’s always tricky. It’s not an easy thing to do, especially when you’re the lead of a show and everyone identifies with you as a specific character. But I’ve been working really hard and trying to get people to see me in different roles. I’ve been auditioning my butt off actually. One at a time, hopefully tipping my way into a new chapter.”

Do you still get nervous for auditions?
“Sometimes. Not all the time. I just find it more fun. And if I am nervous, I just use nerves toward the energy.”

I know that you won’t spill secrets about whether or not you’ll be returning for the final season of Vampire Diaries. But how do you feel about the series ending?
“It’s bittersweet. It is such a big part of who I am and gave me so many opportunities. The show is so great and so beloved for so many. Of course it’s going to be sad for everybody, but it had a great long run. Eight years is no small feat. It was very successful and very admired for a very long time. And I think now if there’s no story to tell, then we should end it on a good note.”

You and Drake overlapped on Degrassi: Next Generation. What was it like working with him?
“Great! He’s a really talented actor. At the time I had no idea that he had musical aspirations. Maybe others did; I was kind of a newbie when he was in his final few seasons. We all hung out and we were all friends. It’s great to see all the amazing things he’s doing now.”

I can imagine that’s kind of surreal to see him now as this huge rapper.
“He’s blown up in a gigantic way and he deserves all the accolades.”

Do you have any talents besides acting that we may be getting a glimpse of?
“I will not be coming out with a rap album any time soon. Don’t hold your breath [laugh].”

What about a La La Land-esque musical where we might see some bomb vocals from you?
“I don’t know about bomb vocals. I would never be able to do Broadway, eight shows a week. I don’t have that kind of voice. But with a little bit of autotune... If they can help me out I might be able to pull something together.”

We have seen people with less talent do more, so anything is possible.
“This is true, so maybe there’s hope for me yet.”

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