Nina Dobrev’s first “real, real” job was at a Hollister in the Eaton Centre in downtown Toronto. She can’t remember how old she was when she worked there, and neither can I, even though we were shilling the company’s signature low-rise jeans in the dimly-lit, perfume-heavy space side-by-side in the mid-noughties glory days of ribbed tank tops and ripped denim skirts. When Dobrev calls me from Los Angeles during a packed press day for her new movie, Lucky Day, I remind her of our shared humble beginnings and she pauses before she exhales, “Shut up!” Through laughter, she manages to say, “We were babies. Remember they made us say the same thing to every single person who walked into the store?”
That, I remember. The taglines ranged from “try on our shorts — they look great!” to “check out our SoCal, so low jeans!” I fumbled through them awkwardly. Dobrev was a natural. At the time, she was an aspiring actor about to land a little show called Degrassi: The Next Generation — delivering a convincing tagline came easy.
Since then, she’s proven her talents extend far beyond retail. Ten years ago last month, The Vampire Diaries premiered and the Bulgarian-Canadian became an instant celebrity. TVD ran for eight successful seasons. Dobrev left after six to pursue other film and TV projects, including xXx: Return of Xander Cage, Flatliners, Dog Days, the Rob Ford biopic Run This Town, and her first sitcom, Fam. Now, she’s starring in the campy action-comedy, Lucky Day, opposite Luke Bracey and helmed by Academy-Award winner and fellow Canadian, Roger Avary. It’s about an ex-con (Bracey) and his Parisian wife (Dobrev) as they run from a sociopathic serial killer (Crispin Glover) during the unluckiest “lucky day” of their lives. Here, I talk to Dobrev about her new film, Canadian politics, and why she needs a timeout from love.
It is my Canadian duty to ask you about Degrassi first. Who was the last cast member you caught up with?
Paula Brancati and I probably stayed the closest and keep in touch the most frequently. She's in L.A. right now and we had dinner like two nights ago. What day of the week is it? I feel like I've been on a plane every other day for months. I don't even know what day it is anymore.
Are you calling up Aubrey when you guys hang out?
We did not call him this time. It's hard. He's an international man of mystery who's very in demand. He’s also on the road more than me. I don't even know how I catch up with my friends and family, so I cannot imagine what he must be feeling. I mean we keep in touch as much as we can, and we see each other at events and stuff.
Let's talk about Lucky Day. This movie is a trip. It's fun, gory, and intense. It was directed and co-written by Roger Avary, who co-wrote Pulp Fiction, so it has that Tarantino vibe. What was it like getting to tackle this genre?
The tone is similar because he does have that history with Tarantino. They have similar taste in film and in art. And it is a quirky sort of '90s flashback, throwback type of film tonally that was really fun to do because you rarely get to do that kind of stuff unless you're working on a Tarantino film. We all had a really good time crossing genres between drama and thriller and action and comedy and campy. It’s so many different things in one movie.
You even have the Uma Thurman bob. Was that intentional?
That's so funny. A couple people have mentioned that on this press tour, and it was not intentional. Cutting my hair was actually my idea because I was playing a French character and I had wanted to cut it anyway. When this role came about, I was like, "Great, this is the perfect excuse to transform for a character and get to do what I want to do anyway." But looking back, I can definitely see the comparison to Uma.
Your character Chloe is Parisian, and you speak in a French accent throughout the film. How hard was it to develop that accent?
It was very nerve-racking. I found out about the movie a few days before I was on set shooting. I don't think I could've done it if I hadn't had the upbringing and background that I have. I was lucky enough to have gone to a French immersion school in Canada. And then my mom's current partner, who she's been with for the last 18 years, is from France and his kids didn't speak very much English. So, I was forced to learn to speak French when I was younger. Hearing my stepdad speak to me in a French accent when he's speaking in English over the years gave me enough of a base. That wasn't too hard to pick up. It was a little bit harder, nerve-wise, because felt the pressure to do a good job. I wanted my family, friends and people I know in France to like it and for my accent to pay tribute to them. I just didn’t want to botch it.
Have they seen it? Have you heard their feedback yet?
No, they haven't seen it. Not yet. I'm still nervous and terrified. Who knows? I might be disowned. I might not have anywhere to be for Christmas this year.
I thought you did a great job. But I'm one of those bad Canadians who does not speak French, so what do I know?
Well, thank you. I appreciate it. Can I come spend Christmas with you this year then?
Absolutely. We can have a Hollister reunion.
This year, you had a role in Run This Town where you played one of Rob Ford's assistants. As a Torontonian, did working on that movie give you a new perspective on Toronto politics? Are you keeping up with the current federal election?
I'm definitely educated. I had to do my research and get a little bit more up to speed because I was not as politically aware, having lived in the States for so long. I have trouble even keeping up with Trump's tweets every day. So, it was definitely an eye-opening, very informative project. I had heard about Rob Ford and the clickbait, whenever he would do something crazy. But I didn't know the minutia of everything that was going on with the administration until I did the film. I've been doing my best to keep up with [Canadian politics] as much as I can. I hear that it's crazy over there with his brother taking over and it's getting nuts again.
Yeah, that pretty much sums it up. You took a social-media break recently. Why did you decide to step away from it?
I had a cold and I wasn't feeling well. So, I took a bunch of days to just sleep because I've just been on flights constantly. I'm tired and I'm getting colds and so I just put my phone down and binged the entire season of The Politician and the entire season of Fosse/Verdon and watched like 19 documentaries and just slept, ate, drank water, drank soup, watched TV, slept some more, and did that cycle for seven days. It wasn't really intentional. I just wasn't awake enough hours of the day to even think about social media.
You recently shared pics from your friends Miles Teller and Keleigh Sperry’s wedding. I read that you went to seven weddings this summer. Nina, that's too many weddings in my opinion.
I agree with you. Will you tell my friends that? I have one this weekend. That's why I'm going back to Europe, and luckily, it's the last for this year, but I have another one at the beginning of next year. I love love, and I know they love love, and I love them, but I'm done with love for now. I needed to just take a little hiatus for a second.
The Nina who started TVD 10 years ago, what would you say to her now?
I would tell her to slow down, which I guess is what I should tell myself to do now. I feel like we're all such hypocrites when we give advice to other people. We're so wise and all-knowing and then when it comes to your own self you don't really take your own advice. Back then, I remember packing my schedule and trying to do everything and feeling so overwhelmed and exhausted. That's kind of how I feel right now, too. So, I should maybe practise what I preach and take another week off and go to sleep. After I get off the phone with you, I'm peacing out.
This interview hasbeen edited and condensed.