Michael Malarkey is one busy man. He is a series regular on “The Vampire Diaries” as Enzo, a singer / songwriter promoting an upcoming EP “Knots” (available November 20), a father to a young child, and the list goes on. Like any other person out there, actor or otherwise, he wears many hats.
This interview was a fun one to conduct, mostly because of Malarkey’s frankness about a wide array of different topics. There’s a little bit of conversation in here about “The Vampire Diaries” this season and some of what could be coming up, but we spend just as much time discussing music, the creative process, switching gears, and what happens when you become tapped-into one of the most internationally successful TV shows on the planet with a young, Twitter-savvy audience behind it.
CarterMatt – So first of all, how are things this week? Has it been a busy time on set?
Michael Malarkey – I’ve got some chilling time this week, but I’m also getting set to release a new EP because I’m also a musician. I’m spending a lot of time getting all of my ducks in a row with that. So it’s kind of a blessing in disguise to have a couple of weeks off.
Let’s just dive right in with that! So many creative people have a different way they go about working. Are you able to come up with other ideas for songs while you’re on set or super-busy, or do you like to have some time blocked away? What’s the process like for you?
It’s a good question; there are a number of ways I could approach a response. I only write when I’m inspired to, whenever there’s a song there. I know from experience that when I just sit down and say ‘I’m going to write some music,’ it comes out and it’s like f*****g nursery rhymes, you know? It’s a bunch of Mickey Mouse crap. I have to do it when I have the burning feeling inside, the creative juice or whatever it is.
But I do need to have some solitary time. I’ve found it hard lately because I’ve got a one-year old. The house completely is a baby-centric palace, emphasis on baby, not palace. (Laughs.) And so I’ve found it a little bit harder to get the man-cave going, you know? So I’ve had the need to schedule in some time baby-free to have the space to create. But, I digress.
As far as having the two things, I find it very helpful because of how many characters we have on the show, our storylines kind of ebb and flow. I feel like there’s some weeks like this week where I’m completely off, so I have the luxury of focusing on other things. And I know there’s a tremendous stigma attached to actor / musicians, but I’m not trying to pursue music because I’m an actor or because I have a platform of a fan base. I’ve always made music since before I was an actor; it was always my first love. I only recently decided to do it publicly because I have the means to do that versus having to tour, which got to be exhausting for a while when I was doing it with a band.
Do you ever come home from work thinking, for example, ‘Enzo just betrayed Caroline’ and that sticks with you? Can you divide work up from [your music] well?
Oh yeah completely. The harder thing to divy up is your art and your personal life; it’s harder than dividing up the two creative things because the creative things are always synergized in a way. The creative things, you’re accessing that same part of your being. The harder thing is like coming in after having a massive argument with a family member and then having to work. It’s harder to let go of that and just focus on work. You know how that is; if you’ve got some stress going on at home, it’s your duty to leave that s**t at the door.
I’ve come to rely on the two things for different reasons. I kind of need the music as much as I need the acting as a part of my life.
Does being on a show with other people like Kat [Graham] and Candice [King], who are also heavily into music, influence or enrich what you do in any way?
Not really. No matter what job I would be doing, I’d always be making music. It’s my way of connecting with the world in a philosophical, artistic way. It’s how I filter this f***ed-up existence. (Laughs.)
You’ve been on the show now for a few years, so are you still learning and discovering new things about the character, some new dynamics with working with the other actors?
Man, I’m always discovering. I think the moment we say ‘I’ve got it figured out’ is the moment we die inside in whatever we’re doing. It’s important to be a student.
For me, there’s always tiny little things every week that I’m not completely happy with as far as my own performance goes, and I’m constantly working on ways to get even more relaxed and in the zone. They change, just as people do. It’s like working out. If you do the same thing every week [it’s not as effective]; your muscles need to be shocked in order to grow. I feel like our minds are the same. We need to test ourselves, we need to read different kinds of books, we need to watch different kinds of shows, talk to different kinds of people. For me, that’s an ongoing, constant thing is testing myself and trying to grow, trying to become more empathetic to the human race.
I think what makes this even better for you is that you get to play a character in Enzo who always has a certain element of mystery about him. How much of him are you clued into? You have a discussion with [executive producers] Julie [Plec] or Caroline [Dries] before the season to start to figure out the direction he is taking?
I remember having a little chat with Julie, kind of just to see what’s going on. I think it’s important to kind of check in at the end of a seaosn moving into the next one. I’m not trying to influence anything that is going on, but it does help to let them know that you care.
The thing is that they don’t what they’re going to do. They have a bunch of ideas, but they have to filter them through this huge regiment of people before it actually gets on paper when the writers sit down the first week. I’ve talked about ideas, we’ve talked character stuff before, I think it affects perhaps some of the scripts they write, but you know, I’m cool with whatever happens so long as it is fulfilling as an artist. It has been this season for sure.
How much of an advance warning are you getting now about what’s coming up? Are you filming now with the knowledge of what’s coming an episode or two down the road?
I used to, but I’ve learned over the past couple of years that for my own sanity, take it as it comes. Every time I get a new episode I definitely [dig] into it and see what happens next, and how I can incorporate that into my character’s trajectory.
I don’t like to be the person to poke and prod when it comes to spoilers, but some of your most entertaining stuff have been your scenes with Ian [Somerhalder]. Is there any more of that coming up?
I think some of the most entertaining stuff has been offscreen. (Laughs.) There’s definitely some Enzo – Damon scenes coming up, and they’re definitely not what the audience would expect, and by that I do not mean sex scenes! There’s loads of exciting stuff for Enzo coming up, and also for Michael [as an actor]. There’s a lot of high-intesity scenes, there’s a giant fight scene in one episode where we use swords and it’s a badass fight. There’s also romance stuff coming up and we see a lot more elements of this character that we haven’t seen before. I think the audience will latch onto that and appreciate where Enzo is coming from more so than last season.
Is there any way to prepare whatsoever for the sort of fan reaction that comes with being on this show? You can go on Twitter on any episode [airing] and there are people saying they love you, people ‘shipping Enzo with like a hundred separate characters. Is that all crazy to process?
It’s peculiar, man. I wasn’t even on Twitter before I got on the show … My agents were like ‘you should probably get on Twitter, it’s good for you, good for us, good for the show, blah blah blah.’ Nothing could have prepared me for the insanity of emoticons. (Laughs.) Like, a lot of the stuff that they say, the abbreviations, I didn’t know what half of that stuff was. I obviously knew what ‘OMG’ was, but an issue I [had] when I first started Twitter was that I had to look up half of the things that they were saying. I was like ‘what are they even talking about?’ It’s a new language; it’s a language of a new generation, and it’s important for us as public figures to speak the language and have a place to connect with the fans. It’s important, and communicating without giving up too much of your soul is an important thing for an artist in this climate.
Let’s circle back here at the end to focus on music. When does the EP come out?
It comes out November 20, pre-orders start this Friday on all platforms presumably. I’m probably going to give away a track for free for those who pre-order; I’m just trying to figure that out, it’s all very complicated and it’s making me very angry, but you can’t give away music for free anymore. (Laughs.) I’m really pumped about it. For anyone who listened to the last EP it’s a little bit darker, it’s fuller, I recorded it in Atlanta this time and spent a lot of time on it … There’s definitely a richer feel to it and I’m very pleased with how it turned out.
Thanks again to Michael for the interview, and you can head over here right now to see some other updates when it comes to “The Vampire Diaries” right away. Also, be sure to sign up here to get some other TV news on everything we cover via our CarterMatt Newsletter. (Photo: The CW.)