SELF.COM – “I’m buying you tequila shots!” jokes Nina Dobrev, upbeat but contrite. She’s a little late meeting me for dinner, but not because she’s a star who’s unconcerned with the clock. It’s because, despite her nine years in the business, the sprawl of Los Angeles is new to her: She’ll be living here full-time in just a few weeks but doesn’t know the roads quite yet. Still, says the 26-year-old actress, every new route holds its own excitement. She joins me at the table, wearing a navy silk jumpsuit, black cardigan and sandals, fluttery false eyelashes still glued to her lids. “We shot until 6 a.m., and then I flew here,” she says. “I forgot to take them off.”
Since 2009, Dobrev has spent 10 months of every year living in Atlanta, shooting her 22-episode-per-season CW series, The Vampire Diaries. Treading in the scripted world of doppelgängers and the undead, Dobrev deftly took on the highly dramatic coming-of-age story of an innocent-at-first high school student named Elena Gilbert. Over the years, Gilbert fell in love with not one but two members of the bloodthirsty Salvatore brood (while in real life, Dobrev dated Ian Somerhalder, who played the older Salvatore brother, Damon). Gilbert would eventually die, come back to life and become a vampire herself—and a vampire premed student, no less.
As Gilbert, and sometimes as her immortal nemesis, Katherine Pierce (born in 1473), Dobrev developed a massive and dedicated fan base, including nearly 5 million Instagram followers, many of whom were crushed in April when the actress used the same medium to announce her imminent departure from the show. Shooting her final scenes, she says a few weeks prior, will be emotional: TVD represents not only Gilbert’s coming-of-age but her own. “It’s important for me that it be epic and powerful,” Dobrev says. “I feel like I’m a completely different person than I was and I’ve grown so much. It’s been a big part of my life, and I want it to be beautiful. I want it to end well.”
Having signed a six-year contract at the show’s onset, Dobrev knew from the beginning that this year might mark the end of her run. TVD‘s seventh season will commence filming later this year, but without its star, whose take on all of it is forward-looking and optimistic, not nostalgic or fearful of change. Never once does she say leaving is scary; she does, however, call it bittersweet. “I’ve loved working on this show,” she says. “It’s been such a crazy, awesome adventure, and I’ve been surrounded by so many people who I consider family. I know this is a new exciting step in the right direction for me, but it’s going to be so strange not to be with them.”
Still, like any smart professional, Dobrev’s been thinking a few moves ahead for years. “I’m very business-minded,” she says. Keen on the long game, she started filming movies in between seasons, appearing in dramas like The Perks of Being a Wallflower (filmed around Pittsburgh); farces like Let’s Be Cops (Atlanta); and, most recently, in this spring’s emo-horror satire The Final Girls (New Orleans), which premiered to rave reviews at South by Southwest. She’s eager now to tackle even more ambitious film roles. And after playing so many of the supernatural types (dead, undead, capable of flight), she also seems unfazed by the idea of moving to otherworldly Hollywood.