When The Vampire Diaries debuted on The CW in 2009, most casual viewers assumed it to be a knock-off, playing on the popularity of the Twilight series that would only last a year or so. Almost a full eight years later, when the show finally ended, it was one of the network's most popular, long-running series with a dedicated fanbase. All of this happened despite star Nina Dobrev quitting at the end of Season 6. But why did Nina Dobrev leave Vampire Diaries, and why did she agree to come back at the end of Season 8 for the finale?
Some stars of long-running shows bow out either because they have a movie deal in the works they want to pursue or because they're fighting over money and think they are irreplaceable. But neither of these reasons were factors that had anything to do with Dobrev's decision. Instead, the actress, who was 26 years old at the time, realized that she was heading into her 30s. Some shows that focus on teenagers have actors that slowly age into unbelievability, and Dobrev decided that wasn't what she wanted.
Instead, she decided it was time to outgrow the show.
Speaking to Teen Vogue, Dobrev opened up about her decision:
I’ve always wanted to take big risks. I started Vampire Diaries when I was 20, and I was playing a young teenage girl. I also played Katherine, this ancient vixen who was manipulative and crazy. Then I grew into myself as a woman — I found that part of myself while playing that role — I grew with the show and I wanted to continue to grow outside of it.
She was also afraid that not moving on would doom her to be typecast for the rest of her career – a fear many actors and actresses face when they've played the same role for too long.
Mentally, it was a crazy time. I was 27 when I left the show, I was ready to do something different. I wanted to prove everyone wrong who said I would play this one role my whole life or be stuck playing younger roles.
For the record, she's not the first actress to make this hard choice. Another actor who found himself in a high profile show began to worry that he too would be typecast for the rest of his life. So Dan Stevens quit Downton Abbey, and within five years has now starred in 2017's biggest movie of the year, Beauty and the Beast, and headlines FOX's Marvel-verse show, Legion.
Knowing when to go is always the smartest move, and we can't blame Dobrev one bit.
If anything, the fact that [leaving] terrified me drove me even more. I needed to feel that fear of ‘Oh, my God, what if I never get a job again?' That just made me want to work five times as hard to make sure that didn't happen.
Dobrev has been lucky so far in that she's been able to keep working, even if her first movie since Vampire Diaries, the remake of Flatliners, hasn't exactly been the massive hit she was hoping for. Working one's way up the actress food chain is a tough road, especially when one is trying to reorient one's career out of The CW's teen soap department, and into more adult-level films.
And Dobrev has played the fan game well. She agreed to come back for the finale, ensuring it was one of The CW's highest-rated shows of the spring 2017 season. With team player cred like that, it's only a matter of time before she levels up.