Chris Wood returned as Kai at the end of last week’s The Vampire Diaries, and unlike how Damon (Ian Somerhalder) and Alaric (Matt Davis) feel, we are thrilled to have him back on our screens.
Many fans were probably shocked to see Kai walking and talking though, since Damon chopped off his head at the end of Season 6. But now he’s back and ready to make a deal: He’ll wake Elena (Nina Dobrev) up if Damon and Alaric help him escape from Hell. It’s not exactly a fair trade (especially since he was the one who cursed Elena to begin with), but it’s all Damon has at the moment. However, this is Kai we’re talking about, which means expect some serious mind games and potential betrayals.
The last time we saw Kai he was decapitated. How is he walking around again?
Chris Wood: I think he’s got the same question. He knows that he found a loophole through when the bell was rung, he found a way to leap out of Hell. He thought he’s escaped and he’s going to find out pretty quickly that he’s not as fully alive and well as he had hoped. In fact, there’s still unnatural forces pulling him back to Hell. He’s on a bit of a time limit.
Does he still have all his powers as a vampire-witch hybid and a siphoner?
Wood: Yeah, he is. And that’s something that he is working through when he’s first confronted by Alaric and Damon. He’s still a vampire, which we haven’t really ever seen him as a full Heretic because he lost his head so quickly after that happened. That will be an interesting component of his return. But yeah, he is still both of those things. But yeah, how strong he is and how focused his powers are is something you’ll have to wait and see.
What can you say about Kai’s experience in Hell and how that changed him?
Wood: I think it was an awful experience, just awful. And I think Kai is now willing to do absolutely anything to get out; it was so bad. That’s a unique thing for him. That’s not something we’re used to seeing form Kai — wanting to work with people for anything other than personal gain. And this situation might challenge him to do that in that he has no other option. He figures out that if he’s able to commit evil deeds, he extends his time limit and it gives him more ability to stay there and figure out how he can get out of Hell permanently.
Which version of Kai is this: the complete sociopath or the one who had some empathy after he merged with Luke?
Wood: I think that’s the biggest change. I think getting locked back, essentially, in the worst version of the Prison World and being tortured encouraged all of his worst sides and suppressed any part of him that was good and trying to redeem all the bad things that he’s done. So when we see Kai, he’s jolted right back into that lovable sociopath.
Kai killed Jo and put Elena in her magical coma, so how do Damon and Alaric respond when he shows up and wants to work with them?
Wood: Obviously, Alaric’s going to want him dead as quick as possible because of what he did to Jo. Neither one of these characters trust him or think that anything he has to say is something that they can believe. We see in the promo for the episode, we see that Kai knows – sort of to save his own skin – to mention that he might be able to help them save Elena and bring her back.
He’s the only one who has that power. So that alone is enough for Damon to convince Alaric to keep him around, and Damon ends up helping him on this quest for blood because he’s going to help them do things that they want.
Kai always did have such a dark sense of humor. Are we going to see him enjoy holding the power to bring Elena back over Damon’s head?
Wood: Of course, of course. He loves that. He loves mind games. As urgent as it may be — and also his quest to get out of Hell is obviously the most urgent thing he’s ever felt – but he also enjoys that ride and enjoys the game. And as always, he enjoys tormenting Damon.
How does Damon respond? What’s their dynamic working together like?
Wood: Their dynamic drops back to where it was all those years ago. They both need something from each other and that forces them to work together, but Damon loathes Kai and can’t stand to even hear his voice. That creates some nice comedic tension between the two of them.
Kai had attempted to wipe out his entire family line. How will he respond to learning Jo and Alaric’s twins survived?
Wood: He’s definitely in an unusual place right now, where the most pressing matter is not getting sucked back into Hell. I’m sure once he’s taken care of business, that’s going to become a focus of his.
You were only in the show for one season, but Kai is such a beloved character. What is it about Kai that you think fans connected so strongly to?
Wood: I can only guess, but I feel like it must be the same thing that draws me to the character and why when Julie [Plec] asked if I wanted to come back, I was so eager to jump back there and play as Kai again. He’s such an unusual contradiction of psychopathic tendencies paired with humor. He’s so quirky and witty and in some ways very charming in a totally annoying, psychotic way. That’s really fun to play, so I can imagine as a viewer, if it’s anywhere near that sort of feeling I get when I get to play him, I can see why that would be a character that fans would love to hate.
Do you have any personal favorite Kai moments?
Wood: I have a lot of favorite moments. For me, it’s all the weird stuff, all the quirky stuff, like early on where he ate jam with his hands. It’s a lot of times food. Or he has little one-line quips in this return and also weird little antics he gets up to that I think fans are really going to enjoy. And I was able to wedge in a little finger wave homage back to Season 6. That was the first scene we shot when I got in and I was glad that they were happy to accommodate all these little shout outs I wanted to do. Hopefully people will enjoy it.
When you initially left the Vampire Diaries, did Julie give any indication that she might want to bring you back eventually?
Wood: Kai was always dead and gone. That was always the plan. That was the plan when I signed on for the role. That was the plan once I was talking to Julie when the role was coming to a close. It was always, “He dies and is actually gone.” And it sort of became this conversation when the show was ending. I think it came from the writers’ room because it was one of their favorite characters to write. He says some of the zaniest things and his quips. I can imagine as a writer, getting to vocalize that character was really fun. And so they wanted to bring him back, sort of allow him to have one last moment to shine. When she mentioned it to me, they didn’t know how they were going to do it yet. They wanted to make sure I was onboard before they figured out the process of giving Kai his head back. And I think we’re all lucky they did figure that out.
What was it like to be back on set with the series winding down? Was it a different vibe this time around?
Wood: Yeah, there was an air of finality. Everyone had been on this show for a very long time. A lot of them were wee babes when they signed up and now they’re leaving and they’re in their early 30s or late 20s and in a lot of ways, just starting their careers, but also leaving something that was the prime function of their artistic life for so long. So there’s a lot of change you can feel in talking to all of them and sort of hearing what they’re up to and what they’re planning to do next. It’s obviously very exciting. I’m obviously in a different position than I was when I joined the show. Kai was my longest arc that I had done on a show, so it was a big step forward to me. Now I’m on another show and coming back to visit. It’s nice to check back in and remember and also feel extremely grateful to get to do what I do.
The Vampire Diaries airs Fridays at 8/7c on the CW.