Nina Dobrev hadn’t read Stephen Chbosky’s award-winning novel, The Perks of Being a Wallflower, before she auditioned for him—via Skype from the Atlanta set of the CW’s The Vampire Diaries, no less—for a part in the film adaptation he wrote, directed, and produced. The skills she mastered playing a double role on Diaries (she’s both Elena Gilbert, a young girl caught between two vampire brothers, and Katherine Pierce, a heartless vampire the brothers knew and loved in the 19th century) no doubt helped her seal the deal. Video-conferencing from his computer in Pittsburgh, Chbosky was immediately bowled over by Dobrev’s ability to slip in and out of character without missing a beat. “I’ll never forget watching you do the scene from your dressing room,” he tells Dobrev at the start of this interview. “You’d be running with it, and there would be a knock on the door and a ‘Hey, Nina, we need you in five minutes,’ and you’d say, ‘No problem’ and click right back into our scene. You did it brilliantly. It still blows my mind.” In Perks (which costars Logan Lerman, Emma Watson, and Ezra Miller, and hits theaters September 15), 23-year-old Dobrev plays Candace, the older sister of a shy high school freshman (Lerman) coming of age.

Off-screen, the native Torontonian is often globe-trotting for fun or philanthropy. She comes to Miami regularly, has been to director Michael Bay’s North Bay Road manse for one of his big New Year’s Eve bashes, and vacationed with her Vampire Diaries costars at the Fontainebleau. Farther afield, Dobrev has traveled to Kenya as an ambassador to Free the Children, a charitable group that provides clean water, health care, and sanitation to thousands of people in seven countries, including Haiti and China. As for her personal life, she’s in a relationship with Diaries costar Ian Somerhalder, on whose arm she’ll likely be at the official Perks world premiere at the Toronto Film Festival this month. “I genuinely think that the movie is so powerful, so heartbreaking, and so hopeful,” says the actress, who was born in Bulgaria but moved with her computers-pecialist father and artist mother to Canada at age two. “It’s an unbelievable film, and I think people are going to feel the power when they watch it.” Chbosky, who calls himself one of Dobrev’s biggest fans, recently spoke with her about the highly anticipated film and the glittery life of a modern-day Hollywood up-and-comer.

STEPHEN CHBOSKY: First and foremost, let’s talk about Perks. What are some of your favorite memories from shooting the film?

NINA DOBREV: To be honest, I hadn’t read the book before I got the film. And when I read [the script], I was touched by it. It’s been overwhelming how many people have professed their love for the book and how much it has changed their lives. That’s what I feel about the experience of shooting the film. The people involved shared a passion for the movie and the experiences the characters have to go through before coming out the other side. If that makes any sense.

SC: It does. As an author, I wrote this novel and had pictures of all the characters in my head. But you’re never going to get exactly what’s in your brain, because it’s so personal. What I was looking for was someone who not only brought out the spirit of the character, but who brought something additional to the table—a surprise. I was not interested in dictating my point of view of the story. I was able to do it [the first time] as a novelist, but the film was more of a collaboration. It was vitally important to cast the right people and have them gel. Too often, actors are treated disrespectfully, as in, “Just give us what we want and go away.” But as a director, I wanted the actors to have the summer of their lives. You guys bonded in a way that I’ve never seen a cast bond before. Did you walk away with any special friendships?

ND: Absolutely. We all did. We came from such different places. Emma [Watson] had just finished a Harry Potter movie. Ezra [Miller] had wrapped [We Need to Talk About Kevin], which he has received incredible acclaim for. And I was fresh from The Vampire Diaries. We all got together for this one passion project, on location. We’re all around the same age, and none of us can drive—we went everywhere together in the Crown Plaza hotel van. That was our mode of transportation. We spent so much time together and would get together off the clock, after hours. Remember when you came and found us all sitting together in the lobby, playing music and singing at 4 AM?

SC: Yes, I remember! You’ve been receiving a lot of positive attention on the red carpet of late. How do you like the experience?

ND: I like all the outfits I’ve been wearing now, but mind you, I have a lot more help! It’s like a whole village.

SC: I did my first red carpet ever as a director. I was like, “They send people to your house?” I didn’t know that. I didn’t know any of this.

ND: Yes! I think the Donna Karan red gown that I wore at the Emmys last year is what people think about. That’s when I started to get recognized for fashion. From that point forward, people were watching. There was this incredible pressure all of a sudden. Now it’s like there’s a bar that’s been set. But it’s fun to put things together—it’s really another form of expression. It’s very different, and very superficial, but very fun nonetheless. At the end of the day, you want to feel good, look good, and be comfortable, and the clothes you wear should be a reflection of that.

SC: I know we spent a lot of time putting together the look for [the character you play in Perks] Candace, and obviously appearance plays a large part in The Vampire Diaries. How important is costume in helping you play a role?

ND: It’s incredibly important for me. As soon as I put on a costume or anything that feels outside my comfort zone, I feel like a different person. That goes for hair and makeup as well. My hairstylist for Perks had me wear these little headbands. At first, they didn’t seem like anything special, but since I never wear headbands, they made me feel more innocent. Candace is a straight-A student and very proper, or tries to be. So the dress served as a subtle indicator for me. It’s all about the details.

SC: You did such a good job playing Candace. You brought a grounded, true-to-life, very respectful but also really inspiring performance to this part and to this movie. Did you naturally identify with the character? What did you do to prepare for the part?

ND: Thank you. I think every character I play will always have a piece of me, in some way. Maybe not if I’m in The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo—maybe then, not at all. But there was something about my personality and work ethic that related to Candace. She’s a perfectionist, a go-getter, an overachiever. I’ve been able to relate to all those things, but I’ve never had the chance to play that kind of character before…. I really do believe that some people, even the greatest actors, if you’re not like the person you’re playing in a way, you can’t access that role. It has to kind of be in you.

SC: You’ve done great work in television, and you’ve done great work in movies....

ND: I want to work in an action movie at some point, because I feel like the almost two months that we shot wasn’t long enough.

SC: What’s a dream role for you right now?

ND: I want to do a little bit of everything. My dream role is to do a James Bond film, or if they did another Lara Croft, or even a prequel to Lara Croft, I’d want to do that, to get it out of my system. Do you know the play August: Osage County?

SC: Yes, it’s one of my favorite plays. It’s brilliant.

ND: Ditto. They’re making it into a movie, and Julia Roberts and Meryl Streep are playing the moms. My dream role would be the daughter. I think they’re shooting it while I’m doing [The Vampire Diaries], but that’s the kind of thing I love. I want to play strong characters and real people.

SC: You know me; you know how my mind works. What do your parents say when they see you in photos or on camera [scantily clad]?

ND: Luckily, my parents are overseas a lot, so it’s a delayed reaction. The conversation I’ll have with my dad is always different from the one I’ll have with my mom. My mom understands a lot more, and my dad—well, he’s my dad. He’s more apprehensive about me being in this industry. It’s almost like being a character: I’ve done movies where there are simulated sex scenes, so they understand, but it’s always kind of awkward. They say things like, “Oh, you look great. That’s interesting.” I always pride myself on the fact that I’ve gotten this far without taking my clothes off.

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