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Ian Somerhalder: Bloody Handsome

Between his role in The Vampire Diaries and his plans to save the world, actor Ian Somerhalder is one busy leading man. Photographed by Nabil Elderkin. Styled by Ashley Sean Thomas. Groomed by Charles Dujic. Shot in the Mr. C Beverly Hills Hotel.

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Ian Somerhalder is not just another a pretty face. He also might just save the world.

As he’s demonstrated with his award-winning plans to help the environment and care for its inhabitants, this Southern boy-cum-actor has just as much brain as brawn—and with the heart to match. From his role as teen heartthrob in CW’s The Vampire Diaries to his efforts running a foundation, the 34-year-old leading man found a way to use his seductive powers for good.  

It all started on the day of his 32nd birthday, December 8, 2010, when Somerhalder announced via Twitter the launch of the Ian Somerhalder Foundation (ISF)—an organization dedicated to raising awareness about issues surrounding habitat, energy, and animals, seeking to empower people in their own environments to act globally and make the world a better place. “The global problems and challenges we’re facing are infinitely interconnected and co-dependent,” reads the ISF statement.

For this Louisiana-born-and-bred boy, the Gulf oil spill in April 2010 was a wake-up call and the catalyst for the foundation. He helped rehabilitate his birthplace after the devastation, and with the support of mentors Peter Seligmann, the CEO of Conservation International, and Deepak Chopra, the renowned founder of the Chopra Foundation, Somerhalder was inspired to start his own organization. “What really shifted it to a reality was connecting with people who equally care about the future of our planet,” he says. “We wanted to create a platform for people spanning the globe to unite and create worldwide change.”

In its first year, ISF grew to 845 groups in over 100 countries worldwide. And it has continued to mature into a major international volunteer organization that promotes habitat protection, animal welfare, and clean energy initiatives, successfully engaging youth in volunteerism and activism.

“We’ve literally built a multinational foundation out of social media,” he says of Twitter, a platform he once completely ignored. “I never wanted to tweet ever.” But after years of fighting not to be a part of it, he finally broke down and has been hooked ever since. “It’s the most powerful force on the planet right now,” he says. “And I am utterly grateful for it.”

These days, he tweets several times a day, as much about important bills he hopes to pass in Congress as well as his day-to-day musings, always ending with his signature sign off, “good night beautiful world.”

Nearly 3.5 million people follow him, hanging on his every tweet. And while the foundation’s members span from ages 6 to 86, it’s the adolescent set that has a particularly strong presence in Somerhalder’s project, both as users and his primary—and totally obsessed—TV audience.

Somerhalder’s Southern childhood included outdoorsy activities like boating, swimming, fishing and training horses, as well as artistic ones like joining his school drama club and local theater group. At 10, he started modeling, which would eventually take him from his bucolic lifestyle—“Total Louisiana stereotype, with the crawfish boiling in the pot, you know?” he tells Mr Porter—to the world’s most cosmopolitan cities.

By 16, his modeling career sent him traveling to New York, Milan, and Paris, as legends like Steven Meisel, Mario Testino, and Bruce Weber photographed him for major publications (L'Uomo Vogue) and advertising campaigns (Versace). A year later, he abandoned modeling for acting in New York, eventually forgoing college to study with distinguished acting coach William Esper.

Somerhalder got his first big break when a talent manager spotted him on set in the 1999 film Black & White with Robert Downey, Jr. Amidst a crowd of 400 people, the agent set his eyes on Somerhalder and signed him instantly. From there, his repertoire of roles grew as he portrayed the sexy, often-tortured type in films including Life as a House (2001) and Rules of Attraction (2002), and popular TV series like Smallville (2004) and Lost (2004-10).

But it wasn’t until he joined The Vampire Diaries that he became a household face—if not name. While Smolder Holder—as he’s affectionately called by his fans—has received several Teen Choice Awards for his portrayal, the show itself earned the highest premiere ratings of any season premiere since the network’s founding in 2006. (This fact leaves little question about why he’s been a popular choice to play Christian Grey in the upcoming movie version of hit novel 50 Shades of Grey.)

“I never realized how important humor is in life and work,” Somerhalder says of his snarky, devious character, Damon Salvatore. “Humor is a medicine for pain basically. I found that when you have fun in whatever you’re doing, life is just better.”

Now he’s found a way to combine both his passions for acting and saving the planet in the upcoming project Time Framed, a collection of eco-friendly short films that plants our hero as Agent Black, trying to steal an energy device to deliver clean power to the world.

“The director, Sinisha Nisevic, is a very dear friend of mine and an incredible artist,” he says. “It's rare to be part of a film where you can kick serious ass, drive some of the world's most incredible eco-friendly sports cars, and don a beautiful suit.” 

Your fans are waiting, Mr. Smolder Holder. —Sasha Levine (@sashalevine)

 

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