Ian Somerhalder, Marco Polo
has moved on from Lost'
s confusing island — where his character, Boone, was one of the first to be killed off the show — to tackle another
land waiting to be discovered. Starring in Hallmark's Marco Polo
(airing Saturday, June 2, at 8 pm/ET), Somerhalder took on the lead role and came to understand the famous explorer's need to uncover new places. TVGuide.com caught up with the actor to discuss what he misses about Lost
, what he learned from the Dalai Lama, and his own desire to discover the world past and present.
TVGuide.com: I enjoyed the movie, but Marco Polo must not have had a very good publicist — his life story hasn't been done to death. So it's always fun to learn new things about somebody like that.
Ian Somerhalder: Yeah, historically, it was pretty interesting. There's so much mystery behind this guy, because we all learned [only] a little bit about him in school.
TVGuide.com: What was the most surprising or interesting thing that you learned in researching the role?
Somerhalder: To be honest with you, he did a lot of great things [and] made immeasurable contributions to the western world, but the reason why [is surprising]. He only did that because of his lust for travel, his insatiable search to find out what was around the next mountain range, the next bend of a river, the next desert. What was quite interesting was what he saw. It is, at times, difficult to get through his book, because it's simply his travels. We, especially in the western world, appreciate a bit of fiction, we appreciate a bit of understanding or imagery in the prose we read. With him, there was none of that. But what was so fascinating about it was that in the 13th century, this man of Anglo-Saxon descent walked through lands where people had never seen anyone that looked like him. It was probably not the safest thing to do, but he saw what we would call bizarre goings-on... cultural traditions, rituals. That was what was so fascinating [about his stories]. I had never heard about any of these things before, and you have to say to yourself, "Wow, this was going on then and I didn't know about it, and a lot of people didn't know about." To put yourself in that place, in that time, on that road, in that village, 700 years ago is a really neat thing.
TVGuide.com: Are you a bit of a travel junkie yourself?
Somerhalder: I am.
TVGuide.com: Did that play a part in the decision to explore this life of an explorer?
Somerhalder: Yeah, absolutely. It's one of those things — people who have similar interests tend to surround themselves with each other, and maybe in some strange way I really understood why this man felt the way he did from a young age. I've been traveling since I was 16 years old.
TVGuide.com: Your earlier point about experiencing all these amazing things for the first time… did a part of you wish that you had lived in a time when so much was still out there to be discovered?
Somerhalder: You know what? I've asked myself that question a million times. Of course you could always say it would be interesting to see, but the time in which we live right now is one of the most pivotal, most interesting times in human history, period. While there have been so many advances in telecommunication and medicine, we still have so many things to explore from what we've created. We have to now fix what's done and we have all this technology, nuclear proliferation, all these issues that I think makes right now such an amazing, interesting and somewhat scary time to be alive. It would have been really cool back then, but the grass is always greener. Like, "Wow, I wish I was born in the '60s." Yeah, maybe the late '60s in San Francisco, not in the early to mid-'60s in Mississippi or Louisiana where I'm from. We don't think about how many oppressed people there were, how much inequality there was.
TVGuide.com: Almost as if they were simpler times, but in some ways were far more complicated times.
Somerhalder: Yeah, the lack of education, the lack of technology, the lack of all these things. Yes, it would have been much simpler.... But I saw the Dalai Lama in Sun Valley, Idaho, a couple of years ago for the anniversary of 9/11, and he said this very interesting thing: 200 million people died in the 20th century. It's the bloodiest century humanity's ever seen. But [then] he said that he had asked a handful of former world leaders if they thought the world was better today or then, and they said without hesitation that it's better now. They've seen the changes, they've seen the human rights, the women's rights — there have been so many advances in human life.
TVGuide.com: I like the charming moments in the movie when Marco Polo realizes that we've been taking glass for granted all this time. There was a time when you didn't have glass plates, you didn't have ceramics, you didn't have…
Somerhalder: Ice cream.
TVGuide.com: Ice cream, right.
Somerhalder: Ice, period. It blows our minds, and it's the same thing my kids — when I have some, which is a long time away — will be saying: "Wow, you guys had laptop computers?"
TVGuide.com: Oh yeah, when you and I were kids in school, we would do these drawings that were like, "Oh yeah, phones are going to have TV screens on them, and we'll have TV on our wrists," and here we are.
Somerhalder: Yeah. We had Atari.
TVGuide.com: Exactly. And now you've got professional NBA players' exact faces in these video games.
Somerhalder: Yeah, it's phenomenal, it's really wild.
TVGuide.com: Speaking of the strange and wondrous, here's where I segue into a few questions about Lost…. What did you think of them bringing you and Maggie Grace back for that recent flashback episode and recreating scenes that merged old and new footage?
Somerhalder: I thought it was great. It was a pretty, 10-day vacation for me in different places in the world.
TVGuide.com: Did you get to see the finished product when it was on TV?
Somerhalder: I missed the episode. I'm literally standing in my front yard right now because there are cable guys installing my cable and making a racket, so I'm just getting cable for the first time since I lived in Hawaii. I haven't had cable since then, so I'll be doing a lot of catching up.
TVGuide.com: Set the record straight once and for all regarding Boone's sexuality. I guess [exec producers] Damon Lindelof and Carlton Cuse have come forth and said without a doubt that he was 100 percent straight. Was that your impression, too?
Somerhalder: Yeah, of course. Where'd that come from?
TVGuide.com: I don't know, there have been hints.
Somerhalder: Oh, that's interesting. No, remember Shannon was his stepsister, and she was hot.
TVGuide.com: Ridiculously so. Do you miss island life at all?
Somerhalder: I do. I miss island life. Actually, I have an incredible life in Santa Monica. It's not the island life that I miss — I can go to the island whenever I want — it's the people. I miss being around Josh [Holloway], [Matthew] Fox and all those guys... Harold [Perrineau]. But Harold's in L.A. now.
TVGuide.com: What's next for you? Any more TV-movies or theatricals?
Somerhalder: A bunch of stuff, actually. I did a little film [The Sensation of Sight] with David Strathairn a while back that we're getting distribution for. I'm producing two films that I'm also starring in, and I'm currently writing and directing a short documentary.
TVGuide.com: Oh wow, what's it about?
Somerhalder: It's going to be an environmental doc about a couple of issues and some solutions. So, definitely not sitting around doing nothing, that's for sure. And I have a show coming out [in September] on HBO in The Sopranos' old slot, called Tell Me You Love Me.
TVGuide.com: How many episodes is that?
Somerhalder: We only shot 10, and I only shot seven, because I don't come in until a couple of episodes later.
TVGuide.com: What's the gist of it, and who are you playing?
Somerhalder: The gist of it is — again it's HBO, so there's not much censorship, if any at all, which makes for a very interesting dynamic — about relationships, about intimacy, about the compromises that we make or don't make in these relationships. It's about things that happen behind closed doors that we never see — not on television. [Laughs] It's a great show, and I look forward to seeing it myself, actually.
TVGuide.com: Well, I look forward to it, and good luck with everything you've got going on.
Somerhalder: Thanks very much.
Check out a video biography of Marco Polo in our Online Video Guide.
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