The Vampire Diaries star Ian Somerhalder knows a thing or two about empowering people to make a change in the world. Through the Ian Somerhalder Foundation, which he started in 2010, the actor aims to educate and collaborate with individuals and projects to positively impact the planet and its creatures.
But it was working on Showtime's docu-series Years of Living Dangerously that he realized the amount of high-profile — and very educated — people actually in opposition to the very message he stands by. On Sunday's episode (10/9c), Somerhalder works with activist Anna Jane Joyner to debate with and hopefully convince her father, evangelical megachurch preacher Rick Joyner, that climate change and global warming is real and is happening.
"I think if you have that platform and power [Rick] has and you say to people that climate change is absolute bullsh-- then that's wherein lies the problem," Somerhalder tells TVGuide.com. "I love that man and ... I want to be his friend and his partner and help be the connective tissue between what he believes and the actual science. I want to expose him and get him in the conversation to people similarly in his position or those he respects [who do believe] in the science and can see this exists."
Did Somerhalder and Anna Jane ultimately get through to Rick? Somerhalder reflects on the experience below.
Each celebrity has a different story in the series. What drew you to participating in this one?
Ian Somerhalder: To be honest, it was local and close to Atlanta [where Vampire Diaries films], so I knew I could spend the time. Also, growing up in the Deep South and with a very religious father, I always understood how politics and religion are so inextricably linked and that sometimes it can be wildly prohibitive of progression. In a time and place and world where we need truly to be moving forward, without any delay, the fact that we are stunted by this one thing is somewhat alarming. Anna Jane is such an inspirational woman and I wanted to work with her and share in her plight and help and be a mouthpiece. The story is so important and it's got to be told.
Showtime enlists actors as activists for Years of Living Dangerously
Was it frustrating to hear Joyner deny or question climate change?
Somerhalder: Yes, honestly, it was unbelievably frustrating. Ninety-nine out of 100 scientists say climate change is real and it's happening and we see the data; we're part of the data. My question and the story's question is to Pastor Rick, as a steward of God, don't you think it's your responsibility to actually tell your congregation and follow the truth? As opposed to denying it and having them live their lives not understanding that and therefore not living in a more holistic helpful way? That is a scary thing and I think it's wildly irresponsible. So I'd like to empower him in every way, shape or form to know this is happening. And instead of making it seem like doomsday let's turn it around make it positive and instill in our young ones, our legislators and corporations that a much more compassionate, sustainable way of living is the way to go about it.
Still, it seems like you developed a positive relationship with him.
Somerhalder: Rick Joyner is the man and I'm really grateful I got to meet him and I'm going to continue my relationship with him. You have to understand this guy is a wildly successful businessman and he didn't get where he is by not being a smart, compassionate man.
Exclusive: Get a first look at Showtime's Years of Living Dangerously
What was the most surprising thing you learned during this?
Somerhalder: That there is an overwhelming number of high-profile, extremely important people who don't use their voice and who I want to empower and employ to do that very thing: Tell the story.
So what can people do now to move forward?
Somerhalder: People are so blown away and they think it's impossible to do something. To think globally you have to act locally. It's a really simple notion. The youth component is really going to turn this around and that's what makes me so excited. The most undervalued and underutilized people in our world are our youth and they'll be running the world, so why wouldn't we give them the toolkit and skill set in order to do that. It's really about unlocking the potential and seeing your true path and what your values are. And once you do that with someone who's young, they become activated, empowered, educated people and they will go live their lives that way. That's where the change comes in.
Watch the most recent episode of Years of Living Dangerously here.
(Full disclosure: TVGuide.com is owned by CBS, Showtime's parent company.)