From approximately 2,789 miles away, Nina Dobrev poses a question about the universe. “Do you believe in Mercury in retrograde?” she asked by way of introduction as her face materialized over our Skype connection. “In the five minutes that I was late, I spilled a cup of water on my floor, the new dog that I just rescued peed and pooed, I fell, and I got a parking ticket. Little things just keep going wrong. And dude, [retrograde] just started last week.”
Our cyber hangout was taking place on an afternoon in late November, so by the time you’re reading this, fear not: Mercury is officially out of retrograde, and Dobrev’s bout of bad luck is long over. In fact, it’s a whole new year, and one that’s shaping up to be a rather major—and good-fortuned—one for the actress. In fact, if we’re going off planetary influence, take her horoscope reading for the year as proof: “Twenty-nineteen will bring you good energy, as you move into a space where your career can flourish in ways you’ve been building toward for years.” That’s more like it.
Born in Bulgaria and raised in Toronto, Dobrev has been acting since she was 16 years old, and is best known for her roles on cult favorite teen TV shows Degrassi: The Next Generation and The Vampire Diaries, the latter of which she left in 2015, after six years as the show’s lead. This week, she’ll return to television with a brand new series, Fam, which premieres on CBS this Thursday night.
“I wasn’t really looking, to be honest,” she said of the new project. “This was an opportunity that came up, and I had never done a sitcom before. I’m a massive fan of Friends, and the genre had really intrigued me, but I didn’t know much about it.… I was a little apprehensive [about returning to TV] at first, but honestly, finding a great character and great people that you want to work with is such a blessing, and such a great thing.”
On the show, Dobrev stars as Clem, a former party girl who meets the perfect guy and settles down, just as her equally rebellious younger sister (played by Odessa Adlon) reappears looking for a place to live. Part of the draw of the show for Dobrev was the fact that Fam shoots live in front of a studio audience, unlike her past, multi-cam shows—though the prospect scared her more than anything else initially. “The very first live show was absolutely terrifying, and I felt like I was going to die,” she said. “I don’t think I’ve ever felt that much anxiety in my life. But with every show after that, it went away a little bit more and more, to the point where it is still there. I fear the day when I have zero anxiety, because that’s what makes me feel alive.… I’ve always wanted to do theater, and hopefully this is a stepping stone toward achieving that goal. Maybe next time we’re hanging out over drinks in the city, I’ll be in a play.”
Dobrev is not one for complacency. No project is scary enough, no goal too lofty. The word “bored” doesn’t really register with her. One of the reasons she chose Fam was the fact that it filmed in her hometown of Los Angeles, rather than on location (as was the case with The Vampire Diaries), allowing her time to pursue additional projects on the side. “I like to have my hand in a lot of things,” she said. “With this show, it gives me creativity and it fulfills me in one way, but then I also have time to be working on the things that I’m writing and producing and the books that I’m reading and want to turn into TV shows and films. I’m able to fulfill every craving that I have.”
Currently, Dobrev has her hand in documentary filmmaking, producing, and even writing, revealing that she and her writing partners recently sold a script for a romantic comedy, though she’s keeping mum on details for now. She’s also looking to future roles (beyond the three films she already has slated for 2019, including Then Came You, a comedy costarring Maisie Williams, and Run This Town, with Ben Platt and Damian Lewis), and at some point she’d also love to play a Marvel superhero. A role she probably wouldn’t take right now? “A vampire.” (She laughed off any potential reunions or reboots: “It just ended, like, two years ago. No one has really asked about a reboot because it’s too soon, I think.”). “I’m very picky [about roles], and I think everyone should be,” she continued. “You spend so much time on a movie, and as I get older, time is finite and valuable. The people that I’m around and the things that I’m doing have to be really, really worth it.”
Time has been on Dobrev’s mind recently, and understandably so. On Wednesday, January 9, she’ll turn 30. “I’m actually feeling okay,” she said, then two months out from the big day. “I feel like it’s going to end up feeling like another day, and yet it definitely inspires me to get cracking and be more determined and driven and stubborn about what I want to achieve, and make sure I get it done. I hate that I’m saying this, because my parents will rub it in my face when they read this article, but they were right; you have to appreciate every tiny moment and live life to the fullest because, as you get older, it does start passing faster. But I’m not too scared.”
There will be a party, of course, and a big one, at that. “I’m trying to figure out what the theme should be, if you have any ideas,” she said. “I always do themes, and costume is mandatory, so if you are not wearing a costume, you will not be allowed inside. I find that whenever people are in costume, they let loose a little more because they aren’t as contained. For my 25th, I had a jungle-safari theme, and I’m kind of bummed I didn’t save that for 30, because I had two tigers there, a python, and a monkey. So I kind of blew my animal load at 25. What do you do at 30 that tops tigers?”
It’s a good question, and one that begs another: What do you do at 30 that tops a pretty spectacular 20s? Well, Dobrev has a list. Yes, an actual list. “I’ve had it a long time, since my 16th birthday,” she said. “Skydiving, rock climbing, Everest, bungee jumping, swim with great whites, Bali. I add to it anytime something cool pops up that I want to do.”
Staring down a new decade, Nina Dobrev is fearless—or, at least, that’s what she wants you to think. “Oh, no, I’m terrified of a lot of things,” she laughed. “But that’s why I do all of it.”