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Before we get down to it, the beginning of the now 33 year-old Somerhalder’s career is relevant, so let’s blow through that, too. He was born and raised in the small Gulf town of Covington, Louisiana, where he had an active childhood, playing sports, acting in drama club, and zipping around the Louisiana marshland. When he was 10, his mother (who was apparently a woman of keen eyesight) decided that her son should give modeling a try. He spent the next decade booking consistent modeling gigs for high-end clientele, including Calvin Klein, Dolce & Gabanna, Gucci, Versace, and Guess. He also studied acting, and in his twenties, started landing some decent roles. He appeared in such films as Life as a House, and the film adaptation of the Bret Easton Ellis novel,
The Rules of Attraction. In 2004, he landed a major role on the hit TV show Lost. He had recurring roles on the CW’s Smallville, and on HBO’s 2007 series Tell Me You Love Me. Long story short, Somerhalder successfully segued from model to working actor. By 2009, when he was cast as the darkly smug and conflicted Damon Salvatore on The Vampire Diaries, he became a household name.
The BP oil spill in April, 2010 caused immediate, catastrophic damage to the Gulf shores where Somerhalder grew up. The horror of this particular disaster wasn’t merely in its suddenness, nor in its preventability—it was its unfathomable persistence. The spill remained uncapped for three long months, and the consequences are still lingering now, more than two years later. Somerhalder’s response to the spill was personal and immediate. He says: “Watching BP’s oil destroy my home and one of the most beautiful bodies of water on the planet, I realized that feeling of helplessness should not go unnoticed—and that I, myself, nor my family, nor my children, nor anyone on this planet should ever feel that helpless again.”
Enter Peter Seligmann, the chairman, CEO, and co-founder of one of the world’s largest and most influential conservationist organizations, Conservation International. Somerhalder considers Seligmann “a mentor, and almost like an uncle,” and he was so inspired by Seligmann’s work that he established his own organization, the Ian Somerhalder Foundation. The actor considers himself fortunate to have been in a place in his career where he had the means to respond to the disaster—and his team got to work right away, helping with oil cleanup, animal rescue, and restoration efforts.
Of course, it didn’t stop there. ISF has gone global, and is flourishing at an astonishing rate. The mission of the organization, according to its website, is “to empower, educate and collaborate with people and projects to positively impact the planet and its creatures.” And although the organization is only two years into its development, Somerhalder claims it has already taken root in “almost every country in the world.” This kind of growth, by most standards, has success written all over it, but Somerhalder tenses a bit when I ask him about his own standards of success.
Story by Kristen Bashaw | Photography by Angelo KritikosTo read more become a subscriber or purchase the digital edition here.