When celebrities hang out with Bustle editors, we want to give them the chance to leave their mark. Literally. So we hand them a pen, a piece of paper, a few questions, and ask them to get creative. The rest is up to them. This time, How It Ends star Kat Graham is leaving her mark in the Bustle Booth.
There are many things that drive Kat Graham: her creativity, her fans, and a bad experience with a director on The Vampire Diaries, the hit CW series Graham starred on for eight seasons. The experience, which Graham says "completely stayed with me and altered my future," involved a director on Season 1 of the show. Though she declines to name him, and prefers to steer clear of specifics, Graham tells Bustle: "He literally was giving me sh*t about a scene and said that I was a mediocre actor that only got the job on their looks. So, I became a beast and I knew that success would be the best revenge."
And succeed she has. Not only did Graham star on TVD for its entire eight-season run, she also put out two albums and, since leaving TVD behind, appeared in the Tupac biopic All Eyez on Me and the new Netflix original film How It Ends. Clearly, instead of letting that one director chip away at her confidence, Graham — who was still a teenager when she got her big break playing the witch Bonnie Bennet on TVD — decided his words would fuel her instead. "I just felt like, 'F*ck you. Watch. Watch what I'm going to do," she explains now, sitting down in Bustle's New York City office.
Years after The Vampire Diaries went off the air, Graham still holds onto what that director said to her, for good reason. "That's now my attitude where... you get beaten down first, and then you get angry, and then you say, 'OK, What do I need to do?'" she explains. "It just becomes a journey of revenge."
That desire to prove herself and get what's hers is what's clearly turning her anger into action, whether she's acting, singing, or dabbling in design. "Everything that I've done since wrapping Vampire Diaries has been to play strong, self-sustained women... women that don’t need a man, that can hold their own," Graham says. "I’m just trying to push that forward. And I’m doing it. You know? I wanna see where it leads."
It was this drive that led her to the role in How It Ends, streaming now. In the apocalyptic film, Graham plays Samantha, a young woman who is separated from her fiancé and her father when a nuclear attack (or what is believed to be one) hits the California coast, cutting all power. And even though a bulk of the film is about Samantha's fiancé and baby daddy, Will (Theo James), coming to find her, make no mistake, the character is no damsel in distress. "I want to make sure that everyone I play has that kind of fight and that will to win," Graham explains. "I always want to play a character that has a voice and finds it."
Even when she's not on camera, Graham herself is constantly using that voice. Whether it's writing and producing original songs, like her newest release "Magic," or interacting with her fans, Graham can always be counted on to speak for herself and do things her way. And that includes making personal relationships with fans she's had since the beginning of her career. When Graham arrives at the Bustle office for her intervew, it's with two longtime fans, Brian and Ben, in tow, who she says she's known for several years. When she found out they'd be going to some press events in New York for How It Ends, she didn't just tell them she'd see them there. "I was like, 'You need a ride? Get in.' And they've just been with me all day," she reveals.
It's no surprise that Graham says she cares a lot about being present with her fans. "I don't want to be some unaccessible celebrity. Like, that's so boring and elitist," she says. So she has built a network of fans all over the globe, with designated "captains" from various countries who act as intermediaries, to ensure that she can communicate with them regardless of language or distance.
No matter what Graham does next, she wants to make sure she keeps her fans right beside her. In addition to How It Ends, the actor is also voicing April O'Neil in Nickelodeon's new Rise of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles animated series, and she has a handful of new movies in the works, including the Netflix Christmas film The Holiday Calendar. And that's all not to mention her seemingly constant work in the studio making music.
"I just can’t help myself. I love to create," Graham says with a smile. And that's the best kind of revenge there is.
Editor's Note: A previous version of this incorrectly titled The Holiday Calendar. This article has been updated.