This article contains spoilers for the Thursday, June 16’s “Just Don’t Be a Stranger, Okay?” episode of Legacies.
It’s the end of an era for Danielle Rose Russell. After originating the role of Hope Mikaelson in the final season of The Originals and parlaying the show’s success into leading her own spinoff, Legacies, Russell’s time in the Vampire Diaries universe has officially come to a close, with The CW announcing last month that the fourth season of Legacies would be its last.
While they were shooting the finale in April, creator Julie Plec “came back into town for a little while and made it a point that we all did say goodbye [in case the show wasn’t renewed]—and I really appreciate that, because obviously, it wasn’t,” Russell told Observer. “I cleaned out my dressing room and everything, so I think we had a pretty good sense by then that it was not gonna happen. It certainly didn’t feel like the ending I wanted it to be. We didn’t get a definitive goodbye. But you don’t always get that luxury.”
The show’s emotional season-turned-series finale, which picks up in the wake of the Super Squad’s victory over the malevolent god Ken (Luke Mitchell), finds Hope fighting to keep the Salvatore School for the Young and Gifted open while trying to decide where to scatter the ashes of her late father, Klaus (Joseph Morgan).
In the end, Hope’s persistence convinces Alaric (Matt Davis), the outgoing headmaster, to keep the school open and hand over the reins to Caroline Forbes (Candice King), the surrogate mother of his twin daughters, Lizzie (Jenny Boyd) and Josie (Kaylee Bryant). And once Landon (Aria Shahghasemi), Hope’s former boyfriend and the new ferryman of Limbo, persuades him to find peace, Ethan (Leo Howard) is able to help Klaus deliver one last powerful message to Hope, who decides to scatter his ashes at the school and embrace her role as a leader for the next class of supernatural beings.
In a recent phone interview, Russell spoke about the bittersweet experience of saying goodbye to Hope Mikaelson, her biggest takeaways from her five years in the Vampire Diaries universe (and four years as a leading lady), and whether she would ever consider reprising her role in the future.
What were some of your initial thoughts about Hope’s ending in the finale, and how did you react when you discovered you would be sharing the screen with Joseph Morgan again?
It was a conversation that [showrunner] Brett [Matthews] and I had, and I know that Brett really wanted someone from the TVD family to come back. Obviously, Joseph was very high on that list, so even though it wasn’t in the way I initially thought it was gonna be, it was still [done] in a very important way. That was important for me because I felt like it got to close off a big part of Hope’s story and life for the last five seasons on television. Brett was also very open to my thoughts about the finale. He sent it to me right after he wrote it [with Plec] before it went to the studio and network, so we really handcrafted it—I don’t want to say “together,” because I didn’t have that many things to say, because I really did love it. But he was very open to my thoughts, and it felt good. It felt right. And I, of course, cried like a baby when I watched it. [Laughs.]
Considering that you shot the scene on location in Atlanta and Joseph on a green screen in Toronto, what were the logistics? Who shot the scene first?
I shot it first. I acted to a blank screen. [Laughs.] They did have the clips of Hope’s life that [the] post-production [team] put together for us, so we could have it on the day. And it was very challenging, because Aria and I were just sitting there and [I was] crying into nothing, so I didn’t get to see Joseph’s piece until after the episode was cut. And I think it went well, but of course, in the moment, you’re like, “How is this gonna turn out?” [Laughs.]
What do you think that scene reveals about Klaus and Hope’s connection as father and daughter? Why do you think it was so important for both of them to get closure?
I think it was about peace. With limbo being a part of our show, the Necromancer in season 1 said, “He won’t be able to find peace until she does.” So this conversation of peace has been very present in the show, so I think it gave her that. It gave her the okay to sort of move on with her life, and the way that she says goodbye to Landon feels like it’s tying up several storylines in a beautiful bow. I’m happy with it.
How would you describe Hope’s evolution from the wary Mikaelson who is afraid to open up in the pilot to the confident young woman who is ready to step into a new leadership position at the school in the series finale?
For me, playing Hope all these years, as a person, you kind of go day-by-day. You don’t see the changes. But over time, when I look back [on] playing Hope, it’s beautiful to see the journey of this woman owning her power, learning how to properly navigate her power, stepping into her strengths and having the okay to be vulnerable. I look back at that and remember doing interviews in season 1 and saying, “Yeah, she really struggles with being vulnerable,” and I can confidently say that she uses her vulnerability as her strength. I think that’s a lesson we could all learn from.
How did you approach playing Hope when she became the tribrid and when she turned off her humanity this season? Did you draw inspiration from any other characters in the Vampire Diaries universe, or did you try to make it your own thing?
I watched a little, actually, on the last hiatus between seasons 3 and 4, because I knew this was gonna be Hope’s journey this year. So I did watch a little bit more of Vampire Diaries and a lot more Originals to see how it has been done. The season 3 finale—which ended up being episode 4 of season 4, but we shot it as our finale—that was so much fun, and I was sort of still finding my footing with it. But going into it, I knew they didn’t want to write her as the villain, and she wasn’t really a villain this season. She just didn’t care and didn’t have any morals, and I wanted her to have fun with that. I didn’t want her to be the Big Bad of the season, because she was having fun and letting go of all these strict morals that she lived by. So for me, it was fun because I got to play a character who didn’t care, which is surprisingly kind of easy. [Laughs.]
How challenging was it to play two different versions of Hope and essentially act opposite yourself?
It was definitely hard. [Laughs.] And a lot of work too. I guess they knew the show was ending and they were like, “Let’s pile more work onto Danielle!” So I was tired, I will say that. It was a lot, but it was a fun acting exercise. I didn’t want to play too much into “Okay, this is good Hope, and this is bad Hope.” But I did draw from “Where was my character an entire year ago?” We talked a lot about what clothes she should be wearing as Humanity Hope vs. Non-Humanity Hope and what moments in her life defined her humanity—so it was everything, down to the clothes I wore. [Everything] was a conversation. It was fleshed out on every level.
How has the experience of playing Hope for five seasons changed you as a person and shaped you as an actor?
I mean, I’m a totally different person now. I think when I got the call that the show was ending, that really hit me, and my entire life just changed. I’m 22—five years is a long time for someone my age—and it’s just over like that in a phone call. It really hit me that I haven’t not played Hope since I was 17, and I look at where I’m at now and I am a totally different person. Legacies has changed my life for the better, and it’s taught me so much. I feel like I grew up on the show, and it made me the person that I am today, and I’m proud of that. I’m forever grateful to the show and to the family that made the show.
And as an actor, it made me so much more aware of how hard people work in this industry, and what it takes to be a No. 1 [on a call sheet]. I never thought I was gonna be able to say that I was No. 1 at such a young age. And seeing what comes with that and responsibilities, it taught me a lot and gave me a lot of appreciation as an actor. . . . It’s crazy! [Laughs.] Five years—and it’s over. I just can’t even believe it’s over.
Did you take any keepsakes or mementos from the set that will remind you of Hope?
Yeah, I have the Mikaelson necklace. They gave me a couple things—a limbo coin for peace, a couple of Hope’s crystals from her room. I have a couple of her clothes and her important pieces—things that weren’t, obviously, archived by Warner Bros. I didn’t ask for anything from the set decs besides some knick-knacks on her bedside table, like a candle holder and some other things I took, because I was in her room for so long and I loved it. There was a very beautiful lamp that I took, so they’re now in my house on the night tables. So whenever I look at them, I do think of her. A lot of Hope’s mementos are in a memory box I created when we wrapped.
In some ways, saying goodbye to a character you’ve played for years feels like losing a piece of yourself. What are you going to miss most about playing Hope?
I’m gonna miss mostly the camaraderie and the friendships and relationships that I’ve made [while] filming the show. As a person, as Danielle, that’s the hardest thing to let go of. It’s [no longer] being around the same people that you’ve been around with, who have seen you grow up. I had a couple of people come up to me when they said goodbye to me and say, “I literally watched you grow up and become an adult.” We’re together all day, every day, for five years—more than we are with our family and friends. That sacrifice that you collectively make, as a group doing something, is a very unique one, and it’s a very special one.
I always loved Hope. I always had a lot of fun with her, and I always felt like Brett gave me some [input] into how she developed, more so towards the end of her journey on television. And I had fun with that, especially at the top of the year, because I felt like that was something I really, really wanted and really asked for.
Are there any storylines that you wish you could have explored further with Hope?
Of course! I would have loved to have seen her grow up more. I was prepared to do this show for several more years. It came as a big surprise that we were not gonna be getting another year. So I was very ready to see her grow and evolve into college and into her adulthood, and I’m very, very sad that I’ve not been able to do that. Brett and I talked a bit about what season 5 could look like, and he thought about doing a time jump, and I would have loved to have seen Hope 5-6 years into the future, what she’s up to and where she lands on her feet. I think even in this finale, she’s sort of back where she started as a better version of herself, so I would have loved to have experienced her moving on to different things in her life.
If the Vampire Diaries universe were to expand—and we expect it will in one way or another—would you ever consider reprising your role as Hope Mikaelson, or are you ready to turn the page and close this important chapter of your life?
I think I am ready to move on. I think I am ready to close this chapter of my life, as hard as it is. I would never say no to coming back for a little cameo if it were to ever expand—I would love to see where Hope is in the future, but we have told her story. And if [the Vampire Diaries universe] does continue, then that’s someone else’s story, and I would want to give them that same honor. And of course, I’d only come back if it ever made sense. But as hard as it is, I think it is time to say goodbye to Hope Mikaelson.
What’s next for you? Is there a dream role or genre you would like to tackle next?
Anything and everything! I really do love the fantasy genre, so I would never say no to returning to that genre. I miss doing movies, and I would love to do a great series again. I’ve actually been traveling since the show ended, so I’m just kind of now getting back into auditioning, so we’ll see where my career takes me after this. But yeah, I’m open to everything!
This interview has been edited and condensed for length and clarity.