Ian Somerhalder on Bourbon, Farm Life With Nikki Reed and the Serum He Keeps With Him at All Times

Ian Somerhalder on Bourbon, Farm Life With Nikki Reed and the Serum He Keeps With Him at All Times featured image
Photography by John Russo

Ian Somerhalder is, by all accounts, a star. So is his wife, Nikki Reed. Run the math and you end up with a megastar couple. Except, as all successfully good tales in Hollywood go, that’s not exactly where the equation ends up—and most definitely not how it began.

“I grew up in a home on the Bayou in Louisiana that didn’t even have heat in the winter. I know what hardship is and I know what struggle is,” the 43-year-old shares over a weekend interview from his farm outside of Los Angeles, where he has set up shop to live the “simple life” with Reed, their four-year-old daughter, Bodhi, and 15 animals. “For me, working hard toward a goal and doing something that I love is a privilege. I call it a privilege because, at least I have the ability to do it.”

Somerhalder’s resume is not so straightforward and started in a time that he refers to as “so long” ago. “I had saved just enough money from modeling to get by and started taking acting classes in New York, which got me my first job. I was literally pounding the pavement with my mom and my sister when I was 10 years old and then, at 16, I became emancipated, only because I had the opportunity to work as a professional in the fashion business, working alongside some of the greatest photographers in the world.”

Acting and fashion fame aside, his current career and life status has taken a decidedly more business-minded shift: It’s only been a short time, but he’s managed to grow his Brother’s Bond Bourbon company alongside friend and former Vampire Diaries co-star, Paul Wesley, into a multimillion-dollar business, which has not come without some sleepless nights. “Trying to raise large sums of capital quickly, facing regulatory challenges, getting into the 4 a.m. international trademark-screaming matches with lawyers and landing about four hours of sleep per night for 18 months was costly—and also incredibly difficult in the middle of a pandemic—but it was part of the journey,” he shares. “It was all worth it.”

For me, working hard toward a goal doing something that I love is a privilege.

And then there is his “rockstar” Reed, whose own earth-conscious jewelry business, BaYou With Love, is something he’s equally (if not more) proud of: “Clearly, my wife is a badass, there is no one out there doing what she’s doing—she has changed the game when it comes to sustainable luxury. The level of business this company is doing, and the amount of time, energy and work that it’s taken for her to build and maintain this brand is something I’ve never seen. She started sketching these pieces while she was breast-feeding a baby at our kitchen island. It’s been amazing to see—truly mind-blowing. I’m lucky I get to witness it and watch it every day.” 

As for today’s every day, that’s a bit less hectic, and he wouldn’t have it any other way.

“I did almost 90 flights a year for a decade; I don’t think my body can physically take that again. I like this quiet life.”

What’s been harder: Your acting career or launching your bourbon brand? 

“Truly a great question. I’m one of those people who you’ll never hear complain—probably to a fault at times. But being an actor is not for the faint of heart. You have to have incredibly tough skin and learn to not take things personally. But it makes you better, it makes you stronger.

I’m one of those people that you’ll never hear complain—probably to a fault at times.

My mother used every single dollar we ever had to get me acting and modeling classes when I was 10 years old, so I was always fearless in front of a camera. That part never bothered me—it was just a matter of going from being a ‘green’ actor to someone who had a much more sharpened skill set. I grew up on sets, in the fashion and advertising space, so I saw how the big photographers, art directors, directors and the ad agencies conducted themselves on sets. The type of etiquette, respect and creativity it took to make a set work—a group of people executing a singular vision in one day, one week, one month. That level of experience helped me greatly.

There have been some definite disappointments in my acting career, but the successes have far outweighed any of that struggle. I don’t even remember the pain that I felt during the disappointments, mainly because of the enormity of success that happened because of The Vampire Diaries.

I take it that this new spirits business is the hard part?

“I tell you, nothing, and I mean absolutely nothing, could have prepared for me for the difficulties of starting a global alcohol brand. I got into a business a number of years ago, and this is public knowledge so it’s not anything I hide from: I invested my Vampire Diaries money into a company and took out personal guarantees from the bank—never do that by the way!—for a company in an industry that I didn’t know very well.

And it all came tumbling down…I landed myself—and my wife—in a deep, dark eight-figure hole, which was an awful feeling.

But now I can say that it made me a better businessman. It also made us stronger as a unit and, to my wife’s credit, she is the one that negotiated us through the deal. It was a single hardest and greatest lesson I’ve ever learned. What I took from those lessons I could put into building Brother’s Bond Bourbon—a smarter, stronger and simply better approach to building a business. On my terms with the proper tools and team.

The powerhouse investor and businessman Lyndon Lea, who is a dear friend and mentor, helped guide me through the mess of that company falling apart. He sat me down and taught me some serious lessons in business: To start looking deeper into the things that can, and will, go wrong, instead of simply looking at the things that can go right. He taught me that ‘business is not about WHAT you see, it’s what you DON’T see.’ I carry those lessons.”

Nikki recently talked about “farm life.” Has that helped change your outlook on everything?

“At the end of the day, we are farm people. Our cars and our boots are covered in dust, horsehair, and tack—and we love it. The life that we have both lived in the entertainment industry and the life that we are creating are vastly different. The life we thrive in and the life we want to create for our daughter is one of peace, tranquility and nature…or, at least a nice balance. When mom and dad have to work in the city, the family makes city life fun.

I’ve been on the road since I was 16, so has my wife. I think we both have always yearned to live off the land, in a place that’s our land—and that is exactly what we have set out to do and we are doing it. Our shared love of this life brings us closer together every day and, together, we are building a regenerative and peaceful farm life.”

You’ve talked about biohacking in the past. What are you doing right now for fitness and nutrition?

“It’s fairly simple for me. I eat foods that are whole, free of chemicals and local. I exercise, sleep, meditate and I spend moments with meaningful people and have a laugh.

There are so many apps and programs out there now, too, like Chris Hemsworth’s Centr and Alo Moves. They are so simple to use. If you don’t have a gym, go on a hike. If you live in a city and don’t have a hike, go on a walk, pack a backpack for extra weight. Move your body to fuel the release of toxins and mental clarity. Like Matthew McConaughey said so perfectly, ‘One sweat a day.’ Any way you can get it.

Our cars and our boots are covered in dust, horsehair and tack—and we love it.

I do believe it’s an important thing to take care of yourself on a cellular, spiritual and mental level. Biohacking is really an interesting science. When I was shooting The Vampire Diaries, I basically built an integrative medical clinic in my house. I had an amazing team there to guide me along the way. When Nicky and I got together, we built an identical one in our house in Los Angeles. It was extremely helpful and, ultimately, necessary to keep up that level of work.

Nutrients are key. Exercise is key. Unfortunately, the multibillion-dollar supplement industry is not regulated at all—and people are out there spending billions of hard-earned dollars desperate to do good for themselves on supplements that are not necessarily giving them much benefit at all. Preservatives, chemicals and all sorts of things that go into the sneaky packaging laws or labeling laws in the U.S. is incredibly infuriating. It’s criminal.

Believe it or not, I’ve taken this to a whole other level and will be launching my own stab at the category with my own functional drink soon. It’s not rocket science, but it is a science that has not been available in the health and wellness category. I’ll be talking about it a great deal soon; I am hoping to educate everyday consumers to be mindful of the things they’re putting into their bodies. People are out to sell things—not necessarily educate and take care of their customers, and we have to change that.”

The last few years have been hard on everyone. What do you do for wellness and self-care to stay centered?

“They really have been difficult. It’s heartbreaking but, in that struggle, I think it has helped people realize that ‘the things’ don’t make you happy. So many people sold their houses, put their things in storage and got on the road in the last two years—they’re looking to experience nature and reconnect. I live by that same principle: Get outside, get together, stay connected.

Transcendental meditation has also changed the game for me, personally. It’s beyond simple and effective. It’s changed the lives of anyone I’ve introduced it to. You can find so much about it just by watching YouTube. It’s literally one word—a mantra that you say over and over and over while you sit in a peaceful and comfortable place. Just set the timer for 25 or 30 minutes and go into a deep transcendental space. It revitalizes the brain, body, soul.

I also love farmers’ markets—they are modern-day versions of how ancient people could connect with local food and the people growing it. Just to walk around in wander at the color, the community and the element of nature changes your entire perspective on your daily life as it pertains to what you put into your body and your place in the community.

Food is about community, and community is about food and us coming together over it. Whether you are in a jubilant relationship or you’re in a struggle with a friend or family member, a morning walk through the farmers’ market with a cup of coffee and your reusable bags can change any dynamic. It’s powerful.

I was very fortunate enough to executive produce a film called Kiss the Ground on Netflix. It is arguably the most powerful and impactful environmental film ever produced—please, please watch it if you can. Curl up on the couch and let this film take you and change your whole perspective on how you see the world and just 80 minutes. It will give you not just a ray of hope, it will give you a giant beautiful burning sun beam of hope. It is the way out of this climate crisis and our food crisis. It is the greatest gift in my professional life to be able to work on this.

The new film comes out in January from the husband-wife powerhouse environmental directing couple Josh and Rebecca Tickell: it’s called Common Ground, which is the official sequel to Kiss the Ground. The new film exposes shocking truths about the chemical industrial food industry and shows how regenerative agriculture can heal the planets soil, heal our bodies and heal our collective soul.”

Is there anything “out there” you do for health and wellness?

“I think the most out-there thing you can do to your body is doing a bit of research on the positive aspects of extreme stress on the body—the cold and heat. I don’t have an expensive ice bath unit, but throwing a few bags of ice from the local supermarket into your bath first thing in the morning can trigger some very positive immune, inflammatory and mental goodness—it’s proven.

I did almost 90 flights a year for a decade; I don’t think my body can physically take that again. I like this quiet life. 

I also use an infrared sauna. We have a portable one that we travel with and we have a larger one at home. The ability for near, mid- and far infrared to move toxins through the body at that level is damn near unmatched. I also do a light workout with light weights in the sauna, which is literally getting so many things done at the same time.

Obviously, you have to be careful and watch yourself to your physical abilities. The beauty of infrared is that the temperatures are much lower than traditional saunas. The infrared waves can penetrate inside your body far better than a traditional sauna at much lower temperatures.

It’s safe and it reduces stress and inflammation, and limits toxins and the overall general sense of well-being you get from sweating profusely, listening to a podcast or jamming some music or even meditating is worth its weight in gold.”

You’ve had some very iconic roles on some very iconic shows. Is there anything that sticks out to you skin care or hair-makeup wise?

“Honestly, I have had so much makeup and so many hair products put on my body in my career; I’ve done about 220 episodes of television, plus a few films and doing 220-plus episodes of television is essentially shooting 100 films!

I think, at this point, it’s imperative to look for skin-care and hair-care companies that put natural ingredients and care into their products. The problem is, sometimes they are so expensive and not available to everyone, which comes back to what is a need and what is a want?

With the bombardment to our immune systems, a broken food system, and a polluted water system…I can go on. I got to a point, toward the middle seasons of shooting Vampire Diaries that I had to have some color and foundation put on my face, but the products that we used for the most part you could eat if you have to—remember, our skin is the largest organ in our bodies. It’s so important to find ingredients in products that are going to be harmonious in our system.

I know it’s so hard, and I know that so many companies are coming online with those natural products, it’s just the cost difference is so extreme. But consumer demand will ultimately force companies to change the practices. I firmly believe with steadfast conviction, that the companies of the future, the successful companies of the future namely the ones that will survive will have a triple bottom line: People. Planet. Profit. End of story.

Now, my wife makes most of the skin-care stuff that I use. My body scrubs are nothing more than sugar, salt and coffee grinds that she grinds herself. I mostly use olive oil for my face and we only use non-chemical toothpaste for our teeth.

There is a very inexpensive NOW Foods Hyaluronic Acid Gel that I keep with me at all times. I have one in my car, one at my desk, one in my office, I keep one in our Fleetwood RV and one in the bag that I travel with every week. It’s not an expensive product; I’ve known the company for many years and have used this literally since 2010 and I think it works quite well. Again, to each his own and finances will always play a role in it, but I think consumer is demanding that companies put safe, natural and sustainable-regenerative materials in their products will lead the greatest change and revolution into the future. Empowered, educated consumerism will drive this change at lightning speed.”

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