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Interview: Ian Somerhalder finds ‘Common Ground’ with his new environmental documentary

Actor and environmentalist Ian Somerhalder chatted about his new documentary “Common Ground,” which he narrated and served as an executive producer.

Ian Somerhalder
Ian Somerhalder. Photo Courtesy of Big Picture Ranch.
Ian Somerhalder. Photo Courtesy of Big Picture Ranch.

Actor and environmental activist Ian Somerhalder chatted about his new documentary “Common Ground,” which he narrated and served as an executive producer.

‘Common Ground’ documentary

Somerhalder narrated the documentary along with Oscar winner Laura Dern, Jason Momoa, Rosario Dawson, Woody Harrelson, and Donald Glover.

The film was directed by Josh and Rebecca Tickell (“Kiss the Ground”), both of which wrote the screenplay with Johnny O’Hara. It sheds light on biodiversity and the growing regenerative agriculture movement.

“This documentary is the best thing in the world,” he exclaimed. “This is the greatest achievement of my life, at this point, other than my children. There is nothing like it.”

Josh and Rebecca Tickell wrote the script as a love letter to their children, and it suggests methods on how we can fix our broken food system. “This journey that Josh and Rebecca have been on, and have brought us on, is the single-most impactful journey I’ve ever been on,” he said.

It is the goal of regenerative farmers to help bring soil health across America and beyond, in order to grow and foster this ever-growing regenerative movement.

Lessons learned from this environmental documentary

On the lessons that he learned from this environmental documentary, Somerhalder said, “I can literally run on zero sleep. It has taught Josh, Rebecca, and myself that every revolution in the world has started with one person.”

“Since there are so many people in the world, we feel sometimes like we can’t do anything and that there is no hope. One of the things that I really learned about myself in this process is proving that if you have light inside of you, then you should never be afraid to let it shine,” he elaborated.

“Even just a little bit in an enormous amount of darkness can bring so many people to it. People, in general, get so bogged down with the amount of really bad information out there, and what I’ve learned about myself, I have the ability within myself because I don’t see doom and gloom,” he explained.

“If we continue going like this, we have very serious problems, and quite arguably, they are irreversible… but that’s not going to happen,” he said.

“I learned that with your conviction and your light inside of you, even just a pinhole of light in a sea of darkness changes someone’s life, and it inspires them to find their light. It helps people realize that it’s not all doom and gloom,” he explained.

“There are age-old techniques that are going to bring us out of this crazy issue that we have found ourselves in… this trench that is so hard to get out of. It takes one ladder and we know what that ladder is… and that ladder is regenerative agriculture,” he expressed.

“Also, you don’t need every congressional chamber to vote on it, you just need a select few that get behind it and really move the needle. It has been this amazing journey of soundbites and inspiration to move that needle, and get that information out in a very concise and efficient manner. It has been unbelievable,” he acknowledged.

Somerhalder feels that ‘regenerative agriculture’ is the most important story of our time

Somerhalder shared that he is thrilled with all of the Oscar and awards buzz that this documentary has been getting, and rightfully so. “Deserve and earn are two different things,” he admitted. “I was never raised that way. I don’t know who deserves anything but you can earn something.”

“This film has earned its right to have that Academy stamp. This film needs an Oscar nomination, not for the egos of the producers, writers, and directors, but because this is the most important story of our time,” he underscored.

“We are not here trying to make money, we are here to physically save our planet,” he stressed. “This is about the middle of our country. It is about re-energizing, revitalizing, restoring, reclaiming, and basically, re-industrializing middle America.”

“When you invest in middle America and build it from the inside out, then America thrives, and when America thrives, everyone else thrives,” he added.

“It is not the Wild West,” Somerhalder clarified. “It is the true North, the way that we are moving forward. We have our North star and we know where we need to go, we know where we can go, and we know where we are going because we know where we’ve been.”

“It is really bizarre,” he noted. “Josh and I were talking about a lot of the conflicts that are happening around the world, and a lot of them in the Middle East as well. Climate disruption is changing the political and geopolitical landscape. When there are climate-related things like droughts or food shortages, it forces people from rural areas into urban areas.”

“We have the ability to start shifting this by fixing our climate and by managing our weather, and restoring the world back to the way that it used to be; this would allow ecosystems to thrive so that people can thrive,” he added.

Ian Somerhalder: Regenerative agriculture is the solution to desertification

“Desertification is happening at an alarming rate,” he said. “The world is desertifying because of land mismanagement. Josh told me ‘you can never build guns fast enough to outrun the desert.’ Meaning we can’t build guns fast enough to kill each other over these stats that the desert is growing. As the desert grows, people are going to have to flee and they will be climate refugees.”

“By fixing our climate through regenerative agriculture, and everything else restores and follows suit,” he added.

“By seeing regeneration and holistic land management work — in person and with my eyes — it was in that moment, that was a career-defining moment. That was the greatest ‘aha!’ moment of my life, other than being born and my two children being born. It gives me chills to think about it because regenerative agriculture works,” he expressed.

“Holistic land management sequesters carbon, it produces oxygen, it revitalizes freshwater, it balances climate, it produces higher yields for farmers, and it makes people more money,” he added.

2023 ‘Human/Nature Award’

At the Tribeca Film Festival in New York, “Common Ground” was recognized with the 2023 “Human/Nature Award,” which is bestowed on a film that best exemplifies solution-oriented environmental storytelling.

Stage of his life

On the title of the current chapter of his life, Somerhalder said, “Regeneration.” “I am building two companies, one of which, Brother’s Bond Bourbon, is massively successful in the spirit space, and one in the health and wellness space. These are two categories that I live in, and are my main focus in my life,” he said.

“I quit acting four years ago to build these companies and to raise my family,” he revealed. “Also, we needed to get ‘Kiss the Ground’ and ‘Common Ground’ out. ‘Common Ground,’ in particular, we have to get fully launched and out.”

“Building my companies, raising my family, and releasing these films is a very tall order. It takes years, that’s why I stepped out of acting over four years ago, so that’s where I am,” he acknowledged.

“After these chapters will be me going into my phase where I will spend the rest of my days with my family… It will be my ranching days,” he said.

Brother’s Bond Bourbon

Somerhalder is proud of his Brother’s Bond Bourbon, a straight bourbon whiskey, which he launched with Paul Wesley, for being “regenerative whiskey.” He noted that it has been going “gangbusters” and that “it’s wild.”

Paul Wesley and Ian Somerhalder
Paul Wesley and Ian Somerhalder. Photo Credit: Dean Bradshaw, Courtesy of Brother’s Bond Bourbon

“With Brother’s Bond, I want people to feel the idea of coming together,” he said. “The brand ethos is to bring people together. I think that we can argue that we need togetherness now more than ever.”

“Also, when we were a tiny little company, we built it to be the world’s truly first regenerative spirits company,” he said.

“Even though we are small tiny company, we have started this movement within the spirits space to build out regenerative supply chains within the whiskey industry and the alcohol industry in and of itself, and that is something to be really proud of. We are just a small part of that, but we are a catalyst in it for sure,” he elaborated.

Best advice that he was ever given

On the best advice that Somerhalder was ever given, he remarked, “It goes back to simplifying your life. At the end of the day, it is true… less is more. In the ‘80s, we were all taught that the more you had, makes you happy. In rural Louisiana that was not the case but the less you have, the happier you are.”

Somerhalder  continued, “Henry David Thoreau once said: ‘The cost of a thing is the amount of what I will call life which is required to be exchanged for it, immediately or in the long run.’ Basically, how much time in your life you had to spend to get that one thing, and that is ultimately the cost of what that thing is.”

Favorite mottos to live by

Ian Somerhalder, Rebecca Tickell, and Josh Tickell
Ian Somerhalder, Rebecca Tickell, and Josh Tickell. Photo Courtesy of Big Picture Ranch.

Regarding his favorite mottos to live by, he shared, “It all goes back to the pursuit of happiness. One thing I learned after turning 45 is that the less things you have, the happier you are. You have this thought when you are younger that if you acquire and amass more things and property (cars or clothes), you will be happier.

Somerhalder continued, “Ultimately, what you find is when you strip that away, you feel better. It all goes back to the old Buckminster Fuller idea, which is to ‘do more with less.’ In life, when you feel good from the inside out, you act that way.”

“When you feel good, you are good. It’s about getting to that place of stripping down to what is important to you and simplifying our lives. When you go back to nature, you go back to simplicity and that is the pursuit of happiness,” he acknowledged.

“Nature is inextricably linked to that, and with nature comes balance. With balance comes simplicity, and with simplicity, ultimately, comes happiness,” he added.

Superpower of choice

On his superpower of choice, Somerhalder said, “My character in ‘The Vampire Diaries’ had this power where he could look you in the eye and make you or convince you to do anything that he wanted you to do. I’ve made the joke a million times, but it really rings true.”

“If I had that ability, I would go to Washington, DC, and sit with the powers that be (not just congressional chambers but the board rooms of the big corporations as well) and get these people to act on their good instincts and actually make choices that are great for the planet. That’s really where I would win if I had that superpower,” he elaborated.

Success

Somerhalder furnished his definition of the word success. “Success is a very interesting word,” he admitted. “When I stop now and look at friends who have a tremendous amount of time to do things they love, that is success.”

He continued, “Basically, people who have time to do the things they love. When you look at them, you realize that they are successful. It’s not the guy who has to fly to 100 cities a year on his private jet to go to meeting after meeting after meeting, they might be financially successful but they might not be ‘ life successful.’ That is a big thing you realize… and this is me approaching my mid-40s. You think you have all the time in the world… you don’t.”

“You find success by how much time someone has to spend doing the things they love with the people they love,” he expressed.

Closing thoughts on ‘Common Ground’

“This is the most important story of our time,” he reiterated about “Common Ground.” “All the things that we are trying to do for humanity with justice of every type, if we don’t have a healthy planet, it is all in vain.”

Somerhalder continued, “The one thing that we can do is to make sure that we put our best foot forward to make sure that we stop climate change in its tracks because this climate disruption is going to make our world pretty uninhabitable. That’s the first thing right there. To dive headfirst into this, and make sure that we get our act together to make regenerative agriculture the greatest carbon sink that we can create at scale.”

“This is also one of the greatest economic options that we have,” he said. “It is this idea of how we can build a bright, prosperous future right now by building the largest carbon capture food economy that the world has ever seen, not just here in the United States but around the world.”

Rebecca Tickell, Laura Dern, and Josh Tickell in 'Common Ground'
Rebecca Tickell, Laura Dern, and Josh Tickell in ‘Common Ground.’ Photo Courtesy of Big Picture Ranch.

American track and field legend Steve Prefontaine once said: “To give anything less than your best, is to sacrifice the gift.”

Ian Somerhalder is an environmental activist, farmer, and family man who embodies this quote. With his documentary films “Common Ground” and “Kiss the Ground,” as well as his Brother’s Bond Bourbon, he is putting regenerative agriculture at the forefront of the American and global landscape.

For more information on “Common Ground,” check out its official website, and follow the documentary on Instagram.

To learn more about actor and environmental activist Ian Somerhalder, follow him on Instagram.

Read More: “Common Ground” review

Markos Papadatos
Written By

Markos Papadatos is Digital Journal's Editor-at-Large for Music News. Papadatos is a Greek-American journalist and educator that has authored over 21,000 original articles over the past 18 years. He has interviewed some of the biggest names in music, entertainment, lifestyle, magic, and sports. He is a 16-time "Best of Long Island" winner, where for three consecutive years (2020, 2021, and 2022), he was honored as the "Best Long Island Personality" in Arts & Entertainment, an honor that has gone to Billy Joel six times.

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