How The Vampire Diaries Prepared Paul Wesley To Play Star Trek's Captain Kirk

The final episode of the first season of "Star Trek: Strange New Worlds" — titled "A Quality of Mercy" — ran a "What If...?" scenario that put Captain Pike (Anson Mount) in the Enterprise's captain's chair during the events of the original series episode "Balance of Terror." In this parallel universe (provided by some handy-dandy Klingon time crystals) Pike was also allowed to meet Captain Kirk (Paul Wesley), who was captain of a ship called the U.S.S. Farragut. Pike and Kirk were not only able to converse, but Trekkies also received the opportunity to juxtapose the two men's command styles. Pike, cool-headed and affable, preferred nonviolence and genial diplomacy, whereas Kirk preferred tactical cunning and battlefield savvy. The episode proves that Pike's approach might not have had the same outcome. It's a fun episode, even if it does lean full-bore into fan service. 

Captain Kirk, we may all agree, will always be William Shatner. Despite Chris Pine's turn in the role (and that doesn't really count anyway), Shatner, now 91, co-invented Kirk back in 1966 and has been his face ever since. Wesley, in playing a young Kirk — especially "Balance of Terror" Kirk — once revealed that he couldn't go to Shatner for advice due to a combination of NDAs and not wanting to bother the elder actor who just returned from space. As such, he would have to go it alone. 

Luckily, as he explained in a recent Variety interview, Wesley had "The Vampire Diaries" to fall back on. Not necessarily to give him information on how to play Kirk, but acting in "Diaries" gave Wesley first-hand knowledge as to what rabid fandom looked like, and was able to vividly experience the species of fans he was destined to have to please. 

The cult family

When asked about the stresses of stepping into such a well-known pop culture role, Wesley responded with excitement. Who, after all, wouldn't want the opportunity to play Captain Kirk? Wesley may not look a lot like a young William Shatner, but he does have that certain focused authority that Shatner brought to the role. Give that this was "alternate timeline" Kirk, Wesley likely also felt a certain leeway in straying from many of Shatner's mannerisms or line delivery. 

Wesley played the role of Stefan Salvatore on "The Vampire Diaries," the central vampire character beloved by Elena (Nina Dobrev) and at odds with — and eventually allied to — his vampire brother Damon (Ian Somerhalder). This is perhaps the shortest summation possible of an eight-season supernatural soap opera riddled with twists and complications. In the Variety interview, Wesley talks about his experiences starring in a soap — one with millions of passionate fans — and how that parlayed, in his mind, to Trekkie-dom. He said it wasn't the same crowd, but explained that the spirit was the same: 

"It feels amazing. First of all, I was part of a cult-y family, in a sense — I don't mean cult in a bad way. I mean, a cult classic. You know, 'Vampire Diaries' was obviously a different audience. It was much more younger skewing. It was a very successful show. We created our own fanhood — there was a real community that was built around it. There were multiple spinoffs."

The 2013 series "The Originals" was a spinoff of "The Vampire Diaries." It's worth noting that Wesley also directed several episodes of "Diaries."

Trekkies vs. Diarists

"Strange New Worlds" would also have Wesley relating to Shatner in an unexpected way. Shatner, while having enjoyed a long acting career, has also acquired a lifelong connection to "Star Trek" that must have been something of a curse for many years; It's hard to find extra work once you've been pigeonholed into a single role. Wesley, in being associated with "The Vampire Diaries" needed a project that would allow him to break out of his mold. Kirk seemed to be it: 

"['Diaries' is] much smaller than the 'Star Trek' world. But I know what it's like to be involved in those worlds, in the spotlight, so to speak. And frankly, my goal after 'Vampire Diaries' was to do something that took me out of that world in a way, because you don't really want to be stuck in that world forever. As an actor, as an artist, as a person, you want to evolve. You want to try different things." 

There is certainly a poetic irony that Wesley used Kirk to "break out," when the role had previously been the thing Shatner needed to break out of. Indeed, the Venn diagram between the two may overlap more than Wesley acknowledges: Creation Entertainment — the company behind most large-scale pop culture conventions — has long run Trek cons as well as Diaries/Originals cons. Both Wesley and Shatner could likely trade stories of answering fan questions from stage and signing hundreds upon hundreds of 8x10 glossies.

A more adult level

Wesley also felt that Trek was a way to get an older audience. "The Vampire Diaries" was a CW romance series that appealed to teens. He was quick, in the Variety interview, to point out that he does indeed love the "Diaries" audiences, but that he himself feels like he may be aging out of being a teen heartthrob. As of this writing, Wesley has just turned 40, and being the hunk on a vampire series is not only not feasible for him as an actor, but also as a human being who ages. Wesley says as much:

"So when this opportunity came along, I said, 'Of course, I want to jump into it.' This to me feels like the next evolution for me as a man now. I'm in my late 30s. I want to go to that next phase. I don't mean to demean 'Vampire Diaries'; it's awesome. But I mean, 'Star Trek' feels like a more adult level of that. So I was very excited to move on to that next phase of my life." 

While plenty of teens watch "Star Trek," one might say with confidence that it has a much larger and more diverse audience than "The Vampire Diaries." Wesley's playing of Kirk seemed to serve a twofold purpose. It let him grow as an actor, but it also to break him onto a new tier of geekdom. He'll still be attending the conventions, but he will now be answering new questions for larger crowds. And when it comes to signing autographs, he is ostensibly rehearsed.