[This story contains spoilers for Star Trek: Strange New Worlds season one finale, “A Quality of Mercy.”]
Paul Wesley knew instantly that everything was going to work out. The universe was clearly telling him it was his time to play Capt. James T. Kirk — after all, who better than William Shatner to give his blessing?
It was announced earlier in the year that the Vampire Diaries star had been tapped to play Captain Kirk for season two of Star Trek: Strange New Worlds. But fans were in for a shock when Wesley made his debut as the iconic sci-fi character in the season one finale of the Paramount+ series this week in “A Quality of Mercy,” which is a brilliant mirror of the classic Star Trek: The Original Series episode “Balance of Terror.”
And he did not disappoint, bringing a unique, enjoyable take on the iconic captain who was made a pop-culture staple by Shatner and then introduced to a new generation in the JJ Abrams movie series, played by Chris Pine. And as fate would have it, Wesley randomly shared a plane ride with Shatner around the time his casting was announced. Obviously, some filming had taken place by that time for the secret season finale. Shatner then publicly gave his blessing to the new Kirk: “Keep my ship and crew safe, Captain! Congratulations!”
In a chat with The Hollywood Reporter Prior to the season finale, Wesley explains how much he appreciated that kind gesture from Shatner and explores how he approached Captain Kirk, including the lesson he took from riding motorcycles.
In the below chat, the actor also talks about how he landed the top-secret role and teases how season two will better flesh out the relationship between Kirk and his brother, Samuel.
The casting process was so secretive for others I’ve interviewed, so I can’t even imagine how locked down it was for you. Tell me about how this happened?
It was so secretive! It happened so quickly that I thought it was a prank, because it was literally a call from my agent over the weekend saying, “Hey, do you want to do a quick Zoom with [showrunners] akiva [Goldsman] and Henry [Alonso Myers] and casting directors?” I said, “Yeah, of course. Do you know what is this for?” And they were like, “It’s a character who is very iconic in Star Trek, just talk to them and see what happens.” So, we did this Zoom, and we all just had a great time. The episode had not been written yet, but they knew they wanted Kirk to come in. So, there was no material, it was just kind of a general conversation about everything you can imagine. And that was it. Then it was literally like, “You’re leaving next week.” (Laughs.)
That’s wild. After you booked it, how did you go about developing your own iteration of such a classic sci-fi character? Did you want any vestiges from Mr. Shatner in this Kirk?
The most important aspect is to not do an imitation of something that is sacred. And obviously William Shatner’s interpretation of Captain Kirk has really touched people; it’s been important to people for a variety of reasons. I think the most important thing is to not do an imitation because it’s an insult to the character who is so iconic — and it’s a reminder that I’m not William Shatner. (Laughs.) So, this is a version of Kirk we’ve never seen, and every episode is different.
Obviously, the season one finale is an alternate timeline that doesn’t exist, because it takes place in the future. He’s not captain of the Enterprise. He’s never met Spock, and he’s never had all those experiences. It’s a Kirk who has been shaped differently. So in the season finale, it really was open to interpretation. In season two, we meet a Kirk who we know better. I think the most important thing was to pay respect to the important pillars of his personality: His morality, his incredible instinct, his courage, his empathy towards others and how protective he is of his crew.
How was putting on that costume for the first time — overwhelming? Empowering? Mind blowing?
(Laughs.) All of those words are pretty accurate. Television moves rapidly, and so even just sitting in the chair — I rewatched every TOS episode, trying to understand the posture or where to put my hands — really just feeling at home in this chair. I ride motorcycles and when you first get on a motorcycle, you don’t really understand how it moves, and you don’t really understand how to do nice, tight turns. You don’t feel comfortable. And it’s like that with the chair, how you’re just sitting there. That was one of the things that I needed to understand, so it felt like I had been sitting there thousands of times. And it’s like that in this outfit. I know this outfit; I feel at home in it.
We never saw much of Kirk’s brother, Samuel, in TOS other than Shatner briefly in a mustache, so it has been a lot of fun seeing more of him on SNW. Have you and Dan Jeannotte developed a nice bond? Will that relationship be explored more?
Dan is wonderful, and it was very easy for me to immediately have this kind of brotherly connection with him. I don’t know how to describe it. But with that said, we will explore this in future episodes, particularly in season two. I don’t want to tease too much, but there is a rivalry between the two of them because they’re quite different. There is competitiveness. They both want to impress their father and it’s hard when Kirk has achieved so much, so quickly. It’s hard for Samuel to be able to deal with that.
And finally, I knew fans flipped when Shatner gave you his blessing via Twitter after you two happened to fly together. I assume that does wonders for the nerves and any anxiety with stepping into Kirk’s shoes. How did you feel?
How classy of him. He didn’t have to do that. We did have a lovely conversation on the plane, but you know, he didn’t have to do that. He went out of his way to tweet “best of luck and congrats,” which really just meant so much. You can’t even imagine how much that meant to me. He had n’t seen what we were doing, but he gave me his blessing to enjoy this character. And for me, that meant everything.
Interview edited for length and clarity. Star Trek: Strange New Worlds season one is streaming now on Paramount+.