*Editor’s Note: This interview was conducted prior to the SAG-AFTRA strike going into effect. Awards Radar stands with the actors, their union, and wishes for a resolution that helps the working actor live a better life. Union Strong!*
I don’t envy Paul Wesley. Fans of the Original Star Trek series understand the impossible challenge he faced when cast as the James T. Kirk in Star Trek: Strange New Worlds. If you are unfamiliar with the character immortalized by William Shatner, go back and watch the pilot “The Cage” for TOS (The Original Series) on Paramount+ immediately followed by “The Man Trap”, the first episode released for television for a taste of the iconic character.
A little series history, “The Cage” stars Jeffery Hunter as Captain Christopher Pike (yes the same Pike) who does an admirable job portraying a stoic and competent leader in the series pilot. Hunter waffled on accepting the lead role in a television series, more interested in pursuing a movie career, and was subsequently recast. Due to Hunter’s exit, the character of James Kirk was then created to replace Pike.
Contrast Hunter’s performance with Shatner’s Kirk and its apparent why Star Trek caught fire upon its television debut in 1966. While Pike was a serious and resolute Captain Kirk is bursting with humor and energy. Shatner’s performance is captivating. Shatner brings his dramatic Shakespearean stage background and incorporates a youthful joy that drives every episode he is in.
Paul Wesley spoke with Awards Radar about his approached the daunting challenge of playing the beloved character, James T. Kirk, on Strange New Worlds. (You can listen the interview in its entirety at the bottom of the article.)
Paul Wesley: “Jim, he’s someone who has a level of morality, and his guiding light is the ship. And that is his ultimate commitment. And his entire life purpose is to ultimately sacrifice himself for the for the good of the ship. What I think is so fascinating about James Kirk, is that he has all of these other facets that are so appealing. He has this boyish charm, he has a curiosity. He has a sense of humor. He’s a romantic, you know, someone who falls in love. You almost want him to explore all those other facets of his personality. But at the end of the day, he’s really a captain. Now granted, I’m not a captain yet, in the James version that I’m playing, I’m still Lieutenant. So I’m still sort of growing into a lot of these qualities. But I just wanted to give a glimmer of that.“
Unlike how Kirk played by Chris Pine in J.J. Abrams movies – who is more brash, womanizing and rebellious – Paul and the writers of Strange New Worlds went back to the original series for inspiration on this version of Kirk. To paraphrase Paul, Kirk is once again a nerd who can kick ass.
Paul Wesley: “I think it’s funny. Kirk has been like a game of telephone. I’ve been watching the original series. And of course, there are some very campy moments, but, but for the most part, Kirk is a bit of a nerd. He became bigger than life in many ways. And I just wanted to bring it back a little bit to the original. I never thought of the word nerd, but in some ways, I am sort of playing it a little more, I don’t know, ‘intellectually’.”
In the episode Lost In Translation, we see the beginning of Kirk’s friendship with Uhura. I asked Paul how he thought Kirk viewed his future Communications officer on first meeting since she is in such an emotionally vulnerable place.
Paul Wesley: “The first time he sees Uhura, It’s interesting because he sort of decides to take interest in her and not in a romantic way. He sees her as someone who needs help in that particular episode, and for whatever reason, Kirk is someone who will not just ignore something. And he’s pretty selfless in that sense. And he just volunteers to explore that just because that’s who he is. He’s a he’s an explorer, right? He’s like, curious characters are curious. Which is why he’s such a formidable captain in the future.”
Lost in Translation also explores Kirk’s relationship with his brother Sam, and all of the complexity that comes along with sibling dynamics. It’s a side of Kirk we never got to see in other series and makes for some really funny and awkward moments between the brothers.
Paul Wesley: “Kirk and Spock have this, like, logic. And then, you know, the opposite of logic, which is brutal instinct, driven. Whatever happens spontaneously, that Kirk figures it out on the fly. And in many ways, Sam and Kirk have that same dynamic in the sense that Sam is a scientist. And James Kirk is someone who has those aspects, but he prefers to just figure things out instinctively. He’s playing jazz. Spock and Kirk complement one another beautifully. Sam and Kirk, it rubs me the wrong way. You know, Sam can’t quite figure out how Kirk keeps getting one step ahead. Because in many ways, Sam should be one step ahead of Jim. But he’s not. And it sort of drives him insane. I love that. It’s light hearted, though. At the end of the day, they are brothers. I do think there’s a part at least for me when I was playing it. I think Jim is amused by it, right? Like, he’s just thinks it’s silly. And that actually, when someone is taking themselves very seriously, and someone laughs in a way, it drives me even more insane. And I think that’s sort of perfectly captures their dynamic.”
You can watch Paul Wesley’s performance as James T. Kirk in season two of Star Trek: Strange New Worlds streaming exclusively on Paramount+. You can also find much more Star Trek coverage on Awards Radar and on our The ‘Verse! podcast. Listen to the full interview below.