Paul Wesley as James T. Kirk of the Paramount+ original series STAR TREK: STRANGE NEW WORLDS. Photo Cr: Marni Grossman/Paramount+

Paul Wesley Is Bringing a New Energy Captain Kirk

Captain James T. Kirk is an important character to pop culture in general. To me, personally, he’s been a part of my life for as long as I can remember because Star Trek plays an important part in my family. Understanding and loving Kirk did not come easily for me because I didn’t really get the appeal of William Shatner and it took Chris Pine’s turn in the Kelvin universe for me to really understand it all. Then came Paul Wesley.

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Wesley made his name on television as Stefan Salvatore in The Vampire Diaries and became an internet darling. His take on Kirk is so vastly different from his other work that it really is exciting to see how he’s made Jim Kirk his own with all his charm, wit, and ability to take any situation and have some smartass thing to say about it.

Joining Strange New Worlds at the end of season 1 and playin a more active role in season 2, Wesley’s Kirk is funny, quick, and more carefree in his approach to Starfleet because he doesn’t yet have the weight of the Enterprise on his shoulders. In speaking to Paul Wesley prior to the SAG-AFTRA strike, we talked a lot about how he made Kirk his own. And I also did call Spock and Kirk’s relationship “Spirk” to him and he jokingly responded by saying “I’m thinking about getting a Spirk tattoo,” something he also said during the round table discussions to me before the series began along with his Spock co-star Ethan Peck.

Exploring Kirk and Spock

Spock (Leonard Nimoy) and Captain Kirk (William Shatner) crouch in tall grass in 'Star Trek: The Original Series'
(Paramount)

Spock and Kirk are, in a lot of ways, responsible for fanfiction. The work written for these two characters (whether it be romantic or as a love letter to their friendship with one another) spans decades because we care deeply about their dynamic. They are the heart of Star Trek old and new and without them, that original series wouldn’t have been as beloved, in my humble opinion. Getting to see them grow together in Strange New Worlds is an exciting prospect!

Right now though, we’re at a point in Spock and Kirk’s relationship that is prior to that core trust in one another and so I asked what was exciting in bringing that dynamic to life in a new way. “I’m so grateful that I was on a show prior to this that was such a kind of pop culture sort of talk, buzzy fan fiction and critics and all sorts of different ships. They were shipping this, they were shipping that I’m used to this kind of thing,” Wesley said about the “Spirk” of it all. “I find it to be I take it with sort of, I think it’s humorous. I think it’s funny. I don’t really take it anything too seriously. With that said, I agree with you. The Spock and Kirk dynamic is obviously one of the pillars of Star Trek, if not the most important. I think it’s probably the most important relationship of the original series, that’s for sure. And maybe in the entire Star Trek franchise. We are just slowly dancing with that relationship. We haven’t quite explored their friendship yet and I really hope to in future seasons.”

Bringing the midwestern boy to life

Kirk and La'An in Star Trek: Strange New Worlds
(Paramount+)

Captain Kirk is from Iowa. It makes this playboy captain of the Enterprise humble in ways that are shocking when you’re looking at him on paper. But Wesley, like Shatner and Pine before him, manages to bring a humble nature to Kirk that makes him charming when he doesn’t have to be. I asked him about that balance, bringing out the good natured midwestern boy to life when he is in charge of the crew of the Enterprise or even when he’s flirting with La’an Noonien-Singh (Christina Chong).

“I honestly just think he’s a good person. Like, I really think that there’s just some people that are like, ‘I want to get ahead and I want to perform. I wanna do this,’ and he’s an ambitious guy, but at the end of the day, he’s pretty selfless. And I think that’s a really important part of his personality. He’s a good guy. To see someone in distress? He’s gonna go figure it out. If he needs to sacrifice himself for the sake of, as we see in episode three, a better timeline, he’ll do it. And I think he’s just someone who I have to just constantly sort of remind myself, although with this writing, it’s not that difficult. They’re such good writers that he’s just someone who’s has a really strong moral compass. And I think that that’s, whether you wanna describe that as someone from the Midwest or however you want to, but I think at the end of the day, he’s someone with a good, strong value system. And that’s just how I choose to interpret him.”

Meeting the crew

Lt. Uhura in Star Trek original series.
(CBS)

Having spoken to Celia Rose Gooding earlier in the day, I talked to Wesley about the dynamic of all these characters prior to when we know them. While we haven’t seen Kirk with many of his original series bridge yet, they are all slowly folding into Strange New Worlds. So I asked him about being that Kirk who will, eventually, have Uhura second guessing her dedication to the rules of Starfleet and willingly bending them for her captain.

“I just love character development in general. Literally the first time they meet, she punches him in the face so, that’s a pretty radical shift from then trusting this guy and him sort of being this helpful friend,” Wesley said. “And that goes to show how I’m interpreting the character as well. I’m sort of slowly turning, whether it’s slowly building relationships with Uhura and Spock and whoever, and I also think he’s slowly becoming someone that is the Kirk that we know. And so I enjoy arcs. I like to sort of start here, there and build it to, the things that we know, the relationships, we know the Kirk that we know.”

The ripped shirts and classic music

William Shatner as Jim Kirk in Star Trek
(CBS)

A staple of Captain Kirk is that his shirt always ends up ripped because he’s in the thick of it. When I spoke with Wesley about bringing certain aspects of the Kirks that came before him to his performance, we talked a bit about the “ideas” of the character but he talked about what he took from Shatner. “I think the difference between my Kirk and the original series Kirk is that he is not a captain yet,” he said. ” So I wanted him to sort of still be on unstable footing, for lack of a better word.But I wanted it to be very clear that he has all of the personality traits and strengths that a captain would have. That a lot of this unwavering loyalty, courage, he’s still someone who’s will always do the right thing, even if it’s a little bit off a different path that someone wouldn’t necessarily take. Perhaps he takes risks that someone would call dangerous. But in the end, he figures it out and he always does it for the right reasons.”

He went on to talk about the boyish charm we know and love of Kirk, saying “I just think also what I love about Kirk is yes, he can take things very seriously as we see, for example, in the season one finale, the Kirk that I played was quite serious because in balance of terror and everything, he’s very serious in. I also think there’s a lightheartedness to him. There’s this boyish charm, lightheartedness, that has to be a part of the character. And I was very emphatic about wanting to play some of those sort of lighthearted moments. For me, I didn’t wanna make him a jockey in any way. I kind of wanted him to be a little nerdy, like a hero, like a heroic nerd in some ways.”

When I pointed out that that is exactly who Kirk is and that he loves to play chess and listen to music and wear ripped shirts, he said “Listen, I’m down to fight and rip my shirt. So let’s do it.”

Wesley is incredibly as Kirk and his performance in season 2 of Strange New Worlds has me very excited for his future in the role!

(featured image: Paramount+)


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Rachel Leishman
Rachel Leishman (She/Her) is an Assistant Editor at the Mary Sue. She's been a writer professionally since 2016 but was always obsessed with movies and television and writing about them growing up. A lover of Spider-Man and Wanda Maximoff's biggest defender, she has interests in all things nerdy and a cat named Benjamin Wyatt the cat. If you want to talk classic rock music or all things Harrison Ford, she's your girl but her interests span far and wide. Yes, she knows she looks like Florence Pugh. She has multiple podcasts, normally has opinions on any bit of pop culture, and can tell you can actors entire filmography off the top of her head. Her work at the Mary Sue often includes Star Wars, Marvel, DC, movie reviews, and interviews.