In addition to the showrunners, actor Paul Wesley has done a series of post-season finale interviews about introducing his James T. Kirk into Star Trek: Strange New Worlds. He’s talking about how he approached the role, and how he’ll be a different Kirk in season 2.
Emulating Shatner (or Pine) would be “blasphemous”
Vampire Diaries star Paul Wesley took on the daunting task of playing the iconic character of James T. Kirk, originated by William Shatner and later played by Chris Pine in the J.J. Abrams Kelvin Timeline movies. In all of his interviews, Wesley made it clear he and the showrunners agreed to not try to emulate either performance. For example, Wesley told Variety:
We’re really respecting who he is and his character traits. But it’s not an imitation. I really aim to be honest and truthful and in the moment. Pay respect to the character of James T. Kirk, but do not try in any way shape or form to imitate something that you cannot touch. It would be almost blasphemous, in a way.
With EW, Wesley drew a contrast to Shatner and Pine, saying he is approaching the role in line with how other actors on Strange New Worlds have taken on classic roles:
He’s somewhere in between. At the end of the day, the most important thing for me and the most important thing for the showrunners was to not insult the original series’ Kirk by doing an imitation of [Shatner]. It’s an interpretation that is different. I think doing an imitation of either [Kirks] would be an insult. We just remind people that it’s not William Shatner. This is a whole new look. It’s a whole new Spock. It’s a whole new Uhura. It’s a whole new Kirk. It’s a new Pike. They’re old characters interpreted in a new way. What is most important is to pay respect to the integrity of who Kirk is — his wants, his needs, his deep desires, his morality, his spontaneity, his instinct.
He made it very clear to Collider he does not want to do an imitation of Shatner:
What William Shatner did is not touchable. You cannot mess with William Shatner. He created Captain Kirk. Period, end of story. For me to try to imitate William Shatner in any way would be, I think, an insult to Captain Kirk. Right? I think it’s important to just understand who Kirk is, what his childhood was like, what he wants, what he doesn’t want, what the pillars of his personality and his character traits that are important to the development of that character. With that in mind, you can then play and create your own interpretation, because it is. There’s a different Spock, there’s a different Uhura, there’s a different everything. You have to just create your own things. You can’t just do an imitation, because that would be too shallow.
And back with Variety, Wesley said even though he was not emulating past performances, there was still an essence of Kirk he was striving for:
A director I was working with on “Star Trek,” said, “Kirk’s the kind of guy that will jump off out of a plane without a parachute and he knows he’ll figure out a way to land midair.” Obviously, that’s an extreme example. But his instinct, his gut, is his North Star. It’s something that I really wanted to make sure that I captured. And then on top of that, he has incredibly good sense of morality. He is someone who I think is selfless for his crew. He’s someone that, even though he has his bravado, I think at the end of the day, he has a deep sensitivity, and he cares about doing the right thing. I think those are the pillars of Kirk, if I had to really pick apart the archetype.
A “looser” Kirk in season 2
In the season 1 finale, Wesley appeared as Kirk in an alternate timeline when he was captain of the USS Farragut instead of the USS Enterprise during the events of “Balance of Terror.” However, the showrunners have already revealed that in season 2 he will be playing a younger lieutenant Kirk on the Farragut, back in the main timeline of Strange New Worlds. Wesley explained to EW how this younger Kirk is different:
In the season 1 finale, it’s actually a Kirk that we’ve never seen because he doesn’t really exist. It’s an alternate projected timeline of something. If Pike hadn’t died and he was still commanding the Enterprise, what would this world look like? Of course, it doesn’t exist. It’s just in his mind. So he meets Kirk, and Kirk is not captain of the Enterprise. Kirk is captain of the Farragut. Kirk has never met Spock, he’s never met Uhura, he hasn’t gone through all the things that the original Kirk had gone through. So, in a way, it allowed me to… I’m not gonna say whatever I wanted, but it’s a looser interpretation, right? We’re not sticking to a regiment. So it was a little liberating because I didn’t have as much pressure. I can’t talk about season 2 too much, but it’s a little bit more in line with a Kirk that we know, but it’s pre-Enterprise. The most important thing is, to answer your question, is to maintain that sense of Kirk having this incredible gut instinct that he relies on, that is preternaturally accurate in a way, a morality, courage, charm, humor. We don’t get to see as much of that humor in the season 1 finale because there’s something very intense happening. Season 2, we get to explore a little bit more of Kirk.
Wesley talked to Variety about how Kirk will have more of his trademark charm in season 2:
It’s sort of an iconic moment for Kirk: He’s talking to Pike in the first scene, and then Spock interjects, and Kirk is intrigued by this man who said something that Kirk immediately flags as, that’s pretty sharp, that’s pretty wise. I want to capture that he recognizes, “Oh, that’s an interesting guy,” and they form a connection, even if it’s for a split second. Little Easter eggs like that. I wanted to capture a little bit of that bravado, but at the same time, that particular episode, there was a lot at stake there. There was less room to play with Kirk’s humor. There was some charm, but he was very mission driven in that episode, so we didn’t explore Kirk as much as we will in Season 2.
I can’t talk about it too much, but man, I had such a blast on Season 2. The writing is so good. It’s so fun. Season 2 is where we get to really let loose and explore Kirk. I can’t wait for everyone to see it.
And to Cinemablend, he talked about how Kirk and Spock will interact in the upcoming season:
In Season 2, we get to explore more of [the Kirk and Spock] dynamic. I can’t get too much into it. What I will say is that Ethan and I are actually genuinely friends now. It’s so funny, and I’m not sure if it’s subconscious, but we actually have this Kirk/Spock dynamic in real life. It’s so funny. We chat, we hang out, we’ll grab dinner, we’ll go get a drink. We text all the time. We have this sort of natural thing that he and I have developed. It makes it so much easier on screen because we can kind of just be ourselves.
Still Pike’s show… for now
Bringing Kirk onto a show that already includes other legacy characters introduces the idea that Strange New Worlds could become a new version of Star Trek: The Original Series. Wesley made it clear to Cinemablend that this show is still about Pike:
[U]ltimately, in Season 2, this is still Pike’s show. It’s Pike and Spock and Uhura. It’s pre-Kirk Enterprise. Everything that happens, Kirk is part of that timeline. It’s just not Kirk’s show, that’s just [not] what this is, yet [laughs].
And when asked by Variety if he expects to be playing Kirk for a long time, the actor demurred:
Um, I can’t answer that. I know that when I was doing my [first] Zoom [call], because I had done [“The Vampire Diaries”] for a while, They said, “How would you feel about jumping on the show for a while?” It was that kind of stuff. But ultimately, “Strange New Worlds” is pre-the Enterprise that we know, and I really think that that’s what this show is. Kirk is coming in, and he’s a part of that universe, but this really is Pike’s show in terms of him being the captain.
Ultimately, I don’t know what their plans are. All I can say is that I’m really enjoying being a part of this storyline, because it’s a Kirk that we’ve never seen. This is a younger Kirk. It’s before he was fully developed as a man. I know we saw a little bit of that with Chris Pine in the J.J. Abrams films, but it wasn’t part of the original canon. That’s the Kirk we’re dealing with [on “Strange New Worlds”]. So anyway, I really don’t know.