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SYFY WIRE Star Trek: Strange New Worlds

Paul Wesley on 'incredibly daunting' task of being Kirk in 'Star Trek: Strange New Worlds'

James T. Kirk is back, and actor Paul Wesley is promising 'a whole new look.'

By Matthew Jackson
Paul Wesley as James T. Kirk in Star Trek: Strange New Worlds Season 1 Episode 10

We've known for some time now that Star Trek: Strange New Worlds would be showing us a new version of Captain James Tiberius Kirk, but we didn't know how soon we'd see him. Now, the secret is out, and the actor behind the newest iteration of the Starfleet legend is opening up about what it was like to put on that gold command uniform. 

**Spoilers for the Season 1 finale of Star Trek: Strange New Worlds ahead.**

Paul Wesley, best known to genre fans for his work as Stefan on The CW's The Vampire Diaries, was announced as the Strange New Worlds version of Kirk earlier this year, but was originally confirmed only for the show's upcoming second season. That meant it came as a big surprise to many fans when Wesley made a surprise appearance as Kirk in the Season 1 finale, launching him into an elite group of actors that includes the legendary William Shatner and the current reigning big-screen Kirk, Chris Pine. 

"Gosh, how many adjectives? I could give you about a hundred and it would still not really describe it," Wesley told Entertainment Weekly when asked what it felt like to take over the role. "Obviously, it is incredibly daunting. Ever since I got the role of Kirk, I'll literally be speaking to someone and there's a massive language barrier and I can't quite communicate certain words. Then I'll say 'Captain Kirk.' There's nobody on the face of planet earth... or I should say, most 99 percent of people know who Captain Kirk is. That is crazy. It's arguably the most iconic fictional character. There's Han Solo and there's Captain Kirk."

According to Wesley, the original plan for his Kirk reveal was to keep it a complete secret until the moment he showed up in the series, but when paparazzi threatened to leak a few set photos they'd snagged from the Strange New Worlds production, the team behind the show decided to announce his casting but not his first appearance. That meant that while we expected Wesley to play Kirk, we didn't expect to see him so soon. 

Kirk's surprise appearance also came with a surprising new status quo for the character. When Captain Christopher Pike (Anson Mount) meets him in the Season 1 finale, Kirk is Captain of the U.S.S. Farragut, seven years into Pike's future, as the Enterprise captain gets a peek at what's to come from his own future self, should he choose the wrong path going forward. For Wesley, playing a version of Kirk who works in a completely different capacity than we've ever seen him before was a helpful boost to his sense of freedom in interpreting the character. 

"In the season 1 finale, it's actually a Kirk that we've never seen because he doesn't really exist," Wesley said. "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."

So, what does that slightly time-twisted introduction mean for Kirk's later appearances in Strange New Worlds? Wesley was, of course, tight-lipped, but he did tease a recognizable version of the character to come. 

"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," he said. "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."

Star Trek: Strange New Worlds will return next year on Paramount+. 

Looking for more sci-fi TV? Check out shows like Resident Alien, Brave New World, Project Blue Book, Eureka, Heroes, Intergalactic, and more streaming now on Peacock. Looking ahead, SYFY has new series The Ark in the works from original Stargate film writer/producer Dean Devlin, as well as Stargate SG-1 producer Jonathan Glassner.