In addition to the showrunners, actor Paul Wesley did a series of post-season finale interviews introducing his James T. Kirk Star Trek: Strange New Worlds. He talks about how he approached the role and how he will be a different Kirk in Season 2.
Mimicking 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, created by William Shatner and later played by Chris Pine in the JJ Abrams Kelvin Timeline films. In all of his interviews, Wesley made it clear that he and the showrunners agreed not to attempt to emulate either performance. For example, Wesley told Variety:
We really respect 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. Respect the character of James T. Kirk, but don’t try to imitate something you can’t touch. It would be almost blasphemous in a way.
With EW, Wesley contrasted Shatner and Pine and said he approached the role in unison with other actors 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 not to offend Kirk from the original series with a spoof [Shatner]. It’s a different interpretation. I think to do an imitation of both [Kirks] would be an insult. We’re just reminding people 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 are old characters that are reinterpreted. Most importantly, respect the integrity of who Kirk is – his wants, his needs, his deep desires, his morals, his spontaneity, his instincts.
He made it very clear to Collider that he doesn’t want to do any impersonation of Shatner:
What William Shatner did is intangible. You can’t mess with William Shatner. He created Captain Kirk. period, end of story. If I tried to imitate William Shatner in any way, I think it would be an insult to Captain Kirk. Right? I think it’s important to understand who Kirk is, what his childhood was like, what he wants, what he doesn’t want, what pillars of his personality and character traits are important for the development of this character. With that in mind, you can then play and create your own interpretation, because that’s it. There is another Spock, there is another Uhura, there is another Everything. You just have to create your own things. You can’t just imitate because that would be too superficial.
And back to Variety, Wesley said that while he didn’t emulate past performances, there was still an essence of Kirk that he aspired to:
A director I worked with on Star Trek said, “Kirk is the guy who jumps out of a plane without a parachute and he knows he’s going to find a way to land in midair.” Obviously that’s an extreme example. But his instinct, his gut, is his north star. It’s something I really wanted to make sure I captured. And on top of that, he has an incredibly good sense of morality. He’s someone I think is selfless for his crew. He’s someone who, while having his bravery, at the end of the day has a deep sensitivity and caring about doing the right thing. I think those are the pillars of Kirk if I had to really pick apart the archetype.
A “loser” Kirk in Season 2
In the season one 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 he will play a younger Lieutenant Kirk on the Farragut in Season 2, back in the main timeline of Strange New Worlds. Wesley explained to EW how this younger Kirk is different:
In the season one finale, it’s actually a Kirk that we’ve never seen because he doesn’t actually exist. It’s an alternate projected timeline of something. If Pike hadn’t died and he was still in command of the Enterprise, what would this world be like? Of course it doesn’t exist. It’s only in his head. So he meets Kirk, and Kirk isn’t captain of the Enterprise. Kirk is the captain of the Farragut. Kirk never met Spock, he never met Uhura, he didn’t go through all the things that the original Kirk went through. So in a way it allowed me… I won’t say what I wanted, but it’s a looser interpretation, isn’t it? We don’t stick to a regiment. So it was a bit liberating because I wasn’t under so much pressure. I can’t talk too much about Season 2, but it’s a bit more in keeping with a Kirk we know, but it’s pre-Enterprise. The most important thing, to answer your question, is to keep that feeling that Kirk has this incredible gut instinct that he’s relying on that’s in some ways supernaturally accurate, a morality, guts, charm, humor. We don’t get as much of that humor in the Season 1 finale because something very intense is happening there. Season 2 lets us explore Kirk a little more.
Wesley spoke to Variety about how Kirk will have more of his trademark charm in Season 2:
It’s kind of an iconic moment for Kirk: he’s talking to Pike in the first scene, and then Spock throws in, and Kirk is intrigued by this man who said something that Kirk immediately describes as pretty perceptive and pretty smart. I want to capture him recognizing, “Oh, that’s an interesting guy,” and they connect, even if it’s just for a split second. Such little Easter eggs. I wanted to capture a little bit of that bravery, but at the same time there was a lot at stake in this particular episode. There was less room to play with Kirk’s humor. There was a certain charm, but he was very mission driven in this episode, so we didn’t explore Kirk as much as we did in season 2.
I can’t talk too much about this but man I had such a great time in Season 2. The writing is so good. It is so much fun. In season 2 we can really let go and explore Kirk. I can’t wait for everyone to see it.
And he spoke to Cinemablend about how Kirk and Spock will interact in the upcoming season:
In season 2 we can explore more of this [the Kirk and Spock] dynamic. I can’t get into that too much. What I’m saying is that Ethan and I are really real 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. Its so funny. We chat, we hang out, we have dinner, we go out for drinks. We write all the time. We have that kind of naturalness that he and I have developed. It makes it so much easier on screen because we can just be ourselves.
Still Pike’s Show… for now
Bringing Kirk into a show that already features other legacy characters leads to 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]After all, in season 2, this is still Pike’s show. It’s Pike and Spock and Uhura. It’s before Kirk Enterprise. With everything that happens, Kirk is part of this timeline. It’s just not Kirk’s show, that’s easy [not] what that is, yet [laughs].
And when asked by Variety if he expects to play Kirk for a long time, the actor disagreed:
Um, I can’t answer that. I know that when I did mine [first] zoom [call]because I had done it [“The Vampire Diaries”] for a while, they said, “how would you feel if you were on the show for a while?” It was something like that. But ultimately, Strange New Worlds predates the Enterprise as we know it, and I really think this series is that. Kirk walks in and he’s part of this universe, but that’s really 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 story because it’s a Kirk we’ve never seen before. This is a younger Kirk. It was before he was fully developed as a man. I know we saw a bit of it with Chris Pine in the JJ Abrams movies, but it wasn’t part of the original canon. This is the Kirk we’re dealing with [on “Strange New Worlds”]. Anyway, I really don’t know.