Post Mortems

Star Trek: Strange New Worlds Actor Paul Wesley Breaks Down That Surprise Kirk Cameo in the Season 1 Finale

Paul Wesley in Star Trek: Strange New Worlds

Warning: The following contains spoilers from the Star Trek: Strange New Worlds Season 1 finale.

Captain Pike is forced to confront his tragic fate in Star Trek: Strange New Worlds’ Season 1 finale, and his unexpected journey brings about a surprise cameo: Captain James T. Kirk (played by Paul Wesley). It was previously announced that the Vampire Diaries alum was cast for Season 2, which is why his early appearance in Wednesday’s episode comes as a shock.

Catapulted into an alternate timeline where he isn’t horribly disfigured, Pike meets Kirk, who is captain of the U.S.S. Farragut and who has offered his help with the current Romulan crisis. At first, Pike and Kirk don’t see eye-to-eye on how to handle the sensitive situation. Kirk wants to strike before things get worse while Pike opts for a more measured approach.

Star Trek: Strange New WorldsBoth captains eventually come to an understanding, especially when Kirk shows up with a fleet of mining ships as part of a clever fake-out while Pike tries to reason with the Romulans. Their plan ultimately fails — the Romulans launch their assault, and Spock is gravely wounded —  but Pike sees Kirk as a good captain and potential successor.

In light of Kirk showing up in this week’s finale, TVLine hit up Paul Wesley to discuss that surprise appearance and what to expect from Kirk in Season 2. (See below for our full interview as well as new photos from the episode.)

On his interpretation of the iconic captain…
“There are innate qualities to James T. Kirk that you can’t ignore — his instinct, his courage. He cares about his crew more than anything in the world. He’s a magnet. People are really drawn to him, and they trust him. I had to be aware of those characteristics, but I couldn’t just do an imitation of William Shatner. His interpretation and what he did is quite sacred, and I think it would be an insult to just suddenly do this modern-day imitation of Shatner. It really needed to be a different character, something that wasn’t an insult to the original Kirk.”

“In the Season 1 finale, it’s a very plot-driven episode [and] we don’t really get to explore Kirk in the same way that we do in Season 2. It’s a younger Kirk. It’s a Kirk pre-Enterprise, and so we get to really have fun [next season].”

On looking the part in the show…
“Of course we had the side part. When you watch the original series, Kirk goes through sideburn phases where he has really pointy sideburns. Sometimes the sideburns don’t exist. He has these different haircuts, and so we got to play with it a little bit. We actually change his hair up a little bit for Season 2. When we meet them in Season 1, it’s a different Kirk. He’s captain of the Farragut. He’s never met Spock. He’s doesn’t know who these people are. But [in] Season 2, it’s within the canon. It’s the Kirk that we know [but] pre-Enterprise, so we got to play with it.”

On how the alternate timeline in the finale lessened the pressure of playing Kirk…
“It’s Pike’s episode. It’s Pike coming to terms with a future that he is seeing for the first time, and Kirk comes in as part of that storyline. It was a little liberating to know that this is a Kirk no one’s ever seen before because he doesn’t really exist in this timeline. It’s all in Pike’s head. It took a little bit of that pressure off the first episode that I’m doing.”

On what it feels like to sit in the captain’s chair.
“When he’s in the chair, it’s really about giving commands, and it’s so futuristic. You have this whole crew working, and he’s really just giving commands. There’s this instinct to want to steer [like the pilots in Top Gun], but obviously, you’re not steering. It takes a minute to figure out. Even after rewatching every episode of the original series, it still takes a moment to get comfortable in this chair and really understand your role as the captain. In the Season 1 finale, I’m captain of the Farragut. In Season 2, it’s pre-captain so I don’t get to sit in the chair as much.”

On the Kirk and Spock relationship…
“Ethan Peck and I have that relationship, which makes it so much easier. I adore Ethan [Peck], and we complement each other in the way that Kirk and Spock complement one another. We have this Kirk/Spock thing going, and I’m not sure if it’s because we know we’re playing [them]. I don’t want to give anything away, but when we do interact on screen, it comes naturally.”

On how he found out about the role…
“I didn’t know they were casting Kirk. Obviously, I was aware of Star Trek. I knew that Paramount+ was doing all of these shows. I had seen the J.J. Abrams films and watched some of the spinoffs of the original series. But it really was the original series that I truly understood. It was literally a call on a weekend with my agents, and they were like, ‘Can you get on a Zoom tomorrow?’ And I was like, ‘Sure, of course.’ It happened pretty quickly.”

Comparing Kirk to The Vampire Diaries’ Stefan Salvatore…
“Stefan is a guy who’s been alive for 160 years, and he’s very tormented. Kirk is a guy who’s much less tormented. There’s a magnetic energy to Kirk. He is enjoying life in many ways, and for me, the big distinction between the two characters is that I’m not sure Stefan was enjoying life as much. Kirk is a guy who takes it all in. He’s a guy that you can’t help but be drawn to. He’s a natural-born leader. He’s someone who really relies on his instinct, and he’s also someone who has a lot of humor, and we get to explore that humor in Season 2. It’s a good time.”

On honoring what came before…
“I know that with a role like this, there’s a lot of scrutiny and rightfully so. I just think it’s important for me to vocalize how much respect I have for this character and for what William Shatner created. It’s really just about paying respect to that character and having fun with that character and doing a whole new different version of it that pays a great respect to who he is.”

Paul Wesley as James T. Kirk in Star Trek: Strange New Worlds

Paul Wesley as James T. Kirk in Star Trek: Strange New Worlds

Paul Wesley as James T. Kirk in Star Trek: Strange New Worlds

Star Trek: Strange New Worlds

Paul Wesley as James T. Kirk in Star Trek: Strange New Worlds

Paul Wesley as James T. Kirk in Star Trek: Strange New Worlds

What did you think of Paul Wesley’s appearance as Kirk in Star Trek: Strange New Worlds‘ Season 1 finale? Are you excited for Season 2? Sound off in the comments below.