Star Trek: Strange New Worlds brought in Paul Wesley to play James Kirk.
William Shatner helped make Star Trek famous with his incredible portrayal of the uneven keel, adventurous, ladies’ man James Kirk. Or, James T. Kirk if you’re a long-time fan. His portrayal of Kirk was iconic, and it made him a household name for decades to come. Even into his 90s, Shatner is still seen as a legend, still acting into his twilight years.
To try and replace him in the role of Kirk is an enormous task, one as large, if not larger as replacing Leonard Nimoy as Spock. While Spock and Nimoy may be the more popular pair, it’s also the easier role. So finding the right guy to play Kirk was beyond important.
Star Trek: Strange New Worlds tagged Vampire Diaries star Paul Wesley to play the younger Kirk on the series, a role Wesley was well aware he couldn’t pull off by just copying Shatner. Wesley talked about this issue with Variety, saying;
"I think one of the most important things that I said — well, they may have said it first and I entirely agreed — was that I think the biggest insult would be to do an imitation of what William Shatner originated and what people fell in love with. If I did that, it would just be a reminder that I’m not William Shatner. And that in a way it’s almost like an insult of character, right? I think William Shatner, when you watch the original series, he’s so incredibly charming. He has this incredible sense of leadership, but it’s done with this little twinkle in his eye that no one can quite describe. It’s what made him so famous. It’s what made that character so iconic, and it’s just not something you can easily replicate. That’s something that comes organic to the actor himself."
Paul Wesley was right to try and not match William Shatner’s mannerisms
The Shatner mannerisms are iconic and are often over-enacted by those trying to emulate the famed Canadian actor. The parodies are very over the top at times and don’t do a good job of really highlighting how truly subdued Kirk was most of the time.
So for Wesley to bring a different approach to Kirk, one that falls in line with the character, but not the actor is a smart move and one that will pay off in the long run. The last thing you want to do is try and be something, or someone, you’re not. Especially as an actor. If you don’t naturally act like Shatner, trying to do so could be seen as forced.
The last thing you want to do is force a performance, which is why a lot of fans enjoy Wesley’s take on Kirk.