The Inverse Interview

Paul Wesley Reveals Why Men Go Wrong

The Saturn Award-winning actor just dropped a shocking horror movie on toxic masculinity.

Paul Wesley as James T. Kirk in 'Star Trek: Strange New Worlds' Season 3.
The Inverse Interview
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Paul Wesley knows a thing or two about playing complicated men. In his new film — The History of Evilhe stars as Ron, a man living in a dystopian, but horrifying realistic, future in which an extremely nationalist version of America becomes the dominant power. In this world, Ron starts as a kind of sympathetic family man but slides into toxic and brutal viewpoints, which transform him into a villain. To say this character is in the mold of James T. Kirk would be wildly incorrect. But just as how Wesley doesn’t play that famous Star Trek hero as a one-dimensional guy, the downward slide in History of Evil isn’t black-and-white either.

“The best thrillers and horrors for me have a deep subtext,” Paul Wesley tells Inverse. “And to me, this was a really interesting cautionary tale.”

After playing Stefan in The Vampire Diaries, and his current role as James Kirk in Star Trek: Strange New Worlds, Wesley’s star is on the rise in the world of genre, and he seems to be kicking into higher warp factors every year. Just before The History of Evil hit Shudder, and just after he picked up his first Saturn Award (for best Guest Star in Strange New Worlds), Inverse caught up with Paul Wesley to talk about horror movies, playing bad men, and how he’s diving deep into hardcore Star Trek books for Strange New Worlds Season 3.

This interview has been edited for clarity and brevity.

You’re terrifying in this film. What made you want to do A History of Evil?

My favorite genres, whether they be fantasy or horror are always when there’s deeper meaning. There's an obvious arc here. I mean, obviously who he is in the beginning, is not who he ends up as. There were some similarities to The Shining, which I liked, but all in all, I just thought it was a very interesting take on masculinity and nationalism. It’s a real conversation piece after you finish the film.

This movie really explores the seductive nature of bad male behaviors. I wanted to unpack that a bit.

I think Ron is sort of a little bit lost. Right now, we do have this sort of divide where there are certain men who feel that they need to be jacked and beat the sh*t out of people. And I think the argument here is that you don't really have to be that way to be masculine. I hate to use this term because it's so overused these days, but this kind of selfish and aggressive behavior is a form of toxic masculinity.

This brings me to James T. Kirk. He’s back in Strange New Worlds Season 3. Will he be more selfless or selfish this season?

If you read the book, The Autobiography of James T. Kirk, he's not surefooted in the beginning and he knows what he wants to accomplish. I think he's more open and he’s trying to learn from people and trying to figure out what kind of leader he wants to be. I haven't read all the [new] episodes, but, as Season 3 progresses, you’re going to see him becoming more surefooted. You’re going to see him becoming a little bit more of the guy that you can imagine sitting in a captain’s chair. Does that mean he’s selfish? No, but I think he in a way will seem more selfish because he knows he’s going to have to make decisions that aren't necessarily always going to please everyone.

Paul Wesley at the 51st Annual Saturn Awards in February, 2024.

Variety/Variety/Getty Images

Congrats on the Saturn! What was it like to win a Saturn?

I had heard of the Academy of Science Fiction but didn’t really know how big it was. I show up, and it’s like Chris Nolan, and James Cameron, and Jodie Foster and I’m like what is going on here? What am I doing here? [Laughs]. It was amazing and I was blown away. But for me, because I haven’t done the traditional James T. Kirk — I didn't do a Shatner sort of impression — I wanted to do something a bit different, and that was a bit of a risk. And Captain Kirk is all about risk. And when I got this award, it’s like, I know awards aren't everything, but it was a little bit of an affirmation that, cool, maybe I should keep going and doing risks, taking risks and exploring a version of Kirk that perhaps isn't the one that's been portrayed.

It was just a really nice thing because I understand this is such a beloved character and it’s divisive. It’s just nice to get some recognition. It was a really touching moment for me.

You're a confident guy, you’re a great actor, but does an award like that give you extra confidence?

I have a friend who said — and I don't know, maybe he was repeating a quote — but he said: “Don’t start believing the bad reviews, or you’re f*cked. And don’t start believing the good reviews, or you’re f*cked.” And I think that goes for awards as well. I think the minute you start thinking because I got this award, now I can behave differently, you can’t. I think you're always on a quest. You're always wanting to evolve and you're always needing to adapt. I’m thrilled and honored, but you just got to keep going on the journey that got you there.

The History of Evil is streaming on Shudder. Star Trek: Strange New Worlds Season 3 is currently in production.

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