When Paul Wesley was 18 he played a werewolf in the short-lived TV series Wolf Lake. He was also seen as Aaron Corbett in the mini-series Fallen, a fledgling angel battling demons. Now back in the genre mode, Wesley plays Stefan Salvatore, a vampire who is trying to leave his past behind as he enrolls in Mystic Falls High School in Virginia. He’s immediately attracted to student Elena (Nina Dobrev), who resembles a woman he loved more than a century ago. But all hell breaks loose when Stefan’s brother Damon (Ian Somerhalder), whom he hasn’t seen for 15 years, turns up in town looking for blood.
I spoke with Paul Wesley about his role and the upsurge of the vampire genre.
What interested you in coming back to do another genre series?
I think what was so appealing about this role was playing a vampire who is born in the 1860s, and has to mask himself as a high schooler. It’s so challenging for me, because the people on the show are sort of all the same age, and I have to get into this place where I’m like, ‘Wait. I’m their grandfather.’
Have you seen Twilight?
Not prior to shooting the pilot. I specifically went out of my way not to see it because I knew that it was a similar subject matter. I think if there are similarities to Robert Pattinson’s character in Twilight, so be it. I take the scripts that are written and do my honest, best portrayal.
Have you done a back story for your character’s 100-year life?
Yeah. First of all, I have the books as reference, which is nice, even though it’s not a verbatim thing, where we’re following the books, word for word. But, I have that as a great reference for back story. Then, as an actor, I think everybody creates a little bit of a back story, especially me. Stefan has so much history, that I have to.
How is the make-up for this?
Make-up is never fun. I don’t care what anybody says. Nobody wants to show up at six in the morning to get made up. Good news is that we don’t have a lot of make-up. We really don’t. We have these contact lenses that we put in. I’ve worn contacts my whole life and it’s not a problem for me, so it really hasn’t been very bad, although we do have prosthetic teeth.
Is Stefan 100% good?
No, absolutely not. No way. He’s a vampire. He is constantly struggling with the dark side. He’s constantly eager, and he has a need to feed on human blood. It’s always there. It’s not easy for him not to do it. I’m making Stefan have a temper, but also passion, love and tenderness toward Elena. He’s vicious and violent. He loves her and he’ll die for her, but he’s a violent creature.
How does that contrast with Damon?
Stefan hates being a vampire. He believes it’s immoral. He has a conflict. He does not want to take human life. He just wants to experience life as a normal human being, whereas his brother is completely basking in this. He loves vampirism. He’s enjoying it. He’s more gluttonous, in that regard.
How is the stunt work to do?
It’s been great because both Ian Somerhalder and I are both very eager and prefer to do it ourselves. Obviously, not if it’s ridiculously dangerous, but I had a stunt where I jumped off the roof, it was like 40 feet, that was me, and it was a free-fall, until the last five seconds, and I loved it. It’s great.
Had you seen Ian in Lost?
I’ve never seen a single episode of Lost. I was a huge fan of Rules of Attraction. I actually thought Ian was amazing in it, so I knew who he was and I was a big fan. When he was cast, I was excited.
Who’d win in a fight: Edward Cullen, from Twilight, or Stefan?
I don’t know enough about Edward Cullen, to be honest with you, so I don’t know what his abilities and powers are. That’s really up to the viewer or reader to decide. Once they start seeing the show, they can make their decision, but I have no idea.
Why are vampires so popular now?
Because they’re empowering, they have an omniscient presence. Being a lowly human, it’s nice to play a character who has this omniscience, but it’s so easy to make that one-dimensional. Vampires are flawed individuals. It’s just that they come off really stable, and that’s what women gravitate towards.
What would be so bad about living forever?
Being a nomad. If you think about it, you can’t really establish relationships with anyone without revealing your secret for more than a decade, before they realize that you’re not aging. So, I think Stefan’s been living on his own because he doesn’t want his secret to be revealed. He hasn’t been able to establish relationships with anybody. That’s lonely.