'The Vampire Diaries': Paul Wesley on Directing, Steven R. McQueen's Exit

Wesley shares his take on 'Vampire Diaries' EP Julie Plec and co-star Ian Somerhalder directing, plus Steven R. McQueen's exit.
Courtesy of The CW

The Vampire Diaries returns from its winter hiatus Thursday with Elena (Nina Dobrev) MIA thanks to Kai's (Christopher Wood) shenanigans in an episode directed by star Paul Wesley.

"That bind is pretty fun, I have to say," The Vampire Diaries co-creator Julie Plec told The Hollywood Reporter. "Kai is so nutty — the teaser is him talking for like three minutes straight. He's babbling about, 'We're here together, and gosh, you're pretty.' Just going on about [everything], and Elena being, 'Oh my God, I don't think I've ever been in the hands of a sociopath before.' She's been with some evil, evil people, but this kid is so unpredictable, and yet completely predictable, because he will always make the mean choice. So she has to fight back in her own smart ways. It's a game of who's trying to outsmart the other. He's trying to experiment on her with his magic, and she's trying to use her strength as a vampire to defeat him. And into that comes the hero squad, led by Damon (Ian Somerhalder), and it all kind of goes down at … the high school, which is kind of fun."

The hour is also special because The Vampire Diaries star Wesley returned to his perch behind the camera to direct. (He previously directed the 2014 episode, "Resident Evil.") Wesley spoke with The Hollywood Reporter about his passion for directing, and what he lessons he applied from his first experience.

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How did your approach change from your first to second time directing?

Well, there were two things: first, I was certainly not as nervous; I was a little more assured. Second, the first time out of the gate, you have this idea of how things will go, and then when one little thing doesn't go the way you planned — which is just inevitable — you don't really know and you don't have experience handling a change. So this time, I was much more malleable if my DP or an actor said [something], I was much more open. I was open before, but I was much more comfortable changing on the day. And it made me realize, the best directors have an idea, but it becomes a really special collaborative effort. Which I always knew, but it was much more apparent this time around.  

Were there any challenges you faced that were unique to this particular episode?

I think the way you approach an episode is based on the content. This script was much different than the previous script I had directed. Vampire Diaries is a pretty complex show. The cameras are always moving, it's a beautiful looking show. There's a ton of stunts, there are a lot of visual effects. My last episode had some visual effects, but this one was more stunt-orientated. And again, the script was a different energy, a different take. Every episode should not be directed with the same [mindset]. You have to honor the style of the show, but each episode has a unique voice. So for me, this was a completely different episode. It's night and day, as far as the last episode I did. It's a much more faster paced, high intensity. But at the same time, there are some emotional moments, especially towards the end of the episode — there's this sort of climactic thing that is riveting. The trick for me with this episode, the fun, the challenge, was the tempo, the tempo. Keeping the audience entertained, but then taking the time to find the little moments where they have a deep level of connection with this character, whether it's empathy or fear, or whatever.

How did directing yourself go this time?

To be honest, I didn't find it as challenging as I thought I would. I made this pact with myself to not over-analyze. Because there's a schedule you have to keep. As a director, one of your jobs is to make the day, and to make the shots you need. And I think one of the problems with an actor directing themselves, potentially, is that most actors are narcissists and egomaniacs. And they're like, "I'm the director? I'm going to do seven takes, because I can." And I just said I wasn't going to do that. It's not fair to everyone, and it's not upholding my responsibility.

I didn't watch playback of myself, and I didn't do it the first time, either. I really just did my scenes. I knew when it felt good to me as an actor, and then I would check in with my DP, Darren [Genet], and would say, was the focus good, did we get the shot we talked about? Great, let's move on. So it wasn't really that tough for me.

You directed one episode last year and one this year. If you had your way, would you expand that?

I'd like to do more than one a year. It's such a fulfilling and enriching experience for me. It opens up another level of excitement for me. I really want to branch out and do other shows. Obviously my schedule makes that tough right now. TV directing, and directing in general, is for me equally exciting — I'm not just directing because I'm on the show and why not? It's something I plan on pursuing on an aggressive level in terms of my passions.

Atlanta does seem to have a lot of shows currently in production there.

Yeah, though the issue is when I'm in Atlanta, I'm shooting Vampire Diaries, and I can't do anything else!

Makes sense. Stefan and Caroline have a bit of an adventure in "Woke Up With a Monster." What can you tease about that?

Stefan and Caroline, they go on this road trip, and then Caroline goes on her own little mission, and then Stefan diverts and goes on his own little mission. They both have their own agendas, so they don't have a ton of interaction. They do, but they're separate storylines in a sense.

What can you preview about the other storylines?

Kai — Chris Wood — has a lot of stuff with Elena. The interactions are pretty amazing. Caroline has a lot to do in my episode, and Candice Accola is dealing with some things with her mom. Those were the two storylines that are the most pivotal in episode, and the most compelling and effective. And if people can get through the episode, then they're really in for a great treat at the end. The last 10-15 minutes, I want to make sure people watch it. There's not a lot I can tease, but I really want to make sure people stay with it; make sure you watch it live. 

Julie is directing her first episode this year. How has that been?

It's really great. She's very decisive, she knows what she wants, she moves it right along. She's very confident, which is very important for a director, because the actors rely on you. I felt very safe; she was great.

Did she ask for any tips since you've done it a few times?

She didn't come to me for tips. Julie's been editing for the past six years, she's in charge of hiring the directors. She went in there with a game plan. I don't think Julie needed any tips from me! [Laughs.]

Ian's also directing an upcoming episode. Have you spoken about directing a show you're also acting in?

Not much. He sat in on a production meeting I was having for my episode to listen in. I've directed two episodes now that he's been in, so I'm sure he was able to observe what I was doing on set. But we didn't talk about it too much. I'm interested to see how he handles the set.

The show is also losing an original cast member with Steven R. McQueen's exit. What was your reaction when you heard the news?

It's an interesting thing. Steven is a sweetheart. The show has been on for six years. I think, inevitably, change is a necessity. I'm not saying Steven in particular, but I think it has to happen. I remember in season one, we lost Kayla Ewell (Vicki), and then season two, it was [Sara Canning's] Aunt Jenna. It's what makes the show exciting. And I hate to say it, because if I was killed off — and I'm not saying he's killed off — it would be hard for me to have an objective opinion. I'd be pissed off. But I think it's important for a show, especially a vampire show, to maintain a level of the audience not knowing what's happening next, we don't know who's going to go. It's a bummer it's Steven, because he's such a sweet kid, and I really enjoy having him here. But he's also young and extremely good looking, and I'm sure he could get on another show in 30 seconds. So I'm not worried about him. But it's a weird end to a chapter.

The Vampire Diaries airs Thursdays at 8 p.m. on The CW. What are you looking forward to seeing? Sound off in the comments section below.

Twitter: @MarisaRoffman

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