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It isn’t rare for a star on a popular, long-running show to direct down the line, but Wesley marks the first member of The CW drama’s core cast to do so. For the 31-year-old actor, directing seemed a natural progression for his career.
“It’s something I’ve always wanted to do ever since I started acting. I’ve always really respected directors. As much as I was interested in acting, whenever I watched a film it was always the directing that really stood out to me,” Wesley tells The Hollywood Reporter. “I always envisioned doing it at one point or another.”
Though his time finally came in the fifth season (Thursday’s episode, “Resident Evil,” marks his directorial debut), talks had been going on as early as season three — and Wesley credited The Vampire Diaries and The Originals’ Julie Plec for guiding him on the right path. “I had talked to Julie about it at the end of season three,” he says. In addition to his on-camera responsibilities, most of season four was spent “prepping” for the eventual day. That meant shadowing directors on set, most notably Chris Grismer; attending preproduction meetings; and studying Marcos Siega‘s pilot more closely.
“I tried to get a mental understanding of what their process was, and it was a lot of question-asking. But I learned a lot in the editing room,” he says, sharing that he watched the editors upload dailies in Los Angeles and was able to “pick their brains” during one brief visit.
One of the biggest challenges Wesley faced was getting into the mindset of a director. “The most daunting thing was whether or not I could psychologically embody the feeling of a director toward the cast,” Wesley says. “I was nervous, but when I got to set, the cast was so supportive.” At the recent PaleyFest event in March, he shared that Nina Dobrev, as a congratulatory gesture, gifted him a life-size painting of her that still sits proudly in his trailer.
But because of his on-camera responsibilities as a series lead, Wesley’s one regret was not being able to see his episode become fully realized in the editing room beforehand. After sending off the footage to the editors to assemble, Wesley was only able to offer “a couple of notes” over email. “That was probably the most frustrating part of it,” he admits.
Another unexpected hiccup was weather-related. In February, Atlanta was hit with a massive winter storm that forced shutdowns on numerous productions in the area, including The Vampire Diaries. The show went dark for a few days. “It was a really long, tedious shoot with weather issues, changing schedules,” Wesley recalls. But the production halt was actually a blessing in disguise, he says, affording him more time to prepare.
The actor has his sights set on continuing his directing endeavors in both TV and film. “For me it’s incredibly appealing. It’s very fulfilling for me. As much as I love acting, it’s a different type of fulfillment, and I definitely want to continue directing television,” he says.
His experiences on the Atlanta set proved fruitful; Wesley will be directing another episode of The Vampire Diaries in season six — “It’s 100 percent happening next year.” Other castmembers have shown interest in directing over the years — Ian Somerhalder told THR in 2011 that “maybe in a couple seasons I’ll be able to get one” — though at the moment it is unclear whether any will follow suit.
Wesley also is getting into the producing game, and his recent project, the indie Before I Disappear, in which he also stars, won an award at this year’s SXSW festival. He also formed a production company where he says he is actively developing material for television and film.
Production has since wrapped on The Vampire Diaries and Wesley already has his eye on the new season: “The cliffhanger at the end of the season can go in many different directions in season six.”
The Vampire Diaries airs Thursdays at 8 p.m. on The CW.
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