Paul Wesley directed his first episode of television in 2014. It was a season 5 episode of The Vampire Diaries, the show in which he starred as the noble Stefan Salvatore for what would go on to be eight seasons. He’d add four more episodes to his director’s resume by the time the show ended in 2017. Since then, his television directing career has included Freeform’s hit series Shadowhunters and with this week, he adds Roswell, New Mexico and Legacies — the latest show in the Vampire Diaries universe — to the list.
EW talked to Wesley about his latest projects and his overall experience as a director.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: How did the experiences of directing Roswell, New Mexico and Legacies compare to each other, but also to your other directing experiences?
PAUL WESLEY: One of the things that I welcomed the most with Legacies was the humor. For years on Vampire Diaries we all wanted to flex our satirical muscles a little bit. I think it’s nice to be able to make fun of not yourself but I suppose of the genre and make it a little more of a wink to the audience. I really enjoyed that aspect of Legacies. And then Roswell is obviously a whole different tone and it’s a completely different set of actors, and it’s New Mexico. I’d never shot in New Mexico. It’s very beautiful; there’s big wide vistas and mountains. It feels almost like a western in a weird way. Those were the two big differentiations between the things that I’ve done already.
Do you have a preference between directing something where you’re familiar with the universe or something that’s completely new to you?
I think sometimes being too comfortable is not necessarily a good thing but then at the same time, I completely understand why someone like Cary Fukunaga would want to direct every episode of Maniac for Netflix. Because it’s kind of like one long movie. I think it depends on the show. Obviously if you’re doing six years of a show that’s 22 episodes a year, that’s not sustainable. The same person can’t do it. It’d be great to do something from beginning to end, and I think that is probably the most satisfying because you get to create the world and then you get to complete the world. I do think it’s difficult for directors to come in and step into someone else’s vision, but that’s part of the challenge. It’s a little more mathematical and logic-based, directing television. I mean that in a good way: you need to understand how the puzzle fits together. You need to have the tone, you need to understand what the pacing is like, and then you can add your own individual touches to it I suppose.
With Roswell, you’re coming in after a monster of an episode where the Rosa mystery was laid out in full. What are we dealing with in the aftermath?
My episode had less stunts and was more character-based, which I prefer. I’ve certainly done my fair share of stunts and green screens and all kinds of VFX but my episode of Roswell was a little more grounded, which was nice. I also think a big part of this is that it’s a season one show. That’s very important. I was very flattered when [showrunner] Carina [MacKenzie] asked me to direct because that’s a lot of responsibility. It’s a season one show, you need to find your audience, you obviously you want to impress executives and the networks and the studios and I think to give me the reins for an episode, it’s flattering. Because I’m still a fairly new director.
What has been your greatest challenge thus far as a director?
When it comes to television, the greatest challenge is time. Sometimes things aren’t working in your favor, whether it’s weather or if it’s an actor needs more time because they can’t find the moment. The biggest challenge is making sure you’re on time. You can’t go over a certain amount of hours and I’ll tell you, I’m super proud of Legacies, everyone loves it, but man there were times when I was like, “I’m not going to be able to finish my day.” I ended up finishing all my days and didn’t go over but it’s not easy when you have six, seven people in a scene, stunts, and fight sequences. Listen, I can shoot anything but in order to make it good you need some time and making something good on a short amount of time, that’s the greatest challenge.
Is there a scene or episode you’re most proud of that you’ve directed?
I think the ending of Legacies is very powerful. I really like the way it ends. As far as in general as a director, I’m not so sure. There’s a handful of scenes that I’m really proud of. There’s a few on the Vampire Diaries that I thought were probably some of my favorites. But I can’t quite recall at this point. It’s all blended in into one giant supernatural CW mix-up in my mind.