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Paul Wesley on ‘Shadowhunters’: ‘Directing Television is a Really Incredible Resource’

Variety logo Variety 7/17/2017 Danielle Turchiano
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For eight years, Paul Wesley was best known for his role as the tortured Stefan Salvatore on “The Vampire Diaries.” During his tenure on the long-running CW supernatural drama, Wesley had a few chances to sit in the director’s chair and shape more than just the character he portrayed. Now that “Vampire Diaries” has come to an end, he is able to focus even more on behind-the-camera work. While his production company, Citizen Media, has been developing projects across several networks, he recently got the opportunity to direct an episode of Freeform’s supernatural series “Shadowhunters.”

“I’ve been preparing myself to direct a feature film, and directing television is a really incredible resource,” Wesley tells Variety. “It’s an incredibly well-seasoned machine. You have all of this crew, and all of this talent, and it’s a support system.”

Ahead of his July 17 episode of “Shadowhunters,” Wesley talks to Variety about his transition from being in front of the camera to behind.

At what point did you decide you wanted to focus on directing when “The Vampire Diaries” ended, and how did “Shadowhunters” come into the plan?

Once my series came to an end, I sat down with Warner Bros. [and] I sat down with a bunch of different networks and had some meetings. I sat down with Freeform, and Matt Hastings, who is a producing director on the show is a friend of mine, and he’s a fan of mine, and a really lovely guy. He’s always been very supportive of me, and he put in a very good word. And the rest is history.

Was it a conscious decision to stay within the genre world?

It’s so funny, I sort of fell into genre roles, but I’m not really a genre guy. Even as a kid, with things that I watch, I’m genuinely not, so it’s so funny that I fell into this category, [but] I think that when you have certain experience, people want to hire you for what you’re known for. I have a couple of years of experience in that world, so people know I’m capable of doing a good job in that genre.

As an actor on “Vampire Diaries” for a number of years before you started directing episodes, you had a deep history with the show. What kind of prep work did you do to feel as connected to “Shadowhunters?”

I had heard of “The Moral Instruments” and I had heard of “Shadowhunters,” but honestly, it was a lot of reading up about it and getting into the mythology of the books. I knew the books were extremely popular, and I went on the Wikipedia page, and they created for me a PDF of all of the characters and backstories. I did research. And then really, it’s about watching some episodes and understanding the shooting style. It’s a lot of green screen and a lot of CGI and VFX. There was a fair amount of VFX on “The Vampire Diaries,” but there wasn’t nearly as much green screen, and so I wanted to understand that a little bit more. It was definitely a quick learning experience!

What was the biggest surprise for you on the “Shadowhunters” set?

I’m not blowing smoke here, and I don’t want to say surprised in terms of underestimating them, but I was pleasantly surprised [by] how giving and nice and generous the actors were. They were so willing to really try out whatever I suggested. They’re just really lovely people, and I was very impressed at what a good group it was. It made my life a lot easier! When a show’s already established, and a director comes to set, it can be quite the intimidating experience. This was my first time going onto a foreign set, and you really do want to bring the best out of people, so I think in hindsight, the next series I do, I’ll take that into consideration when a director shows up. I want to be as open-minded as these guys were with me.

You’re developing a number of shows as well. Is your plan to direct one or two of them if they go?

If I could be so lucky! I’ve sold five shows now. We have five shows in active development at networks. I just actually extended my deal at Warner Bros., as of [a couple] days ago, which is great. They’ve been so supportive and fantastic, and I couldn’t be any happier. My partner Bob [Levy] and I, we have a handful of projects now that we’re going to be taking out. So if one of my shows that’s in active development goes to series, I’ll put my hat in the ring. But even though I’m a producer on the shows, I’m not at the top of the chain. I’m going to do my best to be a part of them because I really believe in all of them, and there’s a few I would love to even be in, so we’ll see.

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