Although he’s most recognizable for his fan-loved portrayal of repentant vampire Stefan Salvatore on The Vampire Diaries, Paul Wesley has been making the most of his time off from filming the CW hit by taking on diverse and decidedly undead characters in Indie films like last year’s SXSW top prize winner Before I Disappear and new romantic comedy Amira & Sam.
In the film, which revolves around the unlikely relationship that develops between Army veteran Sam (Martin Starr) and Iraqi immigrant Amira (Dina Shihabi), Wesley plays Sam’s cousin Charlie, who at first appears to be altruistically trying to help his cousin adjust to life back home by offering him a job at his hedge fund, but we soon learn he has ulterior motives in exploiting Sam’s military service.
Playboy.com recently spoke with Wesley about the charms of playing against type, honing his improv skills with co-star Martin Starr and his pretty space-y pop culture blind spot.
How did Amira & Sam find you?
I was shooting a movie in New York City and we were sharing a production space with this film — we were just leaving as they were coming and there was a little overlap. The director of this film, Sean Mullin, saw me and said, “Oh, I think he’d be good for Charlie.” He gave a mutual producer friend the script. I read it, loved it, loved the character, knew who the actors were who were attached and said, “Let’s do it.” I didn’t think I’d be able to do it because of my schedule on Vampire Diaries but they made it work; we shot on the weekends, it was awesome.
I liked that Charlie’s not a one-note Wall Street banker.
He’s kind of likable, I get that a lot. He’s sort of the bad guy but at the same time you sympathize with him. It was important for me to make him a real human being with actual concerns, I didn’t want him to be a guy who’s twisting his mustache and saying “Ahahaha,” you know? I wanted him to be flawed and confused, trying to hold on to an empire that was slowly crumbling. A lot of these Wall Street guys are basically kids who get put in positions of power because there are limited amounts of regulations and they play with other people’s money. He’s basically a kid who was given the keys to this sort of kingdom that is a mess. Why did he get the keys in the first place, you know?
Where does this film fit in with regard to the kind of roles you’re usually offered?
I have such a small window of time to shoot anything that I don’t read scripts during the year. I do for other reasons, for producing and whatever, but I don’t generally act in anything. I just shot this movie about a month and a half ago, but the reason I was able to do it was they shot me out over a weekend.
Are they all starring roles? All genre? Teen romance?
No. I look for everything. I tell my agents, “Please, even if you think I’m not right for it send it to me, more so than if you think I would be right for it.” I really want to play against type. My go-to thing is that I want to do something that is the exact opposite of what you think I would do. That’s my goal as an actor while I’m on a TV series.
What was your favorite most New York moment while filming there?
Oh, man. We had this one scene that was cut, but we got this amazing location where my character was sitting in his office, it was wild, this location was overlooking Ground Zero. My character’s office was on like the 40th floor directly above where the towers stood. I’d never stood at that aerial level — and I grew up in and around New York my whole life — so it was kind of eerie and also very appropriate.
What was your first encounter with Playboy?
[Laughs] Oh man, I don’t know. I wish I could tell you specifically. It’s one of those things where I’m sure somebody stole it from their dad and brought it on the school bus. I can’t recall exactly but it was probably at a young age, an appropriately young age, that’s why I can’t recall it.
If you were really young, you could’ve been in the “Eww, naked women are gross” stage.
Yeah, maybe it was a little bit like, “Oh my God we are doing something highly illegal.” More fear of repercussions.
What movie scared you most as a kid?
For sure The Shining.
What’s your pop-culture blind spot?
Oh my God. Everything. I swear to God. Name three things and I won’t know any of them. I’m not trying to be cool. To be honest with you, I don’t watch television, which is a really weird thing to say because I’m on it and I direct it, but I just don’t know what it is. I will occasionally throw an episode of something on Amazon or Netflix but very rarely. I’ll be at an event and I’ll walk by someone and they’ll go, “That’s so-and-so from so-and-so” and I’ll have no idea. Here’s one, I have never seen Star Wars. I feel like that makes me sort of original. So I’m not watching Star Wars just so I can have that story. [Laughs.]
Let’s pretend you’re on death row: What’s your last meal?
I would say the pirogues that I used to eat as a kid in Poland that my grandma used to make. Those are one of a kind, you can’t get them anywhere. They’re essentially dumplings filled with whatever you want. For me it’s a lot about nostalgia, an eastern European dish and just reminds me of my childhood.
What was your first car?
My first car was a car I shared with my father, a Mazda 626.
What’s your favorite mistake?
I guess if it was a mistake I wouldn’t think of it as a mistake… I don’t know. I can’t think of anything.
What was the first song you knew all the words to?
“Ice Ice, Baby” by Vanilla Ice.
Do you think you still know all the words?
Oh, for sure.