‘Tell Me a Story’ Stars James Wolk and Paul Wesley Discuss Their New Psychological Thriller Series

Paul Wesley and James Wolk return to series television with starring roles in CBS All Access’ Tell Me a Story. Paul Wesley wrapped up his eight seasons playing Stefan Salvatore on The Vampire Diaries in March 2017. James Wolk spent three seasons fending off killer animals on CBS’s Zoo and he played Bob Benson on AMC’s award-winning drama, Mad Men. With Tell Me a Story, created by Kevin Williamson (The Vampire Diaries, Time After Time), Wolk and Wesley found a new project they could sink their teeth into that’s vastly different from their previous television work.

Teamed up together for interviews at the New York Comic Con, James Wolk and Paul Wesley discussed the appeal of the series. They also talked about working on a show created by Williamson and how this series sets itself apart from any other series that incorporates fairy tales into the storylines.

CBS All Access will launch Tell Me a Story on Wednesday, October 31, 2018.

What can viewers expect?

James Wolk: “It’s a dark psychological thriller. I think the fact we’re on CBS All Access is allowing us to play in a streaming and premium space where we’re not bound by the confines of having to round off any edges. It’s really adult. It’s really dark.”

Paul Wesley: “You mean there’s no commercial breaks.”

James Wolk: “No commercial breaks. And Kevin Williamson, our creator, has taken three fairy tales, taken the themes and the ideas from those fairy tales and set them in a modern-day Manhattan gritty setting. There’s nothing fantastical about the show. It feels very real and it feels like you’re watching everyday people go through different traumas and different obstacles. People as their watching will start to recognize this is ‘The Three Little Pigs’ story and this is ‘Red Riding Hood’, and this is the ‘Big Bad Wolf,’ and that’s our show. It’s for people to tune into a drama, a psychological drama, and then realize they’re also seeing fairy tales unfold.”

Where is it filmed?

Paul Wesley: “New York City. New York is like a character. Kevin said…what did he say? He said it’s like the fairy tale where New York City is the woods. Like for ‘Hansel & Gretel,’ ‘The Three Little Pigs,’ and ‘Little Red Riding Hood,’ New York City is the woods. It’s a character.”

Paul, a lot of fans will be following you from The Vampire Diaries. What do you think those fans will really enjoy about this show?

Paul Wesley: “Well, you know I’d like to think The Vampire Diaries premiered a decade ago and a lot of those kids grew up. They’re young adults or they’re full-on adults…maybe they’re senior citizens, I don’t know. But most of them have grown up. I think they probably will be excited by the fact it’s unfortunately nothing like Vampire Diaries, in a good way. This isn’t to put down The Vampire Diaries, but this is a slightly more mature, sophisticated, adult thematic that isn’t as soap opera-esque I suppose. I think that my fans will enjoy the fact that there’s a hint of the supernatural but it’s actually not there. It’s just like the folklore is there.”

What was it from the pitch or the very first script that drew you in and made you want to be a part of this?

James Wolk: “I mean, the first script if you read it is very…like you kind of want to know how all these storylines are going to intersect. You know, it’s like Crash in a way. That movie where you go, ‘How is this all…’”

(Paul reacts to the Crash reference.)

James Wolk: “I’m sorry if you don’t love the movie, Paul! But it’s the idea that you can’t wait to see how all these storylines are going to fit together. And so, for me, when I read the first script I was sort of floored that there could be so much life in three distinct stories. And the characters just felt really real. That got me excited about being a part of it.”

Paul Wesley: “I’m not in the first episode very much at all. I’m barely in it. But, I was surprised that nobody’s ever done this for American TV. I know Once Upon a Time exists but that’s very much in the fantastical. This is very much in the real. I’m surprised no one’s ever done this. They have, obviously, this was a Spanish series or was it Argentina?”

James Wolk: “Argentina. It was an Argentinian show.”

Paul Wesley: “But it hasn’t been done in the US.”

How is working with Kevin Williamson?

Paul Wesley: “It’s interesting. I was just thinking about what Kevin wrote. He went from Scream to Dawson’s Creek to The Vampire Diaries to The Following. They’re all very different. And now he’s doing this which is Kevin’s first foray into streaming cable, I believe. Kevin has this way of writing these really fantastical stories. He’s a little bit like Spielberg. Obviously, Spielberg’s a director but Spielberg if you watch his movies there’s such a huge range but you always care so much about the characters and that’s what Kevin does. He creates these stories that are so fantastical but you really care about the characters. That’s why I think he’s as successful as he is.”

James Wolk: “I really can’t say it better than that. That’s spot-on. The characters feel so… They track, really, throughout the episodes. My character, Jordan, I get to see him over 10 episodes really dissolve because this tragedy befalls him. You can feel Kevin’s hand in it. It tracks great through the 10 episodes and it feels like someone is really going through this.

What Paul said, he knows character, he knows story. It’s such a joy working with someone who knows it so well.”

What can you tell us specifically about your character?

James Wolk: “I play Jordan. Paul and I are in the same storyline. We’re actually on opposite sides of the coin in the same story. He and I, we kind of play opposite of each other but both characters the audiences will root for and root against at certain points in the story. So, you don’t really know who’s good and you don’t really know who’s bad.

You meet my character and he’s loving life until he crosses paths with Paul’s character. Tragedy hits him and he kind of goes in a dark direction.”

Is there been much difference in working on a show that airs on a streaming platform?

Paul Wesley: “I think for me in the back of my mind I’m not worried about hitting certain beats. Or, I’m not worried about length or improv. A lot of times we really do need to be cognizant of it because there’s a commercial break, because there’s a network breathing down your throat. Not to rip on them, but that’s just reality. I just felt like I was able to just kind of let it go a little bit, just relax. It’s almost like you’re in a little improv group – at times, within reason. That was it for me. You were in Mad Men, was that similar?”

James Wolk: “This experience is unique from all of them. I feel like CBS All Access, to their credit, is very much like, ‘Go make your show.’ I feel like they’re not heavy-handed. I don’t know what’s happening behind closed doors and I’m sure that they have a good hand in the creation, but it’s not overpowering where you feel like you’re getting these notes from up above where you’re like, ‘How do I do this?’ It just feels like they’re saying, ‘Go make the show. We trust…’ probably it’s Kevin, and then Kevin hires us. But, they’re letting Kevin make his show. So, it feels like Paul said, we’re making something that just feels really organic and like we’re a part of it.”

Tell Me a Story Paul Wesley and James Wolk
Poster for ‘Tell Me a Story’ (Photo © 2018 CBS Interactive)