PAUL WESLEY [Stefan Salvatore]: I was a young actor living in Los Angeles and I’d done six or seven pilots for various networks, but none of them took off. They sent me the script for The Vampire Diaries, and I knew immediately that the show was going to be a hit because it was Kevin Williamson. It was one of those auditions that everyone was vying for, all the young actors were vying for Damon and Stefan because they were such breakout roles. And they wouldn’t see me for Stefan because they thought I was too old. [Laughs]So I went in and read for Damon and had a callback and did okay. Then I didn’t hear anything and went on with my life. I actually think I tested for another show. Then I got a call that they were having a bit of a hard time and had done all these tests and they thought they found the guys and they didn’t.
PLEC: Stefan was the hardest to find. It’s the kind of role that you can’t just cast the smoldering pretty boy because there’s such depth and layers of loss and loneliness living in that character. So you really need a true actor. But you also can’t just hang your hat on a great theater-trained actor who doesn’t also make people’s hearts go pitter patter.
WILLIAMSON: The book destroyed us because if you look at the description in the book, that person doesn’t exist.
PLEC: [Stefan’s] a good man, a good soul, but with a layer of danger because he’s a vampire who struggles with blood lust and struggles with his addiction to this woman and with his fury with his brother.
WESLEY: Once they’d cast Ian Somerhalder, they said, “Because you’re younger than Ian, they’re willing to see you now for Stefan.” There’s a casting director by the name of Lesli Gelles-Raymond and Lesli was the one who kept pushing for me. She kept shoving me down their throats.
PLEC: We pushed production at least once, and we were in danger of being less than a week away from shooting and having no male lead and ultimately — and quite famously — we were sort of pressured into casting Paul Wesley against our desires, which of course means everybody knew way better than us and that we almost missed out on the most perfect piece of casting.
WESLEY: Lesli was like, “Just see him one more time!” And they were like, “Okay we’ll see Paul Wesley again ugh, whatever. We’re over this kid.” [Laughs] So Lesli put me in the room again, this time for the role of Stefan.
PLEC: There just aren’t that many actors who can live in both worlds, the heartthrob world and the serious actor world, and Paul had never been a heartthrob and neither Kevin nor I saw him as a heartthrob, which I think was sort of the problem. There was so much going on in Stefan that a lot of the actors we were reading just couldn’t act him. There was no denial that Paul could act the part we just didn’t see him lighting up the screen but we were just dead wrong.
With Dobrev already cast — even if she didn’t know it yet — and not much time before they needed to start filming, they began the oh-so-important process of chemistry reads. Because, if nothing else, Stefan and Elena’s relationship had to be … passionate.
SIEGA: I had Nina come to my house with a couple of the guys that we were considering and one of them, unbeknownst to me at the time, was her real-life boyfriend. Obviously when they did their chemistry read, they had a lot of chemistry but he just wasn’t right. I could see she was giving it her all and he was too but it just wasn’t connecting.
WESLEY: I showed up to the test and I’m not exaggerating, there were literally 15 guys there from everywhere from Australia to England to New York City. Everyone had flown out. They basically knew they needed to cast this role within a matter of three days and so they not leaving any stone unturned.
DOBREV: I read with a lot of guys and I had different experiences — good, bad, indifferent. It’s not that one person was perfect for it; everyone was just so different. But I remember that Paul was the only one who didn’t speak to me unless we were speaking on camera. Everyone else was trying to schmooze with me and flirt with me because it’s a chemistry read, and that was my first-ever chemistry read so I thought that’s what it was supposed to be as well. I was trying to get a vibe: who did I have the most sexual tension with? And because Paul didn’t speak to me, we had the least sexual tension.
WESLEY: I didn’t even look at her. I saw her looking at me trying to say hello and I refused to even make eye contact with her. And it sounds a little pretentious and actor-y but the scene we were doing for the chemistry read was the first time we ever met, it was our first conversation, and I wanted her to meet me for the first time in the room during the audition so that it was real.
DOBREV: When he left the room, everyone had auditioned and they asked me, “Who did you connect with the most?” And I said, “I don’t know who I connected with the most but I definitely probably connected the least with that Paul Wesley guy.” [Laughs]
WILLIAMSON: We didn’t want Paul until we met Nina. Paul came in like 100 times and every time he came in we’d be like, “Alright, here’s Paul Wesley again.” I liked him; I just didn’t love him. And only once we found Nina and put them together did I go, “Oh he’s really good, who is that? It’s the guy we passed on 15 times.” [Laughs]
WESLEY: Apparently my silly little plan worked.
DOBREV: Then Paul got cast and we ultimately had the best chemistry. It’s the kind of thing where you can see it on screen and you get an energy from the room that I maybe didn’t have a barometer on, but he was absolutely the right choice and the best person for the role. I couldn’t imagine anyone else being Stefan and I’m so grateful that they chose him because now he’s one of my closest friends and we have a friendship that will last forever — vampire pun intended. [Laughs]