One of the most enduring icons of millenial youth is the Tiger Beat poster—sleepover decor wasn’t complete without a dozen or so of them plastered to the host’s bedroom wall. One of the faces most often depicted on those posters was that of Shane West, who stole many a pre-teen heart as Landon Carter in A Walk to Remember opposite Mandy Moore. Fifteen years later, West’s name still invokes sepia-toned memories of a pre-The Notebook childhood crush. But the 38-year-old actor would be unrecognizable in the early-aughts North Carolina of Nicholas Sparks’s imagination. Today, he can be found defending colonial America from supernatural predators as Captain John Alden on Salem, WGN’s blood-soaked reimagining of the witch trials as a front for cavorting with the devil and other occult practices. West, an admitted horror fiend, remembers receiving the script three years ago: “Nothing like it was on TV; nothing like it had been written this way,” he says. “It’s fun to be able to introduce characters that were real human beings from that time period and put our twist on it.” Below, West discusses the parallels between the witch trials and today’s society, revisiting A Walk to Remember and the under-the-radar role that turned his career into a globe-hopping music gig:
Shane West: What really drew me to the show was the theme, or genre, and how well this particular show was written. I was just finishing up Nikita; we knew we were on our final season and we were all looking for new jobs, and Salem dropped into my lap. I’m a big horror fan—thrillers, scary movies, scary TV shows—and this was the first opportunity that had fallen into my lap that had given me that chance. For me it was pretty much a no-brainer.
I was not a big fan of that time period, I knew a little bit about that Salem Witch trials from high school, but I really liked the idea of basing it on fact and turning it into historical fiction but switching the end game: “What if the witches were real? What if they actually were running the witch trials and condemning innocent people to death?” I thought that was a very unique twist on our American history. Any time you can make historical fiction, it can be a little more fun because you can play with things and change things and get away with it. Even some of the smallest characters that have come and gone in three seasons—sometimes a co-star or a guest star—a lot of those characters were based off real people from the time.