Interview date: 01/28/2009
Run date: 02/06/2009
If you’d done a man-on-the-street poll in 1999, asking who Nestor Carbonell was, the average joe probably wouldn’t have been able to tell you…though if you’d given them the right hints, they might’ve been able to identify him “that guy from ‘Suddenly Susan.’” A decade later, however, Carbonell is…well, okay, he’s still not a household name, but he’s reached the point of being “that guy” in a heck of a lot more stuff, including his roles as Richard Alpert on “Lost,” Mayor Anthony Garcia in “The Dark Knight,” and, of course, BatManuel in “The Tick.” Bullz-Eye spoke with Carbonell on the occasion of the DVD release of “Killer Movie,” a “Scream”-like film which serves to skewer both reality TV and the horror genre, but we made sure to ask him about all of the above projects, as well as his work on the underrated CBS drama, “Cane.”
Bullz-Eye: So I actually just finished watching “Killer Movie” last night.
Nestor Carbonell: Oh, you did? (Laughs) Okay, cool!
BE: Yeah, and it’s a lot of fun!
NC: Oh, we had so much fun doing it. (Director) Jeff Fisher is a great guy. I met him years ago when I did a short film with him, and he asked me to do it, and…it was a lot of fun. A lot of fun.
BE: How much did you have to work out to get that eyebrow move right? (Writer’s note: there’s a scene in the film where Carbonell gets a close-up shot and moves only one muscle: the one which raises his left eyebrow.)
NC: (Laughs) I had to get that muscle working just so.
BE: I figured they hired you a special trainer.
NC: Exactly. I can only do one eyebrow, though. My mom can do both, but I can only get the one down.
BE: Given your connection to J.J. Abrams, you should’ve gone out for the role of Spock’s father in the new “Star Trek” movie.
NC: Yeah, right? (Laughs) That would’ve been fun.
BE: So how did you get pitched “Killer Movie” originally? You said you worked with Jeff Fisher before.
NC: Yeah, I worked with Jeff many years ago; we did a short film called “Garage Sale.” And then I recently bumped into him again when I did the film “Smokin’ Aces,” and he was at the premiere. And he said, “Look, I wrote this script, and there’s a part that I’d really love you to play.” And I read it, and I really responded to the role. I thought it was funny, and it was a great spoof on slasher movies as well as reality TV and the industry, so I jumped at the chance. And that was it. I had to fly up there, but they shot my part in a day.
BE: I was going to ask about that, because a lot of your scenes are shot with just a black screen behind you.
NC: There was, yeah. A lot of the confessionals were done in front of a black screen. But I had a lot of fun, and after he cut the film, he asked me to look at it, and we talked about maybe adding more confessionals from all the characters, just to help with the narration of the story. But it was a great, great experience. Jeff’s a great guy, a talented and funny guy. It was a lot of fun.
BE: You also got to do a lot of tongue-in-cheek lines about the industry in general.
NC: (Laughs) Yeah, we really took a shot at reality TV, but I think you’re right, there are some at the industry in general, about celeb-utantes, and about a lot of these people who are in it strictly for the paycheck.
BE: You had a particularly funny line which basically indicates that death was a great career move.
NC: Yeah, my character will stoop to pretty much any level to make a buck… (Laughs) …and advance someone’s career even if their mortality is at stake. We had a lot of fun. And it was a great cast. Kaley Cuoco played this really great celeb-utante, as they call them, and Paul Wesley is the lead, and he’s tremendous. It’s really a good cast, fun, very funny, and talented.
BE: So was Paul the only one you really got to work with?
NC: Yeah, mostly just Paul. And, oddly enough, after we shot it, I worked on this show called “Cane” for a little while, and Paul ended up doing a number of episodes on that show, so we re-connected there. But he’s really great. He really carries the movie.
BE: I was very disappointed that “Cane” didn’t last longer, as I’m sure you are, too. I was out there for the TCA tour in 2007, when they were promoting it.
NC: Aw, thanks, man. Yeah, it was a really amazing cast, and everybody was pretty special, with Jimmy Smits, Hector Elizondo, and Rita Moreno. Pretty incredible. But, yeah, unfortunately, we only got the order for 13. But it was a great experience.
BE: Were you happy with the way it progressed over the course of those 13? Did you feel like it was getting into a groove?
NC: Yeah, I think we were just in our nascent stages, still just trying to find the show, but as it got toward the end of the run, we started getting into more of a groove and settling into our characters and the dynamics, and having more fun with it. So, yeah, with TV these days, with people’s lives and the ratings…well, it was a tough time slot, and we didn’t get the pick-up.
BE: Did you get any idea where the show would’ve gone if it had progressed beyond those 13 episodes?
NC: I don’t know, because they could’ve taken the storyline in so many different directions. But I’ve never really seen many shows, certainly not today, about business. Usually, they’re more about hospitals or about crime, but they’re rarely around a business, especially not a private business and not in this way. So I was hoping that we’d get more into that stuff, and the dynamics of how to grow a business, which we were starting to get into between Jimmy’s character and mine.
BE: Speaking of the TCA tour, I was at the January tour recently, and you were the topic of conversation during the “Lost” panel...
NC: (Laughs) My brother told me about it.
BE: …and, oddly enough, when I changed my Facebook status to mention that I was going to be speaking with you, the first response was from a friend of mine, asking, “Oooooooh, ask him if he wears eyeliner!”
NC: (Bursts into laughter)
BE: So once more, for the record and just for me, do you wear eyeliner?
NC: Let me make this perfectly clear: I do not. I do not wear make-up, and I do not wear eye-liner. No. My brother sent me that article, and I just laughed so loud. I mean, this is something I’ve had to deal with my whole life. When I was a little kid, I was about five years old and living in Mexico, and I remember my mom’s friends would come over and say, ‘Oh, look at his eyelashes!’ I got such a complex about it that I ended up taking scissors to them once, and my mom stopped me and said, ‘What are you doing?’ But they were talking about them, and I got a lot comments about my eye-liner. Eventually, I got over it and was, like, “What are you gonna do?” But I definitely had a complex when I was a kid about having dark eyelashes. But then, later on, as I got older, I remember I was in college in Boston, I had a commercial agent, and they sent me out for some print commercial stuff. And they called me into the office and said, “Look, we called you in to talk to you because we just want you to know that…well, we don’t think you need to wear eyeliner.’ And I’m, like, “What?” “Yeah, it’s okay, you don’t have to wear it for print ads.” “No, I’m not wearing eyeliner!” And I kept dabbing my eyes and saying, “Look! No eyeliner! I’m not wearing any!” And, finally, they started laughing. So, yeah, it’s something I’ve dealt with it in the past, and sometimes, makeup artists are able to diminish it…and they’re doing it on “Lost” more and more…by putting a base on my eyelashes so it makes it less dark. But I didn’t know it would be a question at the TCA tour, that’s for sure!
BE: Well, another friend of mine immediately leapt to your defense and said, “He just has naturally gorgeous eyes.”
NC: Ah, that’s very nice.
BE: Okay, I have to ask you about one of my favorite roles of yours, and I’m sure you get asked about this a fair amount, but…it’s BatManuel.
NC: Oh, thank you! Man, I had so much fun playing that role. It was a lot of fun, and, again, another show with great writing and a tremendous cast. Short-lived. Only nine episodes. But, yeah, that was so much fun. I think it might’ve been a little bit ahead of its time, and I think it also might’ve been the wrong time slot. But, yeah, that was a great experience.
BE: And you instantly ended up as a trivia question: “What actor was in ‘The Dark Knight’ and also played a character named BatManuel?”
NC: (Laughs) Yeah, and, you know, I don’t think I ever told Christopher Nolan about that, but maybe if I see him again, I’ll tell him. But the other thing, too, is that, even before that, I got to play Batman at a birthday party. It was about seventeen years ago, but it was with much less success. I was so bad at it. I hadn’t done any research, and I had a really crappy utility belt, and all the kids made fun of me. I almost wound up in tears. Thank God I had the mask on, so they couldn’t see what kind of pain I was in. But, yeah, between that and “The Tick” and “The Dark Knight,” I’m a regular Batman fan!
BE: I’d guess that kids’ audiences prefer you better now that you’ve contributed your voice to “Kim Possible.”
NC: Yeah, I guess some of them do, anyway. But I have kids now myself, and the few times that they’ve caught it, they’d been, like, “Hey, there he is, making fool of himself!”
BE: So speaking of “The Dark Knight,” were you just as overwhelmed as everyone else by its success? I mean, seriously, it’s pretty nuts.
NC: Yeah, y’know, I don’t think anyone anticipated it. I saw the film for the first time at the premiere, and I was really blown away with what Chris Nolan had done. I mean, I loved the script, it was tremendous, and it came together in such an incredible way. He did just such an amazing job. But he’s such an innovative filmmaker, and he really took the genre into new directions, so on that level, I wasn’t surprised. But, yeah, the response was pretty incredible, so I was really blown away by the success.
BE: With “Lost,” is it mind-bending when you try to work your way through the script? Just in these first few episodes, we’ve seen Richard Alpert at a couple of different points in time.
NC: Yeah, quite often, I’m, like, “Okay, lemme try to figure this out. Now, where are we exactly, and when are we?” But it’s fun. It takes a little while to get your bearings, but once you figure out the time period you’re in, then you adjust. But as you’ll see...now, you’ve seen the third episode, right?
NC: Yeah, I haven’t seen that one yet. But I think that, as the show progresses…or so I’m told…it settles and you’re able to sort of get your bearings in terms of the whole time issue. But they did such an amazing job. They really do. They answer questions, and then they also ask more questions as the show progresses, but I think you’ll find that they’ll provide more answers this year than questions, which is great.
BE: This season, most of your scenes have been with Terry so far.
NC: Yeah, I’m with Terry, and… (Hesitates) …I don’t know how much I can give away, that’s the problem. But I love working with him. He’s tremendous. The whole cast is great.
BE: So the fourth episode will not be your last episode of the season, then?
NC: Um…see, again, I’m not sure how much I can give away! (Laughs)
BE: I understand! That’s why I’m trying to choose my questions wisely, too!
NC: And you’re doing a great job! But, honestly, I don’t know how much I’m allowed to say. I just know that I live beyond the third episode, so let’s just leave it at that. I honestly don’t know my fate, and I’m always surprised and pleased to get a script, and I’m happy to be there. When I used to watch “The Sopranos,” you never knew who was going to live, who was going to die, and who was going to pop up, and I love that element in “Lost,” too.
BE: You did a couple of episodes of “Cold Case” a few years ago. Do you enjoy doing those sporadic one-off appearances on TV?
NC: I do, sure. With that particular job, I worked with a friend of mine: Danny Pino. I’d done a movie with him a year before that called “The Lost City,” with Andy Garcia, and then he called and said, “Hey, do you want to play my brother on this show?” And I said, “I would love to.” So it was great to rekindle with him. But, yeah, I love doing shows like that. For me, a lot of it hinges on who you get to work with, but it’s also on the material, if it’s a good show. And I was very proud to be a part of that show.
BE: I actually had a question of curiosity about your work on “Suddenly Susan,” but it’s about the fact that you survived the retooling of the show, when Judd Nelson left and Eric Idle came aboard and things got changed around considerably. What’s that like for an actor? Do you just hold on for dear life and see where you come out?
NC: You know, you never know. But, actually, that show was retooled from the very beginning. They did a completely different pilot, but then they reshot it and ended up with the cast that you saw for those first three years. So, basically, when it first made it on the air, it had already been retooled, and then later in the run, three and a half years later, they retooled it again. But, yeah, even though you might have a contract and they have the option for you for five years, you never know what they’re going to do with your character, and you take nothing for granted. When a show’s being retooled, you just roll with the punches, and you adapt to the changes and be thankful that you have a job. (Laughs)
BE: (Laughs) So can you compare and contrast the Nelson / Idle years?
NC: Oh, listen, they’re both tremendous talents and great to work with, and it was all a lot of fun. I think most of the episodes with Eric didn’t air on NBC; they only aired in syndication. But both guys, while completely different, were great guys, really tremendous. And for me, it was just an opportunity to work with people I’d never worked with before. They were talented and took the show in a different direction, and it’s nice to mix things up a little bit.
BE: On a “Suddenly Susan”-related note, you turned up on an episode of Kathy Griffin’s show.
NC: Yeah, but I didn’t know that I was going to turn up! I showed up at her Christmas party, and I go, “Oh, wow, there’s a reality show here!”
BE: You don’t tend to show up on TV in non-acting gigs, really. IMDb doesn’t even have you listed as making any talk show appearances.
NC: I’ve done a few. I don’t know what’s shown up there or what hasn’t, but I haven’t really done a whole lot of the mainstream, big network talk shows. But talk shows are always fun to do. I did one in Mexico, of all places. It was when I was promoting “The Dark Knight,” and it was a show called “It’s Already Noon in China,” and it was all in Spanish, since it was for Latin America. But, yeah, I like doing them. They’re always fun.
BE: And, lastly, is there a project you’ve worked on that didn’t get the love you thought it deserved?
NC: “The Tick,” I think. I really do. I think it’s gotten the love now, on DVD, from people who’ve discovered it that way, but it obviously didn’t last long. But I thought it was a special show. “Lost” is certainly a show that I love, and it’s definitely gotten a lot of love, but I think “The Tick” is one that really could’ve been nurtured a little bit more. I always love it when people bring it up. It was really a special show.
BE: Well, I’ll go ahead and keep you on schedule, but…oh, wait, I did have one more: are you signed to the “Smokin’ Aces” prequel that’s in the works?
NC: Well, they’re scheduled to start shooting at some point in March, so as the season of “Lost” winds down, we’re going to try and work that out, so that I can participate in that.
BE: Is it a big role, or is it just a cameo to keep the continuity in check?
NC: Well, it’s a thing where you catch my character about a year or so before “Smokin’ Aces,” but it’s a good part. I loved that part. It was a tremendous experience working with Joe Carnahan on the original film, and I loved the role. It was a lot of fun. He writes so well, with a lot of dimension, so I’m looking forward to going back to playing the role.
BE: Awesome. Well, good talking to you…
NC: Same here, man. Maybe we’ll meet up at the next TCA tour.
BE: Maybe so. And in the meantime, I look forward to seeing you on however many episodes of “Lost” you manage to turn up in. I’m keeping my fingers crossed that you make it at least to Episode 5 or 6.NC: (Laughs) We’ll see!