THE PHANTOM – Q&A with Ryan Carnes (2010)

A young man’s journey to self-discovery amidst an epic battle of good and evil

“The Phantom” is an original Syfy mini-series about a young man whose life takes a dramatically different course after finding out about his birth parents and a powerful legacy bestowed upon him. Ryan Carnes stars as Chris Moore, a law student, who struggles to reconcile his birth origin and alternate identity as Kit Walker, the son of a legendary hero. The mini-series follows Chris/Kit as he battles villains, discovers love and embraces his destiny. During a recent phone conference call, Ryan Carnes shared a bit about his character and the challenges of the iconic role.

When asked if he had grown up reading about The Phantom in comics, Ryan said, “It definitely has been a dream of mine as an actor to be able to play a super hero at some point. . . In terms of The Phantom, I was somewhat familiar with The Phantom . . . so when I got the audition for the project I did some research. Then once I got the part then I dug in and did a lot more and found out a lot more about Chris and Kit Walker and The Phantom.” He also watched the previous movie version with Billy Zane, but did not want to feel constrained by the prior versions as he wanted to make the role more his own. He explained that, “because it was a re-imagining and it was a very new take on an original series, and I wanted to be able to still make my own choices and my own conclusions based upon what was on the page for me in this project.”

Ryan also shared that when he looks for a good script of a movie or television show, he looks for a combination of things, such as, “One, is it going to challenge me in some way and what are those ways that it’s going to challenge me. Is it going to push me; is it going to push my boundaries? Also I really like to find characters that have something to say; that are not two-dimensional, that are three-dimensional that have a really great arc. . . Obviously, in this show, what an incredible treat to be able to play this character. He has a fantastic arc – a huge arc. He goes from a boy in the beginning and he’s forced to sort of become a man and assume this massive responsibility. So, generally what I look for is just a character that is able to reveal a part of his soul through his journey.”

Then talking about the unique challenges of playing The Phantom and the infamous suit, Ryan diplomatically said, “I’ve never put on the purple spandex, so I can’t speak as to how that feels. I would imagine it feels tight and vulnerable. But I can speak to how it felt to put on the new suit and that was really cool. . . [when] I finally actually put the whole thing on that I went, ‘okay wow, this is pretty rad, I could get used to this’. . and it changed actually. It evolved through the course of the shoot because in the beginning it was very tight and restrictive. I actually had to because of some of the stunts and some of the choreography that I was doing, I actually wore it for rehearsals for the martial arts choreography so I could break it in because it was so restrictive. But very quickly it just sort of loosened up and took on the contour of my body.”

He also talked about the stunt work required for the role and his desire to perform as many stunts as they would let him. “Anything that I got to do was fun. Unfortunately, because of insurance reasons there were some things that I would have loved to have done that I didn’t get to do.” But he was quick to compliment his stunt-double for his fearless performance. “My stunt double Marc-Andre was incredible. He just had no fear.” This is remarkable as his stunt double took his fair share of bumps and bruises during the filming, including a few broken bones during filming “The Phantom.”

Speaking about the differences between The Phantom in the mini-series and earlier incarnations, Ryan said that he found it interesting to make the Phantom so young and a law school student. He elaborated by sharing, ” I found that interesting because that is a time of great transition in any young man’s life. . . when you’re 22, you have no clue . . .so I thought it was really interesting to make that choice to just throw this kid in front of the bus really . . .[to where] you thought you knew what you were going to do with your life sort of; now you have no idea. Now let’s see how you rise to the occasion. So that to me, that was, I think the most interesting departure.”

He was also very cognizant of the fact that because the character was so young that he did not have the lifetime of experience to draw from yet. There was still a lot for him to learn. Ryan shared, “I’d never done any martial arts training and I had to go in and learn some martial arts . . . and, like in terms of the character, he doesn’t know what’s coming at him. It sort of . . . grounded my performance in a certain reality because . . . [my character had] no idea of that scope of what is happening to him. I mean his life has been turned upside down. . . so I think it really added to that.”

As far as one of the major differences for him tackling a role like The Phantom versus Ryan’s work on regular television shows was knowing exactly where the character was going. The story had an actual beginning and an end. He illustrated by explaining that, “in this instance, we were doing two back-to-back movies essentially. I have a lot of respect for actors who do a lot of TV because one doesn’t know from one week to the next really what’s going to end up in the script, what turns and corners the character is going to go around, what new revelations are going to occur. So it’s really challenging and you’ve really got to sort of fly by the seat of your pants. To contrast that with two full length scripts in front of me and I could really chart the journey — the arc. I could track that and that helped me as a performer to be able to I think, give the best version of myself and the best version of the performance. So I loved what it afforded. I had a blast getting to do drama and some comedy. There’s definitely some light moments in it mixed with action adventure it’s like my dream role. It really was.”

But, by far the most challenging aspect of working on this project was the three weeks of night shoots. “I think I might have lost my mind. It was challenging because I was already far enough into the role that I had sort of begun to walk around. I felt as Chris and Kit anyway, and sort of lose track a little bit of myself and then mix that in with being on nights for three weeks where your rhythm is off, your hormones change. By the end of that three weeks I really felt like a zombie. I mean I felt like I was in like a zombie movie. . . I really think that that probably aided my performance and everything that I did because the character was exhausted. He didn’t know what was happening. He was lost, and I think it really worked in my favor.”

He also revealed that he thought the one distinct thing that he did to help make the character more his own was keeping his tennis shoes untied. He wanted to give the impression of the irreverence that his character Chris had because at the core Chris was an irreverent guy and the parkour helped illustrate that as well. He explained that it was a bit of a counter culture rebellious type activity that some guys engage in.

He also thought it was a tremendous honor to work with Isabella Rossellini. Though he was reluctant to talk about her character who is a key mystery to The Phantom story. He also loved working with Sandrine Holt, who he saw as kind of an oracle for Kit. She was somebody that he could trust no matter what and that she was a rock for his character to lean on.

Then, as to working with Cameron Goodman who played Rennie, Ryan enjoyed working with her as well. He felt it was a pivotal relationship for Chris just when his life was changing so dramatically. Ryan explained, “I’ve had those experiences in my own life and those are synchronicities like that are just awesome. I love when things like that happen. So that was really cool to sort of like kick off that relationship. . . the woman who is his love, the love of his life who may in fact bear his children at some point, that’s huge. . . that was a really beautiful relationship to see maintained throughout the mini-series because . . . I think there’s something inside of him – something instinctual that knows that he must protect her — he must hang on to her and it gives him something to fight for.”

Ryan also commented a bit about his prior work on “Doctor Who” and “Desperate Housewives,” sharing, “I would say on Desperate Housewives the biggest challenge was . . . going from the guy who was just John, the gardener’s buddy at school to becoming this guy who breaks down in front of this beautiful woman and says, ‘I think I’m gay . . In terms of Doctor Who, the biggest challenge for me there was sitting through four hours plus of makeup every day. . . I had never done that before . . . since having done that role I have an enormous amount of respect for actors and actresses who allow themselves to be put in a position where they have to wear prosthetics that take hours a day.”

Finally, as to why viewers should tune in and watch “The Phantom,” Ryan said, “I encourage them to try to go into it with an open mind and attempt to allow themselves to surrender to viewing something that is in some ways an entirely different story. . . it is the same story. It does carry the title of The Phantom. Many of the things are the same, but we really were going out trying to re-imagine a story and tell it in a slightly different way and take some risks. So I would just encourage them just to surrender to what they might see and see if they don’t enjoy it. I would challenge them to just watch it with an open mind and see if they don’t enjoy it.”

Ryan was quick to point out that he has seen the final cut and loved it. He said, “This is a project that I’m very proud of and passionate about and to have an opportunity to talk about it and spread the word is really great for me.” He also acknowledged that the mini-series could be a back-door pilot for an actual series and encouraged as many people as possible to tune in.

“The Phantom” is a four-hour mini-series which premieres on Sunday, June 20 on Syfy from 7 p.m. to 11 p.m.

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