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EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW: Ryan Carnes is The Phantom

Lee Falk’s The Phantom has been in existence since 1936, but the character has only been portrayed live on film by three actors: Tom Tyler in a 1943 movie serial, Billy Zane in a 1996 feature film and, now, by Ryan Carnes, in a four-hour event airing on Syfy this Sunday night, June 20th.
Carnes (Desperate Housewives, Dr. Who) stars as The Phantom and his alter ego Kit Walker in this re-imagined version of the classic comic book transported to present day. Isabella Rossellini (Blue Velvet) guest stars in a villainous turn as Lithia, the head of an experimental mind control program. Also starring are Sandrine Holt (24/The L Word) as The Phantom’s trusted advisor, Guran and Cameron Goodman as Walker’s love interest, Renny.

The Phantom relies on his wits, physical strength and skill with weapons over superhuman powers. In this contemporary version, directed by Paolo Barzman (The Last Templar), young Chris Moore Kit Walker survives an attempt on his life but his mother’s life is lost. Flash forward nearly 20 years and Chris, raised by loving adoptive parents, is now a young law student who, unbeknownst to him, is really Kit Walker and next in line to become The Phantom, a role passed down from generation to generation in his family since the 1500’s. Hoping to stop the ascension of the next Phantom, the notorious and deadly Singh crime syndicate sets a plan in motion to kill Kit and simultaneously start an international war.

In the following interview, Carnes, who was born December 6, 1982 in Pittsfield, Illinois, reflects on the character and the film itself, which he is hopeful will go to series.

EARTH’S MIGHTIEST: What’s your overall feeling about The Phantom?

RYAN CARNES: In all honesty, I’m very proud of it. It is, I think, certainly the most challenging work that I’ve ever done and I’m really proud of the finished product. That was basically the equivalent of two feature length movies that we shot, all out of sequence. When you do something like that, I don’t think it’s really possible for one to know how it’s all going to come together, whether it is going to track really well, and how easily the story is going to flow. I wondered how my performance was going to track – all of those things are considerations, but I was really, really pleased with the end results. I’m just excited for it to air.

EARTH’S MIGHTIEST: Even though there was a movie in the ‘90s, I wonder how well known the character of The Phantom is by today’s audience. What is your reaction to the name The Phantom? Did you even know who the character was?

RYAN CARNES: To be completely honest, I was not familiar with The Phantom when I got the audition. Which was actually cool, because I got to read the script with no preconceived notions. I read the script before I did any research, so I just got to look at it as it was on the page as the story unfolded. This character was a brand new character to me, and I think that was maybe to my advantage. Even though I did check the character out and investigate the story, then when I got the role I did a lot more of that, obviously, I made a conscious choice that I wanted the information, I wanted to know how people viewed this guy and how he was portrayed in stories, but I didn’t want to JUST base my performance on all of those things. I wanted it to still be something that was a new character to me. That was my approach, and it was cool to learn about it. It’s definitely been a dream of mine to be in a project like this and get to play a superhero.

EARTH’S MIGHTIEST: As a kid, had you been into comic books?

RYAN CARNES: Actually, I wasn’t, so it was a whole new world to me. For me, I grew up in a very small town in Illinois, on a farm. I played in the woods and made up my own games. I think with sports the thing that was bigger than me was pretending to be Michael Jordan and winning the game at the buzzer. That was the larger than life person I identified with.

EARTH’S MIGHTIEST: What’s interesting is that you were learning about this character at about the same time that Kit is learning about him.

RYAN CARNES: There’s definitely truth to that. Also, I think I could relate to a lot of the smaller and symbolic things that Chris and Kit were going through just in my own life and just in terms of growing up and trying to make that transition from boy to young man to man. All of those things were very relevant to me and I got to really sort of look at my own self in the mirror as this process of stepping into the character developed.

EARTH’S MIGHTIEST: Do you come from a angsty or troubled background like he did? I don’t mean the dramatics he went through, but in terms of some kind of pain in your life?

RYAN CARNES: Wow, that’s a great question…Actually, yeah, I could really relate to a lot of the emotional turmoil. People who know me very well now at this point in my life would probably understand that. People who know me less well or knew me earlier in my life, maybe wouldn’t understand it. I had a good life as a kid. I had two very loving parents, loving grandparents, great family around me. I’ve had a very loving, nice life, but nonetheless have had to deal with certain of my own internal conflicts as I’ve grown up. I can DEFINITELY relate, especially in terms of trying to figure out what I’m supposed to do with my life. Am I doing it? Am I meant to be more? I think those are a lot of the questions that young people and certainly people in their early ‘20s ask themselves. So, yeah, I can definitely relate, at least symbolically, with what Kit was going through. It’s cool, because it made it not just an acting experience for, but it also made it a very personal growth-promoting and healing experience for me in a lot of ways.

EARTH’S MIGHTIEST: In the course of the film you go from Chris to Kit/The Phantom. How did you view these two guys in the sense that you had to have an idea of who this guy was before he learns about his destiny as The Phantom and then the guy who becomes The Phantom. Did you kind of view them as different characters?

RYAN CARNES: That’s a two-part answer. The shorter version is yes. In conversations with Paolo Barzman, the director, we did actually talk about how Chris, Kit and The Phantom were, in many ways, three distinct characters. Different behaviors, different attitudes, different carriage of their body. So that was definitely something that I looked at. I had to figure out, “When does this transition happen and what things change? What has Kit left behind in Chris and what has The Phantom left behind in Kit?” The other thing that I want to say is that although I did look at it that way, at the same time it’s also like The Phantom is still Chris. Chris is still within The Phantom, it’s just a matter of him discovering other parts of himself that were previously unavailable to him. He was that guy all along; but then to have somebody come along and tell him, “You’re that guy….”

EARTH’S MIGHTIEST: Certainly it’s the same guy, but if there are aspects of your persona that are being awakened for the first time, that’s going to change things. And I would imagine it would change things even more once that costume goes on.

RYAN CARNES: That’s definitely a different mindset as well. What I found is that once the costume went on, I was The Phantom and Kit had to check his doubts and his insecurities and fears at the door. Like any human being, Kit has doubts and insecurities and fears, whether it relates to fear of being uprooted from the life he knew and losing every single semblance of that life, including his friends and his girlfriend; or whether it be fear for his own safety and life. Once the Phantom costume is on, it became all about action. It’s instinct. It’s intuition. There’s no time for anything else, and I think in a way, that was a cool realization for me, because in life, as a person, I think when I’m functioning at my best, and at my greatest potential, it’s the times when I am relying on my intuition and my instinct and I’m really present in the moment. As opposed to entertaining any doubts or fears. It’s like three versions of the same guy, but as The Phantom he gets to be that most functional part.

EARTH’S MIGHTIEST: I know you’re not a big comic book guy, but when you look at someone like Batman, Batman is the real person and Bruce Wayne is the disguise. When you look at Superman, Clark Kent is the real person and Superman is the disguise. For The Phantom and Kit and Chris, and the whole shebang, once all of those “personalities” have been awakened and are interacting in your own mind, is there one that is more real than the other?
RYAN CARNES: Off the top of my head, I think that they are all equally real. I’m inclined to say that, I think, because as we just talked about, Kit is really the same person as Chris, he just finds out new information about himself. Some of the details of his life get rearranged. I don’t know if this is a great example, but a blind pet is still the same blind pet living in the same house, even if you rearrange the furniture. So Kit/Chris just has the furniture rearranged on him.

EARTH’S MIGHTIEST: And he has to adjust to the new situation.

RYAN CARNES: Exactly. And in terms of The Phantom in relation to the other two, it’s almost as though The Phantom is the higher self of Kit and Chris. He’s just the higher self that we all have access to as humans; we all have the capability to step into our higher self, it’s just a matter of whether or not we will allow that and will be brave enough and courageous enough to go there. So it’s a disguise in the sense that he can’t allow his true identity to be seen to some people, but I don’t think it makes him any less or more real than Chris and Kit.

EARTH’S MIGHTIEST: Before you saw the actual costume you wore, were you afraid they were going to put you in that purple suit from the previous versions?

RYAN CARNES: Actually, no, because before I read the script, I didn’t know what the original costume looked like. And the script is written the way it was shot, where they reveal they’ve re-envisioned the suit and had come up with something new. Later I went online and saw what they were talking about. I’m sure that in terms of flexibility and things like that, the purple spandex would have been easier to move in, and might have been a little cooler temperature wise, but this suit that I wore was cool. I think there had been some chat on the Internet that some people don’t like it, that they would have liked to have seen the original suit, but I love the new suit. At first it was very difficult; it was very tight and the material was very unforgiving, but as it broke in, it so conformed to my body and it stretched a lot and became VERY forgiving. So much so that towards the end of the shoot we had to do alterations on it. It was fun. It was hot and it was tight, but, hey, I felt like a superhero.

EARTH’S MIGHTIEST: If The Phantom should go to series, are you ready for the idea of playing the character on a continuing basis?

RYAN CARNES: Absolutely. I love the character. I love everything about it: his journey, his transition, his growth. Everything he sort of symbolizes to me and anybody else in the world. I think it’s a great story and I had a great time working with everybody with, so there’s no reason I would be hesitant to jump back into it.

EARTH’S MIGHTIEST: It’s also kind of cool to become a part of the mythos that has been around for so long.

RYAN CARNES: That’s VERY cool. It’s got quite a long lineage and I didn’t realize this until somebody pointed it out to me, but I’m only the third guy to play The Phantom. That’s actually really cool and, knowing that, even more I would love to bring this character back and play him on a weekly basis.

Tune in Sunday night at 7PM on Syfy
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