He's instantly recognizable from starring roles on shows like Suddenly Susan, Cane, and Lost, but this week Cuban-American actor Nestor Carbonell takes a giant leap into the big time—a major role as the Mayor of Gotham City in what is shaping up to be one of the biggest blockbusters of our generation, The Dark Knight. We caught up with Nestor as he was getting ready for the film's world premiere in New York City to talk about how he feels about the near-epic levels of anticipation for the film (it's almost impossible to get a ticket for the movie in any big city this weekend, even for the 6AM shows), plus on-set details of Heath Ledger's performance as the Joker, and how two past experiences playing the Caped Crusader prepared him for his role in The Dark Knight.
So, there's quite a bit of hype around this movie...
I know, I'm a little scared. The expectation! But the press has been really kind.
What sets it apart from the dozens of other superhero movies coming out these days?
I love what [director Christopher Nolan] did with Batman Begins, and with this one he just grounded the genre even more so than we've seen before. This is not a shallow premise and it's not a mindless film. This is a very well crafted and very smart film and it's highly entertaining and moving too, very moving. So I know that it's gonna appeal to a lot of people, not just fans of comic books.
He goes even deeper with Batman, the psyche of Batman, and then obviously Joker comes in...he doesn’t fly, he doesn't have superpowers... he's a human being, but obviously a very evil one and with a dark past, which I can't reveal.
Speaking of things you can't reveal, we hear there was quite a bit of paranoia about spoilers finding
their way to the internet, which, amazingly, there haven't been many.
How did the producers keep everyone in line?
Well, when I shot the movie, I wasn't issued a script. A lot of
people weren't issued scripts—I mean, the majority of people did not
have a script. I had a couple questions on a couple scenes so I asked
for permission, and I got a chance to read the entire script on the
set, two hours in a little, closed room. And I'll tell you one thing,
it is a phenomenal script.
Back to the Joker—the late Heath Ledger's performance is a big part of what's propelling the buzz. Is it as good as people are saying?
His performance is Oscar worthy. I don't know if his passing contributed to the buzz or not. But there was one scene in particular, when I announce something to a group of officers, he's in a cage--and this is not scripted--everyone starts clapping after the announcement I make and he starts clapping and laughing at me and mocking me. You just can tell “oh this guy is living the part.” He's in this role, he's in the zone.
Do you find yourself doing similar things when you take on roles, or do you like to keep some separation between yourself and the characters you play?
I certainly try not to take it home, I have a wife and kids, God I don't want to put them through that. You do your homework, you find out who the guy is, you find out what makes the person tick, then you grow from there. But as soon as I leave the set I like to leave the character right there. I don't think I can be on 100% of the time.
We heard this isn't your first experience with Batman, is that true?
I was Batman at a party once. That was a disaster. I filled in for a friend of mine. He gave me this pretty cheap Batsuit, but I didn't know anything about Batman. I figured I would show up and put on a show for the kids, but they were just ruthless. They taunted me—I was almost in tears saying I would never do this again. [Several years later] I did was on this show The Tick, this TV show by [Men in Black director] Barry Sonnenfeld. It was a spoof on superheroes and I played a character called Bat Manuel. So my experience going into Batman was pretty much based on Bat Manuel.