Not everyone gets a chance to play a superhero, even actors. So when Syfy offered Ryan Carnes the chance to bring ‘The Phantom’ to life for its four-hour miniseries that debuts Sunday, the actor jumped at it. Especially since there is a chance the outing could pave the way toward a series.
However, he still needed to spend time learning about this character created by Lee Falk in 1936.
“I was somewhat familiar with ‘The Phantom,’ so when I got the audition for the project, I did some research,” Carnes told reporters in a recent conference call that included Airlock Alpha. He also watched the previous movie version with Billy Zane, but said he didn’t want to feel constrained by previous movie versions.
“It was a re-imagining, and it was a very new take on an original series,” Carnes said. “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.”
“The Phantom” is about a young man whose life takes a dramatically different course after finding out about his birth parents, and a powerful legacy bestowed upon them. Carnes stars as law student Chris Moore, who struggles to reconcile his birth origin and alternate identity as Kit Walker, the son of a legendary hero.
The miniseries follows Chris/Kit as he battles villains, discovers love and embraces his destiny.
Those were aspects that attracted Carnes to the project, saying he looks for scripts that are going to challenge him in some way, and push his boundaries.
“Also, I really like to find characters that have something to say, that are not two-dimensional … that have a really great arc,” he said. “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.”
Carnes said it was interesting the different paths writers Daniel Knauf and Charles H. Knauf created, by making him young and a law school student.
“That is a time of great transition in any young man’s life,” he said. “When you’re 22, you have no clue. So I thought it was really interesting to make that choice to just through 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 [and] now you have no idea.”
“The Phantom” is really nothing more than back-to-back movies for Syfy, which allowed Carnes to get a sense of not only the beginning of his character, but the end.
“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,” he said. “So it’s really challenging and you’ve really got to sort of fly by the seat of your pants.”
However, Carnes said he would be interested in donning the costume again if Syfy were to treat the miniseries like a backdoor pilot and make it into an original series for the network.
Carnes has made a name for himself in mainstream as Justin in “Desperate Housewives” as well as Laszlo in the “Doctor Who” two-parter, “Evolution of the Daleks” and “Daleks in Manhattan.”
“In terms of ‘Doctor Who,’ the biggest challenge for me there was sitting through four hours plus of makeup every day,” he said. “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.”
“The Phantom” is long, but viewers need to step in with an open mind, and be willing to surrender to viewing something that is an entirely different story in some ways.
“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,” Carnes said. “So I would just encourage them 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.”
“The Phantom” premieres June 20 beginning at 7 p.m. ET on Syfy.