A Conversation With "The Phantom"

Since 1936, The Phantom has appeared in daily newspaper strips worldwide. Created by Lee Falk, the character is a cross between the classic pulp adventurers and costumed superheroes. With his skin-tight purple costume, black mask and pistols, The Phantom has cut a striking image for over seventy years. However, despite his longevity, the character has only appeared in live action adaptations three times: a 1943 movie serial, the 1996 feature starring Billy Zane and now SyFy's upcoming miniseries, "The Phantom."

For star Ryan Carnes, becoming the third screen Phantom was a something of a dream role. "[I] get to run around, and run away from villains, and chase villains and shoot guns. It was great! I didn't get to do any of that stuff on "[Desperate] Housewives" or "General Hospital."

The miniseries sees his character, Chris Moore, take on the name Kit Walker and train to become the latest in a multi-generational line of adventurers known as "The Ghost that Walks." Known mainly for his role as Justin on "Desperate Housewives," Carnes found the mix of tones appealing. "I had a blast getting to do drama and some comedy - there's definitely some light moments in it, mixed with action/adventure," he explained.

Playing a classic character also means fitting into his suit. The Syfy series' version updates the look for the Twenty-First Century, featuring a more ninja-like appearance and armor with purple accents. While noting that the update has been a point of contention with fans of the character, Carnes 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." On the other hand, the actor stated that he felt more comfortable with the notion of the new suit. "I finally actually put the whole thing on and went, 'Okay, wow! This is pretty rad; I could get used to this,'" he recalled. "Actually, because of some of the stunts and some of the choreography that I was doing, I actually wore it in rehearsals for the martial arts choreography so I could break it in because it was so restrictive, but it very quickly loosened up and took on the contour of my body. About halfway through the shoot, or two-thirds of the way, we had to have them take in areas because it had stretched so much. It was really cool. I mean, I'd never gotten to wear anything like that before, and it's not what you get at the Halloween Costume store. It's a little fancier than that."

Syfy's miniseries updates the classic Phantom outfit for the 21st Century

Despite his excitement at taking on a superheroic role, Carnes admitted that he did not read comics growing up. "I was more into sports and music; stuff like that. I was outside a lot. I grew up in a really small town, kind of on a farm in the woods, so that occupied most of my time." Upon taking the role, however, the actor did his research. "I screened the movie from the 90s with Billy Zane. I only wish we had the budget that they had for that movie. We would've shot for six months instead of two!" Carnes also looked at old strips and read up on the character's history online, but at a certain point, he chose to focus on the script in front of him. "I was cautious with myself to not get too caught up in being all 'I have to do this, this, this and this,' because it was a re-imagining. It was a very new take on the original series. 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 show's story focuses on first-year law student Chris Moore. Throughout the events of the miniseries, Moore learns about his heritage and trains to become the 22nd Phantom."He has a fantastic arc; a huge arc," said Carnes. "He's a boy in the beginning, and he's forced to sort of become a man, as it were, and assume this massive responsibility. That's generally what I look for; a character that is able to reveal a part his soul though his journey."

Like the character, the actor found himself training in martial arts for the first time in his career for this role. "It grounded my performances in a certain reality. [Moore] has no idea of the scope of what is happening to him. His life's been turned upside down, and so I think it really added to it that I hadn't had any previous training. I was really being put through the wringer. For me, as an actor, it only helped," the actor elucidated. While Carnes was not permitted to perform certain stunts for insurance reasons, the actor did mention a couple of experiences that were new to him. "I got be pulled up on a harness and do some rappelling on the wall. That was very cool," he remembered. "There's a scene where I come in through a window. They didn't let me come through the glass, obviously, even though it was safety glass, but I still got to make the jump and swing in on the rope and do the roll on the ground. It felt like I was five years old again going crazy in my mom and dad's house. I'd love to get to play like that again."

When asked if there was a unique quirk he added to the Phantom, the actor responded in the affirmative. "I was really insistent on keeping my tennis shoes untied as much as I could because, to me, Chris wasn't the type of guy who would have his tennis shoes always tied up perfectly. It was a small thing, but for me it really grounded the character in the way I saw him. What I really wanted to maintain in this character was his sense of irreverence at times as Chris. At the core, he wasn't an irreverent guy, but there was something about him that wanted to rebel against who he was becoming."

Having seen the finished project, Carnes invites skeptical fans to give the miniseries a chance. "I would really encourage them to go into it with an open mind an attempt to allow themselves to surrender to viewing something that is, in some ways, an entirely different story," he said. While the show offers something new, the actor also feels that it maintains many of the same elements that have allowed the character to endure for so long. "I would challenge them to just watch it and see if they don't enjoy it."

"The Phantom" airs on SyFy Sunday, June 20th.

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Tags: syfy, the phantom, Lee Falk, ryan carnes

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