Actor Nestor Carbonell takes on eternally chic big city looks
Fashion Editor & Writer: Nadine Kam | Photographer: Mark Arbeit
Hair & Makeup: Nica Jacinto of Flaunt | Location: Blt Steak
If there Is such a thing as being too good an actor, Nestor Carbonell’s post-Lost experience might serve as an example.
For most of the Lost run, he’d played Richard/Ricardo Alpert, a mysterious figure whose role was to recruit and keep people from leaving the island; it was only in the fifth season that he and the audience guessed Richard was a man gifted (or cursed) with eternal life.
“The fans have been really incredible, really sweet, wanting to talk about the show and asking really thoughtful questions,” Carbonell says. “For one thing, you have to be smart to watch the show because it challenges the viewer in so many ways. But, playing such a freakish character, I feel like they fear me in some way. I’ve seen some people step back when they see me coming, like, ‘there’s that creepy guy.'”
He laughs before adding, “I’ll take that as a compliment.” Far from being creepy Richard, Carbonell is a humble, soft-spoken family man who’s married to actress Shannon Kenny. They met on the set of a WB comedy, Muscle, and have two sons, ages 8 and 5.
He moved his family over to Kailua about a year ago, when he learned that in the drama’s final season, he’d finally attained status as a cast regular, which is why he’s one of the cast members most reluctant to leave “the island.”
“This has been one of the best experiences of my life. My wife and children love it here. We’ve been welcomed with open arms,” says the actor.
Carbonell became acquainted with the series by watching it with his wife, a big fan of the show from its start, so he knew what he was getting into when he was called to audition. His audition scene called for him to recruit Elizabeth Mitchell’s character, Juliet, to the island, despite her reticence.
He made it look easy with his intense, seductive charm, and entered the series in Season Three.
Timing was perfect, it turned out. His guest status left him free to play the mayor of Gotham City in the blockbuster Batman film, The Dark Knight, and film 13 episodes of a CBS drama, Cane, about the external rivalries and internal power struggles of a wealthy Cuban-American family with rum and sugar interests in Florida.
It wasn’t too far of a stretch for the actor, the son of Cuban exiles, whose father became a Pepsi executive. Born in the United States, Carbonell says he’s never been to Cuba, although he would love to visit someday, when travel restrictions to the Communist country are eased.
In the whirlwInd leading up to the Lost finale and post parties, Carbonell has put in frequent appearances at events in L.A. while his family remains in Hawaii. One of the most recent events was a thank-you party for about 1,500 fans.
Not one to let celebrity go to his head, a day later, Carbonell was back at work on a screenplay, a dark comedy he’s writing with a friend, which they intend to pitch for television.
It’s easy for actors, especially those coming off a popular TV series, to be typecast, so working on a comedy will help to remind producers and directors of his versatility.
“I started in comedy, on Suddenly Susan, which opened doors for me in television,” he says of the series that starred Brooke Shields. In it, he played hunky magazine photographer Luis Rivera, and won two Alma awards as Outstanding Actor in a Comedy Series for his work.
“I love having the opportunity to be able to jump from one genre to another, from drama to comedy,” he says. “And I’ve always written. It’s a lonely process and I have a love/hate relationship with it, but, being an actor, you’re beholden to others to come up with great scripts. If you can write, you can exercise more control over your destiny.”
Carbonell never saw the entertainment world as his destiny. He’s still surprised that he became an actor. He’d never taken an interest in plays in high school, and when he enrolled at Harvard, where he earned a B.A. in English, he envisioned a conventional future, “maybe in the legal profession, the corporate world.”
An elective in drama changed all that. He found himself in classes with Matt Damon, and learning from David Wheeler, a coach to Al Pacino. Carbonell says in the midst of one classroom reading, “I had the proverbial moment when I kind of disappeared for a moment into another reality. It was a real high and really cool. I wanted to feel that again.”
He began studying the Sanford Meisner Technique of staying in the moment in communion with fellow actors, and, while still a sophomore, he headed to New York, where he was cast in a two-character Off Broadway play, A Silent Thunder.
After graduating, he moved to Los Angeles where he says, “The first three years after school where pretty lean for me. I did all kinds of jobs to supplement the few TV, film and commercial jobs I landed. I worked as a waiter, taught English in a Korean school, I even played Batman at birthday parties.”
He eventually found roles on a range of TV comedies and dramas including Law & Order, Scrubs, House, Day Break and Monk, in addition to his recurring role in Suddenly Susan. But he considers the role of Richard on Lost to be the kind of role actors wait for a lifetime. The part allowed him to explore a range of circumstances, emotions and internal struggle, from conveying strength and confusion in a contemporary leadership role, to helplessness as a 19th century Spanish farmer at the mercy of government officials.
“There was so much on the page,” Carbonell says. “You’re not gonna find a better group of writers than on that show. I’d never seen character development to this extent. They made every role three-dimensional.”
Even so, the secretive nature of the story arc meant there was plenty of room for interpretation that allowed the actor to stretch his imagination and skill.
“You had to fill in the blanks,” Carbonell says. “I tried to ask questions about my character, but after a while I realized I wouldn’t get specific answers.”
He had to use his instincts to put himself in the shoes of a world-weary man who wasn’t quite sure of the nature of his assignment, and it wasn’t until the time-traveling episodes started in Season Five that he began to think something was off-kilter while in the makeup chair. (Not that the man needs makeup to look presentable on camera. Before the fashion shoot on these pages, it took all of 10 minutes to get his hair and face camera-ready.)
“I was doing scenes in the ’70s and learned I hadn’t aged a day, and I thought, ‘That’s amazing. They’re going to have to address this at some point!'” Carbonell says. “That really told me how to play the character from then on. He seemed to be potentially immortal, so he wouldn’t be too impressionable. He would be a little unflappable, not easily rattled. He’d seen a lot of things.”
If given at shot at immortality, Carbonell says he’d likely decline. “Immortality would deprive me of other great chapters of maturity,” he says. “But I definitely would like to remain young at heart.”
Now that the series is over, Carbonell says he’s taking a month-and-a-half breather before moving his family back to Los Angeles and seeking new opportunities.
“I have every intention of returning at least once every year and spending summers here if I can,” he says. “I would love to return to live here.”
He dreams of seeing a script someday with a story that could be shot in Hawaii – and if not, he might try writing himself into such a role.
Otherwise, he says it’s strange to be back in L.A., even if temporarily.
“We’re kamaaina now,” he says. “I even have a Hawaii license.”
For many, the head shot on a driver’s license tends to be the worst possible photograph one could carry in their wallet, but with Carbonell’s dark good looks, not even the DMV could catch a bad angle. Of the photo, he says, “All modesty aside, it’s not bad.”
Since moving to Oahu with his family 10-1/2 months ago, Carbonell has frequently found himself in the role of tour guide.
“We’ve tried to share this place with as many friends and family as we could,” he says. “I’d like to think that it’s not just Hawaii – that they care about us and want to see us – but they’ve more than taken us up on our offer to come and stay.”
Here are a few favorite places where Carbonell can be found:
Jackass Ginger Hike
“I recommend it to any local who hasn’t done it, and any tourist who can find it.”
“There’s great snorkeling, and it’s so well-maintained. It’s just phenomenal.”
Hans Hedemann Surf School
“I just had my first lesson. It’s not hard to stand up when you’ve got a good teacher. everybody else got up that day.”
“It’s the most beautiful place I’ve ever worked in my life. It’s pretty amazing.”
Watching The Sunset
“There’s a spectacular view at Halekulani (House Without a key) where you can listen to Hawaiian music and try one of the best mai tais on the island.”
Giovanni’s Shrimp Truck, North Shore
“We love to order the garlic shrimp.”
Rai Rai Ramen
“If you like places that are off the beaten path, this place is just bare-bones, but they have great noodles.”
“They have some of the best sushi I’ve ever had, with a really unique menu. They’re very experienced, so you can trust them to make the selections for you.”
“They have great food, and I like that they use organic produce from local farms.”
“It’s so casual, but they have tremendous food. They have so many selections. I can’t say enough good things about it.”