Interview: Nick Stahl Talks ‘Kalamity,’ Divisive Films and The End of Carnivale

By  · Published on October 23rd, 2010

Nick Stahl isn’t a happy guy, or at least the characters he play usually aren’t. Stahl isn’t someone we’ve never seen in a rom-com or a straight comedy, and Stahl is well aware of that. The characters he usually plays are never the ones you’d particularly wanna hangout with or actually find likable or charming. He even managed to make John Connor a whiny jerk (which is a compliment).

Kalamity continues that streak of Stahl playing a damaged or off-putting individual. It’s one of those films where all the main characters are suffering as they’re subjected to torturous ordeals. It’s a coming of age story where everyone’s lives are heading down the toilet because of a murder, which is material that could easily slip into becoming a soap opera episode.

Here’s what Nick Stahl had to say about playing internal, making dark and divisive films, and how he had no idea how Carnivàle was going to end:

The opening narration talks a lot about aging, and it’s almost a coming of age story. Did you see it that way?

Yeah, I would say so. The movie is really about loss and change, and certainly aging is all about that. I think that was the appeal of the script to me was the universal themes that everyone can kind of relate to, to a degree. Obviously, there’s liberties taken – plot wise- for the “What if?” questions. It’s all about love and friendship, too. Trying to capture the reality of all those themes was the appeal of the film.

Narration is tricky because it’s something that can lead easily to pandering, do you find narration difficult or easy?

You know, I’m kind of used to doing it. It’s kind of its own little art form, in a way. Narration is used to sort of capture the tone of the movie, and it might be trickier than it seems. It was harder for me than I thought it would be. I’m used to it, even my first feature, The Man Without a Face, had tons of narration. I got used to it early.

With this type of material, you could very simply go over the top when it comes to melodrama. In certain dramatic scenes, how conscious are you of that?

I’m definitely conscious of it, yeah. I’m conscious enough that it’s rare when I’m over the top. If anything, I suffer from the opposite. Sometimes, I might be a little too internal and sometimes things might not come across, even though I might think they are. The director might need to tell me to show a little more, so I’m much more comfortable underplaying as opposed to the opposite. That partly stems from the fear of being over the top (laughs), but in a way, it’s also my take on sometimes how humans behave. Not everyone shows every single emotion that they’re feeling and they don’t wear it on their sleeve.

Is it frustrating when you are trying to underplay a scene and the director tells you to play things up a bit more?

It might be frustrating if I disagree and it’s usually when I feel like it might not be appropriate. I mean, I very solidly need a director for everything and I need guidance, and that’s what they’re for. Directors are suppose to guide actors through something, and I would never trust even the best of actors to show a great performance in a movie without guidance.

Going over your filmography, you seem to do a lot of divisive work with films like Bully and Quid Pro Quo. Is there a certain attraction for you in those type of films?

Well, yes and no. I do love certain movies that are unique and stories that have their own voice and is something we haven’t seen before, and I get excited about scripts like that. At the same time, I have done a handful of certain type of films, and that is what people will think of me as. I’ve fallen into that certain type of film and I am not by any means exclusively interested in really dark dramas, that’s usually what just comes my way. I would love to do a bigger variety of movies and I have with doing commercial films and small films, but I would love to do a comedy. It’s just a part of the business where people see you in a certain light, which is what you tend to do for awhile.

Is that type of pigeonhole bothersome?

No, I don’t feel like I’m in any position to complain about my career or what’s happened. I’m really lucky to have always been working since I was a kid, but I would certainly not balk at the idea of doing more variety.

But do you like the darker material because you get to play more morally ambiguous characters? You usually don’t play the most likable guys; in Terminator 3 John Connor was a bit of a jerk.

(laughs) Yeah, I don’t know. Sometimes you have inherent qualities that are who you are, but I think it’s hard for me not to – on a certain level – be myself in movies. It’s not necessarily you, but the qualities you have are going to come through. I think there’s something to be said if I’m not being cast in a certain way or in certain roles, there’s probably something to be said about how I’m doing it.

What was going to happen with Brother Justin and Ben on Carnivàle?

We didn’t know. They wouldn’t tell us what was going to happen next week, much less of what was going to happen at the end of the series. It’s sort of open to interpretation to everybody, but they were very secretive.

What’s you interpretation?

I think they become great friends and go off into the sunset together and maybe they’ll go to the beach (laughs). They were pale, so they needed the sun.

(laughs) That’s one of the fun parts about the show, though, is that you get to imagine your own ending.

Yeah, I don’t think it was the plan for them exactly, though. They had to sort of do their version of wrapping it up, while keeping it open at the same time if they wanted to go another season. The writers had their hands full.

Those first two seasons can work as a standalone.

I thought so, too. A lot of people say how it left them hanging, but I kind of disagree.

Kalamity is now in theaters.

Longtime FSR contributor Jack Giroux likes movies. He thinks they're swell.