Exclusive Interview with Bates Motel star Nestor Carbonell
In a show filled with strange and morally complex characters, Sheriff Romero might just be the most mysterious of the “Bates Motel” ensemble. Is he savior or villain? Strict enforcer of the law or sanctimonious hypocrite? The beauty of the show is that he might just be all of these things. Just ask Norma Bates. Or Jake Abernathy, who at the end of last season was sent to a watery grave courtesy of Romero, whom it appears is just a man trying to protect his town at all costs.
Thankfully there’s nothing shady about the actor who plays Romero; Nestor Carbonell is just as soft-spoken, but he’s funny, good-natured and humble. When I spoke to Nestor he was in Canada shooting Season Two of “Bates Motel,” which will air sometime next year. While he was not able to divulge too much about what’s going down in the new season, he spoke glowingly about what’s to come, what he thinks of the character and his interesting transition from comedic actor to TV’s go-to brooding man of mystery. (Let’s not forget his time as the equally puzzling Richard Alpert on “Lost.”)
So you’re shooting Season Two at the moment?
Yeah, we’re right in the middle of it, we’re just wrapping up episode five. I’ve read up to episode seven, so far.
Can you tell me about every single thing that you’ve shot so far?
(Laughs) There’s a hatch, and…
Sheriff Romero is such a mystery to those of us who watch the show – and of course to Norma Bates, as well – I wonder how much more you know about him than we do?
He’s a bit of an enigma to me, which is familiar to me from “Lost” as well. I don’t know much more. I think last season he was morally questionable, until maybe at the very end when you thought “Oh okay he’s got some sense of morality.” He didn’t take the money and he shot the bad guy. He’s got a sense of justice, I suppose. You see a bit more of that in Season Two; I haven’t read all of it yet, but I gather that my character factors more in the second half of the season. He’s kind of got his own moral code. But all the characters make some questionable choices.
Is it like it was on “Lost,” where you don’t know much about what’s going to happen until you get the script?
Absolutely. I know a little more this time, but nothing toward the end. Nobody has any idea what’s going to happen. And I like that, I really like being in that space, because you’re not playing a certain aspect of the character, you’re just playing what you have in front of you and just trusting in the writing.
Can we expect to get into his backstory a little bit in Season Two?
I don’t know that we learn more about his backstory, but we learn more about how he operates. Certainly as a sheriff, we learn more about how he works, how he politics. The world opens up a little more beyond the hotel, we get into the underbelly of White Pine Bay and meet some great characters. We see how Romero has to navigate those waters.
Obviously at the end of Season One, Romero and Norma now have a connection, but you’re still not sure if he was saving her or just protecting his town.
They definitely have more of a connection, it has bonded them, the whole Abernathy/Shelby situation. But beyond that, I think this is a woman who bucks tradition and convention, she comes to this town that has some very specific rules, and she goes against them, and I think Romero admires it and is also frustrated by it. She’s a control freak and he’s a control freak, so they naturally end up butting heads. And that’s what I love about working with Vera because there’s always going to be some kind of confrontation because we’re both trying to control the scene.
And she seems like she gets really into it.
Vera is as good as it gets, it doesn’t get much better than her. It’s such a complex role and she fills it effortlessly. She gives you something different every time, every take is different, so you don’t know what’s coming at you, and you can’t ask much more as an actor, to play off of someone like that. She’s phenomenal.
Were you hesitant at all to take part in this, considering it’s a prequel to such an iconic, legendary movie and contains a character that we’re so familiar with?
I really wasn’t. I remember when Carlton [Cuse] told me he was doing this project, I thought it was interesting and brave. Then he called me and told me there was this role of a sheriff who has a good arc on the show, and he sent me the first six scripts and I was just blown away. You knew it was going to be good because it’s Carlton. I was up all night reading the scripts, all six in a row. I called him the next day and said absolutely, I want it.
“Bates Motel” is such a heavily scrutinized show, as was “Lost,” – they both have very vocal fans. What do you think of the fan reactions, and do you read all the blogs and websites devoted to the show?
Every once in a while I’ll take a peek, but it can be dangerous. You’ve got to let the fans have their journey and have their frustrations. I think it’s just healthier to do the work as best you can and let the public decide and let them have their own time with it. So I try to stay away from it, because you’ve got to take the bad with the good once you start going down that road, and I’d rather just enjoy the moment I have while I’m shooting it.
Are there any interesting or fun cameos we can expect from the new season?
Oh wow, I don’t know if there are any spoilers I can give you, I’m really reluctant. (Laughs) I think this has been announced, but Michael Vartan is in the cast now. I got to meet him the other day and he seems like a great guy, so that’s one I can tell.
Your career is interesting, because we associate you with so many different things. Early on you had a lot of comedic roles, and now it seems like you’ve cornered the market on these enigmatic, mysterious characters. What do you think of the progression of your career?
It’s been a wild ride and I don’t think I’d have it any other way. I happened into comedy just by happenstance, I wasn’t a stand-up guy and I didn’t find myself particularly funny. I think it was by virtue of the fact that I just had to make something work, and at the time sitcoms were huge so I said I’m going to have to figure this out. So just by virtue of necessity, I ended up figuring out sort of the musicality of the sitcom and how to make it work. I was able to do some accents and made that work for me, and sure enough I was thrust into that world. I loved it, and them somehow I started going back to the dramatic stuff, and here I am. But I really would love to get back to comedy, because I enjoyed my time doing it.
Thanks so much for your time, Nestor. Good luck on Season Two!
Thank you, appreciate it.