‘Lost:’ Nestor Carbonell talks about the ageless wonder he plays

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Oh, Ricardo, you were so worth the wait.

“Lost” fans around the world would have rejoiced to learn, finally, who the ageless wonder Richard Alpert really is, but we got so much more: a poignant character study packed with answers of the ginormous variety.

The long-awaited “Ab Aeterno” is sure to stand as one of “Lost’s” best episodes for many reasons. But how cool was its retro vibe? We were back in first-season “Lost.” No time traveling, no sideways flashing, just a straight-up emotional story, told in flashback, and elevated exponentially by Nestor Carbonell’s riveting and, at times, heartbreaking performance.

“Lost” fans first met Richard Alpert in the third season when he appeared as an enigmatic recruiter for the island who went as far as murdering Juliet’s (Elizabeth Mitchell) ex-husband to convince her to take the job the “Others” offered her. When Carbonell accepted the guest role, that’s all he knew about it too. It wasn’t until Richard appeared in the ‘70s timeline that he, like the viewers, realized something was a little different about this fellow. No laugh lines, for one thing.

“We loved Nestor’s sense of confidence and intelligence,” executive producer Carlton Cuse wrote in an e-mail to The Times. “There is something incredibly rare -- a timeless worldly quality that he conveys as an actor that we found very appealing.”

Of the entire “Lost” cast, Carbonell has waited the longest to find out who his alter ego really is, but you wouldn’t know that from watching him on the small screen.


“Nestor is the kind of actor who attacks his role with such confidence, you come away with the feeling that he has the answer to every secret of the island,” executive producer Damon Lindelof wrote in an e-mail to The Times. “But beneath that confidence is an incredible vulnerability, one Nestor is finally getting to show off in episodes like ‘Ab Aeterno’.”

Well, it was about time, we say. We were so excited about Richard Alpert’s story that we discussed the episode with Carbonell over the telephone. The following is an edited transcript of that conversation.

I really loved that most of the episode was a long flashback. It was different than the rest of this season.

I agree. I think it was a great choice because if you’re going to go into that world and really go back in history, it might be too jarring to cut back and forth to present-day. I think it was really smart choice to have the audience be immersed in that world and stay in that world. As an actor, I’ve totally benefited from the built-in intrigue to the character because we certainly didn’t know who he was. But I didn’t know they were going to go this deep into the character, and I was really blown away by what they wrote.

What do you think of his back story, what happened with his wife, and how he wound up on the island?

It was so beautiful because what I love is that the Alpert character is connected to the mythology of the island, but what I love about how they connected him to the island was something very personal and something everyone can relate to -- just pure love of someone. So what his whole dilemma is, everything he’s lived for his whole entire life and agonized over, really boils down to the love of his wife. Every single decision he’s made -- a good one or a bad one -- has come down to that. So I love that they personalized the story so much and made it so relatable, because it’s a character that could easily be unrelatable because no one is immortal. So it was a really smart and moving way to go into his history.

We’ve just wondered for so long now who is Richard, was he indigenous to the island? If he wasn’t, how did he end up there?

That’s right, and I certainly never imagined that it was love or a crime of passion that would bring him to the island. I certainly didn’t expect him to come from the Canary Islands. There were all these signs that perhaps he is of Egyptian origin. And I was thinking I’m going to have to adopt a different language. But I was really floored by how they addressed his whereabouts.

Also, what was interesting is that he was a man of really meager means and a humble background and had nothing in terms of possessions. It also gives him an enormous arc. You see him in his early 30s or mid-30s, with his wife and this bare-bones cottage, and the only material asset they have is this gold cross that apparently isn’t worth much to the doctor. And he comes from that and then develops into a character who seemingly is well-educated and has no trace of a Latin accent and seemed like a well put-together guy.

A lot was revealed about Jacob and the Man in Black and the island. Is the island purgatory?

That was another thing for me about the script that was great. I got answers to questions about my character and even broader answers about the island and the show. I think this episode addresses some of those big questions, but there’s more. So just when you think you know it all, there’s definitely more you will learn. I guess it is a purgatory in that it is a place for redemption and Jacob has brought people to the island and it’s a place where you can start anew and redeem yourself and absolve yourself of your sins. Although, apparently in my case, that’s my curse; he’s not able to absolve me of my sins. The only thing he’s able to grant me is eternal life.

Which is what he wants the most.

Right. That’s the one thing he wants is to be able to see his wife again and be with his wife. And it’s the one thing he cannot do. Oddly enough, what he thinks is the lesser of two evils ends up being a curse for him, though I guess going to hell would be worse. But even so, he’s living in an eternal hell away from his wife. The only thing he has cared for in his life is being with his wife.

I loved that so much of the episode was in Spanish.

I’ve never acted in Spanish before. I may have done a scene where I said a couple of words here or there. In “Cane,” I did a little bit. But not like this. To me, it was a real treat. I loved it.

I did a little research on the Canary Islands because I was concerned about the accent. And much to my surprise, I found that there are many similarities between the Cuban accent and the Canary Islands.

They did a great job with your hair and makeup. It was very believable.

They did ask me to grow a beard for 2 1/2 weeks, so I just thought really hard and I just held my breath and suddenly it grew. (Laughs). No, I did have some growth, and as we kept shooting, it continued to grow on its own. But it’s amazing work that they did with everything -- the wig, the wardrobe. They were concerned about the wig, especially, because there were so many action sequences and we were wondering how is that thing going to hold up? But it did.

How did you feel about having your head slammed in the water that many times?
A lot of the crew felt really sorry for me when Mark Pellegrino was slamming me in the water. But I have to tell you after being in the Black Rock for five days straight, I really welcomed that bath in the ocean tremendously.

So far, Richard is the only character who knows both Jacob and the Man in Black. Even though he’s lost his way, is he still in a better position than the rest of the characters?

He knows them pretty intimately. It’s an interesting dichotomy because on the one hand he has a sense of history of the island and the forces at play in the island but he’s been dumbfounded by other elements he wasn’t aware of -- like time travel and, obviously, he didn’t know about the loophole with the Smoke Monster becoming Locke. He was really blown away by that. So much of what is happening to him and around him is new to him.

This season, his world has been rocked by Jacob’s death and everything he’s lived for in the last 100 years ago or so has been taken away from him or turned down upside down for him. He attempted suicide. He’s gone a little crazy. But we’ll see how he settles down now that he has a mission from his wife.

Can you give us a teaser of what’s to come before the finale?
There is one more episode in which we go into bigger issues like this in a very big way. I’m not going to say who it involves. There is another one coming down the pike, another extraordinary script. I was certainly intrigued.

And you’re filming the finale now?
We’re filming it now, but we’re waiting for the final script. It’s very bittersweet. On the one hand, it’s extraordinarily exciting to get to the end and find out what’s going to happen. On the other, it’s very sad. It’s been an unbelievable journey. I never expected anything like this. I am so grateful that I got to play the part and do this episode as well. It’s really a gift.

In keeping with the mood of the episode, here’s a Show Tracker flashback to the first time Losties saw Richard Alpert on screen. Please to enjoy.

-- Maria Elena Fernandez (follow me on Twitter @writerchica)

Upper photo: Nestor Carbonell in Hawaii in January. Credit: Jose Angel Castro

Lower photo: Nestor Carbonell as Richard Alpert on ‘Lost.’ Credit: ABC

Video: Clip from ‘Lost’s’ third season ‘Not in Portland’ episode. Credit: YouTube


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