Actor Nick Stahl feels right at home with his HBO ‘Carnivale’

Actor Nick Stahl feels right at home with his HBO ‘Carnivale’

Terry Morrow

SCRIPPS HOWARD NEWS SERVICE

Like the hapless drifter he plays on “Carnivale,” actor Nick Stahl is not exactly brimming with self-confidence.

When he watches his performance in “Terminator 3,” he picks himself apart. “All you see,” he says, “is the inconsistencies, the negative things.”

And in parallel to his “Carnivale” character, Ben Hawkins, Stahl, a 23-year-old Dallas native, isn’t much into big scenes. He’d rather be alone.

Stahl lives by himself and says he can go a day without speaking to anyone.

“I don’t like crowds,” he says, sitting on a wooden bench at the HBO party with a carnival theme. As festivities swirl around him, Stahl easily steps aside from it.

An impatient publicist is near his side, listening to every word and counting the moments until the interview is over.

Behind him is a stage where novelty acts, such as a man who eats fire, are performing. Stahl doesn’t give it a glance.

He says Ben is the same way, “an extreme loner,” but his “Carnivale” persona has secrets to keep.

Among them is the ability to heal and transfer energy from the life around him and direct it into something _ or someone _ else. After his mother refuses to let him use his talents to keep her alive, dies and refuses his talents, Ben hooks up with a strange carnival passing through.

The freak show only makes him feel more out of place. When nosey co-workers aren’t prying at him, he’s getting probed by a mind reader.

“Carnivale,” a 12-part series debuting tonight at 9:35, centers on Ben’s new life in the carnival while also documenting, in another story, a minister and his mysterious visions of doom.

Ben would rather deny his gifts and keep a low profile, but the carnival makes it increasingly harder to do.

“Carnivale” also stars Clancy Brown, Adrienne Barbeau, Clea DuVall and Amy Madigan.

The drama is touted as HBO’s new buzz show, a signature series that the pay channel is hoping will be water cooler fodder like “The Sopranos,” “Sex and the City” and “Curb Your Enthusiasm.”

Critics are giving it mixed reviews, saying the show is too slow and unwilling to spill its many secrets early on.

Stahl has faced tough critics before. He has been acting since age 10, but didn’t make the move to Los Angeles until age 16. He says the city is a tough place to make friends and build a personal life.

“It’s a place built on this industry, and that’s hard to get used to,” he says. “Whenever (your career) is not on your mind, then there is always something there to remind you of it.

“Early on, it was very competitive in that way, and I am not an extremely competitive person. I had to find ways to enjoy it. I had to do my own thing and not get caught up in that kind of rat race.”

Stahl says his insecurities are “more normal things,” such as relationships. Rarely does he find himself fretting over career problems.

He was so confident, in fact, that he was not looking to do a series when “Carnivale” landed in his lap. And why should he? Stahl starred as John Connor in “Terminator 3,” one of this year’s biggest films.

Airs Tonight

“Carnivale”:

Nick Stahl stars in this new 12-part drama, set during the Depression, as a man who can heal others. He joins a carnival traveling across the Dust Bowl. It debuts at 9:35 tonight on HBO.

Tonight’s episode:

In the opener, “Milfay,” Ben (Nick Stahl) reluctantly joins the carnival after being run off his family’s Oklahoma farm.

Copyright Copley Press Inc. 2003

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