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Jacob Batalon, it must be said, looks like a boss.
When the actor, best-known for playing Peter Parker’s bumbling sidekick Ned Leeds in the Tom Holland-era Spider-Man films, rolls up to our interview at the Canneseries television festival, he’s rocking a look I’ll call early 1990s hip-hop producer: all designer specs, gold chain and spotless brown-and-white Air Jordans. As we shake hands, I notice a particularly sparkly diamond ring – but resist the temptation to kiss it.
After five years of Ned Leeds —a role Batalon played in three Spider-Man movies, including the box office juggernaut that is Spider-Man: No Way Home (global box office: $1.89 billion), as well as in Avengers: Infinity War and Avengers: Endgame — Batalon is ready for the next chapter in his career. He’s in Cannes to launch Reginald the Vampire, a fantasy-horror-dramedy based on Johnny B. Truant’s cult Fat Vampire books, which got a straight to series order from Syfy. Cineflix Rights is handling world sales on the show, and started its roll-out at the MIPTV international television market this week.
Batalon plays the eponymous Reginald, an ordinary guy with a lousy job, romantic problems and low self-esteem who becomes an unlikely hero when he is inadvertently turned into a vampire. Even in the world of the undead, however, Reginald is an outsider, being the only full-figured blood sucker in a world of beautiful, fit and incredibly vain vamps.
“This is a guy who by societal standards is just not beautiful, and he has to deal with these judgements,” says Batalon. “People overlook what he has inside, because he’s obviously a great person and intelligent.”
Batalon sees clear parallels between the character — his first leading role — and his own experience in Hollywood.
“It’s obviously been a lot like my experience and a lot like those of my friends in the industry who are not, you know, prototypically white and tall, the ‘leading man’ type, by industry standards,” he says.
As an executive producer on the show, which will bow on Syfy this summer, Batalon also helped with the casting to ensure Reginald The Vampire is not stereotypical. “We have a lot of people of color and a lot of like LGBTQ+ in the cast, which was a really big deal for us,” he says. “I just really enjoyed the idea that we weren’t looking for an all-white cast. It was all based on merit and your ability to perform and the chemistry [between actors].”
I know we’re here to talk about Reginald the Vampire, but before we talk about your future, I have to ask about where you came from. What’s it like to look back at Spider-Man, what do you think that experience taught you?
It’s pretty cool. I was more than grateful to have been a part of such an amazing process, and it’s taught me a lot about success, about how to conduct myself in the industry. I just came away with a lot of knowledge, knowledge I think that really helped me with my TV show. Just how to carry myself in a manner in which people are willing to look and listen to me, to come to me for advice. It helped me be able to carry a show like this.
Are you worried that people will always see you as Ned Leeds from Spider-Man?
I think that everyone sort of has the thing in their career where they feel like they’re pigeonholed into one thing. But, you know, the industry is a game, and you have to play the game in order to beat the game. So I’m not really concerned about that. I feel it is such a weird mindset to be like: “Oh, I hate being known for such a great thing.” It’s an actor’s ego thing.
[But] for me, creatively, I want to be fulfilled in a way where I’m not just showing one emotion, I’m not just delivering one performance. Reginald really afforded me the space to really explore that and be more than just the funny guy. I think everyone will be pleasantly surprised that there’s so much more depth to Reginald than you expect. This isn’t just a comedy, it has real drama, it has everything. I really can’t wait for everyone to see that.
Did you know the Fat Vampire books before starting the series?
My girlfriend and I actually read the first book around the time they gave me [the scripts for] the first two episodes, and it was just such a fun book. To see it translate into TV was such a fun experience. It’s really zany, you know, it’s really out there. That’s what really interests me. There are layers and depths to the storytelling besides just being funny or being sad or being dramatic. And there are layers to the societal stigma of not being a “leading man” type. The idea that I get to be the star of the show, to be the actual hero, is really about representation and inclusivity, there are really great things that we’re trying to push for.
Do you feel it’s still difficult for many people to see you as a leading man?
Yeah, I mean, if I’m being completely honest, the industry is still pretty black and white about that type of stuff. I’m not afraid to talk about it. It’s obviously been a lot like my experience and a lot like those of my friends in the industry who are not prototypically white and tall, the “leading man” type, by industry standards. But breaking molds is sort of what I like to do. I’m really glad that we have the opportunity to do so.
Tell me about Reginald, who is this guy, and what does he go through in the series?
Reginald is a very much a regular person. The vampire thing is just sort of the backdrop of his life. He’s trying to get the love of his life that he can’t have. He’s trying to deal with his bully boss. And, again, this is a guy who by societal standards is just not beautiful, and he has to deal with these judgements. People overlook what he has inside, because he’s obviously a great person and intelligent. But people overlook that if you’re not beautiful. That’s sort of the message we’re trying to put across. That’s there’s more to people than you think, so don’t judge.
Do you think Hollywood has made progress in terms of diversity and standards of beauty? It certainly talks a lot about it.
I fell it definitely has been pushing that way and I think that’s a really great thing. Especially with our show: we have a lot of people of color and a lot of like LGBTQ+ in the cast, which was really big deal for us. I don’t think we’re trying to push any agenda, we’re just pushing real life. To have a show with people that look like those in everyday, normal life.
In terms of Hollywood, I feel like me being in Spider-Man and my friends, being people of color, in Spider-Man, and that being very successful, has shown people what’s up. Obviously, Marvel’s done really well having people of color being superheroes, with The Immortals and Black Panther and Shang-Chi, obviously. They’ve done really well with that stuff, and I think it really opens the door for more representation. So I think it’s going in the right way. I wish it was done sooner. But as long as it’s moving that way, I think we’ll be fine.
Were you able to influence the casting as an executive producer on the show?
I was very much a part of the casting process. I just really enjoyed the idea that we weren’t looking for an all-white cast. It was all based on merit and your ability to perform and the chemistry [between actors].
Would you ever go back to the role of Ned Leeds in Spider-Man?
I’ve learned not to say anything about that. But it would have to really be the right thing, done the right way. [The Spider-Man cast] has talked about this, and we feel those opportunities came for us when we really needed it the most. Now that we’re in a different place in our careers, I wouldn’t want to take that opportunity away from a young actor who’s trying to become something. If it was the right thing, absolutely, but I’m not just going do it just to do it.
You’ve wrapped the first season of Reginald The Vampire. What’s coming up next?
Honestly? I’m going to take a break. I feel like I spent the last five months just putting myself through the wringer just trying to make sure this show happens. For myself, it has to be something I’m super-duper, really, really interested in to get my ass out of bed. I read a lot of amazing scripts, but I feel like they are opportunities meant for other people. I really want to do things that really pique my interest.
Does that mean going in a direction you haven’t gone before?
Yeah. I mean, I like a lot of weird things, really weird twisted things like Twin Peaks or Sorry to Bother You. So stuff like that I’d be really into.
Interview edited for length and clarity.
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