Actor CHARLIE BARNETT is a multifaceted marvel…
Maybe he’s not quite the man of a thousand faces, but actor Charlie Barnett is showing at least three at the moment. He plays Natasha Lyonne’s time-warp confidante, Alan Zaveri, on Netflix’s Emmy Award-winning series, Russian Doll; John Diggle, Jr., the neglected son of two vigilantes, on the CW series, Arrow; as well as Gabe the eccentric-advisorhealer on Netflix’s serial killer thriller, You.
“The best actors are the ones who can play a lot of different things,” Barnett tells us. Not to brag, but he did attend the prestigious The Juilliard School and not too long after graduating landed a breakthrough role as firefighter/ paramedic Peter Mills on Chicago Fire. “If you’re a chameleon, it’s a credit to your craft. It’s also fun. My biggest fear is being the same person every time.”
In only its first season, Russian Doll has taken home a number of awards and represents the highpoint of Barnett’s career so far. When we caught up with him, he was coming out of an audition for Happiest Season with Kristen Stewart to be directed by Clea DuVall. Auditions are easy for Barnett. In fact, he did his first one for Russian Doll without even realising it.
He met Lyonne at a bachelorette party he was hosting for his friend, Samira Wiley, her co-star on Orange is the New Black. “She was sober but I was very drunk at the time,” Barnett says of his first encounter with Lyonne, who co-created Russian Doll in addition to starring in it. “I’m since sober after coming into her world. She’s changed my life a lot. I told her about me being adopted and my issues with depression and drug abuse, family dynamics, love and loss. We went through everything.” At the time, Barnett thought he was only bending the ear of a new friend.
But months later, she called him to see if he’s audition for the part of Alan Zaveri, who like Lynonne’s character, Nadia is stuck in a loop, a la Groundhog Day, this time dying and being reborn again. Lyonne has spoken of the show as a cathartic response to her recovery from heroin addiction followed by a near-fatal heart condition.
Barnett and his sister grew up partly on a sailboat in Florida, the children of a boat builder from Minnesota and an acupuncturist from Utah. The Chicago White Sox trained in Sarasota at the time, making a fan of Barnett from an early age. Olympic diving became his next obsession. However, he says, “I witnessed a diving accident when I was young and was drawn away,” only to get “into Formula 1 and cars/car racing in general.” There was also a brief flirtation with boxing — he calls it “the hardest workout I’ve been through in my life.”
Having varied interests and versatile skills has been to Barnett’s advantage in his career, artfully defying pigeonholing in an industry that pigeonholes everyone. A man of mixed race with white parents, he is an advocate for a myriad of issues from women’s and LGBTQ+ rights to veterans’ rights and mental health awareness .
“I’ll probably get some shit for saying this, but yes, there needs to be space made for people of different colours, people of different races and people of different sexual orientation and gender. We always need to hear those stories from them,” says Barnett. “But that isn’t saying that someone who isn’t part of that experience doesn’t have an opinion that is worthwhile. I”m frustrated by that part of the conversation that says straight men can’t be part of this. Shutting those kinds of doors is the main problem we had in the first place. The pool needs to get bigger but that doesn’t mean that people need to be eliminated from the conversation.”
Barnett, who lives in Los Angeles, often finds the entertainment business to be a somewhat hypocritical liberal enclave. “They have to see that they can make money off of it. And as much as I say f—k you for that having to be the qualification, okay, I understand you run a business and that’s your job,” he says of an industry that has long put “business” before “show.”
He recognises that Lyonne serves as a creative buffer who enables a series like Russian Doll to flourish away from the prying eyes of note-giving bean counters; a relatively unfettered creative experience he isn’t likely to experience often. “It is something that is challenging, risky and scary for me,” he says of the show. “I feel proud of it. I feel really, really proud of it. I almost feel like just having that, I can walk away.” ■
BY JORDAN RIEFE