Written by | Ray Cornelius
Charlie Barnett is one hot actor!
No, seriously. He plays a rookie firefighter Wednesday nights on NBC’s newest prime time drama Chicago Fire. A graduate of The Juilliard School, Barnett is not just another pretty boy, wannabe star. This guy really knows his stuff and has an impressive resume to prove it. I mean, how many young actors can boast they’ve played opposite Will Smith in one of their first major film roles?
In addition to his years of theatrical training, Barnett has also mastered other areas of the performing arts including singing and dancing, and he’s proficient in eight accents including Russian, Jamaican and Middle Eastern.
But don’t get it twisted, Barnett is not a prude. He is just as comfortable enjoying a cold beer in a New Orleans’ French Quarter Jazz club as he is philosophizing with his artsy friends in a Manhattan coffee shop. He is a free thinker who isn’t afraid of pushing the envelope and stepping out of the box in terms of the characters he’ll play. For this Irish African-American star, acting is not always about the absolutes but more about telling our imperfect, human experiences.
I had a chance to talk to Barnett recently while he was here in Atlanta, his character on Chicago Fire, hopes for a second season, and why theater will always be his first love.
CB: Ooh about 50/50. I wanna say Peter Mills is charismatic in the sense that he is always trying to help others. Peter Mills always wants to be there for the people around him. He’s a big lover. I almost want to compare him to a big Labrador (dog). Sometimes Peter Mills is a person that always wants to be hands on and that’s very similar to me. I connected with that from the first day I walked on the set or when I read the script. The difference between the character and I is that Peter Mills is less likely to stand up for his own ass? (LOL)
RC: Is that what drew you to the character?
CB: Oh, yeah. As an actor, I love that. I always thought this from the beginning that you can’t lose yourself completely. There is always a part of you in the character. Hopefully elements of you mold into the character, creating an interesting and completely different person than you. But the two have to marry in the middle at some point. You have to find the backbone and figure out what the goals are and what’s going on with this character’s life. Peter Mills is definitely more driven which makes me feel like I’m not driven. (LOL) Peter Mills sticks to a straight line. I wiggle around things and try to figure them out. I’m more of a hippy and Peter Mills is more conservative.
RC: How much of what we see on “Chicago Fire” is real. I mean, are you really walking through burning buildings?
CB: Yes, the fires are all real. Nothing is CGI’d (computer-generated imagery) unless it’s a giant explosion or something flying out of flames. Every time you see with me on a show with cast members Taylor Kinney or Monica Raymund and we’re standing right next to a flame that shit is burning. It’s hot. The other day, one of our camera men was filming and they were dumping all this ash on top of us and we just got burned up because it just falls into your suit and tears you up. Joe Minosa, who plays Joe Cruz on the show, was lying down in that scene and got embers all in his neck and burned him all up. But for me it’s exciting. I like that part of it.
RC: Speaking of burning up, I noticed you were cooking in a few scenes. Is that you or Peter Mills?
CB: No, that’s me. (LOL) I am a cook and have been for most of my life. Again, producers take bits and pieces of the character and mesh them with the real person.
RC: You starred with Will Smith in MIB3, what was that like?
RC: What was one thing you learned from him?
CB: God I want to think about that because he is a man of very few words. And I think that’s his position and where he is in life. I would say that I learned most of all how to be professional. He is probably the most professional actor I’ve seen in a big film setting. Josh Brolin, I would say gave me a lot of information too.
RC: Like what?
CB: Just telling me about life and this career and finding yourself in it. Not losing sight of who I am and where I came from. You know, the age old stuff and keeping to your roots, really.
RC: Speaking of roots, you started your career on stage. Any plans to return to theater?
CB: Hell yeah. I am connected to the theater for the rest of my life. I think it’s the only thing that helps us build our muscle. It’s the best workout.
CB: The Seagull. It’s from Anton Pavlovich Chekov. He was a Russian playwright that I am fascinated by and in love with. He’s really brilliant in taking things that are incredibly depressing and making them seem interesting at the same time. I love the juxtaposition of living in this world but really being here and having to play that. It’s a difficult but fun challenge.
CB: Yeah, I wasn’t gay in Private Romeo. I think I was the only straight one. I also played the prince too. Private Romeo was the first project I actually worked on and it was an incredible experience for me. I was also working with a couple of Julliard alum. So it was a really great opening. For me in life, the “gay” and “straight” thing doesn’t make any different. I’m playing a person, I’m playing a character.
RC: So what’s next?
CB: Hopefully some work. Right now Chicago Fire is in hiatus and not sure if we have a second season yet. They’re keeping us on our tippy toes. But I would love to do more film. I’d love to do some theater if we have the time. I know I’m in the beginning of my career and with an amazing series like Chicago Fire as a starting point; I don’t want to fall off track. But I’m excited to see what’s next.
with actor Charlie Barnett
Chicago Fire airs Wednesdays at 10pm on NBC