With the flick of a button, Netflix will publish the new feature film Barry, forever changing the life of local Perth actor Devon Terrell.
Terrell stars as Barack Obama in the new independent feature film about the current President of The United States as a young man in college trying to find himself. The movie is the first feature by director Vikram Ghandi and was bought by Netflix following its world premiere at the Toronto Film Festival earlier this year.
While Netflix is better known for its slate of original TV series, the streaming company has been aggressive in buying and producing movies. Thanks to the global availability of content, once a movie goes live on the service, it has the potential to be seen by a far larger audience than most films released theatrically are able to reach.
For Terrell, this is a huge opportunity as he goes from relative obscurity to being seen across the globe, playing the world’s most powerful man.
This is going to be the first time many people see you, with this cited as your first on-screen credit. How did you get involved in this production?
I was in Perth waiting on another project [HBO pilot ‘Codes of Conduct’ directed by Steve McQueen] and when that didn’t go ahead, my agent sent me this script. He said “There’s a movie about Barack Obama being made. Just read the script and let us know what you think”. I loved the script and the director Vikram wanted to Skype with me. Then I auditioned and got the part straight away. It was a pretty quick process.
The Steve McQueen pilot was instrumental in getting your name out there?
I think it put me on notice for other producers. I think they were excited to see why Steve chose me. It was so beneficial. Even working with Steve prepared me for the role.
Once Netflix go live with Barry on their service, your face will be featured prominently on people’s screens globally. How prepared are you for this?
It’s hard to stay away from it. It’s so exciting. There is no better platform than Netflix, but I want to be an actor so I just try and think about the work, [rather] than the other side of it right now. I try not to think about it, but it’s so exciting. Something I’ve always dreamed about.
This isn’t the only film set for release about Obama as a young man [the romantic drama Southside With You looks at the early relationship between Barack and Michelle]. Why do you think there’s such interest in his earlier phase of life?
People are fascinated by him as a person just as much they are as him as a politician. How did this person come to be and take the world by storm to become the international figure that we all look up to today? He’s got such an interesting background. Just from reading his book Dreams From My Father, he’s so honest about who he was as a young man and that he made some mistakes and he wanted to break through them. He’s the perfect person to tell these stories through.
Obama is known to consume quite a bit of pop culture. Is it weird knowing he’ll probably take a look at the film?
[Laughs] I hope he thinks I got close enough. I really do. It’s super exciting – I hope he watches it with his family.
Did you spend much time watching video of him as a younger man? It feels like an authentic performance.
It was a ridiculous amount of research. I had to learn how to become left-handed in everything. I wanted to make it very nuanced and meticulous rather than a white wash and generic. I watched a lot of clips of him and tried to find things of him in his youth, but it was hard to find that. So I went straight to books and tried to understand who he was as a young man. We all know him today with his distinct voice, but he was an awkwardly confident young man when he was younger.
And are you a smoker? There is a lot of him smoking in the film.
I’m not a smoker, but there was a lot of smoking going on [laughs]. I learned how to fake my way through smoking.
You seem to have his vocal patterns right – that thoughtful stutter he has with how he talks…
When I watched him when he was younger, in his late 20’s to early 30’s he had a strong stutter. He was always breaking up his thoughts because he was trying to think about what he was trying to say throughout the sentence. The man we see today is a great public speaker. Through Barry it shows that he was battling himself. He even says he was stuck in his mind as a young man, battling his own thoughts.
Like Michael Sheen playing Tony Blair across three films, if the opportunity came up to play Obama again, would you be interested in pursuing a multi-film exploration of the man?
Absolutely. When we finished shooting, I was telling the director, I wish we were shooting it again as he’s such an exciting character. I kept learning new things every day. Hopefully people are excited by Barry and hopefully it leads to… I’d love to do another one.
Watch the 'Barry' trailer: