The Okayplayer Interview: Actor Devon Terrell Talks 'Barry,' Obstacles + Optimism
Photo of Devon Terrell courtesy of Netflix.
We’re about three days away from that Human Cheeto taking the reigns from arguably one of the coolest presidents of all time, Barack Obama. With people clutching their pearls, protesting in the streets and creating concerts to give people other things to do — Hollywood has been steady at work chronicling Obama’s story and making it ready for eager audiences to watch, reminiscence and secretly plot on how to convince Michelle to run for office. Ha, we keed, we keed! On the real, most people have yet to see Southside With You, a 2016 project about the president’s and Michelle’s first date, and that doesn’t mean it was bad. It was just that millions on this planet all have Netflix and not enough for a movie theater ticket.
Barry, the not-so-new, but still super-fresh Netflix film by Vikram Gandhi, came out last year and immediately impacted the game. Why? Thank 24-year-old actor, Devon Terrell, who hails from Perth, Australia, but knows a thing or two about hard work and dedication. A graduate from the prestigious National Institute of Dramatic Arts (home to alumni such as Hugo Weaving and Cate Blanchett) — Devon Terrell was just coming off of a project that failed to get traction when he received a fateful call from his manager. “Look, there’s a film that’s coming out. Don’t freak out, it happens to be about Barack Obama,” he recalled in a Vogue interview from last year. Now, how could you not be chill after being told that, right?
Fast forward to Barry being out in the world and audiences were dazzled by Devon’s acting chops, how he looked and sounded almost exactly like the POTUS and made him emotionally vulnerable in a way never seen before. In Barry, Devon Terrell plays Obama as a student at New York’s Columbia University, before he was a Harvard law student, still when he was finding himself in the midst of being a product of an interracial relationship. A completely different picture than what we were eventually introduced to during that DNC conference in 2004, Devon Terrell pulls from Obama’s 1995 autobiography, Dreams From My Father, to play the challenging role in his budding career.
Fortunately, we were able to pull the talent from Down Under and talk to him about playing the coolest Commander-in-Chief before the hype, what the role taught him and how he applied it to his own acting career and why 2017 will be an optimistic year for him. Enjoy!
Okayplayer: If someone were to check out your IMDB, you’re relatively a newcomer on the scene. Can you talk about how you were discovered to play this role in Barry? Also, can you share with us some of the obstacles you had to overcome to nail the performance?
Devon Terrell: I was [living] in Perth, Australia, waiting on a HBO pilot called, Codes of Conduct, which was to be directed by Steve McQueen. News came that it wasn’t going ahead, and I was sent a script by my agent for Barry. He said, “There is a movie about Barack Obama being made… [I] just read the script and let me know what you think.” I absolutely loved the script, the character and his journey. After reading the script, the director Vikram Gandhi wanted to Skype with me. I sent through an audition tape from Perth and I heard back the great news that I got the role and so the process began.
There were many obstacles [that I went through]. However, I saw them as ways of helping me transform into the role. I’m right-handed, so I learned how to write and play basketball with my left hand. I naturally speak with an Australian accent, so my incredible dialect coach, Charlotte Fleck and Vikram, helped [me] to distinguish the accent. The character was so recognizable, but at the same time, you were discovering that person anew.
OKP: There was a quiet assuredness in Obama even from a young age. What was your research process in playing him? Also, can you alk about what lessons you’ve learned and applied to your own life after acting in Obama’s shoes?