The past year of movies and television have introduced a crop of talented actors and actresses to larger audiences, and Charlie Barnett is definitely no exception. The actor, who previously starred on Chicago Fire and The CW's Valor, has played a significant role in some major television series in 2019, beginning with the February release of Russian Doll. The critically-acclaimed Netflix series saw Barnett play Alan Zaveri, a meticulous and anxious man who learns that he's stuck in a seemingly endless time loop alongside Nadia Vulvokov (Natasha Lyonne). Together, Alan and Nadia discovered what tied them together in the time loop, and delivered an incredibly-poignant story in the process.
In addition to Russian Doll, Barnett had a starring role in Netflix's Tales of the City revival and will be part of the ensemble of the highly-anticipated second season of You. Barnett also joined The CW's beloved Arrowverse of television shows, playing the adult version of John Diggle Jr. on Arrow. The child of John Diggle/Spartan (David Ramsey) and Lyla Michaels/Harbinger (Audrey Marie Anderson), J.J. has grown bitter about the state of Star City in the 2040s and rules over it as the leader of the Deathstroke Gang. While the most recent episode of Arrow potentially threw a wrench in J.J.'s future villainy, it seems like the character - who has been confirmed to appear in the "Green Arrow and the Canaries" backdoor pilot later this season - has more story to tell.
We recently got a chance to chat with Barnett about his role in Arrow, and what it's like to join the beloved series in its ten-episode final season. In the process, we chatted about his history with superheroes, what's to come in both Russian Doll and You, and just how passionate he gets about The Settlers of Catan.
ComicBook.com: How familiar were you with Arrow and the whole Arrowverse before you signed on?
Charlie Barnett: Not familiar at all. I mean, I had heard about it. I knew about the character from my childhood. And you've got the comics. He showed up on a couple of TV shows when I was growing up, some cartoons. But I started watching [Arrow] probably after my first audition when they called me back. I was like, "If I'm going to go onto this, I want to do the community justice by at least educating myself." But I'm also a comic book fan, and I'm totally into the superhero world. I'm a big fantasy fanatic in film and television as well, and just I guess in stories and realms. I love the blend that these kinds of superhero, extreme worlds can add as an entertaining take on our morals, our education, our stories, the things that we've seen for generations and generations passed down, in these new forward-thoughtful ways. I really kind of love that, and appreciate that within just the storytelling element as well.
So you said that you're a bit of a comic book fan. What were you into? Was there anything in particular that you read a lot?
I'm shameful, I watched a lot.
That's totally okay!
I did not read as much. As a kid in Sarasota, Florida, which, there is a comic book world. And I actually grew up with a friend, Travis Vengroff, who I should have turned to because he was so invested, but I was lazy.
I watched a lot. I started getting into [comics] a little bit later, and actually Yuri Sardarov from Chicago Fire kind of brought me into the modern context of the world. And really, it's all still growing and growing. I bought a Deathstroke, I think it's #6 that I bought, so it's pretty old. It's like the original OG Deathstroke character -- eye missing, white guy, not me. But they're all so cool. They're the perfect airline escape. Every time I get on a plane, that's what I turn to.
How did it feel coming onto Arrow, not only as this legacy character carrying on the mantle of Deathstroke and John and Lyla but also as someone coming in on the final season?
It's double-fold -- kind of scaring and also exciting. The show has such an incredible following, it has such a great community. And it's a community that's stuck by it, and also demands that it be as good as it was -- as good as it continues to be, I should say. So that's a great amount of pressure, I think, to put on anybody walking into something that is not your own.
I will say I felt a little relief because I knew that I wasn't necessarily taking over a realm of the character. I was a new form of Deathstroke. I'm a modern, I guess a futuristic -- I don't know how much I can give away. I always get so scared in situations like this. But he's a new age, maybe like baby Deathstroke. I got a chance to kind of restructure who this person was, and who this person would be within J.J.'s context. It made it a little freeing and also so much fun, because this story is connected to so much family, and that kind of stuff creates an emotional well of choices.
Obviously, J.J. has gone on a really dark path this season. When we most recently saw him in the series, he killed Zoe Ramirez (Andrea Sixtos). What has it been like playing a character who is on such a dark path?
It's so funny, because beyond being a question of context and where you fall on sides. We were given this incredible lesson at school and college from one of my professors, Becky Guy. She said, "Never judge your characters. Never, ever, ever judge your characters. It doesn't matter if they're a murderer. You can't judge because you're entering into their psyche, hopefully, and within safe parameters for yourself." I kind of took that to heart. I don't see him as this psychopath. I see him as a bad guy. I see him recognizing his villainy. But I see him doing it for a logical reason in his mind, as much as Charlie Barnett doesn't agree with those choices and the actions in which he's doing it.
He amps it up to the dangerous, if not unforgivable, mark, but he's doing it for a solid reason. He felt abandoned, he felt wronged. He feels like there is this wave of vigilante justice that is causing butterfly effects around the city, around this world, and those butterfly effect and results have ramifications. Each one of those ramifications, be it, "Cool, my dad was a villain, but you just killed him, Green Arrow, and you killed him in the worst way." Or, "My mother was trying to do something different and you saw that it was going to be a destructive thing, and you killed her too, Green Arrow." And how did that then affect that world for them?
I think a lot of people will say, "All right, you're grasping at straws." But you've got to find a way, okay people? And luckily, I think J.J.'s situation really extended from seeing that his father and his mother didn't give him the upbringing that he desired. They paid too much attention, and I guess risked more of their relationship with their birth son, in order to care for the upbringing of Connor [Hawke (Joseph David-Jones)]. That has a result. And on top of it, they also take Connor under their wing, they make him a vigilante as well. So the thing that was pulling them away from J.J. in the first place, they almost gift to the son that was the problem. I think that stings him and in a really, really personal and continuing kind of way. He can't let go.
Where do you kind of hope that J.J.'s arc goes from here? Could you see him possibly getting redeemed in some sort of way?
The fun part, as I said at the beginning, of doing these kinds of shows is the fantasy element. It can go anywhere and everywhere, and it usually does. And luckily, we have a really responsive and just downright great group of writers. They have a hard task of reining in this world or these worlds. And I think on Arrow specifically, it may be the context that Green Arrow isn't a superhero, he's a man. He is human. He has had some aid in doing superhuman things. But the best part about this is it still resides within humanity. And so much of our relationships, our emotional life within it can balance in that. But then you add this fantasy element and sh*t can go crazy. So I can't say too much, but I will say J.J. has some ups and downs. You'll see him all over the map.
So I have to ask about Russian Doll, which honestly is probably my favorite show of the whole year. Your performance in that was just on a whole other level. What has it been like seeing the response to that series? Because I know it's resonated with so many people, myself included.
It's so incredible. That piece, when I first picked it up, already resonated so personally for me, just because of my own dealings with mental health, with relationships. We're all human, I think. It's all so rooted in what we all go through in our experience, even if we don't want to necessarily admit it. I think that's why it keyed in for so many people on such a vast variety of differences. But yeah, it was personal from the get. So it's been amazing from the start.
Don't let me confuse it in saying that it wasn't difficult. It was a really difficult show to create and to perform because it was so personal, and because it was so intricate, and because it was so developed and specific. And hats off to [showrunner] Leslye Headland and [co-creator] Amy Poehler and Natasha. Natasha, 150-billion-percent, because she helmed the shit out of it. It's so hard to actually have something that means that much to you, that you've related in your own life, and that also has this kind of extreme, never-been-seen, never attempted... Everybody keeps talking about it being this Groundhog Day effect. And it is to a certain extent, but it's so much more than that. The layers that she played within, and then on top of that our crew, our production company. Just the sets, the costumes, everything playing into the film work. Everybody came to the table, and I think that's what made it so freaking special.
To now walk away and see that that actually had a result that people caught onto is like the icing on the cake. It's tenfold. And truthfully, it brought me into a different world, which I'm so thankful for as well. The opportunities that I'm having, even just getting to speak to you. I think Arrow, to a certain extent, is due to people being able to see me in a different way on Russian Doll. So I'm personally so thankful as well.
What can you tease - if anything - about the second season?
God, I wish I could tease about that one, but I know absolutely nothing. Full honesty. You know, Natasha knows that I'm a gullible sap, which for the world to know... Be cool with that, okay? [laughs] But I'm pretty damn gullible, and she'll tell me a whole bunch of different ideas that I've been running in my mind, but I don't think any of them are true. So I'm not going to run you down that line.
I do know that they've gotten back into the writing room, so they must be planning up something. And I ain't going to bother her. She's got enough work on her plate, that you don't need some actor being like, "What's happening? What's going on?" And I want her to develop it in peace and serenity and build an amazing second go around.
Another project of yours and I'm really excited about is season two of You. I know myself and a ton of other people just became obsessed with that show very quickly, and I'm really excited that you're part of that world. So what can you tease about your character, and kind of how they factor into season two?
You is so much fun for me because I get to play something extremely different, something that I think a lot of people are going to be surprised by. I hope so. And I had a lot of fun doing it, as much as the stakes are insane on that show as well. There's a lot of depth, and I want people to not forget that. It seems like people have fallen in love with Penn's character, and I'm like, "He's a f*cking serial killer! What's wrong with you?"
But within that, there's a lot of humor and it is a fun, twisty kind of road. I gotta say, Victoria Pedretti. She and Penn... I mean the entire cast, I got to work with an incredible group of women who played kind of like my posse. But the two of them helming the show, I'm just really excited about it, because they are just powerhouse actors. I mean I got to see them... We worked a lot together, and I saw them do some really, really challenging stuff just fantastically and beautifully. And I can't wait as an audience member to kind of resonate off of their storyline, because sh*t is crazy.
You mentioned that you are a comic book and kind of superhero fan, but what else are you nerdy about?
Oh, so many things. I'm so glad you asked that. God, I've got to remember all of them. I'm a big animated fan. I got into anime specifically as well, but mostly animation. I should say the difference. I go into all of them, from Rick and Morty to The Simpsons to Mike Tyson's Mysteries. And then with Dexter's Laboratory and The Powerpuff Girls definitely smashed in between.
I'm a huge nerd with game boards, puzzles. I'm a Catan fanatic. I've gotten to the point where I won't flip tables and get angry so I'm a safe player. My partner might disagree, love you, babe. [laughs] But I like Ticket to Ride, most Monopolies. They just came out with Game of Thrones Catan, which is pretty badass. Actually they came out with it a while ago, but I just got it.
Gosh, what else? I'm a big cooking fanatic. I guess people might not put that in a nerdy group, but I see it as a science. And I fall hard into just cooking and the kind of collaboration element of it all. The scientific element of it all. And I'm a sea buff. I'm an ocean head. Anything marine, I am interested.
That ties perfectly into my last question. What would be your dream role, your dream character or your dream franchise that you'd love to be a part of?
Ooh. Immediately, I say Black Panther, just because I'm a young black man and that resonated truthfully. It was amazing, I really loved it.
But I want something individual, you know what I mean? I want something of my own and to branch out in the world. Preacher was my dream for a long time, and I'm loving the show. But since it's been done... Utopia? I'd love to see that go up within a comic book world too. I mean, talk about the fantasy element! Because it would be... the costumes and makeup would be next-level.1comments
Arrow airs Tuesdays at 9/8c on The CW.