Darren Barnet is best known for playing Paxton on Never Have I Ever, but Agents of SHIELD fans now know him as young Wilfred Malick, who would grow up to lead Hydra. Recently, ComicBook.com had a chance to chat with the actor about his time on Agents of SHIELD, and he revealed his dream comic book role. In addition to stories about the Agents of SHIELD set, Barnet also opened up about the representation on Never Have I Ever, whether he's team Paxton or team Ben, his future projects and goals, his love for Fight Club, and even gave some hints to the pilot he's been writing in quarantine.
Check out our full interview with Darren Barnet below...
Preparing For Marvel
ComicBook.com: How familiar you were with Agents of SHIELD or just Marvel in general? Did you need to brush up on any Hydra history?
Darren Barnet: It's interesting, I thought about it. I wish as a kid, I was more into comic books because it's such a rich history and I'm a fan of every Marvel movie. What's really been interesting to me is how deep the universe goes. I'm talking to my friend, 'Man, they're going to run out of movies soon.' And he's like, 'You need to understand that they've not even tapped the surface with Marvel.' So it was kind of cool, but I realized also I didn't want to brush up too much because I wanted to be true to the character, and being Wilfred Malick, he has no idea what Hydra is yet. He doesn't know anything about Agents of SHIELD, nothing. I kind of wanted to be true to him. I wanted to know what he knew, basically.
CB: You play the father of Gideon Malick who was portrayed by the late Powers Boothe. Did you study him at all? Did you feel any pressure in terms of his legacy?
DB: You know, once I got to set and the esteem that they held him in really made me... Wow. So then I went home, did my research on him, and I definitely try to envision him as my son. I tried to have a backstory and envision him as a child and this, this and that. I had big shoes to fill, which was a lot of pressure, though I was up for the challenge.
CB: The third episode of the season sees your character 20 years later, and now played by Neal Bledsoe. Did you collaborate at all on how you guys wanted the character to be perceived?
DB: Yeah, not really at all. There were slight discussions like, 'Oh, well, you guys think you'll have me back?' 'We're thinking about it, but we'd have to age you up a lot. It might be a lot of a stretch.' They really had no idea who they were going to cast at that time, I think, so if I had known, maybe I would have, but at that time, they hadn't cast him yet."prevnext
Agents of SHIELD Set
CB: What was it like joining the cast of a show that had already been together for six years? Are they as tight as they seem? Was it a welcoming set?
DB: It is one of the most well-oiled machines I've ever seen. I was welcomed so warmly by every single person. That's what made it so enjoyable. I was eating lunch every day with Chloe Bennet and Jeff Ward. Jeff Ward and Henry [Simmons] and I were consistently just roasting each other, acting like a band of brothers, making fun of each other and cracking jokes. And it was a blast the whole time.
CB: You got to work with, and non-fatally shoot, Patton Oswalt. What it was like acting opposite him?
DB: That was amazing. Patton is just... I mean, I'll give you an example. He, at the end, when I shoot him and he says, 'You just jumped off a building, Freddy.' He ad-libbed that line. He, if I remember correctly, he put that line in to connect it with how my father jumped off a ledge. He's brilliant at what he does. And I held him in such high esteem already from what I've seen him in throughout the years, and it was amazing. I was trying my hardest to not ask him to do the Happy voice. I was a huge fan of the show and it was crazy. I was like, 'Wow, you're the guy that voices the little horse.' It's amazing... He's a chameleon.prevnext
Playing a Teen Heartthrob
CB: In Never Have I Ever, you play a high school heartthrob. How have you dealt with the fan reaction to that? Does your own high school experience compare to Paxton's?
DB: Paxton was interesting. They made it clear that they wanted him, I guess, to appear as a thirst trap and appear as just this guy with abs, as a jock, but to have a heart of gold hidden underneath. I really tried to take it upon myself to somewhat make a slow burn to see how good of a guy he is, but not reveal too much too soon. He, as a character, I really did not have much in common with at all in high school. One thing I do relate to is being judged by the cover of your book. A lot of people would tell me, 'Wow, you're really nice, but before I met you, I thought you were a real jerk.' So, [Paxton] gets judged for, 'Oh, you're dumb because you play sports.' This and this and that. But high school, I was a straight-A student, I was very academic, I never went to a party, I never drank, I never did any of the typical high school experience functions. So in that aspect, we are much different.
CB: You're actually older than high school age. What was it like stepping back and playing someone much younger than you are?
DB: It was fun. It wasn't so much of a stretch for me just because that's consistently been the parts I've gone out for. The scripts that have been thrown my way, the ones I've read, the parts I've read, and played for. So it's a world I've kind of been playing in since I started my career. It wasn't so foreign to me just because those are the kinds of things I've been reading and the characters that I've been trying to take on and auditioning for, et cetera.
CB: I'm assuming you're probably biased, but team Paxton or team Ben?
DB: You know, I say this to everyone, I love Jaren Lewison so much that I would just give team Ben 20%, but I'm going to go 80% Paxton.prevnext
Never Have I Ever's Representation
CB: What does it mean to you to be part of a series that has so much representation?
DB: It's an absolute honor and I am so proud of the show. They just did it so well. What I mean by that is so many shows that centered around minority culture and diversity, it's so on the nose sometimes that it can take you out of it. Some things that I watch, the person's a minority and the whole show is about 'I'm a minority and this is my struggle and this is why my life's hard', this and that. Which definitely has its place, but I don't think there's any person in the world where their entire life is defined by their ethnic makeup or their sexuality.
You know, it's a part of it and it's just a part of them, that's not the entire focus of their entire life. What I love about the show is that it touches on those things and it does it in a very organic way. Devi is not just an Indian girl. I'm not just a jock. Jaren is not just a Jewish kid. They touch on it and I think that replicates more real life in a way.prevnext
Pilots, Thrillers, and Young Joker
CB: You did a video recently for J-14, and you said that you're writing a pilot and that suspense and thrillers are your bread and butter. Can you tell us anything about that pilot and what are some of your favorite thriller inspirations?
DB: The pilot, it's something I've had in my head and worked on, off, and on for years now. I can't say too much about it, but I think it's very much going to be in the realm of David Fincher's Fight Club meets maybe Inception/Shutter Island. I love movies like that because I've watched so many movies, so much television, I've read so many scripts and I've now been working as an actor, I can usually predict a lot of things when I'm watching a show. I can basically figure out the ending by episode two in a lot of shows. I love movies and shows where every time my mind is flipped upside down. That's why Fight Club is my favorite movie of all time because every time I watch it, I see one little detail that maybe I didn't catch before. Love Inception. I love Shutter Island. I love The Departed. I love crime thrillers, things like that.
CB: Now that you've dipped your toe into Marvel, and I know you said you weren't a big comics guy, but knowing the films, is there any character or franchise that you would like to join or play?
DB: You know, I would love one day to play some kind of spin-off of the Joker, a young Joker, something kind of dark and mysterious. I know this isn't a franchise per se, but if they made anything having to do with Fight Club where I could play a character similar to Tyler Durden played by Brad Pitt, that would be an absolute dream come true.prevnext
Future Projects and Goals
CB: Do you have any personal or professional goals as you set into the next decade of your life?
DB: I think I want to do my first big studio feature. If movie theaters open... I always dreamed of seeing myself on the silver screen, so just making a really fun piece of art that goes to the movie theaters. I'd love that.
CB: Do you have any upcoming projects you're excited about?0comments
DB: Yeah, we did American Pie [Presents: Girls Rule] actually, right when I wrapped Never Have I Ever, which I'm pretty excited about. I think maybe they're shooting for October, but we don't really know yet. And I actually just wrapped last week, a film that was shot completely through Zoom. They sent us the cameras, the lights, the makeup, everything, and we were responsible for doing it all on our own with the direction of the DP and directors through Zoom. It was castmates across four different states, different time zones. It was one of the most challenging things I've done, but one of the funnest things I've done. I can't say too much about it, but I'm very excited about that.
Just gave me a way to still be creative during quarantine, which I'm forever thankful for.prev