Readers may recall that I caught up with Robert Carlyle during the Whistler Film Festival for the North American premiere of The Legend of Barney Thomson. The actor’s directorial debut tells the story of hapless barber, Barney Thomson, who accidentally falls into serial murder. At the Q&A, Carlyle (Trainspotting, Once Upon a Time) gave credit to a young Scottish actor, Mark Barrett, for his contributions in the rehearsal process. “A lot of aspiring young actors ask for your advice and they never do it!” Carlyle exclaimed on that snowy evening in December. “But Mark, he did become an actor.”
Naturally, Carlyle’s words may have left readers wondering about Mark Barrett, who also has a small role in the black comedy as barber Ricky Callahan. I reached out to Mr. Barrett to find out more about his experiences working on Barney Thomson. The twenty-eight-year-old actor was more than happy to sit down for his first official interview. However, his excitement was tempered by a startling sense of maturity and intensity in his gaze: revealing a sharp and discerning fellow who takes his work seriously.
“I remember being on Barney Thomson [with] three or four people phoning me to do interviews,” he recounted via Skype. “I always turned them down because my main focus was working on Barney. I believe in exposure and getting your name out there, but I think your work speaks for itself. I wanted to be respectful to Robert and the job he’d given me. I didn’t run away to do stories or take selfies with the cast because that wasn’t what I was there for.”
Barrett admitted to a number of influences that shaped his interest in acting, describing his tastes as “homegrown.” He listed a few U.K. actors: Ralph Fiennes, Gary Oldman, Anthony Hopkins, James McAvoy, Maggie Smith, and Emma Thompson. He also pulled in some classic comedians like Charlie Chaplin and (albeit American) Buster Keaton. Unsurprisingly, it’s Robert Carlyle who garners the most praise from Barrett in his decision to become an actor.
Initially, Barrett went to University to study something else entirely. With a year left in the program, he felt that acting was more of his calling and he approached Carlyle for advice. “[Robert] turned around and said to me, ‘If you go to University tomorrow, you won’t become an actor. If you decide to drop out and do whatever you want, then you might have a shot,’” the young Scottish actor told Blogcritics. “I dropped out the next day. Robert Carlyle has been a massive influence on me.”
After some time with a local theater group, Barrett was accepted into a drama program at Langside College. By 2014, he was finishing up his degree and a production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream when he received the call to be in Barney Thomson. He had one week to prepare for his role as stand-in Barney, which involved wearing a suit and a wig to look like Carlyle. He received a script from Carlyle, who told him, “Deal with it as if you’re playing Barney and don’t worry about anything else. Just you soak up whatever you feel about the character.”
It was a “massive, life-changing experience” to be thrown into rehearsals with greats such as Ray Winstone and Emma Thompson that summer in Glasgow. Taking Carlyle’s advice to heart once again, Barrett kept things in perspective and treated the venture with the same professionalism that he extended toward his college productions. When he wasn’t running through scenes, he observed the crew and even watched Carlyle consult with cinematographer Fabian Wagner (Sherlock, Game of Thrones) about the framing of shots.
“For me, not one day, not one hour, not one minute was laborious,” Barrett explained. “Every part of me was soaking it up and I was learning. I couldn’t afford to let my concentration slip because of the capacity that I was on it… I couldn’t allow myself to take my finger off the pulse.”
During this period of hard work, there were plenty of opportunities to have fun on set, due to the jokes of Ray Winstone, Kevin Guthrie, and Emma Thompson. “My cheeks were sore from laughing,” Barrett reminisced. He singles out one of his scenes with Thompson as particularly challenging and enjoyable: the final exchange that Barney has with his mother Cemolina (Emma Thompson) at the Redwood Flats.
Barrett described the area as a “kind of horrible place” both in Glasgow and in Barney’s journey. He continued, “It was kind of the first time I had performed with Emma where I genuinely felt it was Cemolina and Barney. We both went at it because it had to be one hundred percent for Robert to see it. For me, that’s one scene that sticks out as a really emotional scene.”
After wrapping up on Barney Thomson, he jumped back into theater, co-directing and playing the lead in a production with the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. He has been in some U.K. television ads, television shows, and a few short films. Maneuvering the requirements of theater, television, and film presented a challenge, but Barrett put a high value on the versatility these opportunities afforded him. “It’s your job to be able to jump the elements of your craft,” he reflected confidently. “But at the same time, it’s all under the same umbrella and part of the same craft.”
Mark Barrett is rather optimistic about the next stage of his career. Last year, Barrett also secured the lead roles in a heartwarming six-part drama and in Cleek, a Scottish independent feature. He signed with London agency Simon & How Associates in December and relocated to London in March.
“I stayed in Glasgow for the last two years because I’ve been lucky enough to get work,” he said. “I think if the work is happening in America or Canada, I would be over there in a heartbeat. There’s no rhyme or reason to say no to work, in my opinion. Obviously, if it resonates with me, I would rather do work that I enjoy doing.”
Barrett prefers to set “modest” rather than “unachievable” goals for his career. Yet he still dreams of working with filmmakers such as Ken Loach, Shane Meadows, and Ridley Scott. Given his time with veteran actors like Robert Carlyle, Ray Winstone, and Emma Thompson, it’s very likely that we’ll be seeing a lot more from Mark Barrett. It’s not far-fetched to picture him gracing the screens with a role in a Ridley Scott feature or at the helm of his own directorial debut someday.
The Legend of Barney Thomson has been shortened to the title Barney Thomson since its acquisition by American distributor Gravitas Ventures. The film is available via VOD on sites like iTunes and had a theatrical release on March 11.
Note: This piece was originally posted on Blogcritics.org in February 2016 as “Exclusive Interview with Mark Barrett: ‘Barney Thomson.'” I am catching up on my blog archive. Please visit Blogcritics.org for my most recent articles.