Becoming President Barack Obama In Netflix's 'Barry': How A First Time Actor Nailed The Part

As Barack Obama begins to make his White House exodus, a new, fresh perspective on the 44th president of the United States is about to be released. Barry, a Netflix original film out Dec. 16, follows the Hawaii native's junior year of college at Columbia University, as the would-be-president struggles to find himself as a young man searching for purpose. The president is played by 23-year-old Australian actor Devon Terrell, a newcomer who gives an entirely convincing performance — from the way he throws a basketball to how he mimics Obama's subtle, playful swagger.

But when I tell Terrell, who's currently in Australia, that he is the spitting image of a young Obama, he laughs. "Really?" he asks, genuinely shocked. "No one's ever said that, but thank you so much." And his enthusiasm is palpable, even through a cell phone and 10 thousand miles from where I sit in sunny Los Angeles.

For first time actors and seasoned vets alike, this is a role of a lifetime. Not only is Obama the leader of the free world, he's a president wrapped in a tremendous amount of history, admiration, and yes, controversy. And while Terrell has spent most of his life worlds away from the United States, the weight of securing this role does not escape him.

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"I had a very strong emotional connection to the script. I'm a mixed race young man as well... I just wanted to do Barack justice. You could take away the presidency, but he's still someone that I look up to and aspire to be like."

But as an outsider looking in, I imagine it couldn't have been easy to transform into a man who will be written about in history books for decades to come. But according to Terrell, he was focused on the little things: The way young Obama carried himself, the way he threw a basketball with force and precision, and the fact that Obama is left-handed (Terrell is right-handed, himself).

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"It was very much the accent that led to the walk and the walk then led back to the accent. They all kind of informed each other. It was more difficult than I initially thought. The deeper I went, the more complex he became," says the actor.

Outside of Obama's mannerisms and day-to-day quirks, Terrell found difficulty in thinking the way a young Obama in 1981 would think. This is a man who was not yet the president, and who didn't necessarily have any clue he'd one day end up in the Oval Office.

"The intensity of his thoughts was something that blew me away. [People] would say how intelligent and how articulate he was, and how he always came to an eloquent ending in his sentences," he says. "But he was the quiet guy in the corner. He was just a normal person. I look at Barack as this otherworldly figure that I respect and look up to, so it's interesting that he was this normal guy that people don't even remember being in their classes." 

Not only was he a somewhat forgettable 21-year-old, Obama wasn't even a cool kid, according to the depiction in Barry. He was lanky, odd at times, and completely awkward. 

"He has a subtle swagger about him. Now, it's an outward charm. But then it was awkward. I watched clips of him when he was younger... There's this awkwardness that comes out in certain moments," says Terrell.

I laugh and ask Terrell what he thinks Obama would say if he heard us talking about awkward he used to be, but Terrell assures me this gawkiness is self-proclaimed. 

"It comes across in the way he talks about himself," Terrell says. "He's a very complex man. Obviously he was grappling with something at that age. He mentions that he went through a lot of mistakes in his life... he went through a phase where he was a little bit awkward."

In 2015 Obama told ABC News, "I know what it is to come of age and feel uncertain about your place, and not clear about what it means to become a man. I made a lot of mistakes, but I kept at it. I want every young man who sees me to know I'm not that different than them."

But come January, Obama's pearls of wisdom, not to mention his mindful leadership, his caring nature, his respect for the American people, his level-headedness, and many other admirable traits — will be missed by many.

So bring on Barry, and let us enjoy time with the man who would become President Barack Obama one last time.

Images: Netflix (4)

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