Playing Barack Obama: how a 24-year-old Australian actor landed his dream role
When Devon Terrell was 19, he had one life goal: to play Obama. Five years later with no other screen credits he got the role, in new Netflix biopic Barry
If youre going to play Barack Obama the first black man to become United States president; a man whose departure from the White House leaves the world divided and in turmoil; a role youve dreamed about since you were in high school in Perth, Australia, watching his inauguration speech youre going to want to do your homework.
For Devon Terrell an Australian actor who, remarkably, had no screen credits to his name when he landed the role in Netflixs new biopic, Barry it became something of an obsession.
I get addicted to this kind of research, the 24-year-old says, in Sydney for a press tour ahead of the films release. I read [Obamas memoir] Dreams from My Father three times, and kept reading it afterwards as well. I just wanted to understand who he was as a young man.
Based only on public record research material (with liberties taken here and there), the unauthorised biopic covers a year in the presidents early life: 1981, when the young Barack Obama arrives at Columbia University as a chain-smoking transfer student, struggling to work out exactly where he fits and who he wants to be.
Terrell had only a couple of months to prepare for the film, which was shot in less than six weeks. A perfectionist, he learned to write and play basketball with his left hand like Obama (in the film, its on the basketball court where Barry first feels at home in New York). Terrell also had to master the accent, learn how to hold himself like the future president and effectivelydevelop his own version of one of the worlds most famous men a performance the film-makers wanted to be more homage than impersonation.
He also had to lose weight. Obama is long and lanky … I had to find the lankiness, Terrell says. I actually had to lose about six to eight kilos in two months, because I was quite Id been going to the gym.