Interview with Raymond J. Barry of "Justified" on FX - Primetime TV Show Articles From The TV MegaSite

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By Suzanne

Raymond J. Barry

Interview with Raymond J. Barry (Arlo Givens) of "Justified" on FX April 2012

This was a wonderful phone call. Barry is a great talker and a nice guy. He seems genuinely interested in a lot of people and things, and he should really write a book because he's had such an interesting life.

Suzanne: How did you get involved with "Justified" in the first place?

RJ Barry: My agent called me and said, "I think I have something good for you". I said, "Okay" and that's how it happened.

Suzanne: Did you have to audition? Or did they know your work already?

RJ Barry: I think they must've seen a tape or something. It was a very easy process. No addition, no interview even. I didn't even meet any of the people. I just showed up on set and started shooting the scene. It was sort of like water off a duck's ass, you know?

Suzanne:  (Laughs) It was easy.

RJ Barry: Yeah.

Suzanne: I think it's probably the best show on television.

RJ Barry: That's what I hear; You know, I haven't seen anything. I haven't seen any of the episodes, and I'm not bragging about that... I realize I should see it, but I got a lot of kids, and I forget it's on...

Suzanne: You're busy.

RJ Barry: Ha ha. That's it. I go to bed at 10, that type of thing. I got to get up at 5:30. It's grueling. And you know what?

Suzanne: Yes?

RJ Barry: I don't have to look at it. I like it. I like doing it. I don't have to turn the TV on, and say, "Oh, how do I look?" Or whatever. Thank God I've kind of outgrown all of that self investigation, you know?

Suzanne: Right. Well, some actors like to watch themselves and others don't.

RJ Barry: I am very grateful for the work. It's a terrific situation. I like the people. I like the writing. I like the character. I like the job. I've been doing it about three years now, and it allows me to do other things, like I wrote a play, and I performed it for 12 weeks out here... and five weeks in New York. I had the finances and the time to do that. Everything is cool.

Suzanne: That's great. Did you have to do any special work to get the accent, or did they help you with it?

RJ Barry: You know, that's very interesting. I did two movies in which I had to play a Mississippi accent and an Louisianan accent. One movie, directed by Tim Robbins and starring Susan Sarandon, was called "Dead Man Walking". I used a Louisianan accent in that movie. I did a movie with Gene Hackman called "The Chamber", in which I played the head of the KKK. There were a lot of long speeches with the southern Mississippi accent. What I did was to study both of those accents rigorously with a tape, and I hired a dialect coach. I really worked on each accent laboriously, and I think I did a good job with it. When I came to Justified, things happened so fast, and seriously, I didn't have time for that. So what I did was to hang on to the residue of what I had studied in a very meticulous passion for the other two films, and I sort of intuitively felt myself into the accent and promised myself not to worry about it. I wasn't going to get all bogged down with "Oh, this isn't right" or "This doesn't feel right". I wanted to keep the ride light and free as opposed to bog down with self judgment and whatever else an actor can do to himself. That's what I did. I just kind of made it up as I went along with the knowledge I had from "The Chamber" and Dead Man Walking."

Suzanne: Well, it worked.

RJ Barry: It does work. It's really kind of interesting. Sometimes less is more in the amount of effort you put into something. You know, when you break something down phonetically, and the script changes, and you have to learn it in two hours to shoot it, you can't be bogged down with all of that. You got to use your intuition and just kind of play in the sandbox like a child and enjoy yourself.

Suzanne: Well, now that I hear your real voice, I can hear a little bit of the New York accent.

RJ Barry: Yeah, I'm from New York. Long Island actually.

Suzanne: (Pronounces it with broad Long Island accent) Long island.

RJ Barry: Yeah, (does the same) Long Island. In my 20's and 30's, and half of my 40's, I lived in Manhattan. I was doing all stage work. So the imprint of New York is definitely on the imprint of my speech patterns.

Suzanne: I think those kind of accents are really hard to lose. My mother-in-law is from Rhode Island and she's lived in California for, like, half a century and she still has a thick accent.

RJ Barry: You know, I went to school in Rhode Island. I know that accent.

Suzanne: Yeah?

RJ Barry: Providence, and... That's a very distinct accent that I would imagine is very hard to lose.

Suzanne: It is. My husband, who's lived in California most of his life, still gets comments about his accent because it was so heavily influenced from both of his parents, who had Rhode Island accents. People ask, are you English, are you Canadian, or what? He sometimes doesn't quite pronounce words like the rest of us.

RJ Barry: Oh, right. Do you live in California?

Suzanne: We did. We're both from there. Right now I'm in Georgia.

RJ Barry: Oh, you live down in Georgia? (Sounds very incredulous)

Suzanne: (Laughs) My husband is a professor, so we moved around a lot, but we're both from San Diego.

RJ Barry: Where is he a professor?

Suzanne: Columbus State University.

RJ Barry: Far out. What does he teach?

Suzanne: Political science, but he's actually Dean of the College of Letters and Sciences, so he only teaches a little bit now.

RJ Barry: You know, coincidentally, I just hung up with an old friend of mine who lives in Georgia.

Suzanne: That is funny.

RJ Barry: He lives in the outskirts of Atlanta. We were talking about education. He was lambasting education because he's very political, and was saying all these guys come from fancy Ivy League schools, and blah blah blah. I said, come on, Mark, give me a break, man. You dropped out of school, so now you're criticizing it?

Suzanne: Actually, one of your co-workers there, Joelle Carter (Ava), is from Tuscaloosa, Alabama, where we used to live before we moved here.

RJ Barry: She has a wonderful accent.

Suzanne: She does, she does.

RJ Barry: You know, I asked her one time, where did you get that accent? She knows exactly what she's doing.

Suzanne: You got a great group of actors there.

RJ Barry: Aren't they?

Suzanne: Yeah, the writing and the acting really is... I watch a lot of TV, and it really is the best show on television. You'll have to watch it one of these days.

RJ Barry: I've heard that over and over again, and I think they've even had polls to that effect.

(We discussed my web site briefly and what it's about)

RJ Barry: I'll throw out a few interesting anecdotes, okay? In 1957, I was the New York State high-jumping champion.

Suzanne: Wow.

RJ Barry: Isn't that an interesting anecdote?

Suzanne: It is.

RJ Barry: We used the Western Roll. They didn't have the Fosbury Flop in those days.

Suzanne: Okay....

RJ Barry: In 1957-8 I had a football scholarship to Brown University.

Suzanne: Oh, okay. Up in Rhode Island...

RJ Barry: Yeah, that's how I know that Pawtuckett, Providence accent. In 1962 I went to Yale Drama School.

Suzanne: Wow.

RJ Barry: Some guy came up to me and asked me if I wanted to be in a play - I said no. The same guy got me into Yale Drama School after I agreed to do the play, and I was awful in it. That same dude I saw last Summer when I brought my son up to Brown to play in a basketball clinic. He's still alive, he's like 87 years old! I called him and went over to his house. The guy changed my life. He gave me a phone call and said, "We're looking for a football player to play the part of Hal in William Inge's 'Picnic'". And I said, "I don't know how to do that. I'm not into that". Long story short, I took his class.

Suzanne: Good thing you did.

RJ Barry: You know, it's not a bad life, if you stay away from drugs and booze. Not bad, not bad.

Suzanne: Has being on Justified had a big impact on your life? Do people recognize you more?

RJ Barry: The answer is yes. I don't know how to react to all that, you know... an actor always wants to be famous. On the other hand, I'm 73 years old. How the Hell can I get all excited about that? But on the basis of my age, I feel grateful that I'm in the game. People do stop me, and they say, hey man... You know, the other day, I'm opening up my car, and this Mexican dude with his family, yells out, "Are you the guy on FX?" He was all excited and he comes over and shakes my hand. It makes me feel like I have worth or something. Like President Clinton or something. So the answer is definitely yes. The element of notoriety is part of an actor's experience, and there's something positive about it. Not a bad life. I got four kids....

Suzanne: Yeah, I was reading about you and your family.

RJ Barry: I've also played a lot of fathers of these movie star dudes, you know? Tom Cruise, Brad Pitt, Ashton Kutcher, Charlie Sheen...the list goes on. Tim Olyphant (Raylan), I'm the father of now... it's just an ironic thing because I didn't really take off in films and television until middle age because I stayed in New York and was in plays and theater. I think I was afraid to come out here.

Suzanne: I'll bet you're glad you did, though.

RJ Barry: I am... I have a daughter..I split up with her mom, but I didn't want to leave my daughter. I wasn't going to do that, and I'm glad I didn't. Now I got 3 more kids with the wife I've been with for 22 years. This one's gonna stick.

Suzanne: That's good.

RJ Barry: Yeah.

Suzanne: Is it safe to say that working so much in stage and screen has helped keep you young?

RJ Barry: Well, yeah, combined with the fact that I have a little contest going with myself...I work out at the gym. And I have the plays that I mentioned. I keep myself in shape doing that. About 35 years ago I felt that people weren't letting me play the parts I wanted to play, so I started writing plays for poets and artists, and crazy relationships with women. I wrote a part for a guy who didn't want to leave his mother.

And there was another part for a father that was walking around the house in a dress because he was violent with his wife. He beat her one time, and she died about 6 months later, and after that, he piled up her dresses, and his hands made him try on one of the dresses. It wasn't him, it was his hands. As soon as he tried on the dress, he could hear her voice. As soon as he heard her voice, it turned out he was channeling his wife through the dress. Then as the play unfolds, you begin to realize, you find out that the reason he beat her was because she was in bed with a woman. So she was gay, and at first glance, when the play opens, you think he's got some kind of unusual sexuality or something, and it's a surprise when you find out that his wife was gay, and he beat her because the idea of homosexuality was too much for him.

Suzanne: Sounds like a good play.

RJ Barry: It's an interesting idea... I don't know if it was fully performed. I'd like to go back to that scene because the domestic violence and homophobia - all of those contemporary subjects that are very significant today. I love the idea of the masculine man walking around in the dress, and you wonder, "What the heck is this?" There's a son involved, too. But yeah, it's a very interesting idea. I did it in Ireland, in Dublin, and it got rave reviews. I did it in New York City, and it also got great reviews there. And I did it without it being reviewed, here in Los Angeles...and I did it in Colorado Springs. It had a bit of a run. I did it in Portland, Oregon....

Suzanne: Speaking of seeing your dead wife... Arlo is not only talking to his dead wife, he's seeing her.. We're seeing her. What do you think of that whole story, where he's kinda crazy?

RJ Barry: Yeah, he's got dementia. He's imagining that the wife is alive, and he's talking to himself. He's got this dialogue going with Helen (Linda Gehringer -a terrific actress). At first, when I think about it....last episode I have confessed to two murders. Whether or not I have committed those murders, we don't know...but there seems to be a lot of confusion in Arlo's mind about who is who and what is what. First of all, what is what. The wife is dead, but he doesn't seem to realize that. Second, his affinity with Boyd has grown in great proportion, in the sense that he seems more loyal to Boyd than to his own son. What he's done in an episode coming up is that he's convinced that he could have committed the murders, and maybe he did. One is Dickie and the other is a state trooper.

(We discussed that episode a little so that I could make sure we were both talking about the same one)

RJ Barry: So I'm going to be in jail when we begin the fourth season. There is a movie in which I was punching the heavy bag, called "Falling Down". I was playing Robert Duvall's boss. There's a scene in my office where I'm talking to him about his retirement. When the scene begins, I'm punching a heavy bag, which I do in my real life. I know how to do it. They've consulted with me already about me punching a heavy bag in jail (on Justified), which I'm encouraged about because there's a certain degree of virility involved. As opposed to being--

Suzanne: Crazy old man?

RJ Barry: Yes, muttering away to himself about things that don't really exist.

Suzanne: Now, I'm confused about something.. Have they said in the show that it's dementia? Because it almost seems to me like schizophrenia because he's hearing voices and taking medication.

RJ Barry: Well, that's interesting. When you talk about schizophrenia, you're talking about some wild stuff. Not that dementia is any better..

Suzanne: No, but...

RJ Barry: I think people in a state of schizophrenia are in great pain.

Suzanne: It would explain how he had that bad relationship with his wife and his son, more, when he was younger, if he had that.

RJ Barry: Well, he never did, and that's another factor. It's not really schizophrenia because that affects people in their early 20's.

Suzanne: Yeah, true.

RJ Barry: It doesn't suddenly appear when they're 50 years old or whatever. I think it's more likely that he would fall into a state of dementia or Alzheimer's, something of that order. Although, we're talking about theater here. We're talking about television, and we can make it up as it goes along, even though I can imagine the general public would want you to stick to the facts as much as possible. I always love to just act as opposed to saying, "Well, it couldn't happen this way". It's happening, so you better believe it.

Suzanne: We didn't see him on the show when he was younger, so it could be possible, don't you think, with the poverty they had, that he could have had it, and they just didn't know? They just thought he was a mean S.O.B.?

RJ Barry: That's true. That's completely viable, what you're saying. And we've only known him for 3 years.

Suzanne: Right, so who knows what happened before?

RJ Barry: Exactly. I feel that what I'm doing with that... I used to know a person with Alzheimer's, and I had lunch with her. She would ask me the same question five times. And every time she'd ask me the same question, I'd answer it with absolute, unequivocal logic. No one was behaving crazy. The only thing that was crazy was that she was asking the same thing over and over, and I was answering the same thing over and over. Every time. With no emotional reaction whatsoever, not as if there was some abhorrent behavior going on here. So that's the way I've been taking it. No big deal, I'm just talking to my wife. YOU make it crazy, you make it abnormal. Or Raylan, or Boyd, or whomever. That's where I'm coming from with it. I haven't gone to an old age home to research how people behave. Although, it wouldn't be a bad idea. I'm sure I'd get an idea... you can never tell how people act. Like maybe if they don't leave the building, they don't tie their shoelaces. Some little detail that would be characteristic of that situation.

Suzanne: I'm no expert on dementia, but I think there are 4 or 5 different types.

RJ Barry: That's interesting. How do you know this?

(I explained to him that I did research online because of a relative having dementia. Then he spoke about his mother a bit, who was also an actress.)

RJ Barry: I remember when my mother was in her 90's, before she passed.... she resigned herself to lying in bed and watching TV.

Suzanne: Oh, that's not good.

RJ Barry: No. She was an extraordinary woman. She started acting in my theater company in New York when she was 61...

Suzanne: Wow.

RJ Barry: I directed her in about 4 plays, and then she went off on her own and did about 20 movies, and then she was David Letterman's mother on his TV show.

Suzanne: Oh, cool.

RJ Barry: Yeah. She did a lot of soap operas and commercials... she did two Super Bowl commercials.

Suzanne: What's her name?

RJ Barry: Barbara D. Barry. Oh, wait a minute. Her stage name was B. Constance Barry. She would appear on David Letterman's show... she (was in a comedy bit where she) received a phone call from President Clinton, running for president, and have a couple of minutes' conversation with her, that the audience could over hear. She had a charming vocal delivery, so David used her quite often.

Suzanne: Oh, that's nice.

RJ Barry: It was cool. He'd say, "My mother's backstage" and they'd put the camera on her and she'd have a hardhat on, and a cable over her shoulder, that type of thing.

Suzanne: Right, right. So David Letterman is like your step-brother.

RJ Barry: Ha ha, exactly. Exactly.

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