As the country prepares to bid farewell to outgoing President Barack Obama, Netflix is looking to introduce people to a guy known to his friends as Barry.
Newcomer Devon Terrell plays young Barack Obama in the film “Barry” from director Vikram Gandhi and writer Adam Mansbach. The movie explores the slice of Obama’s life during which he was living in New York City in the ’80s and struggling to find his place in the world while attending Columbia University.
“We set out to do a character piece, a movie that used the ‘free money’ of this guy going on to be the leader of the free world in order to smuggle a quiet movie about race and identity and coming of age into the mainstream,” Mansbach told CNN in an email interview. “We wanted the story to work on its own merits — to be compelling even if this guy’s name was Larry and he grew up to be an accountant.”
Finding an actor capable of embodying an iconic man who had not yet become the Obama people know today was no small feat. But Terrell was up for the task.
Under the direction of Gandhi, the actor at one point spent an entire week walking and talking like Obama in order to prepare for the film. He also learned how to play basketball left-handed and pick up young Obama’s mannerisms by studying old Youtube videos.
“Devon trained like an athlete,” Ghandi told CNN. “He even started taking magnesium supplements to loosen up his joints and achieve the Obama swagger that we all know. By the time the camera was rolling, he had really found his inner Barry.”
The result of his efforts can be seen in the clip below, which you’re seeing first on CNN.
In it, Barry has a candid conversation with his mother (Ashley Judd), who popped in for a surprise visit, about his struggle to find a place to belong.
“This is a scene in which we allow Barry a rare moment of real transparency; he’s a guy who’s in his head a lot, very private about the complexity of his feelings, but here he opens up a bit,” Mansbach said.
Mansbach and Gandhi used Obama’s memoir and interviews with people who knew the future president in his college days to help form the version of him seen in the movie. It was a challenge, Mansbach said, to “retrofit who he was then based on who he is now.”
“The origins of what people have seen variously as ‘aloofness’ or cool or a professorial vibe is something I think originated during this time, so this scene also about that,” he said.
“Barry” debuts on Netflix December 16.