Charlie Barnett, the star of the new hit Netflix series Russian Doll, came back to his hometown for a March fund raiser for his alma mater, Booker High School, and its VPA (visual and performing arts) programs. Looking slim and handsome and dressed in a black suit, the star hung out on the roof of the Westcoast Black Theatre Troupe, where party-goers milled about drinking wine and he reflected on growing up in Sarasota.
Barnett, 31, spent his childhood on a sailboat moored off Longboat Key. In need of something to occupy his time after school, he turned to the arts. “I sucked at sailing,” said Barnett. “I went into theater, because that’s what was here. Had it been something else, I might have committed to that. I’m really, really thankful to have grown up in Sarasota.”
The actor juggled dance and music lessons, sang with the Sarasota Youth Opera and spent time on stage at Booker High. Then he landed a coveted spot at The Juilliard School in New York. His career took off when he appeared on NBC’s Chicago Fire in 2012 and then became the male lead in Russian Doll, a gruesome twist on Groundhog Day.
“Netflix, for a long while, was a dream of mine,” Barnett said. “The work they produce is amazing. Netflix has a freedom that they give to their writers and the creative team to kind of let loose, and they don’t get in the way.”
Barnett stressed the importance of local support for the arts. “They’re not just entertainment,” he insisted. “They are reflections of our lives, and the lives that we can live, bad and good.”
Barnett just wrapped up filming another series, Tales of the City, alongside Ellen Page. He’s set to star with Drew Barrymore in The Stand In and appear in the next season of the Netflix original series You.
For aspiring actors, Barnett shared the following advice: “Focus on the long game. Don’t focus on the accolades, the prizes or the parts,” he said. “Make sure that you can walk down the street, look at people and want to know more about them and their paths, because that generates a compassion for humanity, and builds a strong actor. We work from life.”