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July 15, 2008

Malcolm 1

Malcolm Barrett, who guest stars in "Mr. Monk Gets Lotto Fever" as a lotto crazed murder suspect, is a Brooklyn born actor, director, writer, comedian, licensed poet and all around renaissance guy. Before immigrating to the west coast he co-starred in the first national tour of the pulitzer prize winning play "Wit" with Judith Light.

He's appeared in a wide variety of films and television shows including Law and Order, The Sopranos, As the World Turns, It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia, Ghost Whisperer and Psych. We had an in depth phone conversation a couple of weeks ago all about his Monk appearance and his career in general.


So you're in the upcoming Monk episode "Monk Gets Lotto Fever," right?

That is correct. I'm in that one.

So how did you get your role in that?

Well, the way I got it was... a couple of ways, I guess. Do you know David Breckman?

Yes, yes I do.

Yeah, I think you guys just did an interview with him, but he's actually a buddy of mine. About three or four years ago I was in a sketch comedy troop with actress Cameron Meyer who is now his current wife. So actually me and her became friends a couple of years ago. Through him I wound up auditioning for a small role of a curator at a museum who had some sort of a speech. I actually wound up getting the part, but not taking it just because it was a small thing and my reps were not wanting me to do that blah blah blah.... I wound up talking to Dave and saying "I'm sorry" and he completely understood. I told him I was a big fan of the show and if ever I got the opportunity again I'd pretty much tell my reps, you know, f*!@ them and I'm doing it no matter what.

I remember that museum curator role in that episode was pretty small, but that actor went on to do the villain (Raza) in Iron Man.

Oh, yeah. Who played that role?

That was um... I can't remember the name now [it was in fact Faran Tahir], but....

See had I done that I could now be in Iron Man and I'd be making billions. I'm never going to listen to them again. So me and David talked about me playing a part for a while. I said, "Just let me know, let me know" and then this part came up. I didn't definitely think I would have it or anything like that, because nothing's really expected in this business as far as I'm concerned, even though the character's actually named Malcolm, Malcolm O'Dwyer.

So do you think they already had you in mind for the role when they asked you in to audition?

I don't know if this was specifically written.... because you know how the writers' room works. The guys have to kick ideas and characters around. I don't know if Dave just knew this was a character he wanted me to play from a date, but he always had in mind that he wanted me to be on the show and then this character came about. He said he wanted me to come in for it and then I got it. So I mean I'd have to ask him, is this written exactly for me? But I don't know. I just know that he had me in mind for the character. But even then I was still, I don't think I'll get it. I have a good chance, but I have no real clue. So I wound up audtioning for it, me and another dude, and getting it. I'm sure it would have to be Dave's idea or somebody's to name the character Malcolm. They probably had me in mind to play the role, but the character description is also a little older than I am. I mean I think it's supposed to be a late thirties or forties professor or something to that effect. You know, wild haired and so I did my own take on that.

So who is your character? What kind of a guy is he?

My character's name is Malcolm O'Dwyer and I guess the description is sort of the wildhaired guy. What it said in the scene was, the guy from A Beautiful Mind has become obsessed with the lotto.

Oh okay, yeah.

So that was essentially my springboard or my jumping off point for the character. It was that description and what I was interested in doing artistically at the time. So it's essentially this guy who is a huge fan of the California State Lottery system and just has devoted his life to that, devoted his life to the lottery. His place is covered in lotto tickets and he's just become completely obsessed with the show. Then I believe it's Traylor's character that winds up being one of the lotto girls. So he's interested in her and has pictures of her and all of the lotto girls really.
Lotto Fever 1
Natalie, the Lotto Girl

Then there's of course a mystery that happens: there's a murder of one of the girls and I'm suspected of being one of the people who might have done it. So that's sort of where we meet my character. I had the idea of it being this professor who had lost his job because he had become so obsessed with the lotto that it took all of his time. I figure if you see his apartment if, when you see the episode, it feels exactly like that, like this guy has given up his life for this and found meaning in the lottery.

Uh huh.

Which was great, because they allowed me to approach it from this very theatrical point of view. Because it's a single camera comedy/drama or whatever you want to call it. It gives you a lot more freedom to give the character more depth and have him almost have a message or be a little more grounded than he would in say a half-hour sitcom. I mean three cameras or something like that. You're not just doing a sort of dog and pony show, you actually get to have some depth.

So has the other television work you've done not been that flexible?

Malcolm 6

It's been different sorts of things. A lot of my roles are usually making a joke on either nerds or around the way dudes and really the depth of it depends on the type of show it is. You know I've done some sitcoms and done pilots for sitcoms as well and three camera just tends to be hitting the joke. Do you know what I mean?


It's a lot more fun in single camera as well. On those sorts of shows you get to have the funny, but you get to have people think a little bit more and get to play with getting the beats and silence and different things other than just ba dum bum. You know what I mean?

Right. Do you get more time to work?

No, I mean they're both quick in their own regard. If you're shooting a pilot for a sitcom I always feel like you have way too much time, especially for the type of jokes they are. It's really just set up and joke. So you kind of don't want to do it too much simply because it gets stale really quickly.

I just enjoy anything where I get to have some room like this show. It was very evident that it was very creative and I'd be able to do what I wanted and create different things in a scene very quickly. There are moments where I'm like getting some information.... I'm about to write something down because I have like this newsletter devoted to lottery and there's all these like lotto balls surrounding my house and I just sort of put these lottery balls in my pocket before the scene and just filled my pockets with them. I didn't really say anything to anybody about it. And I put these little lotto balls in my pocket right before I was getting my pen out so that they kind of spill out while I'm getting this information.

And I do this thing, because I've been trying to sort of change my appearances with my character, just exploring that, so I sort of put a part in my hair, this sort of late 80s sort of Arnold Jackson Diff'rent Strokes part in my hair. It's my theory that that's when he sort of stopped taking care of himself and his looks. Like a certain amount of church folks, I think they keep the same hair style they had when they first got saved. You know what I mean? So they let me do that and no one really said anything about it. I just did it and you know the hair person was just sort of like, let's go.

It was just little things like that where you got to create and you knew they would be captured, because of how it was. There wasn't a whole lot of people going, "What are you doing?" or "That's too much" or "This won't be seen" or "This is stepping over a joke." It's all just sort of flowing. It was fun, it was good.

It was actually a weird experience in terms of what they would let me do. When I actually had the audition for the role I worried that I was too dramatic. I had David Breckman in the audtion room with me and I'm doing the audition and I didn't even think of the comedy side of it. I was approaching it just as a drama, a dramatic play almost. The thing that threw me off is that a couple lines in David's laughing. David Breckman's like laughing while I'm doing this thing. I'm going, like half way in, is this a comedy? Am I supposed to be funny? Is that what this is? I have no clue what's happening. Then I realize after the fact, when I'm talking to some people, the fact that my character takes all of this stuff so seriously that some of this comedy actually comes out of it.

I didn't really realize it. I didn't think about it, because I was so caught up in the dramatics of the character. Why is he taking this thing so super seriously, taking this lottery thing as the meaning of life, essentially. You know, because winning the lottery isn't important to my character... to Malcolm's character. It's the journey that he takes while trying to find his lucky numbers. So that's sort of the fun of the character for me.

It sort of sounds like that character mirrors Monk.

Malcolm 5

Yes, definitely. There are a lot of similarities. They definitely both have a bit of obsessive compulsive nature to them, I think. The only thing is they have them in the exact opposite way. I think Tony's character of Monk is very obsessive in terms of being clean and doesn't want to touch anything and I think that mine.... Tony's character winds up being at my apartment near the very end and is almost scared of it, because it's so cluttered and it's so covered in lottery tickets and this and that. Actually there's like a brief look to each other. It's like a small improvised scene that we wound up having, me and Tony, where he comes and I'm working and we're there at the same time. He's about to leave and I'm just watching him and it's these two oddballs of like who is the bigger weirdo. It's almost a standoff of like who is more insane right now. You know what I mean? So there is definitely a little nod to Tony's character, I think in some respects, just sort of taking it into a slightly different spectrum.

So did you work with the rest of the cast as well?

Ted Levine

Well, my scenes were mainly with Ted Levine, who is an amazing actor and tons of fun to work with. It was with Ted and I'm blanking on the other guy's name... it's Jason [Gray-Stanford].

Jason, yes.

Yeah, yeah. It was mainly being questioned by those two. It was really awesome because I'm a super huge fan of Ted's.

Everyone on the set was ridiculously nice to me. They spoke to me as though I had been working on the show for months. I didn't feel like I was skipping a beat. It was an awesome environment to be in and to just watch these guys just do their thing. I would watch Ted do these takes and... you know they've been doing that show for six, seven years now and it's really easy for veteran actor's to give you nothing when the cameras not on them to sort of call it in or dial it in, but Ted was always... and Jason too, both of them, were always very good about really being in the scene when the camera wasn't on them and giving you what you needed. [Ted] would do great things even when he wasn't speaking, you know. He would have these little takes just to himself. It would be amazing, because he would give you different things each time. I mean even just for shots of him listening. It would be a totally different thing each time and each interesting and great choices. They were definitely a good group to work with and would run with the stuff I was doing and it was good, you know.

So your background is in theater, right?

Yeah, I went to NYU for theater, directing and acting. So a major part of my background is theater. I was on tour with Wit for a while. I had a theater company, was artistic director of it. I did a bunch of plays in New York and that's mainly it. I did some sketch comedy as well in New York with this group Broken Lizards and I had a theater company, Real Theatreworks Inc, which I co-founded with two other grads from NYU: Daryl Watson who's a writer, writes on Johnny and the Sprites, and Shamis Beckley who's been helping the Obama campaign. She's in Middle America and doing the acting thing as well. So that's the background I came from.

Malcolm 10

I wound up getting a pilot. I'm from Brooklyn, from New York and I wound up getting a pilot right out of college. I was going in and out of college, partially for work and partially for, who knows what... running out of scholarship money. And the very last time I left college I wound up meeting for a pilot that I got. I wound up going on the show Luis with Luis Guzman who is awesome who was sort of like an uncle to me when I got to L.A. and introduced me to this funky little world, both of us being sort of Brooklyn... we're New York guys coming into this world. So that's where my background came in. So I was doing drama when I was in New York, TV wise at least: Law and Order, The Sopranos as much as you can do that when you're a New York actor. I came to L.A. and hit the sitcom scene and that just recently has been transition into more movie stuff. The last year I think I worked on like three movies.

You did Psych last year too, right?

Malcolm 3

I did do Psych as well last year. I think I shot a pilot and then I wound up going to Canada for Psych. Which was awesome, with James Roday and Dulé Hill. Which was cool because I was testing for the pilot of Psych way back when it started. I think it was between me and two or three other guys. We'd had the studio test and then they brought in Dulé Hill at the last minute. It was like, what? It was like a big coup.

So it was awesome to be doing Psych because actually part of the test was auditioning with James Roday. We would improvise a little. I don't know if you know, but it's few and far between finding good improvisational actors especially ones where you can work with and bounce off of each other. James is definitely one of the favorite actors of mine to have that happen with. So when I got to guest star on the show it was a lot of fun.

Very good. So are you permanently in L.A. now?

I'm currently in L.A. right now. I'm going to New York in about a week for theater. I'm working this poetry show. It's basically going to be a year review from a poet's point of view. It's going to be eight poets. I'm directing the show in December. It will probably be at.... Well, we're not sure where it's going to be just yet. We'll have stuff on line, but it's happening on July 26th. We're doing sort of sneak peek of the show. It's spoken word poems mostly Nuyorican folks. They're probably going to line up and it will be about eight of them doing poems and then a little intermission. Then we'll do sort of a preview of the show and it's going to be a multimedia thing. We're going to have the spoken word poets, but we're also going to have almost a choreographed poem on stage. Certain parts of it will have videos playing during the stuff that relates to the thing. Sort of like Def Poetry Jam but more theatrical, bring a theatricality out of it, and not just a round robin tournament of poets. You know bring a sort of stage and audience involved into it.

You're a poet as well, is that right?

Yeah I was on the 2001 Nuyorican National Team, went to a national poetry event got a poet's license, believe it or not. This license they give you.

I didn't know they actually gave you a poetic license.

The Sketch Show
Malcolm Barrett and the cast
of The Sketch Show with Kelsey Grammer

Yeah, a poet's license it was great. It was 2001 and we went to nationals and when you sign up there they give you a little thing that says "poetic license." I carried it around in my wallet until it disintegrated. It was just a little piece of paper. It was great. So I was on the team for a little bit and I still know a bunch of folks. I still do it from time to time. I do spoken word and I tour a little bit doing colleges. I did Princeton and I did NYU and a couple of different NYU event, Nuyorican champions, you know.

I try to do as many different things as I can. So this is kind of where I am right now is acting. I've done theater. I've done poetry. I've done music. I try never to stick with one thing. I have a short attention span, so I gotta keep going.

Is there one particular thing that you find the most rewarding?

Malcolm 2

Actings the most rewarding. It's getting me paid the most. It's rewarding me with cash dollars.

Yeah, poets don't get paid much.

No, poets don't. That's definitely... you're getting rewarded in spirit when you're doing poetry.

But, no, it's been a gentle balance. It's been a good balance, because a lot of this has been affording me some of the more artistic endeavors like directing the poetry shows and the music and all these sort of things. So everything winds of feeding each other. My main focus is just to express what I need to express at the time and more than likely it's the voice of the underrepresented, may it be poetry covering the news don't see may it be sort of quirky characters or underdogs in whatever respect. You know be it racially, be it emotionally, be it physically, be it geographically. Whoever's just not being spoken for I tend to want to have that voice be heard. And I think that reflects in a lot of the characters I play like the guy who is looking for hope and purpose through the lottery. I like these foiled, flawed characters searching for something greater than themselves.

Is there any dream project you'd like to do that you haven't done yet?

There are tons of things that I'd like to do. I mean I'm trying to build a career so everything is just a step to something else. But you know I think I just want to keep on writing. There are a couple of things I'm writing that I kind of want to have done. But I don't know, I'm working on crazy ideas. I was thinking of re-doing Brother from Another Planet just because I think that'd be hilarious.

Honestly, I'd just like to whatever I've done to have the next thing be completely different. I was doing a lot of sitcoms and then I wound up doing a single camera. I just did this single camera pilot which was a lot of fun and so that was different. The three movies that I just did were all completely different. One is a Dane Cook improv comedy [My Best Friend's Girl]. Another is this heavy drama, I think it's called American Violet, that's about these wrongly accused African American men accused of being drug dealers in the south, based on a true story and sort of shedding some light on that. That's happening. And then I did this movie with Kathryn Bigelow [The Hurt Locker] about these soldiers in Iraq. You know as long as it's relevant, interesting and different, that's where I want to be. And new and challenging. I don't want to give the audience the same thing every time.

I'm always asked like is there one particular thing. I don't know. There's people I want to work with. There's tons of folks I'd love to work with.

Who are some of your favorites?

Who are some of my favorite people I'd love to work with? I'd love to work with Philip Seymour Hoffman, Don Cheadle, Denzel Washington, Martin Scorsese would be interesting, Spike Lee, tons of folks. The dude from Pie. Tons of different folks. I like that chick from The Contender. I can't remember her name. I can never remember her name. [Joan Allen?]

Malcolm 9

I'll look it up.

Okay, but she's awesome. Put that down. Chick from Contender I want to work with you. You're awesome. She's in the Bourne Supremacy. She's good. Oh, I really want to work with Kerry Washington. I want to work with her. She seems interesting. And the Apatow gang if they'd let me in a movie. We could do something. We could do something together.

Apatow works with a lot of the same people over and over, right? Once you're in you keep going.

Yeah, I don't know. I went in for Knocked Up, but they gave it to one of their friends or their nephew or something like that. That's my thing man. You know I'd like to work with some folks, but I'd like to create some new stuff. I'd be happy to see some of my contemporaries come up more and more whoever they might be.

I think that was all the questions I had. Anything else you'd like to tell me about?

No, no, but if you could work in the show, the poetry show. I have no idea when you're going to be running this.

What was the name of the poetry show?

Oh, it's called SWAP 08. The Spoken Word Almanac Project. We're about to have a myspace in the next couple of days. I'll hit you with an email once we get it down there.

The Sketch Show "Phobia Convention" featuring Malcolm Barrett


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