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Russian Doll's Charlie Barnett On Season 2, His Character's Possible LGBTQ+ Storyline, And Arrow - Exclusive Interview

This interview contains major spoilers for "Russian Doll" Season 2.

For anyone who didn't get enough of an existential crisis in 2020, "Russian Doll" is finally back with another grippingly mind-bending season to captivate and mildly confuse audiences everywhere. Fans haven't seen Alan (Charlie Barnett) and Nadia (Natasha Lyonne) grace their Netflix scenes in the show since 2019, but the series doesn't miss a beat with a family-centric mystery that goes the distance through space and time. 

Barnett is no stranger to the small screen, having scored the role of Peter Mills in the One Chicago franchise and appearing in "Valor" and the Netflix series "You." He also won the role of John Diggle in the Arrowverse, and he was even slated to appear alongside Kat McNamara in the "Green Arrow & the Canaries" spinoff that never happened, according to ComicBook. Since then, Barnett has starred in the series "Ordinary Joe" and acted alongside Matthew Daddario in "Wild Game."

During an exclusive interview with Looper, Charlie Barnett dove deep into the intricacies of "Russian Doll" Season 2, offering insight on his character's possible LGBTQ+ journey, how he tackles the series' more confusing aspects, and how involved producer Amy Poehler is in the show. He also revealed what it was like working alongside Natasha Lyonne on "Russian Doll" and Kat McNamara on "Arrow."

The impact of a wonder co-star

"Russian Doll" has such a phenomenal cast. What are some of your favorite moments working with Natasha [Lyonne] and the rest of the cast?

There [are] personal moments that I can say Natasha has really changed my life in sobriety, in a certain sense, and awareness of my abilities and pushing my own self from watching her create this whole mountain, [a] behemoth of a mountain. I've been inspired a lot. Then, there's this side of watching Greta [Lee]. You can literally give her a phone book, and she can make it interesting and hilarious. That is a craft that I wish I could have an inch of.

The show is incredibly mind-bending. Do you get the script episodically, or do you know the whole season arc when you go into shooting a season?

The first season was very different. A lot of the people who were leading us took a second to reassess how we could make it — not easier, but make it more efficient. The first season was [flying] by the seat of our pants ... scripts are changing every other day, we were walking in, we were being like, "Okay, we're going to do this now, let's do it." This season was very different.

Natasha and Alex sat down with us. God, I want to say ... at least two or three weeks prior to us going to New York, [they] started breaking down scene by scene each bit. We had pretty much the whole script. We maybe didn't have the last two or three episodes, and [we] got to really tear it apart and be part of the development, which is really cool. A lot of times, you don't have that as an actor in general.

Dissecting a delightfully bonkers plotline

Did you add anything or suggest anything given that freedom?

Most definitely. I pushed day one. I've been pushing to have a mustache on a show for years because I couldn't grow one until I was 30, 31. I was like, "This is amazing. I'm a man now. I want to show it off." Every show I've been on the last couple years has been like, "No, no mustache, we want a baby." Natasha was like, "You look like Clark Kent. I'll bring you [a] mustache." I was like, "Natasha, can Alan have a mustache? I want to add that."

Were there any particular plot lines where you had no clue what was going on? And given that Natasha is a writer and co-creator, do you ever sit down with her and suss out some of the more confusing and nuanced aspects of the series?

Always. That's the [most fun we had] working on this show. There's a mutual addition to that though — you have to also let go and not try and figure everything out. It's juxtaposition to be in, because you're trying to ... We block shoot too, [and] block shooting is really difficult. If you're working on a time scope, jumping around into people's bodies, it gets really confusing. You have to have a certain sense of, "Here is my trajectory, this is my route," but be willing to stray from that route whenever you can. In watching this second season, truth be told, I wish we could have had two or three more episodes because there's a lot more stuff that could be filled in. Note to Netflix, "Hey, can we have some more money?"

That's not a Natasha thing. I know where that ends, but ... [after] working on it and now watching it back, [and] I'm like, "Oh man, there [are] so many other things that I wish we could have kept, or could have planned for or seen ahead of time." You never have control of the edit. You're forced to let everything go to a certain point. There [are] some things that I wish I could change about this season, but yeah, now it's done.

I think there's something beautiful and frustrating about those short eight-episode seasons because you leave wanting more, and you don't overdo it, but then also you need more, and then you wait a year for it.

Or three.

The queen of comedy

Amy Poehler is also an executive producer and writer. Do you ever get the chance to work with her directly?

Oh, no, I wish. I got to meet her at a couple events and parties. I feel like I talked to her son more than I talked to Amy. Her son is very cool, but I know from reference through Natasha and through Leslye [Headland that] Amy's there. She is there, and she is obviously such a useful voice in [a] comedic sense. As a woman in this industry, you've got to be able to have a rolling list of s*** that you can prepare other people [for] or help [them] avoid, and guiding another person. I can't imagine her influence [...] that I don't even get to see, but I'm sure it's immense.

Has Natasha told you anything specific that Amy has added over the years?

No, but I should ask her, I'd be really interested to know. I know that there's definitely got to be some in that script. When I first joined the first season, Leslye Headland, she's one of our writers and creators and directed a bunch of the first season. This season she's working on a huge "Star Wars" show, but she wasn't with us as much. I knew her work prior to getting onto "Russian." She really was the reason that I came, in her words, and I know she and Amy had worked pretty closely about figuring out what the trajectory was in the first season. I'm sure she was there for the second. 

It's such a funny thing. When you're on set, and you're not worried about what you're doing, you don't really notice those things. If you don't see anybody, you're like, "Oh, well, they must not be doing anything," [but] there's a million things behind the scenes that are going on.

Is Alan exploring his sexuality?

Alan explores his sexuality a little bit this season. How did it feel getting to be a part of your character's journey in this way, and is that something you'd like to see develop further down the line?

It's a funny question to me because there [are] a lot of these questions [of] people asking [questions like,] "Is this a reference into like trans or the trans experience and you switching into your mom and stuff?" I don't think any of that is existent in this. He gets a lucky gift from the universe to go live in another person's body. 

Yes, it is his grandmother and someone who's connected to, and there's something that should be obtained from that. Alan really goes into it thinking this is an amazing gift. "They f***** me over for so long by killing me, and now they're letting me live in this guarded reality where I'm allowed to be whoever, explore whatever I want and not have any ramifications." Everything is [projected] onto his grandma in a certain sense. He takes advantage of that.

I went into this season being like, "F*** you, Alan. You're a d*** right now. You're utilizing your grandmother, this woman who's living in a place in a time when it's extremely dangerous for anybody to be around with their existence." He runs with it because he has that protection ... I really don't think he's exploring his sexuality. He's exploring the moment, he's exploring the freedom, and in that moment, a guy kisses him.

He can't say no, because it's part of his existence that he's living in, and it will f*** his grandmother over or her story in a certain way. He has to accept it and lean into it, but does he like it? He's confused. It opens up all those kinds of questions, of course. He is questioning his sexuality within it, but [it's not] for him. He's like, "Well, I must be gay if I really enjoyed this. I must be into men now." It's more like, "This is fun." I like the feeling of genuine love, and I like the feeling of freedom and fun and excess.

The nuances of becoming grandma

The trippy scene where Natasha falls into the bed [and] is literally tripping on some drug — I can't even remember what she's on at that point with Maxine, but that is one of those moments that everybody's like, "You guys were making out." I thought it was like, "That's a dream, y'all. That is not Alan's reality, okay? That is not his life. That is Natasha's world." It's really fascinating to me, even in watching ... that moment where he does kiss [...] Lenny in the doorway.

It was really beautiful. I saw things that I never thought of. Carolyn [Michelle Smith], the woman who plays my grandmother, is experiencing it from a place of like, "Oh my God, this white guy is kissing me in the middle of a hallway in East Berlin. I'm an immigrant. That's dangerous." She has this hesitation from like, "Oh my God, he has just kissed me, but it's exciting." Alan got to live through that, but in Alan, it's like, "Oh my God, this guy just kissed me. What the f*** am I doing?" But the reaction, the situation is the same. That's [why] I was like, "Oh my God, that's really beautiful, and it works." It works in this weird — it can be a different experience but [you can] have the same reaction. It's fascinating.

Back in time (and abroad)

The show goes international this season, filming in Europe and Budapest. What were some of the highlights of filming there, and do you have any fun stories from filming abroad?

Oh, this is a hard one, too, especially because Hungary is going through a regime change, but sticking to the old folks and specifically a regime that is obviously staunchly against my existence as a queer person. That being said, I'm from Florida. I love Florida. I love it to death, and a lot of people have a lot of problems with Florida and obviously the political differences, I guess, from the rest of the country and their own political beliefs. I don't agree with many of them; my own existence makes it difficult too.

I love this state. I love the people. I love the environment. There's a lot to be proud for it, from it. I feel the same way about Budapest. I loved the history. I loved our crew — [it] was one of the most efficient and available crews that I've ever gotten to work with. They were unbelievable, and they don't pay people in Budapest as much as they should be paying them — let me note — crew members specifically. We were there for a month, and at a really weird time, it was right in the middle of COVID. We didn't get to do as much as we probably would've wanted to as Americans exploring a different country.

I felt like I was transported, and I could not ... I went to every church on every corner and [lit little] candles and said prayers for my family and friends. It was amazing. I had a really great time. It was great to film in ... When you go to these historical spaces or cities that are that old, you get to really walk into some unbelievable [areas, like] the aqueducts that we were filming in and it's f****** amazing.

A hero and villain all in one

You also played John Diggle, Jr. in "Arrow." What was it like working with Kat McNamara and being on that set, and would you be willing to appear in the Arrowverse in the future? And what's your favorite? Which one would you like to be in? Which show?

I'm never going to say no to a job, but oh, it was really fun. It was an unexpected thing. I was not a fan of "Arrow" prior. I wasn't even a big fan of comic books as a kid. I got into them later in life. Honestly, a lot through Yuri Sardarov, [who] opened my eyes while working on "Chicago Fire." My partner is a huge ... he grew up watching Batman and the Joker and all the cartoons and stuff. I've had a love interest that drew me in, and it was so much fun because it was something different. 

I've never gotten to play a supervillain/superhero, not [the] same word, depending on what side you're on. I really wanted to, and I went into that audition thinking "Whatever, they're not going to cast me. It's f****** CW." I'm sorry, cast, but it's CW, they want somebody [aged] 22 and beautiful. I'm weird," [but] they did. They took a chance, so I was really happy.

It's a small multiverse after all

It was such a fun one, but Kat is one of those women that ... Not to dog on the men in my life, because they were a lot of great men in my world that I look up to, but I feel like I meet women in this industry specifically who are the most powerful living souls I've ever met. [They have] abilities that are ... I can't even imagine.

Kat can do everything in anything she puts her mind to. A person like that is someone that ... I need to latch on and understand how [to] do it. I'm always blown away by her. I did also get to work with her on a friend's really small budget film in Texas. I didn't even know Kat was going to be there. I walk in, and I was like, "Kat!" We had a lot of ... We were there for like one day. It was like passing ships in the [night] but...

Can you name-drop it?

I can. God, what is it called? "Dance Dads." They might change the [name], but it says, "Dance Dads" — bunch of friends. We'd started getting together after a lot of the COVID restrictions came up, and we were like, "F*** it. We're not working right now. Let's go do something for fun and reinvest our own love of this industry into our own work." Two of my friends, Brock Harris and Jared Bonner, are the directors and writers and also starring in it, but they are friends with Kat and me as well.

"Russian Doll" Season 2 is now streaming on Netflix.