When I was casting for The Good Book, actor Rick Barnes submitted for the role of a homeless man. My first thought was that I wasn’t sure how convincing he would be playing homeless. Then he submitted his video audition and i was impressed. It wasn’t until I sat next to him at lunch on the set that I discovered that homelessness wasn’t just something he could play. It was something he had lived.
Rick, tell us about your teen years when you were homeless.
I was one of four children with an older brother and two younger sisters. I was 16 when I became homeless, living in Huntsville, Alabama. My brother was in the Army and already away, (this was during the war in Viet Nam). Our father had left us and I was working two jobs so that I wasn’t a burden to my Mother. I worked at a motorcycle shop and at McDonald’s and still went to school.
My Mother remarried a good man but he lived in Georgia. I came home from work late one night and found that the house was empty, but for my things. My Mom had left and taken my two sisters with her to Georgia. She left me a note saying that she was sorry but felt I was old enough to be on my own now. She suggested that I join the Navy. She told me that my Father still owned the house but he would be putting it up for sale and would be shutting off the utilities. She would not tell me where they were living so that I would not be tempted to follow as she did not have enough room for me.
That first night, I went to a neighbor’s house and they let me spend the night, but I felt badly about imposing on them and snuck out at about four in the morning and went back to my house. I went to school the next morning, but everything was a haze. I then went to the YMCA and lied about my age so they would rent me a room for $20 a month. I was right off the basketball court, one room and the court was open 24/7… I hate basketball to this day.
How did you break free from homelessness? I was taken in by a family that traveled with an independent circus. They were adamant about having me finish my education, and taught me self reliance and discipline.
How has your experience with homelessness affected you as an adult? I awaken each day, grateful for God’s miracles and my life.
When did you first develop an interest in acting? A friend at church kept encouraging me to audition for a play at our local community theater. I finally agreed and figured there was no way anyone would want me, but I thought it might get her to leave me alone. I was shocked when they offered me the part of the Mayor in, Bye-Bye Birdie.
What was it like playing a homeless man in The Good Book? A once familiar, empty feeling. I do not miss that feeling.
What other film/television projects have you been involved in? I have done about 30 theater plays, six movies, and five episodes of the TV show, Nashville. I have played Oliver Warbucks, in Annie, King Herod and Caiphas in Jesus Christ Superstar, Edna Turnblad in Hairspray, Elwood P. Dowd in Harvey, and The Wizard in The Wizard of Oz, to name a few.
What would be your dream acting role? Tevye in Fiddler On The Roof.
What are your film related goals? I am learning and trying new things. I read and study to improve my acting skills.
Anything else? I’ve met and made many new and interesting friends on each set.