Malcolm Barrett can next be seen starring as Leon in Average Joe. The first two episodes are officially streaming on BET+.
Inspired by the life of creator Robb Cullen, Average Joe is a darkly comedic, intense one-hour drama set in “The Hill” district of Pittsburgh. Blue-collar plumber, Joe Washington, discovers his recently deceased father lived a secret second life and stole millions of dollars from dangerous people just before he died. Now those people think Joe knows where the money is. A bloody and violent confrontation triggers a chain of events that force Joe and his close-knit circle of family and friends out of their very average and mundane lives into a life-or-death race against time to find the truth and the millions.
I had the chance to ask the actor about why this role stands out compared to his past work, how the tone doesn’t fit in one specific category, his excitement for The Changeling, and more. Keep reading for everything he shared!
What made you want to be part of Average Joe?
Malcolm Barrett: Our director and my friend, Eric Dean Seaton, called and told me about the project. Having come from a lot of network television, he knew I was reluctant to be a series regular on a streamer — less money, smaller audience, etc. — Hollywood often marginalizes its “All-Black” productions, either with lack of financing or lack of scope, often vacillating between kitchen sink dramas or over the top comedies. We rarely get to be our full selves — although, lately that’s been changing with shows like ATL, Lovecraft Country, and Insecure, so with that same critical eye, I read this script and fell in LOVE with the story. It was dangerous, funny, and different. They put the proper financial backing behind production, and the Emmy nominations of The Porter and the success of The Ms. Pat Show signified a new chapter in BET+ and in the expansion of the well-known BET brand.
What intrigued you the most about your character?
He’s one of the dumbest characters I’ve ever played and I like that — no, seriously. Okay, he’s not dumb, but I’ve often made a career out of playing geniuses, or the smartest guy in the room, from EVP specialist to inventor and pilot of a Time Machine. This career flow was partially a reaction to my first onscreen appearances: “basketball player #1” and various versions of criminals. Now they weren’t stereotypical as I played them, I hope, but it was stereotypical casting and I wanted to get away from that, so I did. Leon on Average Joe allows me to be more of an everyman and doing a show with a predominantly Black cast allows me to not have to bear the burden of representing all of Black America for white viewers (and cast members) every time I step onto the screen.
What did you enjoy about mixing dark comedy and drama together?
It’s been fun discovering the tone of the show. It doesn’t fit neatly into one category. The script contains multitudes, so it’s not a goal to be funny or to aim for the drama necessarily. The goal is to find the truth in the moment, that — along with the material — has been what’s guided me.
What do you think will stand out to audiences about the story?
Now that the trailer’s out and it’s had a screening at ABFF, I’ve had folks tell me how surprised they are by how dramatic it is: the tension, the gore, the relationships, the cliffhangers. They’re surprised by Deon, usually known for his comedy, and they’re surprised by BET+, as this is a genre, look, and scope they’ve never fully explored before, expanding their audience while still keeping things Black as hell. But it’s also a genre I seldom see explored on television in general. A predominantly Black working-class family and their friends being wrecked by the demons of their father and an entanglement with the Russian mob, combined with dark comedy elements! I was excited to try and thread that needle.
What did you learn either acting-wise or personally while working on this show?
I don’t know that I’ve “learned” anything — although hopefully there’s not a day that goes by where I’m not taking in new information, but I do continue to be excited by my job and by the situations this show put my character through. I have found out I’m more sensitive towards the idea of family than I ever thought, but I’ll save those stories for when you see the show.
Do you have an episode that you’re most excited to see the final version of?
Yeah, the last four, cause I ain’t seen them yet! Seriously, every episode of this show is a cliffhanger so it’s hard not to wanna just binge the whole series, but I am looking forward to the final two episodes. There’s a real turn for my character Leon, learning who he is and what he’s willing to do, and not do, to protect his friends and save his marriage. The hardest scene to film was, I think, episode two and maybe episode seven. There’s two particular scenes with my wife Cathy, played by my real-life girlfriend Cynthia Kaye-McWilliams, where she tells me some pretty devastating news, and… it hit hard.
Is there anything you can tell me about your other upcoming series, The Changeling?
Man, I CAN’T WAIT to see that show! The book, by Victor LaValle, is so deep and the script by Kelly Marcel was so grounded yet fantastical, and it’s held together by EP/director Melina Matsoukas. The visual storytelling from what I’ve seen so far is otherworldly. Lakeith Stanfield and I play best friends/book hunters whose lives are changed when a curse is visited upon Stanfield’s character and family. I call it a “5 borough fairytale.” There’s a lot of stories that talk about the magic of New York, but so often it’s limited to Manhattan. As a native New Yorker and Brooklynite, this telling felt so much more encompassing in exploring the magic, people, and history of New York. It airs early fall on Apple+, just after the first season of Average Joe.