When NBC viewers last saw Charlie Barnett, he was starring as Peter Mills on Chicago Fire. He returns to the network tonight in Ordinary Joe, an incredible new series that explores the possibilities of life. Charlie portrays Eric, the close friend of Joe Kimbreau (played by The Crazy Ones‘ James Wolk), as Ordinary Joe looks at three different ways Joe’s life could have gone.
Naturally that means audiences also see different versions of Eric, and Charlie spoke during the series’ recent Television Critics Association panel about how he keeps the changes to his character straight, what appeals to him about the show, and the one thing he doesn’t want to see happen this season.
“Acknowledge when you’re going down the wrong path, and then change it,” he said, discussing the show’s premise of alternate realities and how it may appeal to television viewers. “That’s part of it that I think each one of us will get to see. And Lord knows that’s a part of every human’s existence. We’ve all done some wrong things, and we’ve all been places that we don’t want to be, and you have to make changes.”
With three different storylines to service in each episode, Ordinary Joe‘s cast have to keep up with which one they’re filming at what time. Charlie explained his process of keeping continuity. “You’re only as good as your next scene partner, truthfully,” he told us. “We definitely work with each other to remind each other.
“For me, I start off from physical points,” he continues. “All of his jobs that Eric experiences lead to some different information about his physical life, or his lack of jobs leads to some physical information. Any time that I don’t know who I am, or where I am or what’s going on, I’ll look at, like, what my hair looks like because that’s another dimension. [Or] I’ll be like, “Oh, yeah, this guy is making pizzas,” so he’s hunched over making pizzas all day.”
Though the timelines on Ordinary Joe don’t intertwine, Charlie revealed that he does occasionally borrow from one version of Eric to play another.
“I like to think of it where each of our characters are a seed, and out of the seed sprouts a whole bunch of vines…Each one of these vines are living in a different atmosphere. They have a different kind of ecosystem, and that changes who they are, but it’s still the same seed,” he said. “I’ll find parts of Chef Eric in Pizza Eric, and then it’ll be like, “Oh, is this wrong?” And I’ll be like, “Well, no. When does he get to experience the funner parts of himself, and when does he get to experience the more business side of himself?” It all melds together.
It’s so funny how so much of the show extends from a place of our careers,” he added. “You really start to realize, when you pull back, how much a job plays a big part in your life. On your relationships, on your physical life, on your environment, on your [social] class. We, obviously, don’t ever want to be summed up by our jobs, but I think it’s really interesting that we jump from that point.”
Being back on NBC isn’t the only thing giving Charlie Barnett some deja vu. Viewers will also remember that he recurred in the second season of Netflix‘s thriller series You, which also centered on a character named Joe—but that character was a serial killer.
“I made it through that show,” Charlie laughed. “I do not need to die!”
Brittany Frederick has worked 20 years as a professional journalist, reaching millions of readers worldwide with thousands of articles. Her one goal is to meet Jonathan Groff, but she’s sung with Adam Levine and gone 200 MPH with Mario Andretti. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow her on Twitter @tvbrittanyf.