In 2000, when Luke Barnett was a senior at Grace Brethren Christian School in Clinton, he was performing in the role of Henry Higgins in a school play, “Pygmalion,” when the lights went out.
“We had this super terrible storm that knocked out all the power about halfway through” the romantic-comedy by George Bernard Shaw, Barnett said. “The parents in the audience decided to bring out like 100 candles to light the stage. But, meanwhile, I found a bongo drum backstage, and for 45 minutes, I improvised songs about all of the teachers and students to keep the audience from leaving.”
Barnett, who grew up in Clinton, said it was at that moment that he realized he wanted to be an actor.
Barnett moved to Los Angeles and has had bit roles in independent films. He recently garnered attention for “Growing Up With Gosling,” a comedic short film produced by FunnyOrDie.com that has had about 100,000 views on YouTube since its release in February.
The film, which features Barnett performing the female leading role in a number of films starring actor Ryan Gosling, will be screened at a number of film festivals, including at the Los Angeles Film, Television and New Media Festival from Thursday to April 19. The festival, in its third year, provides an opportunity for independent filmmakers and producers to showcase their work, as well as network and gain a better knowledge of how to navigate the film and TV industries.
Barnett, 29, said he was surprised at the attention the film has received, given the absurdity of its premise.
“I never thought of it as a festival thing, I just did it for FunnyOrDie,” Barnett said. “I was shocked when we got into the first three festivals we applied for.”
Barnett credited Grace Brethren drama teachers with giving him the chance to “explore” roles, to get into characters’ heads and understand them as people.
“They got me to feel comfortable enough to actually create these characters and be ridiculous,” he said. “They guided you, but let you experiment with what you’re doing on stage.”
Maria Fleming, 39, Barnett’s drama teacher and director for the fateful “Pygmalion” performance, remembered his efforts to engage the crowd.
“I was working with staff on the candles, and we were brainstorming a bit, and as we were getting the candles together, I just heard drumbeats from the stage,” Fleming said. “I look and Luke is doing this beatnik drum thing. . . . He was just cracking jokes, keeping people entertained. So since everyone was enjoying themselves, we thought, ‘the show must go on,’ so we should just make this work.”
But Fleming said it wasn’t until a year later, when Barnett had returned as an alumnus for a performance, that she realized he had the perspective to take acting seriously as a career. A student who was to play a small but pivotal role in “Fiddler on the Roof” had injured himself and couldn’t perform, so staff were scrambling to find a replacement.
“I found him in the audience and asked, ‘Could you help me?’ ” Fleming said. “He said ‘sure,’ got a copy of the script, memorized his lines and got into costume and did the part for us. I thought, ‘Now he gets it, he gets that acting isn’t necessarily about being the star . . . but it’s a team effort.’ ”
Barnett said his short film has opened some doors, and he already has been part of two other FunnyOrDie short films as a result of the popularity of “Growing Up With Gosling.” Fleming said she hopes his newfound exposure will land him some more mainstream comedic roles.
“I’m enjoying seeing where he’s gotten to at this point, but I would like to see his work recognized and advanced,” Fleming said. “He’s put in his dues, so I’d like to see him get further with it now.”