JOINT BASE LEWIS-MCCHORD, Wash. — During the summer of 1998, Lt. Col. Charles Barrett, the I Corps deputy public affairs officer, then a young Army Reserve specialist, made the 26-hour drive from his hometown of St. Louis to Hollywood, Calif., to try and make it as an actor. In the three years he was there, Barrett left his mark on Tinseltown with featured extra parts in shows such as “The West Wing,” and “Buffy the Vampire Slayer,” and a credited speaking role in the Kevin Costner movie, “Thirteen Days.”
With the former “ER” actor Anthony Edwards’ visit to Joint Base Lewis-McChord April 9, Barrett recalled his time on the “ER” season seven opener entitled “Homecoming.” In that episode, Barrett played a medical intern tasked with helping the County General Hospital emergency room deal with the influx of patients during a football game riot.
While Barrett usually booked roles through an answering service he employed to respond to casting calls, he was asked to work on the show while on a tour of the Warner Bros. lot the day before filming, due to their need for a large amount of extras.
“‘ER’ wants to appear to be a busy hospital, so they’ll film an entire episode in five days,” Barrett said. “Each day, even though the scene is still the same, they’ll bring in a new set of 40 to 50 extras, so the viewer will never see the same extra walking back and forth from scene to scene.”
While on set, Barrett learned some insider knowledge, such as the fact that “Clooney” was used as a verb after series regular George Clooney left the show.
“George Clooney, at that time, would write his lines out on a clipboard or tape them to a computer screen,” he said. “If you go back and watch the old episodes, you can see that his eyes are on a computer screen while he’s talking to somebody, but the way he delivers his lines, he’s so good, that you wouldn’t know he’s reading them. On this episode, one of the newer actors tried that the first day, and they said, ‘Stop pulling a Clooney! You’re not as good as him.'”
While Barrett never got to speak directly with Edwards or any of the other series regulars, he did have encounters with other Hollywood actors, including Sarah Michelle Gellar and Seth Green while he was an extra on “Buffy the Vampire Slayer,” and Ben Affleck while filming scenes for the movie, “Pearl Harbor.”
After three years in California chasing his dream, it happened to be another extra on “Pearl Harbor” who convinced him to leave acting and pursue a career in the Army.
“The tipping point was when I was on set playing an officer in the Army Air Corps, and I got talking to (actor Clyde Tull), who was playing a colonel, and was also a real retired colonel in the Army,” Barrett said. “He told me his whole Army story and that I needed to go back into the Army. I think it was the next week I went down to the recruiter station and said ‘This guy is right, money’s run out, I can go back into the Army and go straight into OCS (officer candidate school)’, which is what I did.”
While Barrett’s Hollywood dream didn’t pan out, he still looks back on his time there fondly.
“When it comes to starving actors, Hollywood has no empathy,” Barrett said. “Yet, given the opportunity to do it all over again, I’d have to say, yes. The experience was far too unique to pass up.”