There once was a man from Detroit with hair of grey and a hearty laugh whose talent and charm dropped him in the land of Eastern Michigan University. With drive in his spirit, he delivered his lines with delight and the desire to act on the grand stage. With a nod from Sir George Clooney, the legendary good man from Hollywood, he found his world turned on its side and emerged in awe with a yellow brick road that would lead him to a lifetime opportunity.
For Earl Barr, 59, a theatre arts major, having the chance to play the Emerald City elder for “Oz: The Great and Powerful,” the biggest U.S. debut of 2013 with nearly $200 million at the box office since its release in March, was a dream come true.
During spring break, Barr was traveling to do press and was present at the Coalition of Dwarf Advocacy benefit in Birmingham, Mich. The entire experience was near and dear to the actor.
“Very humbling. I’ll treasure the experience for the rest of my life,” Barr said. “I’m very blessed to be picked. All of us were picked by [director] Sam Raimi. He had the final say whether you were in or out of this movie. It’s an experience I will carry with me throughout time.”
While in line at the casting call, the head of hair and makeup approached Barr and quietly told him to grow out his hair before he walked off. Afterward, he was hired to be a stand-in for the mayor of Emerald City but would later be cast as an elder.
“I got the part as the mayor and when I was on the actual set working they cut me from the mayor because I’m not a union actor. It worked out in my favor because they actually cut that whole part of the movie anyway,” he said. “Making the movie and when you get to see some of the takes of the day, that is inspiring because you can see how it’s all coming together.”
Barr never thought that acting would be a potential career for him or that he would act in 17 movies. It found him and he took it in stride. During the early 1970s while still in high school, he obtained a modeling deal and ventured in to voice overs for radio commercials. It wasn’t until he visited with an old colleague, Kevin Sanderson, who had connections in the industry that he saw his potential of lighting up the silver screen.
“He opened up the front door and goes ‘Oh no, no. The way you look: tall, slender and you’re very handsome and got nice teeth and skin. You’re going to the movies!’” Barr said. “And I go ‘Ha ha, how could I? I have no training, how can I ever?’”
His first film was a University of Michigan independent student film called “The Saxophone Player” where he played a wealthy patron.
“In order for you to be an actor in film, you’re going to do extra work,” Barr said. “Everyone has to have that experience and once you start doing it you crave it and you wanna keep doing it all the
time. You will love it.”
From “Detroit 187” to “Real Steel” with Hugh Jackman, Barr had tested the motion picture waters but it wasn’t until 2011, when he played an extra in “Ides of March” with Ryan Gosling and George Clooney, where everything came full circle.
“George Clooney is the reason why I’m at Eastern Michigan University right now,” Barr said.
He was directed by Clooney in a bar scene, which was ultimately used in a behind the scenes clip on “Entertainment Tonight,” but it was a scene with Gosling, a cover photo on Barr’s Facebook page, that made Clooney take notice of his talent.
“He came up to me and said ‘Are you an actor?’ and I said no,” Barr said. “He goes ‘Have you had any actor training or thought about being an actor?’ And I said no. And he says ‘Well you should because you have very good timing.’”
With an abundance of charisma and determination, he’s continuing to sharpen his craft, currently working on a film called “AKA Jimmy Picard,” where he plays a doctor in the late 1930s. After graduating in April, the sky is the limit but he remains grateful and humble for his blessings.
“If I don’t ever make it in the business and be comfortable where I want to be, at least I have ‘Oz,’ I will always cherish that. If this is the highlight of my career, I’m very happy but there’s a lot more that I wanna do.”